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Checking in on what our leaders are writing about gives a great sense of the current topics and issues percolating in our schools.  In the age of encouraging our students to be public digital writers, we are so  fortunate to have a number of our leaders modeling the way.  What is so interesting is that the ideas from our schools are influencing each other and one feels the diffusion of new ideas and practices.

Bowen Island Community School is one of many schools in our district looking at the shift to learning commons.  School parent, Tess McDonald, recently wrote a guest post on the shift that is taking place.  The parents are clear partners in the shift.

Libraries are turning into Learning Commons; places with flexible furniture that can be moved around to accommodate small or large groups. They have books on movable shelving that doesn’t block the natural light, areas for creating multimedia presentations, listening to guest speakers, using technology that may not be in every home, and yes, reading. There is a librarian but he or she isn’t wearing tweed, but an imaginary super suit! This person is an expert about books and writing, and finding information, and connecting people to the right source, and helping them see bias, and questioning ideas. This person is ready to help you create and question and connect too. (Here is where I admit that, after reading Seth Godin’s blog post on the future of the library, I wanted to become a librarian. It is here, if you are interested).

Another district-wide effort has been in the area of self regulation.  In classrooms and schools across the district the work on Stuart Shanker and others is coming to life.  Cypress Park Vice-Principal, Kimberley Grimwood, has been a leader with this work and recently described what it looks like in the classroom:

We have embraced a number of programs and practices to help teach our students about emotions, mindfulness, and social thinking. In addition, the IB program integrates many self-regulated learning components each and every day.  Specifically it helps to develop the cognitive domain and reinforces reflective practices to allow students to continue to develop their ability to be metacognitive (to think about their thinking). You may see students taking a moment to breathe along with our MindUp chime, or express which zone they are in according to the Zones of Regulation. Or, they may tell you how their engine is running thanks to the Alert Program.  While self-regulation is not a program or a lesson plan, it is a lens through which we are viewing students’ behavior and through which we are teaching them to view their own behavior.  No longer is a behaviour good or bad, but rather we want to understand why, and provide students with tools and strategies to make good choices and to be successful learners each and every day.​

Lions Bay Principal, Scott Wallace, used the blog of the primary school to describe the seemless transition that takes place for young learners between all the different offerings in the school.  It is a true community hub:

Lions Bay Community school is a shining example of quality early childhood education.  Nestled in the woods along Howe Sound, the outdoors provides a perfect backdrop for a child’s self-exploration.  In fact, all three facets of this learning environment; the Before/After School Program, facilitated by the North Shore Neighbourhood House (NSNH); the Preschool for 3 and 4 year olds, supported by a parent run Board; and the Primary school, part of the West Vancouver School District, are all interconnected.  Each unique program draws on the same philosophy that a child should learn to explore their natural environment and ignite their curiosity.  The adults that assist the children at each level are committed to fostering the child’s sense of wonder and provide opportunities and resources to investigate their questions.  For children and parents this seamless organization provides for optimal learning.

There is a lot of interesting work taking place with assessment and reporting in our district and around the province.  While student-led conferences are not new, they have definitely moved more mainstream over the last couple years.  Ridgeview Principal Val Brady makes the case for why they can be so valuable:

Students should be included and actively involved in the process of evaluating their own learning and sharing their perceptions of their progress with their teachers and parents. When students are meaningfully involved in this way, they deepen their understanding of the learning and evaluation process and they grow in their ability to take ownership of this process.  Student ownership of learning results in student empowerment…a powerful motivating factor in the learning!

West Bay Elementary has been looking at assessment and reporting.  Principal, Judy Duncan, described the work of her staff in a recent post, outlining the different factors that they have considered as they have looked at drafting a new report card:

When the West Vancouver School District invited school learning teams to apply for innovation grants, a group of teachers jumped at the opportunity to explore a more comprehensive way of communicating student learning.

What did our team consider while drafting a new report card?

·     The shifts in the province and how other districts are responding

·      The IBO (International Baccalaureate Organization) requirements to report on the five essential elements (knowledge, concepts, transdisciplinary skills, Learner Profile traits/attitudes, and action)

·      Recently released B.C. Draft Curriculum documents

·      What was missing in the current report card

·      How to report on the breadth and depth of the learning in a clear, comprehensive manner

The full post explores the comprehensive and inclusive approach the school has taken to looking at the reporting issue.

West Van Secondary Principal Steve Rauh recently described how students are using technology in powerful ways to stay connected, even as they travel the globe.  We can all be a “digital fly on the wall” as students are engaged in learning around the world.  Rauh, in citing several examples of students on trips using blogs and other digital tools to stay connected compares it to his experiences as a high school student:

I also remember being fortunate enough in my grade 12 year to participate on a school athletic trip to Europe. A privileged experience for many youth both then and now, and quite often one of the most memorable experiences of their high school journey. I also remember on that same trip diligently selecting and purchasing several postcards along the way to mail home to my family to show my appreciation for their support, as well as to update them on our travels. The final memory I have of this tale is of leaving that stack of postcards, duly filled out, addressed, and stamped, on the overhead luggage rack of a train somewhere between Munich and Berlin; they were never seen again, and their existence questioned when I returned home.

It is not just school leaders that are using their blogs to share what they are seeing and learning.  West Vancouver School District Secretary Treasurer Julia Leiterman focused on aboriginal education recently with her blog and the power she has seen with First Nations learning in our district and how it has had an impact on her:

I can’t fix the old wrongs, and I don’t know whether our work in the schools will inspire our First Nations students, or whether they need inspiration in the first place.  I hope I’ve been using the right words, but I don’t even know enough to be sure I’ve been politically correct here. What I do know though is that I’m grateful that our First Nations neighbours have agreed to partner with us, because thanks to their willingness to share, what I finally, truly feel in my heart is respect.  And that’s a good start.

Huy chewx aa.

So the quick scan of the district – some themes emerge – ones reflected in these blog posts, but ones I see alive in so many of our classrooms and schools.  This sampling nicely summarizes the new work that is taking place.  I am seeing a shift to learning commons, self-regulation, strong early learning connections, powerful efforts around assessment and reporting, new ways of using technology to stay connected and a commitment to aboriginal education and our partnership with the Squamish Nation.

It is an exciting place to work!

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fitbit_2776467b

As I walked into our Soccer Academy class, the students were getting ready for their workout and part of that process is to adjust their heart-rate monitors.  The teacher, Jesse Symons, had an iPad to monitor the heart rates of all students in the class.  As he reviewed the live data, it was interesting to see what he was looking for.  As the intensity of the workout increased, he was looking for students who were raising their heart rate to a place where they were pushing themselves.  He could review the data of the entire class and see how much time each student spent in each “zone”.  Based on a colour scheme, red was the optimal zone for high intensity workouts. Also interesting to see was how quickly students’ heart rates would recover to a resting heart rate during breaks. This, as he pointed out, was usually a sign of strong athleticism, of an athlete who could quickly raise and lower their heart rate. Students who struggle to lower their heart rate (as activities slow down) are often not in as strong a condition.

Jesse Symonds reviews the live data

Jesse Symons reviews the live data

Of course, the next step is for students to understand the data.  Students are able to login to see their specific data and, as Jesse joked, the data doesn’t lie. It is early days yet, but there has already been some interesting findings.  For example, with Grade 8, high-level soccer players, there was a gender difference with many of the top female athletes not seeing their heart rates push to optimal levels for extended periods of time.  The fitness monitoring in the soccer academies is part of an Innovation Grant Program through the West Vancouver School District, with similar efforts also being made with Hockey Academy students.

Jesse talks about how heart rate monitors are being sourced with the Vancouver Whitecaps and the National Team. Combined with a GPS, the monitors give a full picture of their activity levels.  It is clearly a growing area in the science of sports and physical activity.

Personally, I’ve become convinced of the power of digital health tracking over the past few months since I started wearing my Fitbit. Actually, four of us have similar devices in our house — my wife and two older kids (ages 12 and 10) are also wearing these devices.  My Fitbit Force tracks my steps, distance, calories burned, minutes of vigorous activity and even my quality of sleep. There are dozens of these type of devices on the market with many more being promised this year. A report last week on wearable tech devices suggests these devices may see a 350 per cent growth in sales in 2014. I also think they have a huge potential to benefit students. For decades we have been encouraging students to keep logs and diaries of their physical activity.

Currently, in BC, through the Daily Physical Activity mandate, students track vigorous and sustained activity.  Anyone who has tried to keep an activity log is aware of its challenges. Logging the physical activity in a log book, or a computer is difficult to do (if not time-consuming) on a regular basis.  On the other hand, if all this data could be automatically collected, synced to our computers, iPhones, etc., we would be able to spend more time analyzing the data, rather than entering it.

In our house, we have become much more aware of our physical activity, how much of it is really vigorous and the role that sleep (or lack of it) is playing in our lives.  These are great conversations to have in our PE classes. Just as we want students to take greater ownership of their learning in Science and English and we see that technology as part of this overall plan, the same should be true for health education and physical activity.  We want students to own their own data, set goals, not in efforts to compete with others, but to better themselves.

There are concerns about wearable technology — that these type of devices, as well as others like Google Glasses and Samsung Smart Watches, are once again pushing technology into all aspects of our life.  I am always interested in technology when it can help do something we have always wanted to do but have not been able to without it.  I see the tracking of our health and physical activity in this category.  We want students to own their own learning and education and this includes owning their own physical activity and health. So, we need to find ways to integrate this emerging technology into our schools.

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Photo Credit:  Prasan Naik

Photo Credit: Prasan Naik

The first wave of national rankings from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)  are receiving a lot of attention, but there is some very interesting data which tends to emerge from these results over time, often informative and often challenging our assumptions.  This graph from the Key Findings document did just that (you may have to click on the image to enlarge it):

motivate

According to the PISA Reports, “Stratification in school systems, which is the result of policies like grade repetition and selecting students at a young age for different “tracks” or types of schools, is negatively related to equity; and students in highly stratified systems tend to be less motivated than those in less-stratified systems.”

This is the latest contribution in the forever-long debate about the streaming of students. It is interesting to see the negative relationship regarding motivation. The equity issue could be understood — as students are streamed, those requiring more assistance tend to not get it, and lower level classes may receive less experienced teachers and fewer resources. But, it is the findings around motivation I find very interesting. I have often heard (and have likely repeated) that enriched/advanced classes allow high achievers to work with similar learners, allowing another group of students to be the high flyers in the ‘regular’ classes — opportunities they may not have had without the streaming.  The PISA results tend to counter this. It is interesting to see that Canada is low in streaming internationally, but high in equity and motivation.  The current push in British Columbia and Canada, around personalization and differentiation, embraces the idea that there are different levels of learners learning together in a classroom.

I also recently read an article from author, commentator and sports contributor, John O’Sullivan, Our Biggest Mistake:  Talent selection instead of talent identification which Alison McNeil shared on Twitter. This article takes on a similar topic, in the sports arena.  In it, O’Sullivan describes the differences between those who select talent and those who identify talent:

Talent selection is the culling of players with the current ability to participate and be successful in events taking place in the near future. Talent identification, on the other hand, is the prediction of future performance based upon an evaluation of current physical, technical, tactical and psychological qualities. Talent selection is pretty simple; talent identification is an art. One yields great results today; the other builds elite athletes and winning teams for the future. Our current “win at all costs” youth sports culture promotes talent selection. When a coach is pressured to win by parents or a club, or when he or she feels the need to win to serve their own ego, that coach becomes a talent selector. When you are focused on talent selection, you are picking athletes to help you win now, and cutting ones that will not. You are looking at current athleticism, technical ability and traits to help achieve short-term success.

O’Sullivan concludes “the emphasis on winning prior to high school is destroying youth sports.” And while he is making his argument to a United States audience the same debate occurs in Canada. While the Long Term Athletic Development Stages are being adopted by many sports organizations, it is also being scoffed at by others who see the de-emphasis on competition at young ages as a terrible sign of the times. It is interesting to take O’Sullivan’s writings, and substitute “learner” for “athlete” and “student selection” for “talent selection”. Enriched classes are very much like our private, tiered sports programs.  I have heard similar arguments for streaming young people in sports as young as five, as I have with enriched classes — they allow the high flyers to play with others like them, and allow others to excel at a lower level without the high flyers present.

O’Sullivan makes the argument that U.S. (and I would say Canadian) sports programs are in deep trouble unless there is a radical shift away from talent selection and toward talent identification. I see this as a similar argument that the PISA results are making with learning around the world — those who select and stream talented students instead of identifying and personalizing learning are bound to have less equity and lower levels of motivation.

This is another example of how efforts in our schools like removing letter grades at younger ages, and focusing on learning, are similar to efforts in our community sports to remove the keeping score and tallying of winners at young ages. While some argue these efforts are reducing standards and rigor, research is showing we need to look at youth development differently.

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TOP3

Welcome to my final blog post of 2013 – My “Top 3″ lists for the year.  This has become a tradition with previous Top 3 lists for 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).  I know we are abandoning ranking and sorting in our education system, so this is more about highlighting some of the blogs, videos and ideas that have engaged me over the last 12 months. As always with these kind of lists hopefully it will start some discussion and debate as well.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have Generated the most Traffic this Year:

1.  What About Final Exams?

2. Dr. Shanker and Self-Regulation – Continuing the Conversation

3.  Hopes and Dreams for my Kids’ Schooling

Top 3 Used (and often overused) Quotes in Education for the Year (some are past winners):

1. We need to focus on the learning

2. It’s not about the technology

3. The 21st Century is more than 10% over (YES – people are STILL using versions of this one!)

Top 3 Growing Trends I See Continuing in the Next Year:

1. Embedding Aboriginal teachings across the curriculum — BC’s new draft curriculum is a great example

2. Devices becoming invisible — more and more kids have devices, and I am noticing them less and less

3. Rethinking of report cards — we are in the midst of a dramatic shift in reporting

Top 3 Books I have Read this Year that have Influenced My Thinking:

1.  Spirals of Inquiry by Linda Kaiser and Judy Halbert

2.  Calm, Alert, and Learning – Stuart Shanker

3.  Communicating the New – Kim Erwin

Top 3 Professional Development Events I have Attended:

1.  TEDxWestVancouverED — it has been so great to have a TEDx event in our community with so many of our staff and students involved

2.  Connect 2013 — a wonderful chance to see so many Canadians present who I have met over time through Twitter and our blogs

3.  Barbara Coloroso — the Guru of parent education was hosted by our District Parent Advisory Council

Top 3 BC Superintendent Blogs You Should Follow:

1. Jordan Tinney — Surrey

2. Steve Cardwell –Vancouver

3. Kevin Godden — Abbotsford

Top 3 Non-education New Twitter Follows:

1.  Roberto Luongo (Canucks)

2.  Gerry Dee (from Mr. D)

3.  Mr. T (of pity the fool fame)

Top 3 Jurisdictions We Are Going to Turn Into the Next Finland:

1.  British Columbia — high achievement, high diversity, high equity – lots to interest people

2.  Quebec – Just what are they doing different than the rest of Canada in math?

3. Shanghai, China — We are concerned about their methods but their results are stunning

Top 3 TEDx Videos from WestVancouverED (that I bet you haven’t seen):

I earlier wrote a post here that highlighted some of my West Vancouver colleagues, so these are some of my favourite from the non-West Vancouver staff

1.  Katy Hutchinson — an extremely powerful personal story of restorative justice

2.  David Helfand — a new approach to university leadership

3.  Dean Shareski — he has a wonderful perspective and a great way to connect with people

 

Top 3 Fun and Interesting Educational Videos:

1.   What Came First — the chicken or the egg?

2.  Canada and the United States — Bizarre Borders

3.  What Does Your Body Do in 30 Seconds?

Thanks to everyone who continues to engage with me on my blog and push my learning. Some of my greatest professional joy is writing, reading, engaging and learning through my blog and with all of you.   I look forward to continuing to grow and learn together in 2014.

Chris Kennedy

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pisa

“It is what it is.” That was my first reaction to the PISA 2012 results released last week (Full Canadian Results).  PISA (The Programme for International Student Assessment) is designed to provide indicators of the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students across the world (please see here for more backgrounder information on PISA).  While the assessment tool does measure a limited set of skills, there is much PISA doesn’t measure. And, true, PISA continues to tilt toward 20th century over 21st century skills, but it is still  the world’s best, widely used assessment tool on how we are doing in education and on providing guidance for education improvement.

Although much attention is given to the ranking part of the tests, as Yong Zhao points out, even those at the top are wondering about their success:

While the East Asian systems may enjoy being at the top of international tests, they are not happy at all with the outcomes of their education. They have recognized the damages of their education for a long time and have taken actions to reform their systems. Recently, the Chinese government again issued orders to lessen student academic burden by reducing standardized tests and written homework in primary schools. The Singaporeans have been working on reforming its curriculum and examination systems. The Koreans are working on implementing a “free semester” for the secondary students. Eastern Asian parents are willing and working hard to spend their life’s savings finding spots outside these “best” education systems. Thus international schools, schools that follow the less successful Western education model, have been in high demand and continue to grow in East Asia. Tens of thousands of Chinese and Korean parents send their children to study in Australia, the U.K., Canada, and the U.S. It is no exaggeration to say that the majority of the parents in China would send their children to an American school instead of keeping them in the “best performing” Chinese system, if they had the choice.

But, if one does want to buy into the assessment, we need to do more than use the results to search for our flaws or accentuate our ideologies.  It has been disappointing and discouraging to see some of the commentary in British Columbia, and across the country in response to the results.  I suspect most who have commented (for example) on the need to “focus on the basics” to raise scores haven’t looked at the problem-solving questions that PISA asks (not very back-to-basics questions).

So, while acknowledging the limits of using the nation “rankings”,  let me share some of the insights I have gleaned from my first look at the results and some stories you may have not seen:

1)  British Columbia was the highest performing English-speaking jurisdiction in the world

British Columbia is not only the highest performing province in Canada, but ahead of all other English-speaking participating nations including Australia, United States, United Kingdom, and New Zealand (to name a few).  If you look at countries in general, Canada would be first in this category.

2)  British Columbia was the highest performing multicultural jurisdiction in the world

One characteristic that other countries at the top of the charts do not share with British Columbia and Canada is its diversity.  In language and cultural diversity, BC and Canada stand out as the highest performing on the assessments.

3)  British Columbia was the highest-performing province in Canada in science and reading and second to Quebec in Math

British Columbia has typically been among the strongest performing provinces in each area (typically with Alberta, Ontario and Quebec).  The most recent results show BC was first in science, ahead of Alberta and Ontario.  Reading on, the same three provinces performed at the top level in Canada, and again, all near the top of the International charts. In math, Quebec led the way with BC, Alberta and Ontario following.  It is worth noting, of those who completed the digital math assessment, BC was the highest performing province (more on digital below).

4)  There was both excellence and equity in British Columbia’s results

The difference between the high and low achievers in BC (those between the 90th and 10th percentile) is lower than in all of Canada, and the OECD, in all three disciplines. The gap is also lower than that in Finland (often cited for its high level of achievement and equity) in both Reading and Science.

5)  British Columbia’s results have been steady for the last decade

In absolute terms, since 2006, British Columbia’s results have been fairly steady. It is true that in Mathematics in particular, in relative terms BC (and all of Canada) has declined — in part due to more countries participating, and also because of the improvements in several Asian countries.

And then beyond these headlines, there is other interesting data:

There is a lot to analyze and much more that will come out from the OECD over the next year.  One piece of information that was particularly interesting in the first report was how much less the gender gap was in reading when the test was completed on a computer.  For those using print reading, the BC gap in scores (in favour of girls) was 26 points, but when completed digitally, the gap was only 14 points.  Across Canada there was similar data indicating a shrinking of the gender gap when the reading was digital.  This is incredibly interesting given the increase in digital print we currently encounter — and just one of the many pieces of data that is worth taking the time to better understand.

It is also a given that there are many ways in which our system can improve, and those who make the case for more services, new programs and innovative approaches are right. And, yes, socio-economics and issues like poverty matter. It is also true that BC has an amazing education system.  It is interesting to see what a more positive view the British seem to have of our results in Canada — having such a quality teaching force in BC is our huge advantage.

Now, let’s get past the rankings part and focus on the learning part — what we can learn from others about how we can improve the experiences for our students both locally and globally.  And, let’s not spend our time thinking about how we can get better at the tests, but instead focus our attention and system on how it can help our kids for their world today and for tomorrow.

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boywithmagnifyingglass

Student voice is everywhere and this is a good thing!  Schools and districts are finding ways for students to have increased influence in the running of their schools and districts, and there have been numerous recent forums and events that have addressed some of the issues around this.

I recently attended one such event in Vancouver; It’s My Future was hosted by the Learning Partnership inviting students from 10 districts across Metro Vancouver to tackle some questions about their education including:

  • What has worked well in education?
  • Where are the opportunities for enhancement to public education?
  •  How is education helping students think about their job/career after high school?

Similar events are being presented throughout British Columbia and, actually, around the world.  There is almost universal acceptance of the belief that students should have a greater voice in their schooling. Some of the latest efforts in BC have been around Student Trustees on Boards of Education with some examples of this from Vancouver and on the Sunshine Coast.

So, will all these efforts lead to a greater student agency?  Or, more directly, how do we move from giving students voice to giving students agency — the kind of learning that builds self-efficacy?

Learner agency is characterized by a pedagogy that builds on the passions of learners and also has real world relevance.  We are seeing numerous examples of this in our schools, and the school structure is also beginning to change to accommodate this transition.  Schools are adopting more flexible schedules, new and more personalized methods of reporting are being adopted, and examples of hands-on experiences from outdoor learning to community business partnerships are flourishing.  Many do see learner agency as being key to the future of schooling. However, examples are far from universal.

And, could the new wave of learner voice lead to an even more, systemic learner agency?  Certainly not to criticize, but it is important to note while learner voice is a good start, it can end up being a tokenism if we are not careful.

For myself, the question is whether the efforts of student voice and student agency are the same challenge, or two different efforts.

Maybe learner voice and learner agency are two different ideas that overlap; or maybe it is a continuum, and as we solidify learner voice at one end of the spectrum, we will increase learner agency and eventually land on learner leadership — where students are the leaders of the change and design of their educational programs.

I often reflect on a question I heard Alan November pose more than a decade ago, “Who Owns the Learning?”  Increasingly, the answer is “the learner” with voice and agency being key elements on this journey.

Thanks to the work of David Jackson and Valerie Hannon – I have borrowed heavily from their definitions and a presentation I saw them give “Learner Voice, Agency and Engagement.”

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report-card

It is the time of year when many make fearless predictions about the school year ahead.  The news is full of “must have” lists for the fall — from clothing  to technology.  Let me join the chorus of those making grand proclamations and say that this school year is setting up to be “the year of the report card.”

There are many issues to pick from in BC.  It is always easy to say labour issues will dominate the news and education conversations, but we are in the midst of quite a large transformation in BC and it is a moveable feast.  Some of the items that I think will make news this year include:

Curriculum — There will be drafts of a new K-9 curriculum in seven areas:  English Language Arts, Francais Langue, Arts Education, Math, Science, Social Studies and Health and Physical Education.  In the past, curriculum had been on long cycles with one or two new curriculums released each year. This year, we will see drafts of all of these documents in the fall with the promise of other grades to follow.

Provincial Assessment — An advisory group which began their work in spring 2013, led by the Education Deans from SFU and UBC,  will conclude their work this fall.  Their recommendations could lead to changes with long-standing programs including FSAs and the Grade 10-12 government program exams.

Graduation Program — Last year, there was a province-wide consultation regarding the graduation program, which will continue to be refined this fall. By spring 2014, we might see recommendations for changes to the current program.

And those three “meaty” items are just the beginning.  There will be more discussion and piloting of special education innovation projects, on improving Aboriginal education, the ongoing focus on bullying through ERASE, sustained efforts with early reading, and a lot about skills and trades programs.

So with all of that, why “the year of the report card?”

While some of the other topics can quickly become philosophical or “edu-speak”, everyone (students, parents, educators, community) understands report cards. There are few things more core to education than report cards. Report cards are also a symbol of “the system.”  In many ways, report cards have not changed much for our kids than from those their parents received.  Three times a year, a brown envelope goes home with brief comments on a student’s success in prescribed areas; for older students, a series of numbers and letters quantify the most recent term.  Parents read and re-read each comment for insight, meaning, and possibly comparing the letters and numbers to those of the neighbours’ kids as well.

But something is happening . . .

As schools change, and our beliefs about learning evolve, a lot of people are asking about report cards.  In BC, some people are not simply talking about report cards, they’re doing something about them.   In Maple Ridge- Pitt Meadows, for example:

Elementary school teachers  . . . will no longer be required to grade students with an A, C+ or D.  Wednesday, the local school board approved a new elementary reporting alternate option, termed a student-inclusive conferencing model.  It will see teachers meet with students and parents to discuss progress, and an increased emphasis on student self-assessment. . . . Committee members developed a process intended to open dialogue between parent, child and teacher. The conferences celebrate strengths, talk about learning needs, and set future goals. The report is filled out in a more consultative process. The committee members say it has an obvious effect on young learners.  “Even our kindergarten students are setting goals for themselves,” said Vandergugten.  “And not a single parent asked for a letter grade. No longer are they an A, B or C student.”

Maple-Ridge – Pitt Meadows, is not the only place seriously looking at report cards. These conversations are happening in schools across the province, and I am also hearing more questions from our own staff and parents.  And they are good questions — If what we know about assessment has changed, shouldn’t how we report change with it?  As new curriculum is introduced, should we continue to report on the same areas as we have in the past?  With all of our technology, is there not a better way to give timely information than through a paper report card three times a year?

Reports from the schools and districts that have made the change have been very positive; there has been a great response from students, parents and staff.  But then there is the other side of the discussion, like “I did just fine with report cards with letter grades so why change for my kids?”  It is actually an excellent discussion.  As we continue to look at report cards, we talk about what we value, how and what we assess and what content is most important.  We also talk about the balance between some standard benchmarks for students and personalized learning.

I have shared some thinking on this before, in some of my parenting wishes for my child’s schooling.  There is more constructive work we can do, starting at the elementary level, to de-emphasize the ranking and sorting, increase the self-assessment and goal setting, and to find new models that  will make the “reporting” more timely, thoughtful, relevent and learning-focussed.

Talking about report cards is simple, and the reason why I think they will be such a hot topic this year. We have all received them and we all have stories about and experiences with them. But the beauty of the discussion is lying just below the surface of a rich discussion on learning and the school system we want for our kids.

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I write about the changing nature of learning and school quite often, but I would also like to credit district staff and the community, that when offered something different, they take the jump and sign-up.  In the West Vancouver School District, there is a lot of change occurring  within the traditional school day. To be sure, there is an emphasis on inquiry, social-emotional learning. digital access, but not as many examples challenging when learning takes place.  Generally, our schools operate from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m,  Monday to Friday, September to June. And, while some students take online (Distributive Learning) courses from other school districts, we don’t offer these in the district.

That said, there are three offerings for the upcoming school year I would like to highlight for their unique partnerships, flexible schedules, and for the amazing interest each have generated.  From Honours Choir, to Basketball and Entrepreneurship — the adage is “if you build it, they will come”, and it seems to apply nicely.  At the time of each offering, I wondered if anyone would sign-up; in the end, the happy problem was more sign-ups than supply.

Honours Choir

Music is a key component of each school’s program, and West Vancouver Schools proudly boast  music specialists in each of our elementary schools — a rarity in BC schools.  Until this year, we had not considered offering music beyond the school level because there are often opportunities for students within the community.  This year, the Board of Education approved an Honours Choir course offered on Wednesday evenings.  Many worried we wouldn’t have the 20-to-25 student enrollment required to run the course.  In the end, over 100 students signed up for auditions and the one choir opportunity became two. These students are required to be part of their own school choirs, and will now extend and challenge themselves every Wednesday night,  pursuing a passion and earning school credits while training with singers from all schools in the district.

Premier Basketball Academy

West Vancouver has been well invested in sports academy programs for a number of years, from soccer to hockey and tennis to baseball. However, basketball is unique in that it is predominantly a school sport.  So, the district has created a unique opportunity open to Grades 9 to 11 boys and girls from all three schools. This course allows students to earn credits while continuing to play for their “home” school, and to receive additional training in the mornings as well as other times outside of the school timetable. This will allow better access to the course for students from multiple schools.  Similar to the Honours Choir, students can pursue a passion in greater depth while not having to leave their school to attend the program.  One other key element of the program is we are  partnering with Basketball BC, who will be providing the curriculum and expertise to support the program.  Again, demand has exceeded capacity.

Entrepreneurship 12 / YELL

Entrepreneurship 12 is a Ministry of Education course offered in schools across the province.  A challenge we often face with these type of  specialty business courses (and other senior electives) is that about 10 to 15 students sign-up in each school,  but not enough to offer a course block in the timetable – leading to course cancellations.  Some creative thinking around format and scheduling has changed that.  The course has been rebranded YELL (Young Entrepreneurship and Leadership Launchpad) and partners business teachers with community resources which currently include Rattan Bagga, General Manager of Jiva Organics; Amit Sandhu, CEO of Ampri Group; and Punit Dhillon, co-founder, President and CEO of OncoSec Medical.  The course is offered after school, so students from all three schools can attend; students will connect with top entrepreneurial talent and participate in a business venture challenge — traditional business course meets Dragon’s Den.  Earlier this week, when I attended the information session in the West Vancouver Secondary Library, it was jam-packed with over 150 interested people.  Again, families are ready to embrace ‘different’.

So, what are some of my takeaways:

  • The idea of connecting with community resources is a partnership we are just beginning to figure out, and the community is willing and interested
  • There is a real interest  in depth and specialization to pursue passions
  • There are opportunities to go across-schools for collaboration outside of the timetable
  • We can find more options for students to stay at their home school for the majority of their program
  • Each of the three new offerings are guided by passionate teachers
  • The lines of school/non-school activities are becoming increasingly blurry

The creation of these courses has been an interesting journey, more so that my internal pessimist has been proven wrong with all three offerings. While I wondered if they would gain traction, all three are booming with interest, which makes me also wonder, “so, what is next?”

Finally, my thanks to the outstanding teacher leaders: Suzanne Fulton (choir), Greg Meldrum (basketball) ad Jo-Anne McKee and Shawn Anderson (Entrepreneurship) who are leading the way with these offerings. I am looking forward to seeing their progress and success in about 12 months from now as we slowly open up more opportunities outside the traditional school day.

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SoI.indd

Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser have been at the forefront of teaching and learning in British Columbia for decades.  I have written previously about their work with the Network of Performance Based Schools (now the Network of Inquiry and Innovation).  Their latest book Spirals of Inquiry For equity and quality is a welcoming book; it takes us from where we are and invites us on a team journey. Halbert and Kaser have a wonderful way of bringing us aboard and to become part of their team – “We have had the privilege of working together on system transformation for a number of years.  We have experienced the joy of teamwork and the support that comes from facing challenges with a trusted learning partner.  Inquiry is not a solitary pursuit.  Meeting the needs of all learners is simply too big a task for any one leader, teacher, school or district to attempt alone.”

I have taken a stab at defining inquiry in my post All About Inquiry; I referenced the work of the Galileo Educational Network and in reviewing previous posts realize that I have made reference to inquiry in one out of every five posts written.  Inquiry is THE buzz word in education, but while there is opportunity there are also drawbacks that can be attributed to one word used so often, by so many, in so many circumstances.  There is general agreement we want more inquiry (the anti-inquiry movement is quite quiet), but exactly what this is and means is not clear. Although the work  Halbert and Kaser describe is hard work, their approach is straight forward.  I find it far more accessible than other frameworks and they provide structure without recipe.

Halbert and Kaser encourage us to start our investigation into inquiry with four key questions that “help move our thinking from a preoccupation with content coverage, to a focus on what learners are actually experiencing with the learning we are designing for, or with, them”:

  • Can you name two people in this school / setting who believe that you can be a success in life?
  • Where are you going with your learning?
  • How are you doing with your learning?
  • Where are you going next with your learning?

They move into their spiral approach, quoting Madame Gertrude de Stael, “The human mind always makes progress – but it is a progress in spirals.”  Halbert and Kaser focus their spirals around several key questions continually coming back to the first:

  • What is going on for our learners?
  • What does our focus need to be?
  • What is leading to this situation?
  • How and where can we learn more about what to do?
  • What will we do differently?
  • Have we made enough of a difference?

While I researched the book to better understand the process of student inquiry, it reminded me that we, as teachers, need to be committed to the same efforts with our own learning.

Halbert and Kaser have created a book with useful approaches to both student and adult inquiry; more importantly, they validate the work in British Columbia, link the efforts they describe with existing practices in districts across the province, and do not  hit us with a stick if we are not all doing it yet.  I would argue this book should be a must read for all new teachers, and for educators with decades of experience, it is a reminder that we are all part of a big team, who need each other and that our students need us, for as Halbert and Kaser conclude, “Let’s stick together and stick with this work until every BC learner does indeed cross the stage with dignity, purpose and options.”

WANT TO LEARN MORE

Spirals of Inquiry is available through the BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association for $20 (all proceeds support innovative and inquiring schools).

Chris Wejr and I are hosting a Twitter conversation on Sunday, May 26th at 8 pm Pacific.  We will be joined by the authors, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, and hopefully many others who would like to explore Spirals of Inquiry.  If you are interested in following along the hashtag will be #inqbc.

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