LiftUp Learning

The Virginia School Consortium for Learning: Leading and Learning Together

LiftUp Learning

VaSCL: A PD Network with Deep Learning Focus


IMG_6084Educators often find professional development (PD) experiences to not meet their needs often because they have little choice about participating, the session is pitched through a one-size-fits-all lesson design, or active engagement that is intentional just isn’t a focus of the session. On the other hand, educators will say that when they have a choice in attending sessions seen as connected to their work, that differentiated learning, and actively engages them in experiences that are transferable back into their classrooms, the value of the PD is clear to them. The Virginia School Consortium for Learning staff and planning committee of steering team practitioners see the 2019-20 professional development workshops and conferences as offering a continuum of choices, definitely differentiated, and grounded in active engagement.Here are highlights of upcoming workshops that are being run by practitioners for practitioners. To learn more about the full range of opportunities and to register, click here

These three examples represent the work done by the PD Planning Committee this year to develop VaSCL focus areas including development of assessment literacy, lesson designs for  mathematical competencies, and infusing Social Emotional Learning throughout the school day.  You can register for these by clicking on the link.


This session will familiarize participants with the fundamentals of performance assessment development by exploring how to unpack standards to craft high-quality learning goals, develop tasks that measure deep understanding and transfer of learning, create instructions that reflect learning goals and communicate clear expectations for student performance, and develop scoring rubrics that provide informative instructional feedback and align with the standards delineated by the VDOE Quality Criteria Tool.


All children follow natural developmental progressions in learning. Curriculum research has revealed sequences of activities that are effective in guiding learners through these levels of thinking. These developmental paths are the basis for math learning trajectories. The three workshops will address the following questions: How do students learn a topic?; What do equitable teaching practices look like?; How can we teach with visual tools within a learning progression?; What does math modeling look like at my grade level?; and, How can we systematically use evidence from formative assessment to monitor progress and guide instruction? The goal of these workshops is to help educators teach the way in which students learn, which will ensure that their programs offer equitable mathematics instructional practices.


This workshop is designed to support school-based teams of K-6 educators through a process for implementation of social and emotional learning (SEL) throughout their entire elementary school. Schoolwide SEL is a systemic approach to infusing social and emotional learning into every part of students’ educational experience — across all classrooms, during all parts of the school day, and in partnership with families and communities. When SEL is developed as an integrated model across curriculum and all aspects of the school community, research shows that SEL becomes a bridge to academic development, resulting in achievement that is at least 11% higher than in schools that do not incorporate SEL.

We hope you can join us for one of more of the workshops offered for members and others with an interest in the topics for PD.

You can follow VaSCL on twitter @scl_Va and catch up with our work at our website .








Our Journey: Developing Authentic Performance Assessments


By Annie Evans @mapM8Ker and Kelley Aitken @Teachsci4all 

VaSCL Task Bank Coordinators and Project-based Learning Coaches 

Four years ago, we began our journey into the world of performance assessments when the Virginia Assembly passed legislation removing the state SOL test from several courses and replacing them with “Local Authentic Assessments.”  At that time, no one really understood or agreed what a local, authentic assessment was or how to create them. So we created a “rogue” group, now known as the VaSCL Task Bank, that agreed to band together and support one another as we explored the unchartered world of performance assessments.

That first year we begged previous test bank writers to join our group.  We knew we needed to develop assessments for grade 3 Science and Social Studies, 5th-grade Writing and middle grades US History I and US History II, but at the time we could not even agree on what exactly a performance assessment should look like and how we would evaluate student work.  Should we follow the Stanford SCALE model? Are we using GRASP or RAFT? It seemed at the time that there were more questions than answers, but at least we had a team to support one another. The VDOE guidelines were still in the process of being articulated, so we were “flying the airplane as we were building it” for sure!

Looking back now on some of those earlier tasks we wrote, we recognize these were not great examples. Our students (aka early “guinea pigs!”) and division leaders were supportive of our work, and we were lucky to partner very early on with many partner organizations such the Virginia Science Education Leadership Association,  the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium, and later our “heroes” Jay McTighe and Chris Gareis. While most of the early tasks and rubrics have long been “retired,” we wouldn’t trade that experience for anything because it helped us work out a lot of important issues and concerns we had about SOLs vs student growth. In addition, we gained valuable information on how students can develop skills through frequent formative assessments/tasks vs. showing proficiency as it applied to previous summative assessments.  

Through these meetings, we developed a common language and through our work with VaSCL were able to help influence how performance assessments were defined across the state.  VaSCL provided an opportunity for our partner divisions to have a voice at the table as VDOE was redefining assessments across the state. Perhaps the most important part of this process has been the transformation we have seen in improvements to Tier 1 instruction.  We quickly learned that before we can see our students succeed on a performance assessment, instruction must change and teachers have to focus on teaching skills instead of emphasizing the memorization of a finite set of facts.

Throughout the process, our focus has been on developing teams and creating resources to share with all partner divisions.  We have found that examining student work and collecting a wide variety of work samples has been the most beneficial way to improve our tasks and rubrics. Now we are begining to assemble anchor sets of examples and non-examples to help teachers assess student work and move toward interrater reliability.  Tasks and rubrics have been organized into an interactive Google Site and protocols have been developed for sharing locally developed performance assessments, piloting tasks and rubrics, and collecting student work samples.

Moving forward, we are hoping more divisions will be willing to send adventurous educators to join our expanding task bank team ( we now have task banks for Virginia Studies, Civics, 11th-grade writing, and World History!!). We need VaSCL divisions to encourage and support teachers to pilot tasks and provide feedback and we need samples of student work to help us refine our tasks and rubrics and create anchor sets. More importantly, we need school administrators and division leaders to continue to support our work and give teachers and students permission to try new ways of teaching and learning and assessing, even if it is messy in the beginning.  This is all part of the process and on the other side of this we are seeing teachers and students being engaged, skills being taught and refined, and first instruction in the classroom improve.

We are nowhere near the end of this journey, and many of our VaSCL team members are just starting on their own journeys — luckily we have a few experienced “tour guides” to help them begin to find their way. Please join us on this journey; there is plenty of room for you join us!  

To find out more about joining the Virginia School Consortium for Learning and getting involved in the Test and Task Bank work  click here 


SCALE (Stanford Center for Assessment Learning and Equity)

GRASPS (Jay McTighe/Grant Wiggins) 

RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) Nancy Vandervanter, in Adler, 1982.


Taking the Time to Notice



By: Alisha Demchak                            Kateri Thunder

“This post was originally published on on November 9, 2018.

two young children engaged in sensory play at a rice table

Our students are busy – busy playing, learning, talking, thinking, discovering, experimenting, wondering. In each of these actions, our students reveal to us their thinking if we are ready to notice. When we notice, we can make our students’ naturally occurring goals explicit and we can coach them toward their goals.

In purposeful play, mathematics, and literacy, noticing is a powerful teacher action that can reveal students’ naturally occurring goal setting processes, build meaningful student-teacher and student-student relationships, and inform instructional decisions.

  • In purposeful play, noticing is observing student interests – their preferences for location and peers, their choice of materials, their conversations, their play themes and topics (Mraz, Porcelli, & Tyler, 2016).
  • In mathematics, professional noticing of students’ thinking includes three skills: attending to strategies, interpreting understandings, and deciding how to respond based on understandings (Jacobs, Lamb, & Philipp, 2010).
  • In reading, noticing is appreciating choice and monitoring independent decisions, including choice for texts, topics, strategies, responses, projects, and partners (Moses & Ogden, 2017).
  • In writing, noticing is the first step to developing students’ awareness and ability to name both what they already know and can do as writers and the patterns they discover in writing (Johnston, 2004).

In order to explicitly coach our students’ in-the-moment goals, we must first notice them. Follow these five steps during purposeful play, mathematics, reading, writing, and beyond to intentionally notice.

1. Choose a day and time when noticing will be your primary task. After your mini-lesson, after students are settled into their independent or partner work, this is prime time to notice. Spend 15-30 minutes noticing. By choosing a day and time in advance, you will protect your noticing time and make it a priority.

2. Have a clipboard, pen, and chart to record your noticings. An open observation chart is a table with each student’s name in a box and space to record your noticings. Recording will make your noticings visible, and therefore actionable. You will be able to reflect back on your noticings to find patterns, surprises, and questions. You can then use your noticings to plan instruction and coach students’ goal work. Here is a sample open observation chart:

   conference and observation chart

3. Spend more time listening and watching than talking. This noticing time is not a teaching moment. It will lead to teaching moments, but right now, you are there to listen and watch. Noticing with these questions in mind may help you to be intentional and targeted while remaining open to students’ in-the-moment decisions, language, and actions:

  • What are students gravitating toward? What is a popular material/choice and why?
  • Who typically works/plays here? Do all students eventually work/play here?
  • Is there a balance of independent and collaborative work/play?
  • Are there enough choices or “meaty” enough tasks to sustain work/play for at least 30 minutes in one area or on one task?
  • Are content areas integrated when possible? Are there materials that can be combined?
  • Are students engaged in doing the “real work” of readers, writers, mathematicians, or some other role?

4. If you talk, ask open questions. When you are noticing, you can be quiet and just listen. If you need to speak, ask students open questions: What are you working on? What are you using? Why? How did you decide to create this? Why do you think that’s happening? Ask questions that communicate your genuine wonder and your desire to understand your students’ thinking. Taking the time to actively listen tells your students that you value them.

5. Stay. Rather than moving from student to student and space to space, stay in one area with one student or one group of students for 15-30 minutes. The depth and breadth of student thinking is often revealed over time as they engage more deeply in a task.

Noticing requires us to slow down, to pause with our agendas and to-do lists, and to listen and watch. Noticing is paying attention to students’ in-the-moment decisions, language, and actions. When we take the time to notice, we will discover our students’ naturally occurring goals.

Blog Authors Kateri Thunder and Alisha Demchak are teachers who also facilitate professional learning opportunities for the Virginia School Consortium for Learning. Their VaSCL workshops focus on strengthening connections between literacy and math, matching tasks to learners’ needs, and strategies for student-centered learning.  For more on student goal setting and how workshop model can support student goal setting, register for the VaSCL workshop Differentiation in the Workshop Model: Matching Tasks to Students (Grades PreK-5) on March 19th at


Jacobs, V.R., Lamb, L.L.C., & Philipp, R.A. (2010). Professional noticing of children’s mathematical thinking. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 41(2), 169-202.

Johnston, P. (2004). Choice words: How our language affects children’s learning. Portsmouth, NH: Stenhouse.

Moses, L. & Ogden, M. (2017). What are the rest of my kids doing? Fostering independence in the K-2 Reading Workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Mraz, K., Porcelli, A., & Tyler, C. (2016). Purposeful play: A teacher’s guide to igniting deep and joyful learning across the day. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.