March 12, 2021


Whether in elementary or secondary classrooms, today’s curricula are far too complex to assess using products only. A case in point comes from students in a third-grade classroom in Manitoba. In early December, right after report cards were written and conferences were completed, each student identified two goals for the upcoming term – one learning goal and one social responsibility goal. Social responsibility was a school-wide initiative and encompassed the active democratic citizenship component from the social studies curriculum, as well as being a positive member of the school and classroom learning communities. One very reflective and honest girl – let’s call her Molly – set the goal of being more collaborative and encouraging with her classmates – the teacher’s paraphrase of her very direct, “I need to be less bossy and get in fewer fights!” Molly then made a y-chart identifying what others would hear, see, and feel when she was meeting this goal.

At the end of January, the teacher asked students to pause and identify evidence related to their two goals. For an hour the classroom was abuzz with learners pulling work samples from their folders, reviewing digital pictures, and talking with each other and the teacher. Molly’s evidence consisted of a note she had written on January 12 about a time she had encouraged her Reading Buddy and a survey (t-chart with ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ as headings) she conducted on the spot, asking classmates, “Did you have any trouble with me this month?” In February, Molly repeated her survey and included two anecdotal notes, one written by her and one by the teacher, both describing collaborative interactions with classmates. In March, she wrote a few sentences to accompany a photo of a well-functioning group she was part of, along with what she had done to contribute to the group’s success, and repeated her survey.

With her teacher’s guidance Molly had learned that there are three general sources of evidence in a classroom (Davies, 2011):

  • Observations of learning
  • Products created by students and,
  • Conversations, both written and oral, with students about their learning.

This third-grade student was on her way to learning, as her teacher already knew, that “when evidence is collected from three different sources over time, trends and patterns become apparent, and the reliability and validity of our classroom assessment is increased.” (Davies, 2011, p.46)

[bctt tweet=”When evidence is collected from three different sources over time, trends and patterns become apparent, and the reliability and validity of our classroom assessment is increased. ~ Anne Davies” via=”no”]

Begin with the end in mind

As an eight-year old, Molly was not yet ready to pre-plan her evidence collection – but her teacher was. She knew that the time to think about evidence of learning was immediately after identifying the learning destination, in this instance what it would look, sound, and feel like to be a collaborative and encouraging member of the learning community. With suggestions and well-crafted questions, the teacher helped Molly link evidence to her learning goal.

Although it looks different in secondary classrooms, the principles are the same. Consider Stephanie Doane, a high school Social Studies teacher, who has students provide evidence of their own learning in relation to key process standards as well as a personal goal area. Then, they write a Reflective Final – instead of the kind of exam students typically write in high school Social Studies courses – where they explain what they’ve learned and how evidence proves it. As Stephanie Doane notes, this kind of involvement gives students, especially those who typically struggle, a real chance at learning and success. (Davies, Herbst & Busick, 2013, pgs. 179-181).

In both examples, involving students in collecting evidence of learning in these ways also serves to engage learners and gives them a significant voice in their learning.

Moving Forward with Collection of Evidence

  • Identify the learning destination – what you want students to know, understand, do, and articulate – for an upcoming unit of study.
  • Think about and record the evidence of learning you and your students could collect in relation to the learning destination, considering conversations, observations, and products.
  • Review the list and ask yourself questions such as the following from Making Classroom Assessment Work (Davies, 2011, p. 54):
    • Will the evidence show whether or not students have learned what they need to learn?
    • Am I collecting evidence from multiple sources?
    • Am I collecting enough evidence to see patterns over time?
    • Am I collecting too much evidence?


Davies, A. 2011. Making Classroom Assessment Work, 3rd Edition. Courtenay, BC: Connections Publishing.

Davies, A., Herbst, S. and Busick, K. (Eds.) 2013. Quality Assessment in High Schools: Accounts From Teachers. Courtenay, BC: Connections Publishing.