Vanessa Bianchi
Educator and learner. The opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the York Region District School Board.

“I propose that each teacher deliberately upgrade at least one assessment type per semester. By this I mean that if an 11th grade English teacher is asking students to write a short story, she replaces that outcome with a screenplay. If a 4th grade teacher is asking students to make a chart of exports and imports of Peru, he replaces that with a WebQuest regarding Peru. We should aggressively go out of our way to search for better ways to help our learners demonstrate learning with the types of products and performances that match our times”.

Curriculum 21, pg. 25

I read these words some weeks ago and could not get them out of my head. I immediately set to work writing a post around assessment and documentation in a modern learning context. I could not help but write this post without input from four educators whose practices have in many ways transformed my practice for the better, inspiring and captivating my imagination. This is the first of a four-part instalment on assessment measures in various modern learning contexts.

  • Post One will feature how I personally use Trello, Evernote, Google Drive, Paired Problem Solving, Gallery Walks, Math Congress, Twitter and QR Codes in my own classroom and my continued journey exploring assessment in the Junior Classroom
  • Post Two will feature the brilliant work of Wahid Khan and Royan Lee who focus on using technology to assess in the Intermediate classroom
  • Post Three will feature Trista Dutt and Laura Merkle who highlight assessment in a Play-Based, Full Day Kindergarten Program and Assessment in the Special Education setting respectively
  • Post Four will highlight resources that I have found helpful as I continue to learn and evolve my assessment practices

Understanding the Need for Inquiry Based Learning Documentation and Assessment

The need for educators to continue to revolutionize educational practices, including assessments, is one that if remains unchanged will become the “Blockbuster” of what it means to be a teacher in modern classrooms.

When Blockbuster was initially approached by Netflix it did not have the foresight to see the landscape of technology was changing and so were the needs of their customers. To condense a long story, Blockbuster turned down Netflix’s offer of joint partnership and we all know how the story ended.

“Netflix proved to be a very disruptive innovation, because Blockbuster would have to alter its business model—and damage its profitability—in order to compete with the startup.  Despite being a small, niche service at the time, it had the potential to upend Blockbuster’s well oiled machine”.


Up to this point Blockbuster made the bulk of it’s profit by penalizing it’s patrons by way of late fees. Netflix on the other hand relied on memberships as it’s primary source of profit. The major difference being that one company took away and the other offered a buy in.
If we connect this idea to educational reform and assessment practices in a modern learning context, we see that traditional assessments are limited in terms of their scope. A test or quiz as a primary source of assessment data, offers little by way of accessing the thinking that goes into problem solving, or the skills that are still required to complete a task.

“Instead of giving kids low-level, factual recall questions on a timed paper-and-pencil quiz, we access out learners’ very best thinking by inviting them to undertake complex, thoughtful performances of valuable learning; engaging in a wide-ranging spectrum (of complex and meaningful tasks)…and as we lead kids toward these “power tests” we explicitly define the ingredients of a successful performance, together”.

Comprehension and Collaboration, pg. 277

The final component to modern assessment practices is feedback and the ability to provide students with immediate feedback or next steps and then give them the opportunity to make those changes so as to connect the skills to the product. Meaning, students are not “penalized” for mistakes, rather, they are provided an opportunity to make and apply necessary changes to the task rather than the traditional model which offers little opportunity to apply the skills to the product until “next time”. By then, the information is usually lost, as is the buy-in and engagement factor.

Implementing an agile assessment-feedback model does not mean that tests and quizzes are never used in a modern learning context. What it means is that quizzes and tests offer little opportunity for educators and students to access and make visible the thinking processes that go into solving a problem or question, allowing only a shallow understanding of what knowledge the child has acquired.

Somehow the idea of Inquiry-Based Learning (or teaching in a style that is reflective of student interest rather than being focused solely on curricular expectations) has developed a reputation for not being assessment driven. I argue that modern learning and the context in which knowledge is now being applied necessitates a style of assessment that implies students are thinking and pushing beyond rote knowledge, receiving immediate feedback that they can then apply to the products they are creating. In my classroom assessment is ongoing, continual and ensures that students know what the learning goals are, what their next steps are and how to go about applying that feedback.

Over the course of the next three posts I have assembled a team of dynamite educators that use a mix of traditional and modern assessment practices that not only provide students with immediate and meaningful feedback but allow for students to think critically about the work they are producing, connect this learning to the curriculum as well as the world in a global and forward thinking context and apply those changes to improve the products they are working on.

20141201_123317 (1)

Trello, Evernote and Google Drive for Inquiry Assessment and Evaluation

We began our language-classroom inquiries in three groups. Because I knew that I wanted students to have the opportunity to come together to see that work that was being done in the other groups I decided that each group would use a different documentation software.

(Note: Trello and Evernote must be heavily supervised as they require an email address to create an account. I created the email addresses attached to each account and act as sole administrator. Students do not use their full names when documenting on these platforms nor do they leave anything that would personally identify who the members of the group are. I also carefully monitor the email accounts (of which the students do not have access) and the platforms themselves. The tools listed below are used exclusively for sharing, managing and documenting project specific information.)

One group was asked to use Trello. Trello, allows for students to create storyboards and to-do lists as well as note pages. It eliminates the need for multiple spreadsheets, note pages or paper trails. This documentation software required little instruction and allowed for me to see and provide feedback to the group while they were working. It also allowed for students to create an easy-to-read, next steps page.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 1.27.59 PM

Evernote was assigned to another group and allowed for students to do much the same thing as Trello however, this measure was less visual. It did allow for students to create voice notes, take photos and easy upload them however, it does lack a central page that allowed students and myself to easily view everything that had been added into the project space. I was however able to leave students voice notes and provide immediate feedback as they were fact finding and problem solving.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 1.29.56 PM
Google Drive allowed for the third group to input all data into a centralized location however does require that students are able to navigate the Drive proficiently. It is less intuitive than the other two measures I had the other groups using to document their work however did allow me to assess writing and understanding easily.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 1.30.45 PM

These measures of assessment allow for tracking of ongoing work with individuals, small groups and even large group. This allowed students to see their work on a different platform and allowed for other groups to provide feedback to students on their inquiries as well as next-steps.

The Fosnot Approach to Mathematics documentation and Assessment

Paired Problem Solving allows me to see what students have grasped from the small-group mini-lessons. The paired problem solving is done on a large chart paper and students have access to the math-manipulative bar and their partner as well as the last lesson (projected on the board). This allows me to observe how the students are problem solving and where they are in their understanding of the topics.

20150402_121029_1 (1)

Paired Problem Solving leads into a Gallery Walk of each pair’s work. The Gallery Walk gives me yet another individual assessment of understanding mark based on the quality of the comments that students are leaving for the pairs. The students and I have devised a checklist to help them create meaningful and helpful comments to the pairs. Here is the checklist.

gallery walk_Fotor

The gallery walk then leads into a Math Congress. Math Congress allows for pairs to “defend” the work that they have done or to make changes based on the comments that students have left them. This is a place for students to modify their thinking and challenge one another for deeper understanding.

congress 4

This style of math investigation comes from the work of Dr. Cathy Fosnot It allows for the assessment of:

  • problem solving in ability pairs
  • assessment of critical thinking by way of gallery walk comments
  • assessment of feedback in congress when students are able to assist others in next steps and provide feedback for the problem solving approach
  • “proof” and the formulation of an argument provided by each pair for the method they used to solve the problem.

The information acquired here adds to each student’s landscape of learning which is dependent on concept and can readily be linked into the Ministry’s curricular expectations.

congress 2

Twitter and QR Codes to Assess Main Point and Immediate Comprehension

I use Twitter to assess whether or not students have a general understanding of the topic at hand It is an easy way to view what a child is comprehending, which “main points” are students able to identify and express which contribute to general understanding of main ideas. Twitter is a concise way to immediately see what someone has understood. An added bonus to using Twitter is that students can connect with others for immediate feedback and ascertain various perspectives with very little effort. For example, during our Global Read Aloud, my class and I were able to converse with a classroom in New York City and exchange predictions about what we thought would happen next.

Important to note here that Twitter in our board is considered a “yellow light” tool meaning that it must be monitored carefully. I am the administrator of the account and students do not use Twitter in class without supervision.

twitter safe

For the first time in my own classroom this past year, I used QR codes to audit what students were retaining and what they felt they should highlight for others. In my classroom we used QR Codes to create an Audit Trail of our understanding of Fractions. Each code provides a glimpse at a child’s questions, wonderings or discoveries around fractions. It is a quick and easy way to quiz what a child is retaining and to bring others in on the discussion. Thanks to @ourkindergartenfamily and @robanthny (Instagram) for the inspiration.

IMG_20150504_152720 (1)

Stay tuned for part two of four where Wahid Khan and Royan Lee share some of their preferred methods of assessment.

The Evolving Educator,

Vanessa Bianchi


Filed under: assessment, documentation, grading, Inquiry, literacy, Mathematics, modern assessment, modern learning, Resources


  1. […] Bianchi wrote a great article entitled Assessment in a Modern Learning Context. She provides a great analogy of Blockbuster and Netflix. Blockbuster made money by charging late […]
The Evolving Educator