piece of student work has the potential to reveal not only the student’s
mastery of the curriculum’s goals, but also a wealth of information
about the student him/herself: his/her intellectual interests, his/her
strengths, and his/her struggles. The Collaborative Assessment Conference
was designed to give teachers a systematic way to mine this richness.
It provides a structure by which teachers come together to look at a
piece of work, first to determine what it reveals about the student
and the issues s/he cares about, and then to consider how the student’s
issues and concerns relate to the teacher’s goals for the student.
The last part of the conversation – the discussion of classroom
practice – grows out of these initial considerations.
The structure for the conference evolved from three key ideas:
students use school assignments, especially open-ended ones, to tackle
important problems in which they are personally interested. Sometimes
these problems are the same ones that the teacher has assigned them
to work on, sometimes not.
we can only begin to see and understand the serious work that students
undertake if we suspend judgment long enough to look carefully and
closely at what is actually in the work rather than what we hope to
see in it.
we need the perspective of others—especially those who are not
intimate with our goals for our students—to help us to see aspects
of the student and the work that would otherwise escape us, and we
need others to help us generate ideas about how to use this information
to shape our daily practice.
when Steve Seidel and his colleagues at Project
Zero developed this process, the Collaborative Assessment Conference
has been used in a variety of ways: to give teachers the opportunity
to hone their ability to look closely at and interpret students’
work; to explore the strengths and needs of a particular child; to reflect
on the work collected in student portfolios; to foster conversations
among faculty about the kind of work students are doing and how faculty
can best support that work.
Collaborative Assessment Conference, the presenting teacher brings a
piece of student work to share with a group of five to ten colleagues
(usually other teachers and administrators). The process begins with
the presenting teacher showing (or distributing copies of) the piece
to the group. Throughout the first part of the conference, the presenting
teacher says nothing, giving no information about the student, the assignment,
or the context in which the student worked.
a series of questions asked by the facilitator, the group works to understand
the piece by describing it in detail and looking for clues that would
suggest the problems or issues or aspects of the work with which the
student was most engaged. They do this without judgments about the quality
of work or how it suits their personal tastes. The facilitator helps
this process by asking participants to point out the evidence on which
they based the judgments that inevitably slip out. For example, if someone
comments that the work seems very creative, the facilitator might ask
him or her to describe the aspect of the work that led him or her to
second part of the conference, the focus broadens. Having concentrated
intensively on the piece itself, the group, in conversation with the
presenting teacher, now considers the conditions under which the work
was created as well as broader issues of teaching and learning. First,
the presenting teacher provides any information that s/he thinks is
relevant about the context of the work. This might include describing
the assignment, responding to the discussion, answering questions (though
s/he does not have to respond to all the questions raised in the first
part of the conference), describing other work by the child, and/or
commenting on how his/her own reading or observation of the work compares
to that of the group.
facilitator asks the whole group (presenting teacher included) to reflect
on the ideas generated by the discussion of the piece. These might be
reflections about specific next steps for the child in question, ideas
about what the participants might do in their own classes or thoughts
about the teaching and learning process in general. Finally, the whole
group reflects on the conference itself.