Posts Tagged ‘pro-d’

How best to use new technologies to support our primary students is an issue we are wrestling with in our district.  As teachers and schools experiment, some thoughtful and innovative practices are developing.  One that is worth highlighting comes out of Irwin Park Elementary School.  They have taken home reading and moved it into the digital age.  What I really like about the initiative is that it doesn’t simply replicate what has been done in the paper-based world on computers, but allows collaboration in a way not possible without the technology.

The program comes from the primary classes of Maria Yioldassis and Leslie Dawes and has been supported by the school and by our District Principal of Technology and Innovation, Gary Kern. 

This project exposes students to digital text and introduces them to reading online in a school context.  It also allows students to collaborate and share their experiences with other students. 

The teachers have students read digital texts they find on two popular sites, Starfall and Tumblebooks.  Both sites provide text at various reading levels and accompanying visuals.  Once students finish reading the books, they make brief comments on what they read, a process that can first be done in class, and then be repeated at home (see screen shots below). 

Some of the findings from this initiative include students having become self-confident in navigating through their e-books, choosing an appropriate book, reading the book, and then sharing what they have read through the website.  This process has been replicated at home and also during choice time within the classroom.

Teachers have also reported an increase in student confidence with online material; an increased awareness of what others are reading, and an overall sharing and appreciation of books read.

This very simple idea is spreading in West Vancouver. This fall, professional development days focussed on digital literacy; a number of teachers throughout the district have become comfortable with creating similar class spaces for their home reading programs. Many who are very interested in using this technology in their classes see this as a wonderful entry point – it is not an add-on as home reading is already going on. In addition, it allows parents to participate; it gives students greater ownership of their own learning, and it models the collaborative skills we want to build in students throughout their schooling. 

What we are finding is the entry point for most teachers with a digital presence is as a one-way communication: informing parents and students of upcoming calendar items, class news and homework.  What is exciting about this Home Reading program, something we are calling a “next practice,” is how it engages students and families with the technology.

There is still a lot to explore, particularly with our youngest learners and how best to use technology to support their learning, but projects like this one are very exciting.

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Today is our first meeting of the year with school professional development representatives from all West Vancouver schools.  This group of volunteer teachers meet on a regular basis to share their successes and challenges and help to evolve our very impressive model.  This group is chaired by the West Vancouver Teachers Association (WVTA), Professional Development Co-Chairs, Karen Harmatuk and Sue Elliot.

Here is a one page overview of the Professional Development model in West Vancouver (scroll on the right to see the entire document):

Our Professional Development Model, or the “Collaborative Model” as it is often described, helps guide all of our work in the district.  Our core values genuinely guide the work:

•1. Our primary learning focus is on improving student learning

•2. We work collaboratively on district, school and team goals because teaching is too difficult to do alone

•3. Our work is supported by current research

The model is built around our students and improving student learning.  It also makes it very clear the best learning is collaborative.  I was reminded of the power of collaboration this past week as “Learning Teams” from Pauline Johnson, West Bay, Cypress Park, Irwin Park and Ridgeview spent a morning together looking at digital literacy.

Our professional learning model in West Vancouver is really quite simple, but important to always come back to as a guide.  As district, school, or individual professional development grows, it is important to ensure these three strands are continually supported.

Every year we look at “how we can strengthen the collaborative model.”  The model is messy – but, so is good learning.  With all the talk about personalized learning for students, that is really at the heart of what we are trying to do with the adults learning in our district.  It doesn’t mean that every staff member has an individual, unique plan, but rather they have a personalized plan that blends together district, school and individual needs.

For all of our educators, it starts with our professional growth program.  The description from 15 years ago, and the purpose of teacher growth plans, is still very relevant today:

The purpose of the Professional Growth Program is to support the professional growth of teachers for the continuous development of instructional practices in order to enhance student learning in West Vancouver.

Like all the work we do either as individuals, collaborative learning teams, schools, or as a district, at its core is the improvement of our students’ learning.

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As we look at increasing “personalized learning” in British Columbia, we have been encouraged to look over the fence and see what are neighbours are doing.  It is not a local, provincial, or even national trend to evolve schools to better embrace “21st century skills“, the movement is happening around the world.

For the past two days, Ontario has hosted Building Blocks for Education:  Whole System Reform and featured big thinkers from around the world including Michael Fullan, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Timo Lankinen the Director General of the Finish National Board of Education.   The conference is connected to the  Ontario government’s education plan:  Reach Every Student – Energizing Ontario Education.

With thanks to those tweeting from the Conference, and some late-night viewing of the keynotes that were webcast, here are some of the more interesting insights I found looking over the fence:

Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, Singapore:

  • the first building block to success is the principals
  • the role of politicians is sometimes to get out of the way
  • 20% of Singapore’s government spending goes to education
  • recognized that performance art can help promote 21st century skills

Timo Lankinen – Director General, Finish National Board of Education:

  • In Finland grade 1’s spend only 3 hours in school a day
  • Focus is moving from literacy and numeracy to arts and physical activity
  • Teachers salaries are not higher, but it is a very valued profession
  • 21st century skills are a key part of Finland’s success
  • All teachers in Finland hold a Master’s Degree

Michael Fullan, Special Advisor to the Premier of Ontario:

  • Transparency is here to stay
  • Relevant and personalized curriculum is helping grad rates
  • Role of central government in education is strategy, manage evaluation, explain to taxpayers what is happening
  • clamour for autonomy occurs with bad policies and bad leadership
  • not acceptable in definition of professional teacher or principal to say “leave me alone” – it is a balance between autonomy and integration

Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education:

  • “the fight for education is a daily fight for social justice”
  • Department of Education needs to be an engine of innovation and not a compliance office
  • Interesting – 2000 high schools produce 1/2 of US dropouts – call them “dropout factories”
  • US is in the midst of a quiet revolution in school reform
  • Courage not resources will transform education in the U.S.
  • In the U.S. the kids that need the most help get the least

Andreas Schleicher, Special Advisor on Education Policy, Directorate for Education, Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD):

  • once you remove the influence of social background, public schools do better than private schools
  • use statistical neighbours and interrogate data
  • technology enables non-linear learning
  • best systems attract great teachers and give access to best practices and quality
  • schools need to focus on the things that our kids will really need to know – learning how to learn and collaborating with others

There is some reassurance in knowing so many jurisdictions are having the same conversation. Many of our conversations in West Vancouver and the directions we are moving sound similar to those being implemented around the world.  The challenge, though, when we look at Finland, or when others look at us, is to take the ideas and apply them to what can be very different local contexts.

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I have just finished participating in the two-day fall retreat for Learning Forward BC.  And just what is Learning Forward BC?

Learning Forward

It is the rebranding of an organization that is well-known to many educators.

Learning Forward is the new name of the National Staff Development Council.  We are an international association of learning educators committed to one purpose in K-12 education:  Every educator engages in professional learning every day so every student achieves.

What struck me as different from this group from the many different formal and informal networks I often meet with around professional development is that at its core was the group’s commitment to being apolitical.  In the  room were educators who spend their days as classroom teachers, school administrators, district staff, university staff and ministry officials.

A lot of the discussion focussed on what place Learning Forward BC has in the current provincial landscape.  What attracted me to the group, and the place I think it has is as an organization where people “leave politics at the door.”

I don’t have experience outside the province, but  many people who have had experiences in other places in Canada, and around the world, often note that politics and education are intertwined in ways in B.C. unique from many other jurisdictions.  Too often we spend so much time focussed on our roles in the system, that we don’t get down to the work of moving learning forward.

This was my first true taste as a board member for Learning Forward BC – but if it can play a role in providing venues for conversations free of our titles and roles, it could be time well spent.

Look for more information about Learning Forward BC coming this fall.

To connect with the Learning Forward parent body, you can do so on Facebook or Twitter.

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