Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Post # 1: Introduction

The Evaluating Phase of the Inquiry process is the phase where students engage in self-assessment of their inquiry project. This self-assessment involves both self-reflection and self-evaluation.

Self-reflection involves students looking back at goals and feedback. They reflect on whether their goals were met, how they can continue to meet goals or how they might revise or adapt the goal to meet their learning needs. While engaging in self-reflection, students also think about how work or learning could be enhanced or improved for next time. The process of self-reflection also involves revisiting goals often and setting new goals as the inquiry process proceeds and as new understanding of the inquiry process takes place. Self-reflection doesn`t just happen at the end of the inquiry, but should happen throughout the inquiry process.

On the other hand, self-evaluation involves looking back at co-created criteria, exemplars of the evolving process, and feedback from teachers and peers. Students use that information to decide whether the criteria have been met. Then students decide on what needs revising, redoing, and/or editing to meet the feedback and criteria. The process of self-evaluation also involves students and teachers revisiting the co-created criteria at the end of each stage of the inquiry or on a regular basis to ensure that the criteria still apply. As the criteria are re-evaluated students and teachers decide if revising and editing the criteria is necessary and do so together. Self-evaluation can also take place throughout the inquiry process as long as clear criteria have been set and exemplars are available for each stage of the inquiry.

In order for self-evaluation and self-reflection to take place we need to teach students to set goals, create criteria with our students, provide timely and constructive feedback, teach students to provide timely and constructive feedback to their peers and provide exemplars of the evolving process, not just best work exemplars.

What’s my context?

As I endeavour to work with the many willing teachers at my school, I need to find a way to incorporate goal setting, co-created criteria setting as well as self-reflection, self-assessment and peer feedback in meaningful and engaging ways. I also need to convince the teachers that taking yet more time to do these things are in fact in the students’ best interests, but also in their best interests as well.

What does the research say?

Anne Davies, a world renowned Canadian expert on classroom assessment practices summarizes the research on involving students in their own assessment in Making Classroom Assessment Work (2000).

According to Davies:
“When students are involved in their own assessment they are required to think about their learning and articulate their understanding, which helps them learn, . . . mistakes become feedback they can use to adjust what they are doing . . . [and] while all students show significant gains, students who usually achieve the least show the largest gains overall. Self-assessment asks students to make choices about what to focus on next in their learning. When students make choices about their learning, achievement increases; when choice is absent, learning decreases.” (p. 9)

Watch this video of Anne Davies on Classroom Assessment, note what she says about research on assessment.

Violet H. Harada and Joan Yoshina, authors of Assessing Learning: Librarians and Teachers as Partners (2005) also noted that “when students participate in the assessment process, they develop the following behaviours (Chappuis and Stiggins 2002):

• Students understand what is expected.

• They access prior knowledge.

• They have ownership over making the learning happen.

• They are able to give themselves, as well as others, descriptive feedback as they are learning.

• Assessment goes beyond measuring; it becomes motivating.” (p. 2).

The Alberta Learning document Classroom Assessment Toolkit for the ICT Program of Studies (2003) states as its second principle that “Assessment should be collaborative: Students benefit when they are involved in the assessment process. Assessment practices should help and encourage students to:

• be responsible for their own learning and develop a positive attitude toward the use of technology in meaningful, real-world situations

• be involved in establishing criteria for evaluating their products or performances

• work together to learn and achieve outcomes

• feel competent and successful using technology

• set goals for further improvements.” (p. 8, Retrieved on November 9, 2009).

This document also lists many research based reasons why self-reflection is an important process to engage our students in (see pages 19-20).

Finally, Focus on Inquiry (Alberta Learning 2004) says, “Students will be more successful in inquiry when teachers provide . . . opportunities for students to . . . review their processes of learning at the end of a lesson, day or week” (p. 37) and if they “reflect on their KWL charts and talk/write about the inquiry process and products, read their personal journals and reflect on them, . . . and use a rubric and checklist to evaluate their products and processes” (p. 71).

Post #2: Goal Setting for Inquiry Learning

“Setting goals is a powerful way to focus students’ learning.” (Davies 2000, p 8)

According to Focus on Inquiry (Alberta Learning 2004), “assessment practices should provide opportunities for students to revise their work in order to set goals and improve their learning. . . [and] assessment practices should help encourage students to set goals for further improvements” (p.31). This document also suggests using a journal to record reflections (p 37). To facilitate reflection, this journal might also be an excellent place to record goals for the Inquiry Project.

Goals should be set both for the overall inquiry project AND for each stage of the Inquiry Process. In order for students to reflect on their work, they need to have something to reflect on and goals help focus this reflection. Goals also help students strive for excellence. However, in order to set goals for inquiry, students need to know the criteria for the inquiry and they need to understand what each of the stages of inquiry entails.

If it is the first time students are engaging in Inquiry, teachers may want to do an introduction to Inquiry where you describe each of the stages and what students will be doing in each stage of the inquiry. Using the chart on page 38 and the questions in the chart on pages 39-40 of Focus on Inquiry (Alberta Learning 2004) may also help guide students towards goals they could possible set for each stage of the Inquiry phase. These could also be adapted to become the basis for co-constructed criteria for the inquiry process (see next blog post).

In Knowing What Counts: Self-Assessment and Goal-Setting, Gregory, Cameron and Davies (2000) make many good suggestions for ways to include goal setting in instruction. They suggest a strategy called “Breaking it Down” in which “teachers brainstorm lists with [their] students by answering questions such as, “How can we get better at writing?” . . . Then students select their long-term goals from these lists” (p. 43). In the case of Inquiry, teachers could ask, “How can we get better at research?” as a starting point for an overall Inquiry project goal and then perhaps, “How can we get better at planning?” as a starting point for a more focussed goal at the planning phase.

Gregory et al (2000), also suggest using planning frames like the ones found on pages 45-48 of Knowing What Counts: Self-Assessment and Goal-Setting. (I have included pictures of these frames on the eClass discussion site).

For more from the series by Gregory, Cameron and Davies check out: Knowing What Counts free online resources.

Another way to help students set goals is to use the well-known goal-setting acronym SMART. This acronym states that goals must be:




Realistic and


This is a good outline to teach students to follow when they set their own goals. Anne Davies provides an excellent example of an adapted form of the SMART goal-setting format in this slide show (see page 10). On this graphic organizer, students first set their goal by writing it in a complete sentence. They then go through each of the letters of the SMART acronym describing how the goal fits each letter. Next they describe step by step how they will go about achieving their goal. Finally, the students are asked to think about obstacles to their success and then list ideas of how they might overcome these obstacles. This might be an excellent exercise to complete with students at the beginning of an Inquiry project to help them set a long term goal for the whole project.

Post#3: Setting and Using Co-Created Criteria

Anne Davies is a strong advocate for involving students in their own assessment. In Making Classroom Assessment Work, she notes that “when students work together to set criteria, self-assess, and reset criteria, they come to understand the process of assessment and they practise using the language of assessment. This way, students gain a clearer picture of what they need to learn and where they are in relation to where they need to be, making it possible for them to begin to identify next steps in their learning.” (2000, p. 8)

In the article Involving Students in Communicating About Their Learning, Davies also notes that “when students learn, self-assess, and later, when ready, show their learning and receive descriptive feedback, they are developing the skills and habits of self directed, independent, lifelong learners (p.2) . . . [and] students who have experience being involved in the classroom assessment process are better prepared to have meaningful conversations about learning with others and more ready to be partners in collecting evidence of their learning to show others” (p.3). (Retrieved from

Focus on Inquiry says that “students will learn to understand the evaluation criteria for the inquiry and evaluate their own inquiry process, using established criteria” (p. 71). This document also states that “assessment practices should involve students in identifying and/or creating criteria” (p.31).

In the Manitoba Education Citizenship and Youth document titled Independent Together, Chapter 6 addresses the idea of using Inquiry projects with multilevel learners in multilevel classroom settings and they suggest that criteria setting be included in the inquiry process. This document states, “as the inquiry proceeds, the teacher’s and students’ ongoing assessments determine opportunities for systematic instruction. Also, from the onset of the inquiry, the teacher and students begin to identify the characteristics of quality work (processes and products). As these characteristics become more sophisticated, the evolving criteria are applied to the processes used along the way and ultimately to the final process, performance, demonstration, or product. Thus, the teacher and students may discuss, for example, what a quality KWL chart, inquiry plan, or design project looks like.” (p. 6.5)

Cameron et al, in the book Knowing What Counts: Setting and Using Criteria, lay out a simple 4 step strategy to co-construct criteria with students:

Step 1: Brainstorm
Ask students, “What counts in an inquiry project?” or “What counts in the retrieving phase?
Teacher can have some input here as well.

Step 2: Sort and categorize.
Teachers ask students to help sort the list they generated together into relevant categories related to the Inquiry process.

Step 3: Make and post a T-chart
The t-chart should include criteria on one side and details about that criterion on the other side.     
Teachers ensure all students understand criteria and add details to those that need clarification.

Step 4: Add, Revise, refine.
It is important that the criteria be visible and organic. Students must be able to see, use and suggest revisions at all times.

Another good step by step guide on how to co-construct criteria with students can be found here, see BLM#2.

Cameron et al also included 10 ways to assess without putting a mark on the paper in their book Setting and Using Criteria. Here are only a few of their ideas which involve ways to use the co-constructed criteria:

1. Students compare their work to the criteria and decide MET or NOT YET MET. They then revise as needed.

2. Teachers or peers compare student work to the criteria and decide MET or NOT YET MET, but add a descriptive feedback under the category I NOTICED.

3. Students use the criteria and samples from various stages of the process to assess their own work and then they fill out a SAMPLE MATCH form describing which sample their work best matches and why and how they can improve it if necessary.

For more ideas I strongly recommend the books Knowing What Counts: Setting and Using Criteria, Knowing What Counts: Self-Assessment and Goal-Setting, as well as the third book Knowing What Counts: Conferencing and Reporting. These books are very quick and easy reads for busy teachers and teacher-librarians, but they are full of excellent applicable information.

Other good books on assessment are Making Classroom Assessment Work by Anne Davies and How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students by Susan M. Brookhart.

Post#4: Conclusion, Essential Questions and Reference List

Setting goals with our students prior to starting an inquiry project gives them the tools they need in order to engage in the evaluating phase of inquiry. Students are better able to assess their progress, motivate themselves and reflect on their achievements, when they set goals.

Teaching students to set criteria and to use that criteria to self-evaluate their progress gives them the tools they need to provide themselves with descriptive feedback, provide their peers with descriptive respectful and applicable feedback, and allows them to see what it is they need to do next in their inquiry project to achieve success.

Talking openly and honestly about goals and criteria, demystifies the learning process for students making it more accessible to both struggling and reluctant learners. Engaging in the inquiry process along with students, setting your own goals as they set theirs, comparing your inquiry to the pre-established and co-created criteria as they do and revising your goals based on that comparison as you encourage the students to, can provide a very powerful example of inquiry learning for your students.

Essential Question #1:

How many of you have received a self-assessment form back from a student and you could tell they had not really taken it seriously: all the middle boxes were checked, the student handed it back to you 30 seconds after receiving it and there were no additional comments written on the page. How would you or could you deal with student apathy regarding self-reflection and self-evaluation? Do you think the suggestions in this presentation would motivate that reluctant self-assessor?

Essential Question #2:

Skim through this PowerPoint by Anne Davies. Note in particular the Wrong Turns and Course Corrections. Have you made any of these wrong turns in your past teaching practices? If so, how did you or will you change your practice to better meet the needs of your learners?


Alberta Learning. (2003). Classroom assessment toolkit for the information and communication technology (ICT) program of studies. Alberta, Canada: Author. Retrieved from

Alberta Learning. (2004). Focus on inquiry: A teacher`s guide to implementing inquiry based learning.
Alberta, Canada: Author.

Brookhart, S. M. (2008). How to give effective feedback to your students. Alexandria, Virginia:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Davies, A. (2000). Making classroom assessment work. Courtenay, British Columbia: Connections

Davies, A. (2003). Involving students in communicating about their learning. Online Journal: Research in
Action. Retrieved from

Gregory, K., Cameron, C., & Davies, A. (1997). Knowing what counts: Setting and using criteria.
Courtenay, British Columbia: Connections Publishing.

Gregory, K., Cameron, C., & Davies, A. (2000). Knowing what counts: Self-assessment and goal- setting.
Courtenay, British Columbia: Connections Publishing.

Gregory, K., Cameron, C., & Davies, A. (2001). Knowing what counts: Conferencing and reporting.
Courtenay, British Columbia: Connections Publishing.

Harada, V. H. & Yoshina, J. (2005). Assessing learning: Librarians and teachers as partners. Westport,
Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited.

Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth. (2006). Literacy with ICT across the curriculum: A resource
for developing computer literacy. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Author.

Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth. (2003). Independent together: Supporting the multilevel
learning community. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Author. Retrieved from: