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:


[Note: I’m saying smartphones. Not Androids, not iPhones, not Windows phones. They all do the same stuff, with a few little differences here and there. Lets not narrow the focus to one particular brand. Although I kinda did that in my last post…]

As promised a few weeks ago, I’ve cobbled together a couple of ways in which smartphones are impacting assessment, sharing and communication around our neck of the woods (a primary school).

Check out my last post for the first half of the story – smartphone apps that can help keep teachers organised, connected, up-to-date, and sane.

But now, here are some of the ways smartphones are changing up the game.


We all have to do standardised tests and OTJs, and I think by now we all realise that this just isn’t enough. It’s a narrow view of learning in a mucky system fraught with inconsistencies. I’m not saying they are useless – they have their place – I’m just saying traditional tests and government mandated judgments should not be the be-all-and-end-all.

Assessment needs to be holistic. We need to value competency based achievement and personal growth right alongside traditional academic achievement, on an equal footing.

Smartphones can facilitate the collection of both! Hoorah!

We can snap a picture of a piece of writing, or take a video of a child reading a story fluently, or explaining how they worked out a maths problem and use that as evidence that a child has met certain learning indicators. Use this evidence (along with other evidence – observations, traditional assessment etc.) to triangulate learning goals and next steps.

We can also collect evidence of participation and contribution in a game of tag at lunchtime, relating to others on the soccer pitch on a Sunday morning, collaboration skills during an inquiry, or responsibility and self-direction when working on personal goals.

Capturing team-work and participation                                              Capturing evidence of maths learning

Having a smartphone in your pocket and a quick trigger finger can validate and celebrate a wide range of learning.

It lets you record the hundreds of tiny snapshots, the highs and lows, the triumphs and tribulations of regular school life that whizz past a teacher every day.


But then you need to do something with the collected evidence of learning right?

Photos, videos, and audio can be put into an e-Portfolio: a living scrapbook of a child’s development across a wide range of learning areas. Media can also be put onto blogs and shared with parents, often minutes after it was captured. We have a weekly ‘Top Shots’ slideshow we put on our school blog every week filled with the week’s highlights, for example.

                       Capturing collaboration and tenacity                                   Capturing ability to sort and report information

This has been a big hit with whanau. It’s a window into school life, and can pull parents into the fabric of life at school, creating a closer home/school link – a central determiner of a child’s success and happiness.

This has been especially powerful on camp recently too, with teachers reporting live from the field and posting to the blog. Parents have commented that these posts have been reassuring and entertaining, and many have been checking multiple times throughout the day.

                   Capturing responsibility and trust                                     Capturing self-direction and basic facts recall

Communication / Translation

I talked a little bit about this in a previous post, but having quick access to a translation app has been so beneficial to the ESOL learners in our hub. Harder technical words can be translated into the native tongue, so kids can really get a grip on what and why they are learning.

So, there are a couple of ways smartphones can be utilised inside and outside of classrooms. They help you to:

  • stay organised, connected, and enjoy PD in your pajamas 
  • collect, asses, and share a wide range of rich learning evidence.