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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

By: Justin Wells

Executive Director, Envision Learning Partners

Tucson Convening Design Partner

Introduction by Gary:

Young Whan Choi served as the “Manager of Performance Assessments” at the Oakland Unified School District (it’s kind of exciting that such a thing exists). He’s also a longtime friend of the Assessment for Learning Project. He recently published a book, Sparks Into Fire: Revitalizing Teacher Practice Through Collective Learning, and he’s also the host of The Young and the Woke podcast.

Our very own Justin Wells, Executive Director of Envision Learning Partners, recently sat with Young Whan to discuss his book and how it intersects with the themes of the Assessment for Learning Project. Here are three short excerpts, followed by the complete interview.

Clip #1 What is the role of emotion in Oakland Unified capstone projects?

Clip #2: How can performance assessments support learner belonging, equity, and liberation?

Clip #3: How do we push students in a performance assessment system?

Grab a cup of coffee. Watch the whole dang thing here!


Young Whan Choi (he/him) has been a teacher in South Korea, New York City, Providence, RI, and Oakland, CA, during which time he developed expertise in project-based learning, curriculum design, and culturally relevant teaching. Currently, he teaches the next generation of social studies educators at UC Berkeley. He is the author of Sparks Into Fire: Revitalizing Teacher Practice Though Collective Learning (Teachers College Press, 2022) as well as articles for the Washington Post, EdSource, The East Bay Times, EdWeek, and others. He produces and hosts The Young and the Woke podcast.

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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

By Gary Chapin

Writer, Educating for Good

Assessment is storytelling!

Any demonstration of learning tells a story of that kid’s learning. It’s got an arc. The kid starts at a place where they want to know a thing and move to a place where they begin to know that thing, and then to where they know it better.

Similarly, the Assessment for Learning Project is a learning project. What I mean is it’s not just about learning, it is learning. We all are learning. The 2020 Conference in San Diego was a demonstration of learning done by ALP of our learning from the previous three years. For the ALP Tucson convening we’ve decided to have the demonstration and learning emerge side by side. That’s our storytelling effort.

We have already begun recruiting folks from throughout our ALP and Tucson community to serve as story catchers and story tellers at the convening. These folks will be there not only to tell the story of what they see going on at the convening and on the excursions; they will be there to help you tell your story of what you’re doing and seeing. They will catch your stories and then share them.

We’ll have a bunch of activities and protocols throughout the convening that promote story thinking. We’re looking at setting up a story booth (“C’mon over and talk into the can!”)

We’ll take advantage of exit slips and our phones to dip in and out in all sorts of ways. Also … other stuff.

Here are some things to consider that might help this make more sense.

  1. Stories can be big. Stories can be small. Stories can be very small. We might ask you to text us two sentences about what you are doing right now! That’s some story going on.

  2. We use the word “story,” but encourage stuff from any media that works for you. We’ve done Ignite Talks in the past. I’ve written an ALP song. We’ve had giant murals tracking our conversations through the day. Photos are amazing. At some point, one of you will take me up on interpretive dance.

  3. There is no one story. We are doing storytelling not to come to one story, but to weave a network of stories.

  4. Stories can be planned or impromptu. Edited or raw. Improvised or composed.

  5. SO. MANY. STORIES. We will gather so many stories, of all sizes and types, from all sorts of people, that patterns will emerge from the vast mix. “Quantity has a quality all its own.” You will be telling your stories and bringing them into a great murmuration. We—the nominal organizers of ALP—won’t have to decide what our story is. Our stories will tell us.

Deciding to lean into story has a bunch of implications. I talk about those in this piece, Talking Story: Embracing Our Humanity on a Deeper Level. It’s an amazing topic to dive into, and I am indebted to our friends in Hawai’i for opening that rabbit hole for me.

We hope to see you in Tucson to become a part of your story, and you a part of ours.

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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

By Gary Chapin

Writer, Educating for Good

Our Theory of Action

A Theory of Action is a predictive if-then statement. Anytime you’re trying to make change you’ve got an if-then statement, whether you recognize it or not. When you put on a sweater, you are hypothesizing, “If I put on this sweater, then I will be comfortably warm.”

The Assessment for Learning Project is like a sweater in that it also is encompassed by a theory of action. The theory of action tells you what you hope to see happen (then) and what you’re going to do to make it happen (if).

The ALP 2.0 theory of action is still simmering on the stove, but it’s coming together nicely enough to take a taste and offer comment.

Here’s our goal: “We will use scaling of AFL to transform public schooling into an equity enacting system of learning.” A lot to delve into! We are going to transform public schooling, not merely reform it. We are no longer tinkering towards Utopia. We are going to make it into a new thing: an equity enacting system of learning. We aspire to being an anti-racist and anti-colonialist org. We will do this by scaling ALP, but we’ll be scaling it in new ways (some of which haven’t been devised, yet). As I pointed out in a piece, Control, Innovation, and Scale in Our Public School System, our traditional model of scaling initiatives is problematic. We’ll be thinking hard about this.

The four corners of the Theory of Action show how we are proposing to get to the goal. Spoiler: it’s not a straight line. One of the ALP mindsets is recognizing the complexity and mutuality of all aspects of our system. Rather than a path leading to a single destination, think of it as throwing irons in the fire, or, for sports fans, flooding the zone. Think of it as an ALP inundation. We propose to:

  1. Deeply understand and become fluent with ALP practices (and mindsets). ALP is a new way of doing learning, a new way of thinking about it, and a new way of envisioning what kids ought to be. Relationships are realigned and deepened. Conversations become different. BELONGING is a primary value. Every conversation carries with it the possibility of opening a rabbit hole for you to dive down.

  2. Learn how to use ALP practices to promote academic learning while validating identity and expanding belonging and agency of individual learners. This reflects the fact that, on one level, ALP is a massive R&D program. We are ambitious in our reach, but the thinking and the doing go hand in hand. In Tucson we’ll spend time talking in the passionate abstract, and time on the ground (or, rather, in the schools). Having an idea that doesn’t influence practice is functionally the same thing as having no idea at all.

  3. Learn how to use ALP principles of practice to bring groups of individuals into equity-seeking learning communities. This IS EXACTLY WHAT WE’RE DOING IN TUCSON IN FEBRUARY! WE’RE EXCITED AND … OKAY, I’LL STOP YELLING! Academic priorities don’t unfold alongside issues of identity, belonging, agency, and equity; all of these things are deeply and profoundly connected. Seriously, though, you should come to Tucson.

  4. Support/sponsor/participate in co-created redesign of local and state assessment and accountability policies. The elephant in the classroom. Sometimes I find myself thinking of ALP as a form of civil disobedience. This is a reasonable way to think, but it won’t get the job done. We have to think at the accountability policy level, where the inequities of the status quo are baked into the bread.

I wasn’t kidding about this document being in process. Any thoughts, comments, or questions you might have are welcome.

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