Reflections on Discussion with Ian Landy on Descriptive Formative Assessment

As a part of yesterday’s class, we had a video conference call with Ian Landy, (@technolandy) a principal at an elementary school in Powell River, BC who is very interested in using technology in the classroom and also about moving away from formal assessment methods in the classroom. It was the first video conference call I have ever been a part of, and that was a unique experience!

But what I primarily want to discuss here is what formative assessment. Mr Landy discussed with us about using e-portfolios instead of a typical report card to document student learning; ‘e’ meaning online, and ‘portfolio’ meaning various samples of student work to demonstrate the learning that has occurred over a specific period of time. This is particularly relevant in the wake of the arrival of the new B.C. curriculum, which outlines “Core Competencies” such as “Communication”, “Creative Thinking”, and “Positive Personal and Cultural Identity”¹ that teachers should keep in mind while designing opportunities for their students to learn, which do not naturally lend themselves to assessment. How would you assess students’ ability to think creatively? To communicate well?

This is where e-portfolios come in. They essentially provide what Mr. Landy called a “formative and descriptive feedback loop” between the teacher and the student, allowing students to practice what they have been learning, and receive written teacher input that is more than just a letter grade for further improvement. It takes into consideration that learning is a journey, not just a series of tasks a student completes. It takes the students’ focus off achieving a certain letter grade and puts it on students developing critical skills and attitudes towards learning, such as communication, dedication, self-motivation, etc.

I went to a high school that in some ways seemed to be moving towards e-portfolios as opposed to report cards. Our report cards always had a letter grade we received for the course and the percentage we received in our course, but it also included a letter which symbolized the effort our teacher saw us putting into the course (‘E’ standing for ‘excellent’, ‘G’ standing for good, etc), and at least three sentences written by the teacher of each course outlining what we were working on in the course that particular term, how they have seen us individually as students progress, and what we could work on. Perhaps I am a sucker for praise and compliments, but personally I loved reading the teacher comments, and valued them almost as much as seeing the letter grade I received in that particular course. I wonder if moving from formal final assessments (such as report cards) to formative final assessments (such as e-portfolios) could eliminate students’ drive to work for just a particular letter grade. I wonder how much academic competition between peers would diminish. I wonder how the relationship between a teacher and their students would change for the better, from purely an instructor/student relationship to a role model or mentor/mentee relationship.

Another idea I found interesting about the idea of e-portfolios is that it has the possibility of being student-inclusive, meaning that students could have a say as to what could be incorporated into the e-portfolio. I think this would offer a great opportunity for students to show off the hard work they might have done in one project, and allow for students to feel individually successful. One project might have really connected with one student, and not with another, and e-portfolios could take this into consideration.

Finally, Mr. Landy mentioned that, by keeping an e-portfolio, teachers could include documentations of students work throughout the year, and update it as the work comes in, instead of stressing over writing report cards twice or three times a year. As a pre-service teacher, I am both relieved and apprehensive about this concept: relieved in that I could gradually report student learning and document it in an e-portfolio throughout the semester to save the stress, but apprehensive about the task of documenting 25-30 students’ work throughout the course of the year.

I’m grateful that Ian Landy was able to video conference call my class to discuss formative assessment. He’s definitely given me a lot of food for thought. I don’t know at this point if I would begin my work as a teacher with e-portfolios right away, but I could definitely see myself giving them a try within the first few years of teaching.

Ian Landy also keeps a blog! See it here: https://technolandy.wordpress.com/

~Bethany

¹ See https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/competencies for more information

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