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During the past few years I have been involved in a number of conversations around the topic of assessment. One key struggle that I have is the many ways in which the term “formative assessment” is defined. For some educators, formative assessment involves altering our teaching practices based on quantitative data we get from tests, quizzes, and assignments. I believe there is a role for this; however, to other educators formative assessment is Assessment For Learning (AFL) – not something that is done after we teach but more a philosophy about HOW we teach. It is more than just about checking for progress but also about including students in the process of planning, teaching, and reflecting. AFL is not something that is an add-on for teachers; it is a different lens to view student learning as well as a different overall philosophy of how we teach.

One of the best ways I have seen to explain and model Assessment for Learning (or formative assessment) was observed and learned through my attendance at the British Columbia Educational Leadership Council (BCELC) two year seminar series which included deep discussions on leadership and AFL led by Caren Cameron, Yrsa Jensen, Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert (based on the work of educators such as Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black).

BCELC used Black and Wiliam’s definition of Assessment for Learning as:

Any assessment for which the first priority in its design and practice is to serve the purpose of promoting pupil’s learning.

Click here to access a previous post that describes the difference between Assessment FOR Learning and Assessment OF Learning.

BCELC (Cameron, Jensen) introduced the 6 BIG AFL PRACTICES as (please note that these are taken directly or adapted from BCELC):

  1. Clear Learning Intentions: let students know (in a language they can understand) what they are expected to learn.
  2. Criteria: work WITH learners to develop criteria of what quality looks like.
  3. Descriptive Feedback: increase descriptive feedback (ongoing dialogue around improvement in learning that causes thinking) and decrease evaluative feedback (numbers, letters, and “good job”). Note: Education researcher John Hattie, in his book “Visible Learning“, notes that using descriptive feedback is THE single most powerful thing we can use to increase student learning. Please read Peter Jory’s great post on feedback here.
  4. Powerful Questions: increase quality “thinking” questioning to go deeper and show evidence of learning. Move away from factual routine questions. TALK LESS, ASK MORE. For more on quality questions from BCELC click here.
  5. Self and Peer Assessment: Scaffolding of learning of self- and peer assessment in a supportive, collaborative environment enables learners to become thoughtful about all aspects of their learning. Heidi Andrade writes “If students produce it, they can assess it; and if they assess it, they can improve it.” For more on self/peer from BCELC click here.
  6. Student Ownership: centres on metacognitive awareness and action. Metacognition is enhanced only when students have explicit understandings related to all other aspects of AFL – and are able to take ownership for their learning as a result. Black and Wiliam add, “Have the learner become aware of his/her own thinking – what are my strengths? What do I need to get better at? What is my next step?”. For more on ownership from BCELC, click here.

I cannot say enough about BCELC and how inspiring it was for me. Changing the lens of assessment not only changed the way I assess, but also how I teach, lead, and learn.

Although not exactly like being part of the seminar series, the portion of a webcast series by Cameron and Jensen titled “A focus on Informed Assessment Practices”, including all the slides and resources, can be accessed here (#3) and here (#4). (I highly recommend this).

For a quick prezi I did up last year (based on this info), click here or see below.

I encourage you to describe the impact AFL has made on your students in the comment section below.

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