Session 1: Beliefs about assessment

I have completed the planning stage for the first session of the workshop on assessment for my colleagues. The central idea of the workshop is assessment is integral to all effective planning, teaching and learning. The goal of the first session is to understand how our personal beliefs about assessment impact on our practice. 

Here are my reflections:

I LOVE planning workshops. I enjoy the process of researching, of considering how teachers can engage with the content, what differing conclusions they are likely to come up with and how these responses can help us to establish a shared vision of assessment. I enjoy selecting tasks that will help them analyse their current ideas, engage with others who may hold different perspectives, and make connections with other previously explored ideas. My workshop preparation has shifted a lot in the last few years. Now I develop fewer tasks, but the tasks we do are more complex, require deeper analysis and discussion, and challenge teachers to create artefacts that can be used to share their understanding.

There are four questions that I use to guide my workshop planning, in addition to the conceptual understandings I want the participants to acquire. I do not remember where I got them from, so huge apologies and thanks to the original author.

  1. Are all learners engaged?
  2. Are learners constructing their own understanding?
  3. Are learners creating artefacts as evidence of their understanding?
  4. Are learners reflecting on their learning?

I’ll address the first one here, as it has a big impact on the whole workshop, especially the beginning planning phases.

Are all learner’s engaged?  For this workshop, this means considering three big issues – language, environment, and interest.

1. Language: Since I work in an international school, our teaching staff speaks a variety of languages. Many are second or third language English speakers, so I need to ensure they can access the information that is being shared, either in their own language or in accessible English. We also have many versions of English on our campus – Canadian English, British English, South African English, Kenyan English, New Zealand English, etc… Very often we have different words to describe the same ideas. So, establishing a common vocabulary is going to be key to a successful workshop.

For this session, language is going to be a big challenge particularly as there is a lot of jargon around assessment, so I have decided to create a glossary of key terms that teachers could refer to and where they can record the word they are more familiar with. I have chosen videos that have subtitles in English so everyone can access the information, even if the presenter’s accent is difficult for them to understand. I have developed opportunities for the participants to choose which language they want to operate in.

2. Environment: To attend, we have to be in a state of high alert, low anxiety. I often ask teachers at the beginning of workshops to make lists of what helps and what hinders their learning, and the physical environment is often listed in the hinders section – too hot, too cold, uncomfortable chairs, too much sitting, too dark, electronic humming noises, etc… Also, the relationships between the participants and between the participant and facilitator are vital. We must establish trust and openness, what is referred to as psychological safety, so that teachers can admit to not knowing, to having misconceptions, to not understanding, without feeling they will be judged or penalised for it.

I realised during my planning session today that we needed more adult sized tables for professional learning sessions as our staff has increased in size and had these ordered. I think to attend well, we need to be comfortable and sitting at tables and chairs built for primary students is not comfortable! Thankfully it is winter here, so the gym (our only big space) will be a comfortable temperature. The construction on campus should be complete, but if not, we have the option of closing the gym walls on that side. I’ve included activities that require teachers to move around the room and sessions are 90 minutes long, with 30 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon, and an hour at lunch. My staff has already written an essential agreement that guides our behaviour in professional learning activities, so we will review that early on the first day, particularly for the new staff. Since we do have a number of new staff, I have also included an icebreaker game which requires table group members to find 10 things in common with each other, and it cannot be things like “we all have arms”. Hopefully this will help people connect, have a couple laughs, and learn a bit more about each other.

As this is an assessment workshop, teachers will also complete a self-assessment by reviewing the 7 Norms of Collaboration (Garmston & Wellman, 2009) posted on the wall and then indicate on the posters (using coloured stickers) the norm that they are strongest at, the one they most need to work on and the one that they most need others to demonstrate. We will then reflect on the data as a group and discuss any commonalities.

3. Interest: Malcolm Knowles set out five principles of adult learning which are especially salient here. Adults see themselves as in control of their own lives, therefore they will decide whether to engage in learning or not. They want to be able to apply their learning immediately to problems they are currently experiencing; they are less likely to engage in learning that is oriented towards future use (Smith, 2002). What this means for me – the content of the workshop must be relevant to the participants’ roles and at a level which is challenging enough to keep them engaged.

To help capture teachers interest, we will begin with their personal experiences. Storytelling is a powerful way for us to share our ideas and reveal our thoughts, so I am asking the participants to get in groups of three to share a story of their own experience of assessment as a learner. Once everyone has shared, we will poll to see who told a positive story of assessment and who told a negative story, and then try to dig out they whys for each group. Following this, teachers will independently rank themselves along a continuum after which they will compare and discuss their results with their group and record similarities and differences. My hope is that through these exercises, my colleagues will be able to see and articulate their beliefs about assessment more clearly, and it will increase their interest in the session.

From here, I have to work out how to develop our shared vision. I definitely think we need to refer back to our assessment policy, but am exploring creative ways. Any suggestions more than welcome.


Smith, M. K. (2002) ‘Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and andragogy’, the encyclopedia of informal


3 thoughts on “Session 1: Beliefs about assessment

  1. Heidi, I just finished posting to your second blog in this series, then thought of something I wanted to ask here. I found it intriguing that you have developed a glossary of terms for the various languages that exist within your school. I’m curious as to how much variety exists out there when it comes to assessment & evaluation jargon. Would you mind sharing some examples of the ones you have unearthed? Also, I got to thinking about my own blogs and the direction I wish to take them. To this point, I have essentially outlined everything that I learned to get to the point I am at now and have shared some tools and methods that I think are innovative. However enlightening that might be for me or maybe a few other people, I feel like I am stuck in a mold because I have fully bought in to authority (Ontario, Hattie) because I honestly think they have it right. However, I think I need to consider other perspectives as well in order to not pigeonhole myself to a certain assessment dogma. You are involved with IB. Is it much different than what I have outlined so far in terms of assessment for, of, as? Can you recommend any resources that see things differently? Or do you think I am on the right track here?

    1. Hi Ryan,
      I think you are on the right track. The IB does some research, but most of it is around the effectiveness of their programmes. They do major reviews of their programmes every 10 years or so and update practices as needed. The PYP review was just completed and we’re now receiving documentation about it. The biggest changes have been about student agency. I think the connection to assessment will be ensuring that our assessment practices position to student to take greater control of their learning. The IB has been pretty clear about the importance of formative assessment and its role in improving teaching.

      The IB also expects teachers and school leaders to keep abreast of educational research and adapt initiatives that support our students’ needs as long as they maintain the IB’s philosophy. Many of our assessment workshops have referenced John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam’s work. I’ll see what I can find from the IB that might be helpful.

  2. Your planning sounds terrific. You’re being considerate of your colleagues in addressing and mitigating barriers and distractions, and your guiding questions work as well for adult/professional learners as they do for younger learners with less experience. Will your workshop include refreshments? I’ve found that teachers relax a bit more if they are fed and watered before diving into a professional development session.

    I like your approach in ensuring that what the educators are learning is going to be immediately valuable and applicable. I always appreciate opportunities for co-constructing knowledge and skills that I can replicate in the classroom. I love when the act of participating in a strategy shows me how it’s done and why it’s useful in a learning process.

    So what are your look-fors for teacher engagement in the workshop? Are they different from those of younger students?


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