1. Teacher Life

5 Strategies to Promote Learner-Driven, Evidence-Informed Practice

I read the following in a post from my friend Katie Martin, titled “Do Your Assessments Improve Learning?”:

Assessment can (and should) be about growing and learning and instead of being punitive or used as a gotcha moment- I am looking at you “pop quiz”. Over time I have worked with educators to better define the profile of success or competencies and measure what matters. The tendency, that we have to fight against, is to get a rubric and rate students with a number or met or not met on all of the competencies. I have seen time and time again that, based on old habits of grading, it quickly moves from celebrating students’ growth and what they can do to checking the boxes. Instead, when we identify the specific knowledge, skills, and habits that are valued,  explicitly teach them and provide guidance to develop them, we can have students reflect on these skills, get peer feedback, and provide evidence of strengths and areas of growth.

With clear learning goals, we can bring students into the process to create their own portfolio, self-assess, and capture evidence of their own growth like pictures, pieces of work, anecdotes from the playground, home, or group collaboration that better capture their learning journey and growth over time. 

As I read this, I reflected on the opportunity to teach my first graduate-level course with the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 2020. As I wrote in “Innovate Inside the Box,” I believe we truly need to shift to the idea of “Learner-Driven, Evidence-Informed Practice”:

Talking about summative and formative assessment moves the conversation in a slightly better direction, but what if we shifted our focus and our practice to be learner-driven and evidence-informed? With relationships at the core of what we do and learner-driven, evidence- informed practices, education improves dramatically for teachers, administrators, and, most importantly, for students.

So what does that look like in my own practice?  I believe the content I delivered in the course was critical, but honestly, not as important as the learning experience for the students who were a part of the course. How could I help them get the most out of the process?  I would love to say I was 100% successful, but I still have learning to do, but I wanted to share some of my assessment strategies for the course.  I know that they could be implemented easier in a course with adults where I have autonomy in how I teach and how I assess. Still, I also thought about creating an experience for the educators taking the class that might give them some ideas for their schools/classrooms.  

Here are five things that I focused on for the assessment of the course.


1. I learned about my student’s interests and strengths to help shape the course.

I asked the following in “Innovate Inside the Box“:

How would knowing the answers to these questions for our students, both from the educator perspective and the student perspective, help shape a much more positive experience in our classrooms?

At the beginning of the course, I met with the students in a lecture and asked them a variation of the questions listed above after the meeting in a Google form.  What was important about the process was not my questions as much as it was their answers.  As I read through, watched, or listened to their assignments, I would come back to what they wrote in that initial survey and sometimes offer feedback connected to their original answers.  What that process helped me do, was connect the content presented to the needs and strengths of individuals, not pick one or the other.  It also helped me get to know each student in a personalized way and what they hoped to get out of the process. Strangely enough, that actually made the class more enjoyable for me as well.  

This leads to the next point.

2. Gave them options in how they presented their learning and what direction they wanted to go with what they shared.

For each part of the course/module, there was some content and information provided.  In the end, I would provide a few questions to consider, and students were encouraged to A) answer in a way that connects to their current role as an educator and B) share their learning in a way that made sense to them.  I did not provide word count expectations or video/audio length. I wanted them to share their learning on the topic in a way that they could maximize the course for their own context.  However long it took for them to answer adequately was the right length of the assignment. This was an essential element for me because I didn’t want students to do this course plus have to do their job; I wanted this course to be something that would help them improve in their current context.  This doesn’t mean it was less work to take a course while working a job, but it was important that the learning made the most sense to what they were currently doing.

The course was not meant to be a “leadership course” that teachers could take or a “teaching course” that administrators could take.  It was meant to be a course that connected to your current work and career aspirations. That looks different for every student, so I wanted what they shared back with me to be unique to their needs, strengths, and areas in which they wanted to grow.

They could also share their learning in a format that made sense to them. Some did videos, some podcasts, some writing, some visuals, etc. I was not focused on the format as much as I was focused on the learning they communicated through the format they presented.  I had no idea what I was going to receive from each student, but I loved the variability in how they shared, and it actually taught me some new ways to communicate. I loved it!

3. Provided maximum flexibility in the assessments.

This might seem like a simple point, but I think it is important.

I provide “deadlines” for when students should submit their work, but no one was deducted marks for handing in things late. All of the educators taking the course had other things they were doing during a pandemic.  The deadlines were provided as almost a suggestion but were never “hard” timelines.  If they handed it in after the deadline, there were no penalties on my side. I don’t understand that if you know something fully, but hand it in a week late, how you know it “fully” minus a percentage?

Yes, the university has some requirements on the timelines of when students complete the course, but even that is flexible.  

I wanted to honor the students, their lives, and what worked for them in submitting their work. 

4. Focused on feedback rather than grades.

All students that completed the course got an “A” as their final grade.  

Here have been some of my struggles with giving grades.  If I give a “grade,” what is lost in the feedback that I provide? As a student, if I received an “A” grade, I could care less about the feedback provided.  If I got a “C,” it might give me suggestions on how to improve, but was it too late to change my grade?  

I believe that assessment is to help growth, not rank and sort.  

I also struggle with grades because each participant had different experiences and knowledge than me, so when they share things that I don’t fully understand and actually help me learn, how do I grade that?  

In 2016, I wrote the post, “3 Reasons Why All Learning is Personal” and shared the following:

I definitely wanted to share my thoughts on their content, provide feedback on their learning, but I also wanted students to think about my feedback to move forward.  Sometimes, the grade makes the learning seem “final,” where effective feedback should lead to ongoing growth.  

I still had to provide a grade at the end of the course, and I can honestly say, not all learning was the same, but all learning was important and helpful to the participant.

5. Students create a portfolio to share their learning now, and in the future.

As Katie shared earlier,  

With clear learning goals, we can bring students into the process to create their own portfolio, self-assess, and capture evidence of their own growth like pictures, pieces of work, anecdotes from the playground, home, or group collaboration that better capture their learning journey and growth over time. 

I wanted the students to capture their learning in a space that they could look back on and learn from and help them move forward.  Many of the students have career aspirations that are different from what they are doing today. Having the portfolio as part of their process would also provide evidence to future employers, could be used in interviews, or create opportunities for jobs that they might not have considered.  All students had the opportunity to take my self-paced course on portfolios, and I am glad that they can look back in one space to see all that they learned while creating their own library of knowledge.

It is also important to note; not all participants wanted to make a portfolio. I actually had zero issues with this, but I wanted to provide the opportunity for those that wanted to compile their work and share it publicly, the chance to do so.  While having an opportunity to see their own varied evidence of learning and go through that process themselves, I hope they see its value for their students.


With all this being said, I wanted to share what I did and why I did it, but I know so many educators work in a different context and have different constraints, and even if they agree with what I shared, they might not be able to do what I have suggested.  What I know from this process is that I grew tremendously. Not only from the way that I assessed, but also by learning so much from “what” and “how” the students in the course shared their own thinking, wisdom, and experience. 

When we do truly meaningful learning assessments, I think all participants, including the teacher, should grow through the process.

(If you would like to learn more about the course or sign up for the Winter cohort, you can find more information here!)

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