Time in Tucson: Feeling & Remembering What AFL is About
Updated: Mar 23
We are pleased to share with you today the first piece from our storytelling series of reflections and noticings coming out of our convening in Tucson!
Please stay tuned for more writings from our team of storytellers and revisit the blog here to see them all in the coming months.
In February 2023, the Assessment for Learning Convening took place in Tucson, AZ, bringing together the AFL community and inviting in dozens of new friends and partners. At the event were 27 storytellers, gathering, crafting, and reflecting on all manner of things AFL. Shannon King is one of those storytellers.
A Haiku :)
We CAN change the world,
Assessment for Learning friends.
Students lead the way.
In my current role, I’m asked to travel and talk with educators about the BIG ideas of assessment, and quite often, I’m tasked with inviting them to change their thinking about assessment—to take a broader view of the possibilities that assessment holds. Sometimes, that’s a big lift. If I’m being honest, usually it’s a big lift because assessment has traditionally been connected with so much negativity and has been used in ways that demean, diminish and are downright unhelpful to the main stakeholders in the assessment process—the students.
During the Assessment for Learning Project (ALP) convening in Tucson, I had the delight of engaging with educators who rejoice in the possibilities of assessment, who think of assessment as a way to empower and engage students, not as something that is about sorting, judging or grading. Here are three BIG ideas they taught and/or reinforced for me.
1. Assessment is about learning, first and foremost. To that end, equity, grace, and interdependence are valued in assessment for learning. Equity shows up when we provide each student with what they need to succeed, when we recognize and address systemic barriers and biases, and when we value diversity and inclusion. Grace, not a word that is often used in the same breath as assessment, means being compassionate, forgiving, and understanding towards students' mistakes, challenges, and differences, and providing a safe and supportive learning environment. Interdependence means recognizing the interconnectedness of individuals and communities, and creating assessment experiences that value those contributions and perspectives, and promote collaboration and empathy. This was particularly evident as students, such as Aidan, shared their perspectives about assessment experiences: “There is now shame in failure if it’s for the sake of learning.”
2. Building community and fostering a sense of belonging are critical aspects of effective assessment for learning. Students need to feel connected, valued, and respected in their learning environment, and to see themselves as part of a larger community of learners. We know from numerous experts that teachers can promote this by creating assessment opportunities that invite students to share their stories, experiences, and perspectives, to collaborate and co-create representations of their knowledge, and to celebrate their achievement and growth.
One session, facilitated by India Wilson and Lisa Floyd-Jefferson of Reynoldsburg City Schools focused on the use of Socratic Seminars in math as an assessment approach that promotes equity. They shared how Socratic Seminars can be an effective way to have important and challenging conversations, promote critical thinking and communication skills, and build a sense of community and respect for diverse perspectives. In the seminar we held as part of the session, one of the participants in the session shared with the group that they had done some work with teachers in their district about “deficit gaze,” a phrase that refers to the tendency to view students from marginalized groups as deficient or lacking, rather than recognizing and valuing their strengths and assets. Another talked about longing to do math “in community”...the session sparked conversations such as those that helped us live the ideals the presenters were discussing, not just listen to them.
3. Assessment experiences can promote AGENCY, not just compliance and conformity. And when it does, it’s powerful. Kiara, a student at Desert View High School, brought this point home for me when she talked about how becoming more agentic had impacted her school experience: “It takes time to get used to feeling free in your learning, but ultimately I had a deeper appreciation for my learning.” She was part of a team of students who designed learning experiences for the educators visiting her school that day, and the agency she and the other students had in their learning was clear from the way they discussed their assessment and learning experiences with us to the way they facilitated the learning of the 30+ adults in the room.
There are lots of things being talked about when we discuss assessment, and time with the ALP community helped me re-evaluate and recenter my conversations around what really matters.
About the Storyteller
Shannon King, PhD
Chief Learning Officer, Battelle for Kids
Dr. Shannon King leads the Battelle for Kids research and innovation in 21st century learning and assessment design, as well as helping school leaders intentionally align their systems to take their vision to scale.
Shannon has more than 25 years of experience in education roles, including classroom teacher, gifted education resource teacher, instructional coach, and as an administrator supporting professional development and instructional best practices.
Shannon also works with graduate students as an Adjunct Professor at George Mason University and the University of Virginia, teaching master’s level courses in educational leadership, curriculum and instruction, assessment, differentiation, gifted education, and educational research.
Shannon frequently shares her expertise as a presenter at state, regional, and national conferences on topics such as deeper learning, assessment design, instructional coaching, educational leadership and school transformation.