Spring Break Update 1: communicating student learning

One of my little “Spring Break Projects” has me looking at reporting student achievement. Timing has been perfect as proved by a conversation I had with one of my staff after we finished a day (right before Spring Break) talking as a district about reporting & assessment – he has been piloting ePortfolios (using FreshGrade) at the school I am at this year, and has been asking very good questions (the ones that don’t have yes/no answers). But one of the ones I appreciated was around ‘how long have we (as educators) been thinking about letter grades and doing-different?’


That led me to an old notebook on my shelf. My dad’s journal that came my way just a few years ago (it had been kept somewhere ‘safe’ so that means it remains ‘safe’ until the house is packed for a move). I shared it with the teacher, because what I like to say is “I’ve been questioning grading and school marks since I was in urtero – when my dad  was (I imagine) reading his masters readings to me entitled “The Farce Called Grading” and ‘Report Cards and Parents’ which starts: “School report cards can be, and too often are, ambiguous and untrustworthy to a degree wholly unsuspected by parents”



So, that led to another ‘uncomfortable question’ – “If there has been so many working for so many years to change the report card system, why would it change now?”



I have many responses, which can range to ‘over the top’ discussions around malpractice to the more ‘realistic’ observation that ‘we do what was done to us’.



I also turn to some of the questions that my father asked, and I continue as I push more and more for the embracing of eportfolios as part of Descriptive Feedback Loops…that is, to have individual students on personalized learning tracks where their ‘next steps’ of learning may not be the same as anyone else in the school, but the work is held to specific standards with feedback coming from the teacher to the student about what works, what doesn’t and what they need to focus on [with help – aka teaching] to improve the work they are doing….and make the learning relevant and meaningful.


I’ve shared this before: this is not what report cards were designed to do. They were ways of creating a rank-order based on completing common tasks (aka the industrial revolution) https://technolandy.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/sol-9-i-learned-i-dont-want-a-faster-horse/



But…ongoing feedback, to the parents and learners, using eportfolios (ongoing, real-time feedback) allows the conversation to occur while the learning/doing is fresh – not two months afterwards and only 3-5 times a year.



The key ‘problem exists in understanding'” (brackets are my quick thoughts)



  1. give parents information (which they need in order to know how to support)
  2. to give pupils information (which they need in a TIMELY manner in order to know what they should be focusing on next…before another task is started)



  1. philosophy of the school (district…province….country….region…)
  2. context achievement (I cannot support statements such as “all students will read at grade level” because there is too broad a range just with ages – a grade 1 class may have two children born in December but a year apart; we would not allow this in many athletic groupings, but for some reason ‘year of manufacture’ is more important than ‘month of manufacture’ when establishing classroom learning environments <– and yes, I am guilty of doing this on a regular basis)



  1. Parent/Teacher conferences (which can be difficult when the parents we most want to communicate with may have had bad school experiences and be very leery of venturing back into the school)
  2. written reports (which mean that Relationships become even more important – as my teacher said, when he was working on his summary’s-of-learning, there were some students that he did not know as well as he feels he should to give meaningful feedback to in specific subjects…..and giving a 3/B would’ve been MUCH easier….)
  3. a dual marking system? (I think my dad was in error here….a dual marking system may devalue a focus on formative assessments – once a letter/number is placed on the paper, the learning has ‘stopped’ (which I’m fine with when it’s the student making that decision, because then if they want to ‘restart it’ it’s their ownership of the learning)  I think I prefer the ongoing feedback loops leading to a portfolio review  at the end of the year to be compliant to the ministry of education and their current desire to have a letter grade entered onto the PR (permanent record) card. 



As one of the articles nicely declared – “Report cards: one face of a three-headed monster” (with curriculum and evaluation being the other two).  We should never be satisfied with what we have and are doing, but should instead be continuing to look at how to continue to improve the communication methodologies between the school, the home and the Learners.

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Day 124 (of 185) spring break. Ugh

Day 124 (of 185) spring break. Ugh 

Another educator I was talking with shared a similar hypothesis around spring break in particular – great for many, but certainly not all

But one week or two still has the same impact on the learners, but for the adults, the second week can provide re-invigoration and refreshed energy to get back to working with the learners……and make the final months meaningful….not a race to the next break (maybe I should break out my plans for a 365’day school year….)

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Day 123 (of 185) unpacking redesigned curriculum & assessment w thanks to @terrytaylorsd10

Day 123 (of 185) unpacking redesigned curriculum & assessment w thanks to @terrytaylorsd10

Today we had SD 10 (Arrow Lakes) superintendent Terri Taylor visit our district to give us some updating and inspiration around our journey with the topics of Reporting & Assessing Learning.

Discussion included how important it is to be mindful and self aware about what the conditions are in order to learn – both at home and within the school/classroom

Good Qs: what would it look like if…… (there were no report cards) future may be/can be….different(iated)

Focus on Learning vs doing what a teacher wants. 

WHY would we want to change/alter the way we report/communicate (to students, parents, universities)

Why Redesign?
Present curriculum 20+ years old

Learners today not the learners of 20+ years ago; the world has changed

We know a LOT more about teaching and learning (not a criticism of what was done in past….growth mindsets and ongoing research and tech improvements)

Feedback and review from teachers, educators, and parents suggested curriculum that allowed for…..

What hasn’t changed: it’s about relationships

OECD principles of effective learning environments underpins our curriculum
1. Learner-centered and promote self-regulation of learning

2. Social, and foster opportunities for interpersonal interaction, collaboration and connection to community

3. Responsive to learners motivations and emotions (SEL)

4. Respectful of diverse learning needs, differences and prior knowledge

5. Challenging for each learner, yet not overloaded (that sweet spot: zone of proximal development)

6. Focussed on formative assessment with clear expectations criteria for success, opportunities to demonstrate learning in different ways many use descriptive feedback and incorporate self-assessment of learning

7. Rich in horizontal connectedness across activities and subjects, in and out of school, with community and other schools 

If we know what works (ie AFL) but don’t use it – it’s an option – is it malpractice? If doctors weren’t using what research said works…..
Formative feedback not judgemental, but can be more about questions to point in a right direction. 
Self assessment not about “I’m an A/F” but showing who they are as learners because of _______ (rubrics, exemplars, etc) know what next goal(s) is

Part 1: The Redesigned Curriculum
– Big Ideas and concepts: uncovering the curriculum; not covering the curriculum (Landyism: Quality over Quantity)

– Personalized learning; learning focused on diverse student needs; UDL (not everyone needs same task)

– an iterative curriculum, created by teachers and educators, with widespread input and feedback over two years and a year to explore before implementation

– Foundational skills in numeracy and literacy (even I appreciate this – you need a good (great) understanding of words and numbers in order to play with them later!)

– Cross-disciplinary focus and opportunities

– Inquiry and project-based learning’ service learning; place-conscious learning; engagement with community

– No more mandatory hours of instruction; learning everywhere

Our curriculum lends itself to learning design that focuses on:
– inquiry

– Different groupings and varied classroom structures

– Less teacher directed lessons, more hands on and minds-on exploration

– Backwards design projects based and problem based Approaches and Empathic design

Ministry Redesigned Assessment
– grade 10 & 11 provincial exams discontinued – replaced by classroom assessments

– Interim reporting order for two years – a) old rules b) local policy

– Redesigned provincial assessments – voice and choice, flexible timing, collaborative sections; numeracy assessment drafts to be shared soon; Eng 12 going to continue as literacy assessment for 2017/18

– Core competencies woven through all curricula

Shifting Provincial assessments

6 core competencies (reminder)
1. Communication

2. Critical thinking

3. Creative thinking

4. Personal and cultural identity

5. Personal awareness and responsibility

6. Social responsibility 

And…if we are teaching differently, we must assess differently!

Video share n the power of connected classrooms: https://youtu.be/JjIPFPyxSnY
Video reminder of John Hatties 8 mindframes for teachers https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6xpcXobZF1k

And a reminder about the Black and William report (aka malpractice if not doing these at all times to improve student learning – and admittedly many of these are done, but being mindful of these being more explicit does matter)
1. Clear goals and expectations should be established and clearly understood by students (success criteria shared)

2. Students have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning through an active learning process

3. Descriptive feedback provides the learner with important information to move their learning forward

4. Questions are open ended and uncover misconceptions, clarify and extend thinking

5. Self-assessment and peer assessment are important in developing our students ability to assess themselves 

New BC Assessment Principles (soon to be published on ministry website)
– fair, transparent, responsive to the learner

– focuses on curriculum – knowing doing, understanding

– incorporates clear goals, success criteria, descriptive feedback, questioning

– is ongoing, timely, specific and embedded in day to day instruction

– provides varied and multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate learning

– ensures student is fully involved in the process

– uses a collection of student work, gathered over time, as a profile of the learner

– incorporates self assessment, goal setting and identifies next steps in learning

– communicates to the learner where they are, what they are working towards and ways that they will be supported

The process may have started by wanting “‘the’ report card” but the journey continues – finding best ways to communicate student learning! And the challenge I had a few years ago for my kids to graduate without traditional transcripts/reports is getting closer – maybe not for my oldest (graduates next year) but maybe….!

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Day 122 (of 185) that kid with the trombone (aka why efolios, not report cards)

Day 122 (of 185) that kid with the trombone (aka why efolios not report cards)


Tonight, my oldest helped reinforce why I like eportfolios and descriptive feedback over a letter grade. Her jazz combo class was challenged to create an original composition – and I remember that the day her music teacher (who is also the music teacher at my school!) gave the assignment – when she got in the car she was already working on GarageBand to get the sounds working right.


Then we didn’t hear much. Sometimes she likes to work on things in bits and pieces letting her brain process things over time.



But I was happy to hear from her teacher that her piece had been practiced by the combo and was going to be performed. My daughter is very good at the game of school where she tries to earn high scores….but I still don’t know how to capture a moment/achievement like this in a report card. A? Good effort? Too many notes? <– Amadeus movie reference


And will the soloists on piano, violin, saxophone and voice (singers) have their achievement archived on a transcript? Two of the grade 12s in the combo are already considering offers to go on to continue their music journeys….interestingly, their schools were more interested in their portfolio of work than numbers & letters assigned to it.



I am happy to hear more and more ongoing conversations taking place around “communicating learning” rather than ‘reporting achievement’ because a number can’t fully communicate what was achieved:


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Day 121 (of 185) multiple choice report cards

Day 121 (of 185) multiple choice report cards

Today I have spent a lot of time talking and thinking about report cards. In part because our district is hosting a symposium on Reporting and Assessment this week where we are sharing different report cards. I make it very clear that my bias is towards eportfolios to document artifacts of learning, and my aha moment came a couple summers ago: https://technolandy.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/sol-9-i-learned-i-dont-want-a-faster-horse/

The fun part is the want by some to find “the way” to communicate learning. I am not a believer in “one size fits all” which is why I like eportfolios – they can be personalized and even allow a variety of “summation summaries” throughout the year….because unlike the traditional way of sending home 3 report cards over the year and 2+ “contacts” with parents, eportfolios are ongoing, live documents. When learning is “finished” it can be posted and shared…..not revealed 6 weeks later. And if something improves, the change can be made right away.

All that aside, different teachers are on different levels of readiness to move away from the old fashioned report card (which compared people to doing the same task….whereas schooling and learning should be differentiated to enable learners to share what they learned in a variety of mediums. Different research and readings can also influence the process….and I like to share that one of the articles in my dads journal when he was working on his masters was “the fallacy of grading” ( throwback Tuesday: https://technolandy.wordpress.com/2015/03/12/day-126-of-188-a-throwback-thursday-from-my-dads-journal-grades/ )

As such, when asked to share the formats our school uses to communicate student learning, I enjoyed being able to submit 7 different “report cards’…..for 5 divisions. A mix of ‘traditional reports’ and some ways to share via eportfolio….along with a ‘heritage report’ that was a pre-portfolio creation and a couple of samples from other districts. Whew. 

So…here’s the game. Below is a sharing of methodologies – pick the ‘best’ answer (yes, this means there is more than one right answer….and the ‘best’ answer is very situational…..you know, the way “all multiple choice tests” should be….?)

Choose the best report card format quiz……multiple choice of course (because two wrongs may make a difference?)

A) kindy teacher created 

B) previous school used as part of efolio communication

C) reportwriter 

D) self assessment as part of efolio

E) webwriter

F) old template

G) year end summary on efolio

H) sample from another district

I) sample from another district 
It can be said that the too, is only as good as the user(s)…….and I know I have my biases for communicating learning, but….if after 125 years we are still trying to find “the ideal report card” maybe we should start looking for something different…?
Looking forward to looking at this topic further later this week!

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Day 120 (of 185) coding centres – the unmaker space

Day 120 (of 185) coding centres – the unmaker space

Each week before a ‘break from learning’, I have tried to offer a distraction in my library – recently that has been coding stations. It’s the reminder that breaks aren’t always good for all (and distractions can be helpful). 

So today, along with a variety of the usual centres (BB8, lego, and a st Patrick’s online game site: http://www.akidsheart.com/holidays/stpat/stgames.htm ) I introduced an unmaker space…..a take-apart station where students could disassemble an old VHS machine. 

Design thinking is good, but how and why to deconstruct something can likewise be valuable. And a table with an old VHS and some screwdrivers…..well, to quote an old phrase: was like a pack of dogs on a three-legged cat. 

Learning to share and take turns (with minimal adult interference) is always useful – because collaborating with a limited number of tools can become very frustrating – and it’s good to learn how to not stay “stuck” in frustration!

Exploring and wondering how two things are connected is likewise fascinating – when the kids realize that the pieces were put together….somehow…..and need to figure out how to disassemble without destroying!

It was neat to introduce some new stations into the coding rotation (and I’ll have to update my slideshare) And best of all: this weeks take-apart centre becomes a “put-it-together” station next time!

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Day 119 (of 185) the authentic power of PBL programs #canada150 @canada150 @pokemon

Day 119 (of 185) the authentic power of PBL programs

My girls play the game of school well in their own unique ways. My oldest one knows how to respond to teachers tasks in a way to achieve high scores. My youngest has very strong social skills and recognizes that staying on top of her work allows her to do wel. Then there is my middle boy…..
Not a fan of worksheets that repeatedly ask him to show the learning he already showed. Anxiety and autism leading to a great desire to avoid written output…but ask him a question…..and very curious and willing to learn….usually….and more often now that he is part of our districts pilot PBL (project based learning) hub called inspirED. Similarities to High Tech High have helped my son to see value and relevance in much (admittedly not all) of his day. 

And the latest project definitely got his interest. It is Canada’s 150th anniversary and the activity was to share a way to celebrate this date. While driving home I could see he was thinking of a few ideas and through some discussion in the car someone said “it should be connected to Pokémon” (which makes sense as he knows soooo much on this topic). And it wasn’t long before it was decided he would try to do 150 pokemon that connect to Canada. 

All connected to Canada in uniquely Canadian ways:

Some were funny 

Some flavourful 

Some regional (ogopogo is a legendary lake monster in the Okanagan)

Some reflected famous Canadians

Some our west coast

And his favourite based on the raven which appears prominently in our First People’s stories 

I was amazed at the though and connections he made – all 150 in his album (and Dear Nintendo: he has hundreds of more original creations with backstories and reimagined originals for different regions) connect to reflect different aspects of the mosaic we call Canada. And (to me) best of all was that he did not receive a grade/letter/% but descriptive feedback that connects to his pathway as a life long learner. Can’t do this via worksheets. 

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