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Posts Tagged ‘Reading’

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As I read the media reports of the 2015 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results I could almost feel the media’s disappointment.  Of the 72 countries and jurisdictions around the world participating, students in British Columbia were the highest performing in reading, 2nd highest in science and 6th in math.  The results are outstanding.  And this is no small test – over 500,000 15-year-old students participated around the world including more than 20,000 in Canada.  Of course, good news just doesn’t make “news” like bad news.  There are far more people who seem to enjoy a “Students Struggle with Reading” headline, rather than a “Local Students Top Readers in the World” headline. (See full Canadian results here).

I dedicate dozens of posts each year on this blog to talking about the need to do things differently.  And results like those from PISA do not change the need or urgency.  They do remind us in British Columbia (and all across Canada) we are improving from a place of strength.  We have an exemplary education system that is not satisfied with the status quo and we want to be sure that as the world continues to change, our curriculum, assessment and programs continue to adapt to ensure our relevance.

I have written about PISA two times before (when both the 2009 and 2012 results were released – and I still hold to these commentaries).  Beyond the high-level numbers the power of PISA is that there is a lot of data that helps tell a more complete story.  I find the most useful information are deeper in the report below the silly “who won” conversation.  From first look, one sees that there is a very small gender gap in science in Canada, for example, and overall the level of equity (the difference between the highest and lowest scores) is better (more equitable) in Canada than elsewhere.  As I said in my comments three years ago, when asked about PISA – “It is what it is”.  It is one part of the education story, but when governments invest billions of dollars into education, it is a powerful tool to help see we are doing some things right.

I am also left thinking about Finland today.  Like many others, I have visited Finland to learn about what they have done to develop such a strong education system.  And just what first attracted me to Finland?  Well, it was their PISA scores.  The same PISA scores that today indicate the world has a lot to learn from Canada and British Columbia. The same PISA scores that remind me that we can learn a lot in British Columbia from colleagues in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and truly across the country.  The same PISA scores that remind me as Superintendent in West Vancouver, there is a lot we can learn from Surrey, Victoria and Bulkley Valley.

Of course we have many areas in British Columbia we can improve – it is forever the nature of education.  We need to continue to work to improve our Aboriginal graduation rates, and support all learners in our classrooms.  There is a danger that a report like this can suggest we tick the education box in our society and stop investing – we need to do the opposite and continue to invest in public education in British Columbia so we grow from this position of strength.  And yes, PISA is just one measure – we know there are so many factors beyond tests like these that we need to track to ensure our students are strong academic performers and capable citizens (and yes, there are many thoughtful critics of PISA).

But let’s leave the other conversations for another day – today is a day to recognize the system we have – and it is damn good!  All of us who have children in BC’s schools, and all of us who work in BC schools should be very proud.

OK, that is more self-congratulating than most of us Canadians are used to – let’s get back to work!

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Last week, I had the pleasure of participating in the TD National Reading Summit III – A Reading Canada:  Building a Plan.  The goal of the National Reading Campaign was to bring together a coalition of readers, parents, writers, publishers, bookstore owners and teachers to create a reading strategy for Canada.

My participation in the event was as panel participant in Young Readers: Strategies for Our Future.  The panel, hosted by Simi Sara, also included Maureen Dockendorf from Coquitlam and Lyne Laganiere from Quebec.  While not my area of expertise, it does hold great interest for me personally (as the father of four young children), and professionally — believing a reading culture, fostered from a young age, is crucial for our society.

So, when it comes to young people and reading, panel participants agreed the state of reading is not as dire as some statistics show (Here is a link to Ontario data which shows a dramatic decrease in young people reporting they like to read), because what we are all seeing is reading for pleasure is, at least, holding if not growing for young people.

A collection of other observations we made:

  • The Harry Potter effect — multi-generations in a household reading the same books at the same time, as books for youth, have often become books for all.   Recently this has been seen with The Hunger Games with kids, parents and grandparents reading the same books.
  • Books that were banned in schools, even a decade ago, are now being used to engage boys in reading — from comic books to graphic novels, to magazines and blogs.  This is all part of a larger theme, that of choice in what kids can read, either in school or at home.
  • Many of the strategies that work with adults to encourage reading, also work with kids — book clubs are on the rise in schools, libraries and the community.
  • Technology is absolutely changing reading, but exactly ‘how’ is not so clear.  One powerful way is how it allows young people to build community around books — just as movies based on books build community.
  • Social media can create networks for young people to connect about their reading. Vancouver teacher librarian, Moira Ekdahl, shared  a wonderful example of how Hazel, a John Oliver student, used technology to build community around her readings.
  • One concern is that with all of our well-intentioned literacy efforts, we are losing some of the joy of reading in our over-analysis and scientific dissecting of works.
  • Another challenge is ensuring we continue to promote Canadian content (and in particular, Aboriginal stories) to our students as they continue to read and become  interested in mass-marketed books like The Hunger Games, and Twilight series.
  • We do need to keep our “eye on the prize” and while there are some boundaries over what we want our kids to read (for example, at the event, the case was made around work that promotes sexual stereotypes) having our students read newspapers, magazines, or even Captain Underpants, opens the door to reading.
  • It is really important to not lament what has been (or perceived to have been) lost over past decades — this is a dangerous cycle — it is more important to look for what is needed and what is possible moving forward.
  • If we want a culture of reading in Canada which includes our young people, we likely don’t need more of what we used to have, but need to build a culture for our changing, and increasingly digital world.
I don’t often take time to separate my thinking around literacy from that of reading.  Having done the thinking around reading, I realize as much as I know how important it is that our students are literate, it is having our kids read which brings great joy.

To close, I want to thank three amazing educators in West Vancouver who have helped me prepare on this topic, are great influencers of my thinking, and are leading the way:  Cathie Ratz, Principal at Irwin Park Elementary School, Jody Billingsley, Vice-Principal at Lions Bay Community School, and Sandra-Lynn Shortall, District-Principal for Early Learning.

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Today marks the release of the PISA 2009 assessment results.  And just what is PISA:

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an internationally standardised assessment that was jointly developed by participating economies and administered to 15-year-olds in schools.

Tests are typically administered to between 4,500 and 10,000 students in each country.

And just what does PISA look at?

PISA assesses how far students near the end of compulsory education have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in society. In all cycles, the domains of reading, mathematical and scientific literacy are covered not merely in terms of mastery of the school curriculum, but in terms of important knowledge and skills needed in adult life.

PISA, has absolutely become the World Cup of education excellence.  Over the last three years I have spoken to, hosted, and toured groups from around the world who specifically came to British Columbia to understand our high results.  Of course, the interest in Finland can also be traced directly to these assessments.  Finland has become education’s equivalent of soccer’s Brazil.

On the previously released results, Canada, and in particular Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, have performed among the very top performing jurisdictions in the world alongside Finland, Hong Kong and Korea (here is a summary of 2006 results).  Since education is under provincial jurisdiction in Canada, our results are further  broken out by province, while other jurisdictions are typically by country.  The PISA results are the often used antidote against those who question the quality of education in British Columbia and Canada.  We have a system looking to improve, but we are improving from a place of strength, and envy from around the world.

Today is announcement day.  There is a lot to dig into beyond the headlines, but my quick read indicates:

  • Korea and Finland are the top performing OECD countries, but Shanghai-China (a first time participant) outperforms them by a significant margin
  • Girls outperform boys in reading in every participating country
  • Canadian students continue to be near the top of OECD countries
  • British Columbia students perform above Canadian averages
  • Since 2000, British Columbia results have improved in science and declined in math and reading

From the OECD Press Release this morning, here are a few more key items they highlight:

• The best school systems were the most equitable — students do well regardless of their socio-economic background. However, schools that select students based on ability, show the greatest differences in performance by socio-economic background.
• High-performing school systems tend to prioritize teacher pay over smaller class sizes.
• Countries where students repeat grades more often tend to have worse results overall, with the widest gaps between children from poor and better-off families. Making students repeat years is most common in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain.
• High-performing systems allow schools to design curricula and establish assessment policies, but don’t necessarily allow competition for students.
• Schools with good discipline and better student-teacher relations, achieve better reading results.
• Public and private schools achieve similar results, after taking account of their home backgrounds.
• Combining local autonomy and effective accountability seems to produce the best results.
• The percentage of students who said they read for pleasure dropped from 69% in 2000, to 64% in 2009.

There is much more to dissect, and there is a lot of excellent data produced going deeper into the rankings, which will garner much of the attention.  PISA 2009 results are available here and the Executive Summary (a very good read) is available here.  Ontario has also released a summary of its results including a series of tables listing all Canadian provinces available here.

As the results are further examined, there is a lot to consider when looking at jurisdictions that have undergone major reform initiatives, and how this has translated into results.  A quick read indicates Ontario will likely be getting a lot of attention for its efforts in coming days.

Update: This link (here) is a summary of the results from Stats Canada.

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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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