Dec 192017

How can I reflect my Outcomes Based Assessment practice in my course outline?

Connect the ‘assessment’ section of the outline to the outcomes either by strand or individual outcome:

By strand might look like this for English:

This class has ten outcomes that describe what you need to understand, know, and be able to do.  They include outcomes in three categories:

  1. How effectively you can take in key details and understand by reading, listening, and viewing, called Comprehend and Respond    32%
  2. How well you write, speak, and create visuals, called Compose and Create   54%
  3. How successfully you set goals, reflect, and think about your learning, called Assess and Reflect   14%

By outcome might look like this for Arts Education:

  • CP9.1 Create dance compositions that express perspectives and raise awareness about a topic of concern to youth   6%
  • CP9.2 Investigate and use choreographic processes  4%

*Ensure that students understand the outcome including technical language. I’ve even heard of a teacher who co-writes with their class a common understanding of each outcome on the outline next to the provincial outcomes. This process keeps the technical language, but ensures students understand what the outcome means.

Consider providing examples of evidence which could demonstrate outcome attainment:

CP9.1 Create dance compositions that express perspectives and raise awareness about a topic of concern to youth   6%  Evidence of learning may include, but is not limited to: Inquiry map, Dance journal, Phase choreography

Perhaps include levels of proficiency such as with this physical education example:

Outcome: I can improve my movement and tactics by breaking them into parts and practicing them

  1. Not Yet Meeting Expectations: Does not identify components of a movement or apply them to practice
  2. Beginning to Meet Expectations: Identifies some components of a movement and practices only with guidance
  3. Proficient in Meeting Expectations: Consistently identifies all components of a movement and practices to enhance performance. Accepts and applies feedback.
  4. Exceeding Expectations: Independently and accurately practices all components of a movement. Self reflects and seeks feedback.

Communicate how the grade will be organized by outcomes such as this example from math:

You will have multiple opportunities to demonstrate your understanding of each outcome on quizzes and unit exams. This will form the basis of your evaluation. Quizzes will most often target a specific outcome, while unit exams will be organized and separated by outcome. You will receive a mark for each outcome, rather than one mark for each unit. (Therefore on unit exams you will be given multiple marks – one for each outcome). This way you will know exactly what you know and what you don’t know yet.

These are some quick tips and tricks to help with the creation of your course outlines. For further discussion and ideas on this topic check out this blog.


Dec 182017

My students are all at different places in their learning. Can accessing prior knowledge help to create engagement and personal connections for the diversity of learners in my classroom?


What is Prior Knowledge?

Prior knowledge is comprised of the lived experiences, ideas and understandings that each individual student brings with them to new learning. It is as unique as the learner themselves and can be accessed to help students better understand, consider, and remember new content.

Why is connecting to a student’s previous understanding or prior knowledge important?

  • reinforces the belief that ALL students have pertinent experiences and knowledge
  • allows students to activate their own experiences and learning in order to apply them to the new content
  • helps students to engage in new content in an authentic manner

Ideas to integrate connections to prior knowledge, before learning, can include previous content knowledge or personal knowledge. Here are some examples of activities which will help to access prior learning:

  • Reviewing previous lessons and making connections before adding a new layer: “Yesterday, we learned about _________ . Did that remind you of anything?” or “How do you think what we learned yesterday, can apply to today’s learning goal?”
  • Brainstorming about a topic to surface associations. To take this one step further you can also group similar ideas into categories. This works well with questions such as: “What do you think of when you hear the word __________ ?”
  • Think-Pair-Share: thinking through reflection, notes or drawing and then sharing with a shoulder partner before sharing out to the group. This strategy can benefit students when there isn’t a right answer, such as asking for them to form opinions or connect an idea to their own life.
  • Anticipation Guide: with a short list of thought-provoking statements which connect to the new learning, have students mark whether they agree or disagree and then share their answers and reasons with a partner. You can also return to the anticipation guide after the learning to compare if their opinions have changed.

By explicitly eliciting the prior knowledge of students you are helping them to access and build information, but you are also allowing all voices in the classroom to present their understandings equally and honouring the diversity of lived experiences which makes up the learning foundations of our students.

Consider further exploration of this topic through excellent resources such as:

Teaching Reading in the Content Areas by Urquhart & Frazee

This is Disciplinary Literacy by Cossett Lent




Nov 232017

I’ve spend some time now in a love/hate relationship with rubrics.

I can see how clearly articulated levels of achievement can guide students, but I also struggle with the limitations which can accompany a box full of criteria. In her book, How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading, Susan M. Brookhart helped me to sort, clarify and articulate my ideas about rubrics which has reignited my relationship with rubrics.

First she defined the purpose of rubrics as “coherent sets of criteria and descriptions of levels of performance for these criteria.” (4)  In the following videoclip, Brookhart explains how rubrics can benefit student learning if they are properly constructed to encourage levels of performance rather than being a list of performance tasks.

What kinds of rubrics are there?

Analytic Trait: has separate sections for each demonstration of skill/knowledge. These are more commonly used and can help facilitate specific feedback.

Holistic: a description for all criteria combined together. Although less commonly used, they can be quite valuable when feedback isn’t a primary goal, such as with final exams in high school.

Regardless of which style rubric you use, they should assess performance.

When is it better to use a checklist or another structure rather than rubrics?

If your information can be measured numerically rather than include described levels, consider using a checklist.

___ Title Page

___ Formatting (APA/MLA/Chicago Style)

___ Has 5 paragraphs

___ Uses a graph/image or other visual representation

What should I avoid when creating rubrics?

To ensure that rubrics measure and provide guidance about the learning here are some common mistakes that you can avoid:

  • Scoring more than one outcome per rubric: Ensure that you have given appropriate opportunity for students to learn and practice the outcomes which are being assessed. It becomes quite challenging to communicate levels of achievement and connect them to the classroom learning/examples with many outcomes.
  • Scoring non-learning (neatness, etc.)These elements may appear in a checklist for students to consider, but the assessment should only consider the achievement of outcomes.
  • Scoring by counting up parts rather than looking for evidence of proficiency in the outcome: Proficiency is the key idea here and is linked to the demonstration of learning against the curricular outcome. Although the parts are important, they should be considered in respect to quality rather than quantity. 
  • Scoring for this students have not been cued to doClear targets are essential to measure learning. Students should have a clear understanding of what learning is being measured and what different levels of learning demonstration looks like.
  • Scoring for products rather than outcomes (16) : With outcomes based assessment, we’re aligning our assessments with the outcomes and weighing a variety of evidence to determine where the student is reliably demonstrating their learning at a given point in time.

What should I keep in mind when co-creating rubrics with students?

Having clearly articulated targets will help students understand where they are at in their own learning and also how they can improve. This has more impact with the following considerations:

  • student friendly language about outcomes (I will know I have learned this when I can…) (93)
  • use samples of student work to exemplify levels of performance
  • draft and revise the rubric with students as their learning evolves
  • have a clear understanding of the indicators used to measure learning

How do I convert my rubric into an average?

Okay, that’s a valid question, but this blog post just isn’t the best format to have such an immense conversation. Without exploring that concept in detail I’ll leave you with one idea to consider… Your rubric doesn’t need to start at 0. What I mean by that is if you have 4 categories they don’t have to be 0%, 25%, 50%, & 100%. There can be ranges and there are models which begin at 50%. My advice is to be thoughtful, clear and consistent to create fairness through assessment.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and if assessment continues to be an area of interest I suggest becoming involved professionally with committees and learning groups around this topic. Here are some other resources to consider:

Seven Strategies for Assessment for Learning by J. Chappuis

The Feedback Friendly Classroom by McCallum

Leading the Way to Assessment for Learning by Davies, Herbst & Reynolds



Nov 062017

I’ve aligned my grade book with curricular outcomes, now what?

After the initial steps to convert the gradebook to measure outcome achievement, doors in my mind begin to open which question how we assess learning — at least they did for me.

  • What defines mastery?
  • What evidence provides the best evidence of student learning?

This morning a group of dedicated SPS professionals gathered to discuss the emerging possibilities of assessment now that they’ve converted to outcomes based assessment. Through discussion and panel presentation, we explored these questions and more. Although we discovered that no size fits all, it became clear that we weren’t in this alone.

Guskey invites the following three criteria to consider as alternatives to traditional averaging:

  1. Give priority to the most recent evidence
  2. Give priority to the most comprehensive evidence
  3. Give priority to evidence related to the most important skills

I would consider adding a fourth point: Give consideration to the student’s ability to consistently or reliably perform/understand at that level.

We heard from 4 panellists who have each undertaken personal journeys to improve their assessment practices. Here is my loose interpretation of each:

Lisa Aune currently uses a 3 point scale to assess and after consideration she is moving to a 4 point scale to represent mastery of knowledge and skills in the Arts. She also uses a climbing criteria which reflect a growth mindset and considers the complexity of ability at the end of a semester versus that of the beginning.

Murray Guest has changed the conversation in his Physics classes from marks to learning by implementing a 5 point scale of descriptors such as “mastery” and “very good”. He also considers the weighting of complexity when converting to a 100 point percentage.

Sheldon Lewchuk uses the opportunity of a final assessment for students to demonstrate outcome growth and uses this format to provide opportunity to demonstrate new learning in Science class. He then negotiates, with the student, an appropriate mark for that outcome which considers the newly demonstrated skills and understanding.

Candace Elliott-Jensen (me) presented the concept of mark blocking. When grading in English Language Arts, I would mark using intervals of 5% with clear expectations of skills required to obtain each level.

All of these practices have one thing in common: strong understanding of curricula and clearly communicated targets for student achievement. 

For more information please consider the following resources:

On Your Mark by Guskey

Elements of Grading by Reeves

How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading by Brookhart


Nov 062017

Students aren’t able to understand the material I give them.

Is this a concern you’ve grappled with? With content heavy curricula, it’s important that students have the necessary skills to understand a variety of text. A study group of secondary teachers (SLAM) got together to research how students digest text and this is what we found…

There are 6 different areas which contribute to helping students understand text:

  1. Connecting to Prior Knowledge
  2. Essential Vocabulary
  3. Summarization
  4. Inferencing
  5. Making connections within the text
  6. Metacognition

When students have all these skills in place, they are better able to understand text and take on the new content learning.  When there are gaps in these skills, many students struggle against the text rather than focusing on the new content.

What are these skills and how can they help students better achieve in my classroom?

  • Connecting to prior knowledge allows students to activate their own experiences and learning in order to apply them to the new content. This can include content knowledge such as where they might have encountered these ideas or even textual knowledge about how to use text features such as titles and diagrams as precursors to learning.
  • Vocabulary is key within the subject areas. Each discipline has words which unlock the doors to learning in that subject area including: estimation, cycles, theme, monarchy, etc. Knowledge of these terms allows students to begin to collect ideas and reason in a discipline specific manner.
  • Summary allows students to connect the main ideas and vocabulary in a text to create deeper meaning. The interconnectedness of ideas is often foundational to concept attainment.
  • Inferencing is where students consider what’s not explicitly stated in a text. Considerations such as what is the purpose of a text and who is the intended audience.
  • Connecting the text to self, text and the world allows students to apply their personal experiences to the new information as well as apply it to other information or occurrences around them. This process creates a sense of personal relevance for the reader.
  • Metacognition is the ability to reflect about the strategies employed to decode text. Students may understand this best as: what did you do when you didn’t understand or how would you help a friend who didn’t understand.

To help the students decode the subject specific text in your class consider these skills when presenting text.

For more information on this topic consider the following:

Teaching Reading in the Content Areas by Urquhart & Frazee

Start Where They Are: Differentiating for Success with the Young Adolescent by Karen Hume



Mar 152017

March 14th (3/14) is recognized around the world as Pi Day. A mathematical constant, Pi represents the ratio between circumference of a circle and its diameter. Typically represented as 3.14159, Pi (Greek letter “π”) continues infinitely without repetition or pattern, and can be calculated to more than one trillion digits past its decimal point.

The late Russian composer Igor Stravinsky once stated that “musical form is close to mathematics—not perhaps to mathematics itself, but certainly to something like mathematical thinking and relationship.” Building on this connection between music and mathematics, composer Michael Blake created a musical representation of what pi sounds like. Take a listen to hear what happens when you transpose the first 31 digits of the number pi into musical notes!

Apr 272015

Assessment for Learning Practices

Wiliam (2011) states that professional development should focus on formative assessment, as a regular assessment-teacher-action cycle produces substantial increases in student learning. Teacher learning should include:

  •          understanding base knowledge of assessment practices.
  •          planning for implementation of strategies to respond to the assessment; and
  •          discussing instructional changes made and results on student learning.

Mathematics concepts build over time. While the focus for many provinces, school divisions, and schools is to increase student achievement in mathematics, that requires increased opportunities for students to be able to engage in grade level mathematics. This can only occur through opportunities to fill gaps in skills and understanding, which begins with identification of those gaps.

Gap Filling

Diagnostic Assessments

The first step in providing the opportunity for students to engage in grade-level mathematics is to identify which essential skills students are proficient at and which skills are barriers to engagement. A grade-level Pre-Assessment built on Essential Learning Outcomes is a tool that can help inform students, teachers, and parents.  A Pre-Assessment can be administered in its entirety at the beginning of the school year, or broken apart into concepts needed as pre-skills for each unit of study in the new year.

The structure of a continuum of Pre-Assessment Diagnostics is

Diagnostic Design

The questions in a Grade 3 Pre-Assessment are identical to those questions in the Grade 3 Post-Assessment. In addition to those core questions, concepts from Grade 3 are added. A suggestion is that the Post-Assessment would be administered in early May to allow for reteaching and redirection in order to best prepare students for the next grade level.

Not all concepts are included in these diagnostic assessments. Only those concepts that are skill based are included. For instance, the concept of Area is not included, as a student can understand the concept of area as an application of multiplication. Multiplication appears in the PreAssessment, but knowing the area of a rectangle does not.

These assessments are meant to be formative only. They are not meant to be a part of a reporting document, as they do not fully test conceptual understanding in the depth that curriculum requires. These are only a tool to know which preskills students are struggling with, and which preskills students are proficient with.

The diagnostics below were created by a working group from our Mathematics Community, including: Dulcie Puobi, Victoria MacMillan, Jennifer Brokofsky, Michelle Naidu, Lisa Bryden, Sharon Harvey, and Terry Johanson.

Grade 3 Pre-Assessment Grade 3 Post-Assessment
Grade 4 Pre-Assessment Grade 4 Post-Assessment
Grade 5 Pre-Assessment Grade 5 Post-Assessment
Grade 6 Pre-Assessment Grade 6 Post-Assessment
Grade 7 Pre-Assessment Grade 7 Post-Assessment
Grade 8 Pre-Assessment Grade 8 Post-Assessment
Grade 9 Pre-Assessment Grade 9 Post-Assessment
Grade 10 Pre-Assessment


The Kindergarten to Grade 2 Diagnostics Numeracy Assessments have a different format than the Grade 3 and up.  First of all these assessments are interview based and are intended to take no more than 15 minutes per student to administer.  Secondly, these assessments include a set of cards, a recording sheet and a rubric to support identification of students current level of understanding.

The Diagnostic Numeracy Assessments will not measure grade level concepts in enough detail to allow you to determine a report card grade. The outcomes that are represented on this diagnostic are skill based outcomes that fall into the strands of Number and Operations as well as Patterns and Relations and therefore, do not assess the mathematics curriculum in it’s entirety. For this reason, using these assessments for reporting purposes would be inappropriate and is not recommended.

The Kindergarten to Grade 2 Diagnostic Numeracy Assessments were created by a working group of teachers from our K-5 Mathematics Community including: Rhonda Wacker, Rosemary Vinet, Kelly Massier-Anderson, Elizabeth Phipps, Tracy Schnell-Persson, Wendy Macleod, Jennifer Hamon-Adair, Jodie Wachs, Dulcie Puobi, Jennifer Brokofsky, and Cassandra Neufeld

 Task Cards Post Kindergarten  Booklet Kindergarten
 Task Cards Post Grade 1  Booklet Post Grade 1
 Task Cards Post Grade 2  Booklet Post Grade 2
Nov 072014

Gallery walks in a classroom mimic what would happen when you were visiting an art gallery or museum.  Most often, the visitor goes from picture to picture, or exhibit to exhibit trying to understand the artist’s meaning of the picture, or the purpose of the exhibit.  That is exactly what you hope to gain in a gallery walk in your classroom; students critically studying pictures or questions and making responses that would cause others to stop, think, and reflect.  Gallery walks are a great way to stimulate engagement, choice, and collaboration in the classroom.

There are different ways to do a gallery walk in a classroom.  Some Gallery walks are meant to encourage questions and curiosity, while others evaluate student understanding of concepts and unearth misconceptions. Used effectively, gallery walks can be used as an introduction to a unit or theme, as a concept attainment lesson, or as a way to gain peer feedback.  Obviously, gallery walks can be done in art, but they also lend themselves nicely to:

Most commonly, gallery walks are done with questions or pictures.  A gallery walk is a way to create movement for students while they dialogue.  Simply put, students get out of their desks and move through the room past the pictures or the questions.  Students can be recording thoughts, ideas, and answers on their own paper, or putting questions and thoughts up on the chart paper that has been provided so that others can enter into what has been recorded before they get to the gallery walk exhibit.  Depending on your outcome, gallery walks can be done individually, in partners, or small groups.  The number of exhibits can vary for a gallery walk, but realize the more stations the more time that is needed to complete the gallery walk.  Rotating through the exhibits can be a formal organized process where each station gets approximately 3-5 minutes, while other gallery walks can be more fluid allowing the students to choose how long they stay at a station.  Teachers can move through the room collecting observations to inform future lessons, or to stimulate conversations.  It is always important that at the end of the gallery walk that there is some type of synthesis of thought.

Key pieces to keep in mind when creating a gallery walk are:

  • It is most effective when the gallery walk is set up with open ended questions, or a focus that engages in higher order thinking skills
  • Clear step by step instructions and expectations of how the gallery walk should progress and how students should record their learning is important.
  • Arranging the room so that it is conducive to students moving through the different exhibits.IMG_1131
May 292013

Math Trials

The opportunity to move the learning outside of the classroom can often serve to engage students in mathematics.  Math can come alive and be seen in the world beyond the four classroom walls.  One way to move math out of the classroom is with math trails.   Math trails are like scavenger hunts with a math spin to them.  As students move along the “course” they have opportunities to explore, observe, discuss, and connect with math in the world.

To get you started on designing your own math trails the NCTM has a great article called Designing Math Trails in the Elementary Classroom.  They have ideas on how to select a site, on- site activities, classroom follow through activities, and cross curricular connections.

The Canadian Math Trail is a great site for ideas about math trails created across Canada by teachers.

Apr 102013

There are some great print and online resources out there for supporting students subitizing skills.  I have highlighted some of them below along with a website you can visit for ideas on extending the learning beyond the book.

Ten Black Dots

 Creating A Ten Black Dots Book with your students.  


Press Here

Press Here Activities


12 Ways to Get to 11

Activity Using Cuisenaire Rods