Tag Archives: Assessment for Learning

Agency – teaching jargon destined for overuse?

I have blogged about the concept of student agency before as I continue to explore what it means to me, my practice and in terms of leading a school.

I have to be honest and say that I am disappointed that it seems as though agency and agentic have become the new trendy phrases in schools destined for overuse and misuse. Reminds me of the term life-long learning or 21st century learners which was dropped into every conversation and used to encompass everything associated with current effective approaches to teaching and learning. It got to the point where many cringed when the words were used.

So now the urge to do so is back with teachers describing their practice as supporting agentic learners, a point which I would question. I would suggest that perhaps a lack of professional learning has led to this happening with the phrase being coined without a full understanding behind it. Perhaps that is a little harsh and on a continuum of developing agentic learners they are simply at the initial developmental end. Maybe my understanding is what is a fault or I can’t get beyond the pureness of agency.

This post has been prompted by a couple of discussions where people have described their agentic practices. For example, Teacher A having a ‘Must Do Can Do’ approach in their classroom suggesting this is student agency, or Teacher B stating a ‘reading contract’ type approach (filled with teacher generated activities) as being agentic. I do not see that simply providing an element of choice = agency, especially when these are secondary often unmonitored activities that play a distant second place to instructional learning directly with a teacher.

So here is my attempt to define what makes agentic learning from my perspective, not based on any research, just a what’s on top, Friday evening, as I dig deeper into this area.

Firstly, a couple of key concepts that guide my thinking.

  1. The foundation for student agency is teaching and learning grounded in assessment for learning practices.
  2. We need to remove the assumption that quality learning only happens when students are working directly with a teacher.

Let me take a little time to unpack those further.

The foundation for student agency is teaching and learning grounded in assessment for learning practices. In order for any student to be agentic they need to know what they are learning and why, what success looks like and what they need to do to get there. To take it a step further in order to be agentic, this process is directed by the learner, for the learner, but not in isolation and not without the act of supporting other learners and learning. Something like this…

Standard Practice Agentic Practice
  • Teacher using data to determine next steps in learning for students
  • Teacher finding examples/exemplars of learning that demonstrates expectations, goals, focus points
  • Teacher co-constructing success criteria with students
  • Teacher identifying teaching points and addressing them throughout learning.
  • Teacher and peers providing feedback and next steps.
  • Self-assessments by learner.
  • Student uses data to determine next steps in their learning.
  • Student sources examples of the learning or expertise to focus and guide.
  • Student develops their own personalised success criteria.
  • Student identifies where support is required and seeks support/feedback from the best person to guide them
  • Self-assessments/monitoring embedded throughout
  • Student recognises other students’ learning and supports this through effective personalised feedback/forward, questioning

It would be fair to say that many teachers, certainly that I know of, implement parts of the 2nd column, but I don’t know any (myself included!) that have reached the stage where all of it is happening consistently and is the norm. Maybe because the following concept was not in place..?

We need to remove the assumption that quality learning only happens when students are working directly with a teacher. Most educators are familiar with the concept of a flipped classroom, where content is provided prior the lesson enabling rich discussion and learning activities that use rather than learn the content. Take that concept and adapt it to working with the teacher/working independently in class. Traditionally we would place emphasis on time with the teacher, with the independent activities practicing and reinforcing already learnt content and skills.

What if that was flipped over and teachers instead emphasised and prioritised the independent activities? Is this not when the teacher truly becomes the coach and facilitator of learning, deliberately allowing for agency to be developed? This approach is a fundamental change, and one that I would suggest requires a very knowledgeable and effective teacher, with the ability to design independent contexts that are personalised, challenging, that require the students to make decisions about their learning, in an environment or culture where everyone is supporting each other to develop their own process of agency.

I am not an expert in this area but the concept of agency is something that fits very comfortably with my beliefs on teaching and learning. My thoughts may be at odds with others in terms of what agency is.

However, I just hope that when the terms is used it is used appropriately and knowledgeably, otherwise I fear it will join the scrap heap of overused education jargon before the full potential of the concept has been given the time to embed itself if the everydayness of teaching and learning.

Sometimes I wonder if the removal of professional learning programmes such as Assess to Learn (AtoL) was a big step away from the foundations and principles of what we want our students to do and become.

CORE Breakfast Seminar on ePortfolios

ePortfolio presentation given at a CORE Education Breakfast Seminar.

Some of the main points from the presentation:

  • clarify your purpose (pedagogy) before your technology (eportfolio tool)
  • the eportfolio becomes the vehicle for drawing in the components of effective pedagogy and assessment
  • engage all stakeholders in discussion about the purpose and expectations surrounding eportfolios
  • the eportfolio learning process is complex and cyclic, mirroring our expectation of teachers engaging in teaching as inquiry
  • quality feedback, reflection and next steps are integral for eportfolios to support learning and attainment of goals

The Role of e-Portfolios in Formative and Summative Assessment

This report and a series of case studies has recently been released by JISC. The publications relate to eportfolio practice in Higher and Further Education contexts in the UK. While that in itself is quite far removed from the primary classroom in New Zealand, whenever the words formative and eportfolios are mentioned in the same line I am naturally curious, due to my own research into the relationship between the two.

Firstly some nuts and bolts stuff. The case studies unpack eportfolio practice in 34 institutions, asking a range a questions/prompts including the context to who is assessing the eportfolio, the tool used and its’ social networking ability and reference to the pedagogical support and summative/formative assessment implications. The question and prompts in themselves are quite focused and almost suggest a criteria of what should or shouldn’t be used in a successful eportfolio implementation. Regarding the tool used, the predominant option for eportfolios was either PebblePad or BlackBoard based with other options including Plone, Joomla, Elgg, Moodle, WordPress, ePet or a self developed in house system.

The report itself has some useful parts. The discussed benefits of eportfolios reinforce the concepts we already are familiar with. I found Table 2, the Matrix of e-portfolio functionality and pedagogical/administrative value against case studies the most useful as it cross references criteria to particular case studies in order to find out more.

Overall though I was disappointed with the reference to and discussion of eportfolios and how they were supporting formative practice. Maybe this comes from my definition of formative practice as opposed to those writing the report:

The terms ‘formative’ and ‘summative’ do not describe different types of assessment. They refer to the purpose of the assessment, the use to which it is put. The summative purpose of assessment is to identify educational achievement as a matter of public record, for use in selection and certification. The formative purpose is to provide information to the learner and others concerned with the process of learning about the learner’s progress, strengths and areas for improvement. Practitioners often refer to assessment used for formative purposes as ‘feedback’.

Or maybe that highlights the difference between the educational sectors, primary vs. tertiary and primary vs. secondary. I see formative assessment (better labeled as assessment for/of/as learning) as being distinctly different from summative assessment. Yes you can use summative assessment formatively, as is almost suggested above, but formative assessment is so much more than that. Student control, student ownership, student understanding. Yes feedback is a component of that as is the learner’s progress, strengths and areas for improvement, but so is effective questioning, co-construction, exemplars, peer and self assessments, ongoing reflections… how does eportfolio use in HE and FE support such strategies?

Are existing assessment structures and expectations holding these institutions back from letting go and giving ownership and responsibility over to the learner?

ePortfolios: Student Feedback on Learning

My formal teacher inquiry for the year is continuing to develop, not a fast as I would have liked but none the less there is progress. The broad goal of the inquiry is to increase quality feedback from parents in the students’ portfolios, and therefore contributing to improved student achievement. We know that feedback has a huge impact on improving student learning through the research from such people as Hattie, Black and Wiliam and Clarke. Our AP at school has also blogged about it here highlighting our school’s belief on the importance of feedback.

Last term focused on getting the students involved in giving each other quality feedback on their peers learning. This was structured, modeled and discussed with the students and success criteria co-constructed.

The students suggested and agreed that quality feedback would:

  • tell them how to get better
  • give positive comments as well as advice on how to get better
  • use the success criteria to guide your comments
  • make the comments easily understood

A great start to providing quality feedback! Time was specifically set aside for the feedback to take place. It was planned for and valued rather than a last minute or accidental.

Here are some examples of what it looked like in practice:

I think that your art is great!!!! I really like your quote. You didn’t have any dead space and it doesn’t look like you have rushed it. You also have the same style writing as Colin McCahon. Next time you should blend your colours more. :-)

I really like your Colin McCahon art work. I like how you put your picture into three different segments but you could have used a thinner brush and made it a bit more smooth.

I think that you kept it really simple, you used a great range of colours!
Next time I think you could blend your colours a bit better.

Hi, I think that your Colin McCahon art work is really good but I think that you could have blended a bit more and use more colours. I like it how you used lots of sections and I like your colours.

Your crossword was a bit challenging some of the clues I didn’t really get but I figured it out in the end. I think you need to make your clues a bit more easier next time.

I think that it was great because it was hard but not to hard. Next time I think that you should have photo of a snake as well.

Wow that was hard. Your colours where good and you had interesting words and great synonyms. You needed to have picture that were related more to the thing you were talking about.

These are just a selection of some really great examples of student feedback.

So where to now?

The inquiry focus in the classroom context will be to make seeking and receiving peer feedback a natural part of the learning process. At the moment this is very much a teacher directed part of their learning. The second focus of the inquiry leading into the term is with the students themselves taking their understanding of how to give quality feedback home to their parents and involving them in giving quality feedback on learning.

I look forward to the students taking on board the role of the teacher in engaging their parents in this process.

eFellow Research Report

My eFellowship research report is ready to go.

The research investigates the formative benefits of eportfolios using two case studies of primary school classes as they implement an online eportfolio solution. Observations and interviews with students and teachers and the eportfolios are used to compare the outcomes with the underlying characteristics of formative assessment thus answering the question, what are the formative benefits of eportfolios?

I hope you find it useful!

ePortfolios and Assessment for Learning by Nick Rate

What’s it all about?

I am the Deputy Principal at Russell Street School in Palmerston North, New Zealand with an ongoing enthusiasm to engage and motivate students through eLearning. My current interest involves exploring how digital portfolios can share, celebrate and promote student learning in an online environment.

Digital portfolios not only have the potential to share student learning outcomes in an interactive and engaging way, but also have the ability to clearly demonstrate and engage parents, students and teachers in assessment for learning.

ePortfolios can show what students are learning, how they are successful, the learning process and enable active engagement in the ongoing feedback and reflection cycle that takes place in order for a student to take ownership and control of their learning.

This research project will explore what teachers can do in order to maximise the formative learning benefits of ePortfolios.