Playing Tag – Ewan McIntosh on Assessment at #ICOT2013

To start at the end, my colleagues and I came away downright buzzing over Ewan McIntosh’s captivating breakout this afternoon entitled “Tagging the Learning Journey – A New Model For Assessment”. He skirted the thin line between big picture thinking and practical take-aways like a pro and like other great sessions, we came away with T.U.C.D.O.M. (“Things You Can Do On Monday”).

So what’s the down-low?

Ewan has been working at Rosendale Primary School in South London on an assessment project with the aim of “capturing learning reflections which are used to inform next steps in teaching and learning” (c/o the breakout description). Ewan and co wanted to put the power into the hands of the children, rather than having the teachers and adults control the story of their learning.

Ewan’s team empowered the children in this particular class of youngsters to begin “tagging” their learning. As a soft entry point, they began to tag their wonderfully messy ideas, findings and prototypes (in an inquiry provocatively titled “London is Full – Evacuate!”) with annotated luggage labels. Children’s work, wherever it may roam, was tagged – be it pinned to a wall, or attached to the bottom of a computer screen.

At the start, teachers did the tagging of all the messy, post-it festooned immersion displays on the walls. Then gradually the children got involved. They began personally tagging their written work in their books with boxes shaped like luggage labels at the top of their pages, then with the real, laminated labels on a whole range of their research and work.

They began with straightforward classifications, such as “writing” or “maths” as the children got used to tagging their learning (and which learning to tag). According to Mr McIntosh, this was a big hit with the kids. As things progressed, and after a big effort to secure enough devices, the next step in the grand master plan was put into place.

Children in the class were introduced to Evernote.

They were set-up with personal ‘notebooks’ in one unified Evernote account. This was important because A) It would mean spending no extra coin going “Premium” and B) it would mean they could, and I quote (from one of the kids in Ewan’s class) “browse each other’s learning” – all online notebooks were open and viewable by others in the class.

Using their newly acquired mobile devices, children began snapping pictures and recording video and audio of their learning. As a function of Evernote, these notes were tagged with labels the children could personalise. There were three different categories to these tags:

1) What it is (ie, subject specific tags – “Writing”, “Maths” etc.)
2) The skills or competencies involved (ie, subject detail tags – “addition”, “instructional writing” etc.)
3) How they felt about it (ie, emotion tags – “boring”, “fun”, “proud”, “enjoy” etc.)

So the children began writing and digitally recording their own learning stories. They served as rich, powerful meta-cognitive port-holes into the process of their learning. The could organise and archive their learning, and chart their progress.

More importantly, the learning artefacts uploaded and tagged on Evernote were more often than not accompanied by reflective comments written by the children. In analysing these comments, they seemed to point to children giving themselves formative feedback – many comments hitting on where they have been, where they are now, and where they are going next.

Reflections in this class were not done at a certain time of the week, regularly, week-by-week, after the fact, but just as the moment occured. Children self-managed their reflections by just toddling off and doing them when the time was right. This was an AHA! moment for me, as we have always done our reflections on a Friday, at a certain time, well after the emotions of learning have faded.

The roadmap suggested for the roll-out of this assessment project is, after the slow, measured luggage label introduction, to keep it in-house for the first six months, then open it up for parents to view, then allow students to take their devices home and begin recording learning at home too.

This last phase for me is particularly exciting – if children know their learning goals, why not let them upload evidence of learning and reflections on the evenings or the weekend. Each child at our school has specific learning goals, but they also have a learning behaviour goal at any given time too. If they show evidence of this holistic, key-competency based learning say at a soccer game on Sunday or with their cousins at the park, chuck it up in their Evernote notebook! Record it, reflect on it, articulate their “where to from here” – cultivate life-long learners.

A few other notes:

  • Children naturally only captured and tagged what they thought was “successful work” – Ewan and the teachers found the challenge was to have children reflect and upload their mistakes and missteps too. Sharing the failures, the prototypes, or steps to the final product are just as important as sharing the successes. Reflecting on the failures is even more important.
  • Tagging the different learning experiences with emotions enabled some children who had trouble expressing themselves to be able to do so in a safe way. Having classmates actually hunting out and viewing their learning artefacts because they were interested in viewing them gave them increased confidence.
  • Evernote allows tracking of frequency and amount of uploaded notes. You can use this data to pinpoint particular students who may need extra support.


What a great idea! If we were doing Formative Feedback 1.0 at school, this would be 2.0. Likewise with reflections.

To add to the conversation, I think the Evernote web-clipper function could be utilised to great effect with this method too. Kids could take a screenshot of their online goings-ons (for eg, Mathletics, blog comments, articles they have read etc.) then upload those for tagging and reflection.

If teachers have smartphones, evidence can be snapped or recorded from those devices too then emailed to the student who could then upload it. Desktop or laptop webcams could also be utilised for recording. Evernote is a multi-platform application, spanning everything from Chrome extensions, Windows 8 apps, Android apps, to traditional desktop programs. The ability to capture and upload evidence of learning could be widespread and easily accessible.

All n’ all, an awesome project to embark upon – pedagogically sound, technologically smart and most importantly – will have a positive impact on the learning. It’s motivating and empowering for students, and that’s gotta be good.

So Thenk Ye Ewan, I know we’ll be embracing the awesomeness of this when school starts in a few weeks.

P.S – I’m sure I’ve missed some bits and pieces – what do you guys think? What were your takeaways from the session? Are you as excited as I am? Leave a comment!

P.P.S: More from the man himself on using Evernote to tag learning in the classroom:



  1. Great Matt thanks! I also loved the part when he said immersion (where children build their own learning outcomes) will take 3 long hard messy weeks (and as teachers we will hate it at times). I’m setting myself a challenge to COMMIT to this mess when I implement (and, of course) document my feelings along the way to share with other teachers.

    1. Thanks for the comment TTJ. Yeah that was interesting regarding the immersion phase! Would have loved to have gone into a little more depth on that. I guess in order to really formulate some deep, exciting questions / wonderings, they need to experience as much as possible on the topic?

  2. I have really appreciated this post and Tara’s comment as it resonates my holiday reading re Clarity in the Classroom and next steps in my teaching inquiry. I would like to know more about soem of the mechanics… what will this look like on Day One for you? I have Evernote set up for the new year but have also made a conscious decision that I will need to add my own droid and I-Pod into the mix…

    Would love to hear more of the take aways! :)

    1. Hi Claire! Wonderful, I love finding the links too!

      I guess the first move (and others could jump in here and add to the conversation) would be to start an inquiry and get some messy immersion work /experiences done – then, start really slowly and throw up a couple of luggage labels tagging that work, indicating what subject it was.

      Start slow and build it up over time as per some of the roadmaps suggested above.

      Let’s keep in touch over our tagging adventures in the future!

  3. Thank you Matt, for reflecting on this “just as the moment occurred” and putting it out there! During the presentation I was keen to read more about the phases of the Design thinking that led to the task: immersion, synthethis, ideation, prototype, feedback. Great that Ewan has published a blog post detailing this a bit more here
    I would be really interested to see how your students react and reflect when, after having tagged their learning moments over a period of time, they select a particular tag and view the film of their learning journey in that particular area.

Leave a Reply