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Elevations Community: A Story about Assessment for Learning

Sarah Stephenson and Kevin Dent co-teach 45 Grade 8 students at Dr Knox Middle School. They have the same group of students for all of their core courses: Math, Science, English, Social Studies, PHE, French, and Careers. They have chosen to combine their students into a learning community, and plan and teach collaboratively.

The students chose to name the learning community “Elevations,” and they continue to learn together remotely during these unprecedented times.

Here, Sarah and Kevin answer some questions about how they are approaching assessment for learning during this phase of remote learning.

To watch Sarah and Kevin’s entire video conversation click here, or read their responses below.

1. What are the top ways you are supporting emergency student learning remotely?

One of the things we want to maintain is planning together. We also want to continue to work together. So one of the first things we did is connect with our students. We considered who they are as people and what their needs were. We emailed all the parents and phoned all our students to make that initial connection.

We really like to have morning circle with our students, so we have continued that with our students every Tuesday morning via Zoom. It is optional, but we have really high participation rates in our circles. The purpose of the circle is to check in, asking kids to tell us how they are doing, or to express gratitude, or whatever the question may be.

Our support times are three times per week via Zoom, as well as being available through email for our students or parents. Students can also connect with us through Google Classroom, though it is really nice to see their faces on Zoom!

See an example of their weekly schedule here.

We use the Shelley Moore approach of must, can, and could. Our students have given us feedback that this is a really positive approach because they can decide how far they would like to go with their learning. Some days they do the can, the must, and the could. But other days when they are feeling overwhelmed, or when technology is unavailable, they just have to complete the must. See an example of this here.

2. How are you providing meaningful feedback?

We developed a tracker using a shared Google Sheet. We use it to see what students are getting done. For example, after the first week there were only two students who had not done anything. So we each chose one student and called home to see what was going on. Those students are now actively engaged in their learning.

In addition to checking in on their academics, we then use that information to check in on their emotional wellbeing. If there is no evidence of learning, we can check in on them and see if they need any support.

Regardless of the subject, whatever they are submitting, we are trying really hard to make a comment about their learning and to connect with them. We really try to encourage connection. We use trackers to ensure we are leaving comments for each learner, as well as to inform us as to which students we should ensure we connect with soon.

We are continuing to look for ways to ensure we are giving students meaningful feedback on their learning. We continue to look for their understanding, regardless of “work” completion.

3. How are you providing ways for peer and self-assessment?

We regularly do estimation in class and I (Kevin) wanted to keep that consistent. I did one live Math class so far. It gets lively and the kids get involved in that. They are sharing out and commenting on each other’s answers. Kids were making common mistakes and one of the ways I am providing feedback is to show common mistakes and how to correct them so that all kids can benefit from that.

Also when students ask a question, we create little videos to answer the question, and post it to Google Classroom, so other students can learn from it too!

4. How are you using feedback (and assessment for learning) to help kids feel connected and a sense of belonging?

One way we are doing this is with our virtual circle. To begin each meeting we have some wise words or some shout outs from the last circle that we documented. This is fostering that sense of belonging and community that we have worked so hard to establish all year. Some of them don't have contact with each other apart from our circle, so we let them chat with each other at the end of the circle to foster community.

Another thing we are loving is having the students post to Padlet. Then they are not just answering a question by themselves - students can see each other’s responses/wonders and can build off each other.

5. How are you engaging with students and their families to get feedback on how you might shift the design of the remote learning you are planning?

We are getting students to respond to us with a weekly journal entry. Our journal entry checks in on how they are doing and how they are maintaining their physical and mental well being. Then we ask them how the workload was for the week. This week we are also surveying the parents to see how their child is managing the workload and if there are any areas we can support them further. We will take that feedback and implement that into how we design learning for the next week.

6. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Our next step is to get the students to interact more with each other. Whether it’s in small group zooms or with one of us leading a small group.

The Tech Tools that are helping Kevin and Sarah amplify remote learning:

To see more about what middle school teachers are doing during this time of remote learning, check out samples here.

More information on assessment for learning can be found here.

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