Conall’s Assessment Story

As part of a presentation on assessment in math class I put together a short video explaining some key elements for assessment in my classes. When I was thinking about creating this video a certain young man in my class kept standing out in my mind. This video is really his assessment story. I wanted to share this video here in addition to the presentation. You can watch the video or read the transcript below.

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Hey everybody! My name is Jon Orr, I’m a high school math teacher at John McGregor secondary school in Chatham Ontario. I want to share a short story with you about assessment in math class.

I’m sure you remember how your math classes were structured… Lessons….homework …. repeat…then tests. And your mark was created by all those test results. I ran my math class like this for about 8 years.

What sparked a change for me was when I read these simple words that are written all over the Ontario curriculum document.”By then end of the course the student will…”



End of the course??? Really? I have until the end of the course to assess our learning goals? But I had been evaluating by the end of the unit or by Sept. 23 the test date! And like every math teacher that evaluation of those skills were stuck to a student for the rest of the year regardless how they improved upon those skills. I wanted my students to learn our course content not just by Sept. 23 but just learn them! I wanted to promote growth.

I needed my assessment and evaluation policies to reflect that! I want to share them with you and to do that I want you to meet Conall!

Conall is in my grade 10 applied math class. Conall also has autism. He functions very well in my active math class. One day Each week along with his classmates Conall logs onto his Freshgrade account and waiting for him there is a list of our current learning goals. Each learning goal shows not only his current progress, but his past achievement on that skill. Conall scans through the learning goals, and chooses one that he wishes to improve upon. Here is where Freshgrade is great, it captures and holds all of his work which provides me great insight into his learning. As Conall works to improve his learning goals he uploads pictures of his work through the app. I get to see that work and provide audio or written feedback also through the web/app or in person. What I love is that I get to see all that interaction for each learning goal (expectation) forever. I can see the growth that Conall is making. I love being able to see Conall’s thinking progress as he attempt problems. It makes me as a teacher more confident about his ability on the course expectations.

For example, Conall uploaded a picture of his work on solving a proportion.

He was confused on the nature of proportional relationships. After a comment and talking with him he made corrections and re-uploaded. That progression of learning stays in their portfolio for us both to see! His next step is to attempt a new problem to show consistency. And then he moves on to a different learning goal! We do this each week … ALL YEAR LONG!

Time is no longer a factor. Conall doesn’t have to compete with the rest of the class on his learning. He doesn’t get penalized because he couldn’t master the concepts by a specified date. This assessment structure gives more power to Conall while at the same time makes him take more ownership in his own learning. He has choice!He has to assess himself on each goal to know where to improve next.

But that routine isn’t just for conall….its for the entire class. Everyone uses their portfolio to push themselves and show their learning.

“Assessment is power not punishment” * in my class and that helped Conall and many of my students be successful this year.

Thank you

* Quote adapted from “Math is power not punishment” – Dan Meyer

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8 thoughts on “Conall’s Assessment Story

  1. Erin Little

    Hi Jon. I have some questions about this.

    1. What does your weekly schedule for a class look like? Is this practice one day out of your week with the other days being lessons/activities?

    2. Do you have to pay for Freshgrade?

    3. I’m looking for junior elementary 3 Act Math lessons. I know about the file cabinet; Kyle Pearce and Graham Fletchy. I find I’m overburdened with planning because I have to plan all subjects from scratch. We don’t have any “program”, texts, etc. to follow. I realize that these programs aren’t usually the best but the amount of time it takes to plan every subject well is unmanageable. Do you know of any others aligned to the Ontario curriculum?

    1. Jon Orr

      Hi Erin,
      Yes, this mastery day is one day a week and the other days are activities and lessons. FreshGrade is free. Check it out for sure.

      I totally get the planning frustrations. That’s great that you use Kyle and Graham’s stuff. Great resources for sure. Check our Mike Wiernicki too.

  2. Lee Ann Trzcienski

    Great questions Erin. I am curious about the same things Jon. Love your work. I switched from engineering/consulting 7 years ago to help fill the huge need for qualified math teachers at the middle school level. It has been both a rewarding and challenging journey that I wouldn’t trade for anything. As a born problem solver, I am continuously trying to improve my practice and meet the diverse and extreme needs in my classrooms. I started trying out 3 Act lessons a few years ago and LOVE work you have been doing with Kyle. he students ask me to do these every day! Freshgrade looks great and I will explore this new resource right now. I switched to standards-based grading after two years on the job and love it. My students have all year to improve their proficiency on a standard and the only grade that I count is the one at year-end. They can correct tests, etc. You two men inspire me :). Thank you for answering Erin’s questions, as I share the same ones.

    1. Jon Orr

      Thanks for your comment Lee Ann! It sounds like you are doing great work with your students! Keep it up and don’t hesitate to reach out an ask more questions. How are you tracking your students learning goals and progression on them now?

  3. Andrew

    Hi Jon,

    Great article. Love the Podcast as well. Keep up the good work! I teach at a ‘gradeless’ school (as gradeless as you can be when still giving mark on reports). I’ve recently been doing ‘portfolio days’. On assessment tasks, I usually write down the learning goals and success criteria that they need to show, and as I ‘mark’ the assessment, I’m giving feedback on areas they struggled with. Every 2 weeks, we do a portfolio day, where they correct their mistakes based on my feedback. As of now I’m using Google Classroom for this, and students can sometimes post their work leading up to assessments. I love the idea of showing skills “by the end of the year”. The issue I’m having is spiralling back. Once they correct a quiz/assessment task, that’s usually the end of it. Take area for example (I teach grade 5). We did it twice during the year, I assessed twice, then, we’re done (save for possibly some minds -on questions or bell work).

    What if someone corrects mistakes incorrectly (it happens), do I make a note for them to come back? Do I give more area questions next portfolio day? What if other students are working on fractions, others on 2×2 multiplication? Do I create practice tasks and questions for every single strand we’ve worked on? Sorry for the length here, I’m struggling with the organizational skills of my students and creating seemingly way too many tasks for every portfolio day.

  4. Leslie Meier

    Hi Jon,
    Thanks for more explanation on how you use FreshGrade. I just finished your Making Math Moments that Matter class and you mentioned it there as well. How do you take and upload the photos of the work? Class cell phone? Class computers?

    Also you mentioned previously that you have 75 minute periods. The mastery day is one 75 minute period? How many times per week do you see each class? And do you see them for the entire year? I see my students for three 50 minute periods per week and one 70 minute period per week (a total of 220 minutes per week). I’m trying to understand how to balance the Sparking Curiosity tasks, mastery day, frequent feedback on quizzes, etc.


  5. Maggie

    Thanks for your article. I teach grade 2 math, formerly grade 4-5 math and I could definitely see using assessment days and individual questions and strands with the junior grades. But I wonder if this could work with my grade 2 students? I wonder if anyone has had success with something so individualized and self-directed in the primary grades?

  6. Arif Ali

    I love this example of self-paced, self-driven learning. I wonder how difficult it will be to set up i.e., how long it will take. Still I like this concept a lot.

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