*This post is a dynamic work-in-progress and will be updated. Please check back!*

Traditional ways of thinking about teaching and learning can be visualized by imagining learning as some subset of what is taught. These overlapping circles of teaching and learning can be dynamic, changing size as learning expands or shrinks.

Traditional assessments then, can be thought of as pulling a thread (or 3 or 5,000) out of the tapestry of what is taught and framing this thread as a problem for students to solve in some sort of timed setting. If the student is lucky, this collection of threads representing what was taught also represents what they learned in these overlapping dynamic circles.

We know that traditional assessments work best for a certain subset of learners, which means they do not work well for many others. (The Racist Beginnings of Standardized Testing is a good place to start if you’re curious about this.)

But here’s an interesting thought. As teachers, most of us have experienced a time when a student learned something in class. And then a while later, maybe the next class, the student comes and says, “*That thing I learned was so interesting! I investigated and found out X, Y, Z…*” and we think to ourselves, now THAT is real learning. We can now imagine a shift with learning being inspired by teaching, but not encompassed by it.

And that *real learning* is not ours to own or control. It is fully the product of the student, but should be honoured and celebrated… *and assessed* as part of the learning arc. Our students bring loads of knowledge with them and learn loads more on the way. This knowledge is more than a passing tangent – it is essential contribution to our understanding of ourselves and our world – But how do we assess this learning that we don’t own?

In my recent courses, I’ve used an approach that loosely encompasses 3 -steps:

1) **Tell me What you Learned!** This open ended project format works best when there are fewer constraints and more creativity options for the student. This must allow students to share what they bring and what they learned along the way.

2) **Justify a Mark**. As learners, I truly trust that students are best able to assess their own learning. (I use ungrading – see Ungrading, edited by Susan Blum).

3) **Select the Weighting for this Work**. Most recently, I have incorporated Jayme Dyer’s Multiple Grading Schemes, with a lot of personal modifications (see below)

This past term, I developed a Tree Project. In a nutshell, students simply picked a tree and watched it throughout the term, tying in what they witnessed and investigated to our course material. This project could be done in teams or solo, and could count for 10% or 25%, if a student chose to do the project. (It was also an option to not do the project and to simply count exams instead.) For projects worth 25%, this project was framed as an alternate way to demonstrate understanding of course material and students were given this guidance:

*“**The default will be 10% of your course grade. Some learners learn best with project based assessments. If you would rather put substantially more effort into this project, you can choose to count this project for 25% of your grade, with justification. Your exams will count for less in this scenario, but will still be weighted equivalently.*

*For a project worth 25% of your course grade, you should demonstrate that you understand every major concept, or nearly every major concept. For example, your genetics should cover: ploidy and chromosome number, a demonstration of cell division with crossover, a Mendelian genetics problem (a hypothetical trait is fine), a pedigree“*

So what does this have to do with decolonization? For several years, I have leaned into a poster (Letendre and Bennetch, 2022) with this small but very impactful table in the upper corner:

At it’s core, decolonzing assessments centres the learner and proceeds with a sense of respect and negotiation.

And then the first project came in and it was beautiful, creative, learner centred, and captured everything I hoped for:

*(The first 2 pages of this project, shared with permission)*

What immediately stood out to me, along with the artistry, was the substantial incorporation of Indigenous knowledge that ran throughout the project. I did explicitly invite students to do this, so I was excited to see this in action and I immediately went to the student’s self-assessment. The following quotes are exerts from the very thoughtful reflection (shared with permission):

*“Working on this project has not only allowed me to relate what we are learning in lecture to **real-world practices, but it has also encouraged me to reflect on my place in the science **community as an indigenous student.”*

and later…

*“For this comic, I made it a goal of mine to research and include the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language name and the English assigned name. I used these terms throughout the comic to encourage the memorization and casual use of this name. I then reached out to my grandmother, Chief — of the — Nation, as to gain her thoughts and knowledge on how I can incorporate cultural significance into my project.”*

I felt overwhelmed and I phoned a friend, Elisa Baniassad (who leads our Centre for Teaching and Learning Technology). In her perfect Elisa way, she eloquently summarized what I could not articulate in my head:

*“You did a thing to remove humiliation and subjugation from your syllabus. And voila — an Indigenous student is able to actually feel seen, and do their work with pride and confidence. You can see that in the product. It is not an apologetic product, where the student is hesitant or fearful. You can feel the sense of fundamental belonging in the entire artefact”*

And that was it. By offering unrestricted significant options for students to demonstrate their learning with pride, we can systematically remove some of the punishment protocols that are embedded in our processes. At the same time, we are able to centre ourselves as learners of the knowledge systems that our students bring to us.

*“We have inherited and benefitted from our current systems of harm”*

–*Will Valley, West Coast Teaching Excellence Award recipient, 2024*

I am confident that we can do better by acknowledging the harm we continue to do, and working with our learners towards a practice of humility with our assessment work.

Reference:

Letendre, Angela and Bennetch, Rebekah J. (2022). “‘A new-old way of doing assessment: Indigenous ways of knowing and Ungrading in a pandemic” Poster at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. https://www.stlhe.ca/conferences/2022-stlhe-annual-conference/