Manitoba Members Meet to Strengthen the Local Network

With founding member Damian Cooper coming to work with the staff of College Louis-Riel in the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine, Manitoba CAfLN members took the opportunity to network face-to-face over dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory in the heart of Winnipeg on October 18th. Four city school divisions and a private school were represented as current members and potential new members shared their current work with assessment for learning. The evening was filled with good food, interesting stories, and passionate conversation related to teaching and learning. Since the first conference and symposium, Tuesday’s dinner was the first of, hopefully, many networking opportunities for CAfLN members in Manitoba.

President’s Fall Message

Damian Cooper - Portrait

Dear CAfLN members,

Sitting on my deck this Labour Day, I’m thinking about the words of Tom Allen, CBC Radio 2’s afternoon host, who last week described tomorrow as the “real New Year” for so many Canadians.  Certainly, as educators, the day after Labour Day typically brings many more new beginnings than January 1st.  Meeting a new group of eager – we hope! – students, welcoming new teachers into our school, perhaps opening a new school, or maybe sending your own children off to the first day of the academic year – in our roles as teachers and parents, tomorrow is truly a fresh start.  I can’t believe that after 37 years as an educator, I still experience school dreams during the last week of the summer holiday! Once a teacher, always a teacher!

To prepare for the coming year, most of your CAfLN Executive and Directors travelled to Lorna Earl’s cottage last week for a planning retreat.   The 3-day event opened with Friday’s question, “Where are we?” On Saturday, we tackled the question, “Where do we want to be?” Sunday was devoted to action plans as we tackled the challenges of “How do we get there?”

Here is a brief list of some of the topics we discussed and decisions we made:

  • To assist with the growth of CAfLN regionally, a “toolkit” will be developed for the regional representatives. This will provide both information about the network, as well as suggestions and processes to assist these representatives with expanding CAfLN’s local influence.
  • We will continue with monthly live Twitter chats but will explore a variety of formats in an effort to deepen the conversations. The first chat for this year will occur on September 13th, 8 pm EDT time.
  • The website will be redesigned to improve its look and user-friendliness.
  • The “Research and Resources” pages on the website will be expanded and updated regularly.
  • A research committee will be struck to investigate how CAfLN can support Canadian assessment research.
  • CAfLN will endeavour to increase the number of members who share their work at future symposia and conferences.

This leads me to our Spring Conference and Symposium which will take place in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  The date and conference theme will be announced on the CAfLN website by the end of September.

So as this new school year begins, I invite all of you to invite two of your colleagues to join CAfLN to discover how high-quality assessment is one of the most effective tools we have to increase learning for ALL of our students.  Have a great year and hoping to see you in Halifax!

Damian Cooper

President, Canadian Assessment for Learning Network

Hacking Assessment : 10 Ways To Go Gradeless In a Traditional School

Hacking AssessmentA Book Review by Denine Laberge

Many parents and educators will argue that “This is the way we’ve always done it and it isn’t broken!” To this, Starr Sackstein offers some sound advice, “… the world has changed in the last hundred years and … a 19th century system doesn’t prepare kids for the creativity and critical thinking required of the 21st century.”

Starr Sackstein gives her readers something to think about in this quick 131 page read by putting the focus on what matters in assessment. Going gradeless is a big step for many teachers but, as she clearly demonstrates in this book, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Organized into 10 “Hacks”, this book starts at the beginner level, for those thinking about making the switch, and progresses right through to the details of a successful transition to a gradeless school environment. Sackstein addresses concerns that may arise from teachers, administrators, parents and even students, giving sound reasoning to keep the initiative alive.

For me, this book affirmed that I am on the right track in my growth as an educator and learner. For others, it may inspire an awakening of what our real mission as educators is; to lead our students to become independent, responsible thinkers and lifelong learners. The best way to do this is to involve the student in his or her own assessment of learning. After all, who would understand their learning better than themselves?

President’s Summer Message

Damian Cooper - Portrait

Dear CAfLN friends and colleagues,

I find myself with very mixed emotions today.  It’s a gorgeous sunny day, some down time is just around the corner, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with nature at our summer retreat on Georgian Bay.  But before heading up there, I must travel to Staffordshire in the UK for the funeral of my dear father who would have turned 96 in July.

I share this with you because Dad always reminded me of the importance of human relationships.  While he happily embraced new technologies – he learned to use a PC in his mid-eighties and wrote his memoirs, he also valued face-to-face interaction above all other means of communication.  As long as he was able, we chatted on the phone every week.  But what he most looked forward to were my bi-annual visits to see him – visits where we hugged, went for drives in the verdant Staffordshire countryside, and inevitably wound up at a pub for fish and chips and a beer!

While as CAfLN members, we necessarily rely upon digital communication for much of our work together, I cherish our opportunity to get together, face-to-face, at the annual conference and symposium.  That is when I truly see and feel the passion and energy that you bring to education.  This past May, many of us gathered at Queen’s University in Kingston to share learning, meet new colleagues, wrestle with challenges, exchange ideas, and of course, enjoy good food and a drink.  During the symposium on Saturday, I watched with fascination as our Ontario members listened almost in disbelief, as their colleagues from British Columbia described the flexibility the Ministry of Education accorded them with respect to reporting:

“We can request not to use a report card at all, and instead, use e-portfolios for communication with parents.”

“You can??? Seriously???”

During the AGM which took place during the symposium, your CAfLN Executive asked for members to step up to fill a number of  existing board positions, as well as volunteering to serve as regional representatives to help coordinate the expansion of our network across Canada.  Lorna, Ken, and I had shared our concerns over breakfast that morning in terms of, ‘What should we do if no one volunteers?”  What a foolish question!  Hands shot up as we listed the various positions.  Perhaps a number of you were inspired by our secretary, Denine Laberge’s passionate account of how joining CAfLN, and subsequently taking on a leadership role within our organization, has enriched her life in so many ways.  Thanks again, Denine!  Sure, we often get passionate during our Google Hangouts, but occasionally, it is so wonderful to be in the same room, with a group of diverse educators from right across the country, who share a passion for children and learning.

And so, while I know that many of us will connect on a regular basis during the next academic year, using an ever-expanding variety of social media, I encourage you to begin making plans to join us next Spring (date to be confirmed in September) in Halifax, Nova Scotia for our 4th Annual Conference and Symposium.

In the meantime, I wish you all a relaxing, healthy, and happy summer.

Damian Cooper, President of CAfLN

Learning as a Continuum – Nanoose Bay, BC

Learning is a continuum Pic 1Teachers at Nanoose Bay Elementary School in BC  and teacher candidates from Vancouver Island University at have been developing a writing continuum that can be used by teachers and students to assess progress in writing. Based on the idea that all learning is a continuum coming out of the new BC cuuriculum, the goal was to show the progression of emergent through to fluent pre-adolescent writers and to provide a concrete example as well as a descriptor of what the author demonstrated at each stage of writing.

Residency: Powerful Assessment and Professional Practice

Residency Cover

Submitted by Veronica Saretsky

Written by Lori Jeschke, Dave Carter, Cheryl Shields and Deborah Bidulka the book outlines a large rural school division’s journey to affect sustainable, system-wide change in professional practice around assessment. The school system was moving to a new grade 1-9 report card and used this move to deepen the understandings of teachers in their assessment practices.

The division was looking for a model that supported sustainable change in professional practice. Their experience with “one-shot sessions or even multi-day workshops” had not created any long term changes in teacher practice.  When they attended a week long institute on assessment for learning, they heard of the residency model of professional development.  This book goes into detail about their implementation of that model and the learnings they gathered along the way.  It also offers suggestions on how others may use the model to affect systemic change in their systems.

Copies available from

Twitter Chat June 14th

Tuesday, June 14th will be our last CAfLN Twitter Chat of the year. The questions below will allow us to focus on how far we have come this year and where we are headed next year. Join us at 8 pm EDT.

1. What was the most important thing you learned about assessment for learning this year? #caflnchat

2. What was your greatest success in implementing AfL this year? #caflnchat

3. What was your greatest challenge / difficulty implementing AfL this year? #caflnchat

4. What summer professional development are you going to do? #caflnchat

5. What books are on your summer professional reading list? #caflnchat

6. What do you plan to do differently next year to enhance AfL in your school / classroom? #caflnchat

7.  Please share any random end-of-year thoughts, concerns or thanks. #caflnchat

If you are planning on joining us, please invite someone who may be interested in CAfLN to join us!

When Research Meets Practice

Filling up

CAfLN’s 3rd annual conference and symposium took place this weekend in Kingston. Chris DeLuca, conference chair was interviewed by the Queen’s Gazette about the goal of the conference; to bring people together to talk about research and practice in Assessment for Learning.

Panel 1