Learning Character – Openness

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment in thinking that “now, more than ever, the world needs more…tolerance, more openness, more dialogue, more shared problem-solving…” Recent events in North America and beyond have prompted me to think that openness – openness to trying new things, to meeting new people, to considering viewpoints different from one’s own – was needed now more than ever. My social media feed is as refined as it has ever been to share news stories suggesting that.

In reality, considering many countries’ histories of colonization, inequality, segregation, sexism and war, the need to be open to others has always been necessary in order for diversity to be a strength rather than a dividing and oppressing weakness.

At BICS, our school goal is for students to strengthen their learning character including becoming more responsible, open, ambitious and resilient. While this second character trait, open, maybe is not needed now more than ever, it is perhaps the most important character trait of a learner. After all, learning is about trying new things, considering multiple viewpoints and negotiating one’s own understanding, and welcoming opportunities to meet new people, learn about them, learn from them, and perhaps even be changed by them.

Openness is not taught in a week but we are calling the week of February 20-24, 2017 “Openness Week” at BICS and we are holding several events that we hope will inspire students to recognize the value of being open and encourage this important aspect of their learning character.

On Monday, our intermediate students will participate in a ROAR (Responsibility, Openness, Ambition, Resilience) Assembly. The key message will be the link between self-regulation and openness. Typically, as someone becomes upset, or dysregulated, less and less of their brain is activated, particularly the reasoning parts of the brain which might actually be open to considering alternate perspectives. To the extreme, in a survival situation when fight or flight is activated, little more than the amygdala is controlling actions.

On Tuesday, BICS will celebrate International Mother Language Day. BICS students whose mother language is one other than English will meet with our English Language Learner (ELL) teacher Ms. de Boer and me to create a bulletin board that will display the word “Welcome” in as many Mother Languages as we have at BICS. Learning a second (or third) language is an incredible accomplishment and our ELL students deserve credit for their efforts. It will also be interesting to raise the profile of diversity of languages at BICS and share the vital connection of language and culture.

On Wednesday, students and staff are encouraged to wear pink shirts to school. Pink Shirt Day, occurring all across Canada and in other countries, originated after a high school student was made fun of for wearing a pink shirt. The next day, two peers wore pink shirts and started providing them to others as well. Wearing a pink shirt is a statement by anyone who wears it that they are someone who will not stand by and allow bullying to happen; rather, they are someone who will support someone being bullied. Our primary students will also have an assembly that celebrates the idea, “It’s OK to be different.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the Diversity Group will meet. The group, consisting of parent/guardians and BICS staff, has formed this year and discusses racial diversity at BICS and beyond. The goal of our group is to become more aware of systematic racism in Canadian society and to be open to the role we as citizens play in this system.

Whether it is being open to fun experiences like participating in band, joining the cross country team or Destination Imagination, or whether being open is more difficult – like working with someone new, or challenging one’s perspective and beliefs – openness is central to a successful approach to learning. Encouraging openness in students is a responsibility we share with families and we take this responsibility seriously. This week and beyond, openness will continue to be an essential aspect of learning character that we encourage and rely upon for students to be successful.

Different or Just New? Communicating Student Learning

Recently, BICS Vice-Principal Laura Magrath and I hosted a Communicating Student Learning Information Evening. In response to major changes to BC’s curriculum, the way teachers communicate student learning has also been changing over the last two years.

We started the information session by soliciting parent’s recollections of their own report cards. These recollections ranged from dread to excitement and they highlighted a number of things we should avoid (letters csl-reflections-2016or numbers that make people feel labelled) and what we should strive for (“specific feedback, made me feel special”; “they were a good measure of where to improve”) in our newest iterations of written reports.

In my mind the new Communicating Student Learning written reports which will be sent home with students on December 16 are a vast improvement over our previous report cards. When reading and using the report card, I hope families notice acc-csl-2016nd find useful these five elements of the CSL documents.

 

First, the reports are very clear on the foundational skills. For primary reports (Kindergarten to Grade 3) and intermediate reports (Grades 4-7), students are given clear descriptors for a student’s abilities to read, write and use numbers to solve problems. In the primary report, the terms beginning, developing and acquired are used as descripcc_csl_2016_2tors referring to varying levels of support required for a student to demonstrate the skill assessed. The descriptors are based on the idea that all students can be successful; it is a matter of how much support they require to be successful with our goal of students becoming independent. At the intermediate level, the terms beginning, developing, acquired and exceeding are used. The terms are designed for parents to know precisely which areas of learning the student needs to focus on in the terms ahead.

Second, the reports focus to a greater level on what students can do. Many of the learning objectives identified in the primary report as Concepts and Content and in the intermediate report as Curricular Competencies refer to the skills needed for a specific subject; i.e. what skills does a scientist or a historian need? This focus on what the child can do aligns nicely with our feeder school Rockridge Secondary School which uses a report which places a strong focus on what students can do, with limited focus on what the student knows.

Third, the reports also give a clear picture of the big ideas and concepts students know about and understand. Transformational learning is learning that will affect how a student approaches, processes and understands future experiences. Transformational learning is often perspective shaping. When a student develops a deep understanding of big ideas, which are chosen because they are timeless and transferable, the learning can often be transformational. Therefore, while the most important and longest lasting takeaways from elementary school are skills (personal and social, reading, writing and using numbers to solve problems), understandings are still vitally important and readers of the report will see the topics and content of students’ inquiries clearly stated.

Fourth, the reports continue to include information on a child’s social and emotional development. In the opening comments, in Core Competencies (for intermediate reports), and in other fields, teachers share information on the child’s social and emotional development. Schools share the role with parents of supporting a child’s well-being and development of personal and social skills. In the opening comments, teachers also refer to an aspect of our school goal of students developing their learning character so parents will find comments related to a child’s development of Responsibility, Openness, Ambition and Resilience (ROAR).

Fifth, areas of growth for each student to help foster a child’s independence and confidence are very clearly identified. The Supporting Student Learning (primary) and Ways to Support (intermediate) sections of the report give a concise explanation of learning that the child needs to focus on as well as some strategies for school and home to support these needs.

In addition to the comments from teachers, the reports also include reflections from students. BICS teachers will be refining student reflections throughout the year so as to accurately and authentically capture student voice on the process of learning. Our hope is for students to thoughtfully reflect on the process of their learning: were they committed to the strategies identified to achieve their learning goals? Were they successful not just in achieving their goals but more importantly in having the responsibility and resilience to stick to a plan to achieve them?

Teachers, school administrators and school district staff have worked hard to develop written reports that add to the strategy of communicating student learning. We hope these documents, in addition to parent/teacher conferences, student-led conferences, and ongoing feedback in the form of assignments sent home, phone calls and emails, help families understand the progress of their children. This year, all of our K-7 reports are considered pilots so we will be seeking further feedback throughout the year to ensure we are providing the most useful tools to communicate student learning.

 

Click below to see the slide deck from Laura Magrath for our presentation to parents on November 30.

csl_2016

Anchoring

In his fascinating book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman writes of “anchoring.”

His and others’ research has shown that when people are given a starting number about a topic they know little about and then asked a question about the topic, they have a tendency not to drift too far from the given figure. The figure serves as an anchor.

An example he uses:

Is the height of the tallest redwood more or less than 1,200 feet?
What is your best guess about the height of the tallest redwood?

Even though 1,200 feet is a ridiculously large number for the height of a redwood, asking question 1 (Is the height of the tallest redwood more or less than 1,200 feet?) ahead of asking the latter question primes the respondent with some information about the topic and this has a major impact on what their best guess about the height of the tallest redwood will be.

The person being questioned may assume that the person asking the question has some knowledge of redwoods and therefore use 1,200 as their starting place. Knowing enough to assume the given number is too high, they would most likely drop below the initial figure, but not too far below. Rather than starting with their own guess, they use 1,200 as a starting place and as they drop below the starting place, they settle on a number before dipping too far into the uncertain zone. The number then ends up far closer to the starting place than were the person to have come up with a guess all on their own.

The implications of this for teaching are immense. We often ask students to share their thoughts on topics they are just forming opinions on. While exposure to others’ ideas is helpful, it is also helpful for teachers to be aware of the priming effect peers’ responses might have on students. The teacher may also wish to help students identify this effect.

Kahneman notes that even after identifying the effect of “anchors” they still have an impact. Choosing when to have group discussions and being mindful of giving students time to find their own starting place is essential.

I’m in the midst of Kahneman’s book and literally enjoying every page. As we strive to thinking-fsteach students to think critically and creatively, learning more about psychology and the way the brain work is important. There are many tools to assist students with evaluating the perspective and biases of others; what is more difficult is evaluating the way we process information and form conclusions.

 

So let’s be more realistic this time. Did the tallest redwood even exceed 200 feet? What’s your guess?

To Our 2015-2016 Grade 7s, Farewell

We had our year-end assembly yesterday to celebrate the school year but this assembly grade 7s is just for you.

Last night, parents spent time making the gym look terrific, your teachers have written speeches for each of you, the whole school and many family members have come to watch.

This ceremony is a statement that this transition in your life is an important one.

I know the transition from elementary to secondary school is significant because I can still remember my transition to high school 25 years ago.

 

In June of 1991, I was finishing at Caulfield Elementary School and moving on up to Hillside Secondary School.

I remember my first day: after years of walking, biking and being driven to my elementary school, for the first time in my life I rode the school bus.

I was wearing a white Vuarnet France long sleeve t-shirt that had been given to me by an older cousin. I thought she was cool so figured the t-shirt was too. Cool enough that I also wore it to the first dance we had a few months later.

 

 

It bothers me that I remember trivial details of dress; it speaks to me being overly concerned about what others thought of me. How I wish I could have gone into high school not worrying so much, rather trusting myself to be myself. If I had some advice for you, it would be to be yourself but I am not here to give you easier said than done advice.

Little I say now is going to affect your attitude in this transitional period so I am simply going to summarize some key themes that I know have been a feature of your experience at BICS, things you’ve learned already.

 

Your education is partly about skillset – writing skills, reading skills, being able to make use of numbers to solve problems.

Your education is also about mindset – how you approach change, how you think about new situations, meeting new people and how you greet opportunity.

 

So I will now share some long-learned lessons, likely begun in Kindergarten and earlier with your family , which have hopefully inspired in you a confident and optimistic mindset for making the most of the many opportunities that lay ahead.

 

Lesson Number One: You are special but no more special than anyone else.

Yes, that is possible – special doesn’t have to mean better or only. The quantity of special people in the wold does not devalue your uniqueness and worth. Soon your teachers will describe your unique strengths and possibly even a quirk or two. Be proud of who you are.

 

Lesson Number Two:  Be confident in yourself. Confidence is believing in yourself – not just your abilities but your potential. You may be good, very good or even exceptional at certain things. But you are also 12 or 13. You very likely have a long way to go until you reach your peak. Your education has been designed for that purpose, for the long haul.

Your experience here at BICS, and I know your next school will be the same, is designed to be a virtuous cycle, one where the more you learn the greater is your capacity to learn more, to be able to do more.  This is education inertia – when we learn, we become better learners and more capable people. So I encourage you to be confident, particularly in your potential.

Lesson Number Three, and following from lesson two: set ambitious goals for yourself.

Confidences allows ambition.

Be aware that committing to ambitious goals guarantees hard work and challenging times ahead. Help may be needed. Failure may occur. Fortunately you have the capacity to learn from both so hopefully you will have the modesty and confidence to do so.

 

You don’t need to remember the words I say, I hope these lessons have been learned and earned growing up with your families and attending BICS. I think you are well prepared for what lies ahead.

 

Whether you have been at BICS for one year or eight, it has been wonderful having you in the school Grade 7s. You will certainly be missed but as you venture East on your future academic endeavours and in all kinds of directions on your many adventures, know that we will be thinking about you, rooting for you and wishing you all the best wherever your passion and purpose takes you.

 

Good luck.

Subtle Summer Learning

I recently heard an advertisement on the radio from a tutoring service that in my mind attempted to elicit fears in families that their children would lose their learning over the summer months and that attending the tutoring service would not just prevent that problem but allow a child to “get ahead.” I was bothered by the ad because it presented summer holiday as a problem that needed fixing and it played upon the very fears and worries that some students and families might need a break from, such as comparisons to others and the need to “catch up” or “get ahead.”

In my view, summer holidays are an exceptional time for learning but they can be framed more positively for children than learning to “catch up” or “get ahead.” With two months off, it’s a time to travel to new places, meet new people, increase physical fitness by being active outside, develop work ethic by doing chores around the house, and find new interests and hobbies. There is a lot of subtle learning inherent in each of those activities.

And without framing it as “keeping up,” “getting ahead,” or even worse, “not falling behind,” there are some things families can seamlessly do together to help students work on their foundational skills. What follows are some suggestions for subtle summer learning. Teachers will have articulated “Ways to Support Learning” in report cards or “Supporting Student Learning” in Kindergarten reports and for students receiving learning support in reading, our learning support teachers have very carefully shared some suggestions for reading over the summer.

 

Reading

If reading is to be seen by students as a hobby rather than work, students should continue to read throughout the summer and they should see their family members doing the same. Reading can be even more beneficial when you ask your child about what they have read: What happened in the last chapter? Is there something you wished the main character knew about? Would you have made any decisions differently than any of the characters? What do you think is going to happen next? Why? The Bowen Public Island Library’s Summer Reading Program is a great motivator and resource for books.

Writing

Some students will gladly keep a summer journal that details daily events; for others, certainly for me when I was in elementary school, this was not something I wanted to do. An alternative is to keep a nature journal. A nature journal is something that can be used NJ.pngoutside and done in conjunction with activity (i.e. a hike in the woods) rather than as the activity itself. A nature journal is a mix of drawings and writings and many students who are not keen to keep a log of their daily events are keen to describe all of the plants and animals they might see over summer. If you are interested in learning more about Nature Journaling, consider this exceptional resource.

 

Math

Playing Board and Card games often reinforces key math skills such as number recognition, counting, adding and subtracting, and even using fractions to determine odds and games can be seamlessly woven into a summer day. More information on Card Games can be found here. Asking students to estimate value at grocery stores can also be done regularly.

 

CuriosityTED.png

Curiosity may not be a foundational skill but it is a foundational element of learning. I have often encouraged families to visit TEDEd. The site is less about a student researching their existing interests and more about sparking other interests. It encourages openness to new ideas by showing that there are many more things to be interested in beyond current interests. TEDEd contains short videos introducing a topic and then links to additional resources to learn more.

 

You may also wish to look into how West Vancouver Schools Summer Learning and Bowen Island Community Recreation offer programs to keep students physically and intellectually active over the summer. I wish all students and families a wonderful summer holiday full of fun and exciting adventures, rest and relaxation, and interesting learning.

Bigger Ideas: Connecting the Dots of BC’s New Curriculum

In BC’s Know-Understand-Do model, the “Do” is very clearly connected from grade to grade. In each grade and in various subjects within each grade, students will further develop their abilities to communicate and think. The grade three teacher can rest assured that teaching students to read is something they are carrying on from previous grades.KUD

But how about with the “Know” and “Understand” aspects of the curriculum? What is it that students know and understand that is to be carried on from year to year?

How is the teacher to know what students know and understand from previous learning experiences and how is the teacher able to connect what is being taught to what is already known and understood?

It seems a bit much to expect BC teachers who continue to transition to new curriculum to also take note of each of the Big Ideas and concepts and content from previous grades. Even if they were able to do so, students, even those coming from the same class, have vastly different experiences and interpretations from their year, particularly when given opportunities for self-directed inquiry. Nevertheless, beyond simply asking students what they know about a topic, there are at least three ways to connect learning from subject to subject and grade to grade.

Firstly, teachers can, despite challenges, connect Big Ideas from grade to grade. In fact, many Big Ideas repeat. For example, in Language Arts, the Big Idea, “Stories help us learn about ourselves and our families” is used in Kindergarten to Grade 3, with the addition “and our communities” in Grade 3. Clearly, that is a big idea that can connect several years of language arts together, and students will develop a deep understanding of the concept and importance of storytelling.

Secondly, the curriculum has been redesigned so that certain topics that were once found in just one subject and grade – for example structures and functions of the human body systems – are now found in two or more grades.

Thirdly, there are bigger ideas than the “Big Ideas” identified in BC’s new curriculum.  These “bigger ideas” can connect learning from grade to grade by offering a concept to which learning can be anchored. When I first heard the term “big idea,” it was in 2007 when a cohort of West Vancouver Schools teachers met with pro-d guru Sue Elliot to discuss Grant Wiggin’s and Jay McTighe’s Understanding By Design. This approach to teaching/learning suggested big ideas were “broad and abstract,” “represented by one or two words,” were “universal in application” and “timeless.” They present a “conceptual lens” for any area of study.

In my twelve years of teaching, my early years looking mostly at Grades 5-7 and my latter years as an elementary school administrator looking at K-7, one “big idea” meeting the criteria above sticks out more than any other, the biggest idea (in my mind!) of them all: relationships. Much of what students learn about develops this very idea: cause and effect, systems within systems, interacting with each other and students understanding who they are in the world. In using the Curriculum’s Search Tool and typing in “relationships,” the concept comes up in dozens of Big Ideas, and hundreds of content phrases and curricular competencies.

When I shared my thinking with other educators, some agreed and some had other big ideas – change, systems, integration, conflict and identity are all big ideas with the potential to unify curriculum.

I don’t know if there is a biggest idea in BC’s curriculum, but I think an overarching concept that unifies learning from subject to subject, and grade to grade, can help students make connections between what is known and what is about to be known.

In doing so, I hope that students see past learning as helping prepare for what is being learned in the present; and, as importantly, what is being learned as enriching what may have been learned long ago. If learning, past and present, can be mutually reinforcing, how powerful it would be for a student to leave their elementary school with an inter-connected story of their learning.

A Survey of Student Learning

The maxim, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts,”* holds much truth when it comes to “report cards,” but what teachers are mandated to report and also choose to report suggests to parents what many of the priorities are for student learning at each grade. Similar to the way a school’s blog reveals what is important to the school, so does the report card reveal key areas for student learning.

What follows then, is both of those things: a blog post surveying some of the learning outcomes found in reports ranging from kindergarten to Grade 7.

Prior to the conclusion of each term, I review each report, something I have done enough times now to be impressed by the extraordinary diversity and depth of learning at BICS but not surprised by it. The reports capture just a little of the remarkable experiences students have in their classrooms and beyond learning about interesting and often complex things and using what they’ve learned to, among other things, learn more.

In reviewing reports this term, I’ve pulled one learning outcome from each grade as well as an outcome from our wonderful music and learning assistance programs. My hope is that it offers the reader a very brief look at the breadth of what is learned at BICS.

 

Kindergarten – Speaking and Listening

  • use speaking an listening when engaging in imaginative play; such as problem solving and working co-operatively

 

Grade 1 – Attitudes, Effort, Work Habits, Social Responsibility

  • consistently models respectful behaviour and acceptance of others’ differences

 

Grade 2 – Fine Arts

  • began to use simplification effectively, to create artwork in the styles of Lawren Harris & Ted Harrison

 

Grade 3 – HACE/Physical and Health Education

  • describes practices contributing to healthy living (e.g. exercise, healthy eating, friendships, sleep)

 

Grade 4 – Thinking Competency

  • reasons and uses logic to explore, make connections, predict, analyze, generalize and make conclusions

 

Grade 5 – Language Arts

  • recognizes oral traditions in First Peoples’ culture and identifies how story connects people to land

 

Grade 6 – Socials Studies

  • evaluates how geographic challenges and opportunities affect the development of societies

 

Grade 7 – Math

  • competently uses mathematical operations to determine a monthly budget

 

Performing Arts – Music

  • can create, notate, and perform rhythmic solos while following a musical form

 

Learning Support reports

  • Segmenting, manipulating, and blending vowel and consonant sounds in words

 

In selecting the learning outcomes above, I tried to pull diverse outcomes – math, language arts, performing arts, etc. In reviewing the reports, however, I looked for some patterns that might reveal how our school is doing with some key priorities identified in our School Growth Plan and Aboriginal Education Plan: inquiry-based learning, self-regulation, critical thinking and aboriginal education. There are far more effective ways of determining how the school is doing in these areas – visiting classrooms and speaking with students being one of them – but what did the general scan of K-7 reports reveal to me about these priorities?

Learning outcomes about timeless and transferable concepts and references to “Fascination Time,” “Genius Hour,” and “Passion Projects” made it clear that students were pursuing inquiry, whether it be teacher-led or open inquiry, often. In opening comments and in various sections, it was obvious that not only is self-regulation a key feature of each classroom at BICS, it is also being reported on frequently. Whether it be found in socials studies or explicit references to the “Thinking Competencies,” it was obvious that developing students’ skills as critical thinkers and asking them to uses these skills is a key area of learning. Lastly, students are learning about Indigenous Peoples frequently. Whether it is in Language Arts learning about oral stories teaching about the land, or learning about cultural characteristics and traditional ways of life in Socials Studies, the many references to Aboriginal Education found in BC’s new curriculum were also obvious in the K-7 reports.

I am proud of our School’s progress. And in reading reports, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of satisfaction in knowing that each of the many bullets on a report card, simple words on a page, had some powerful learning experience behind it – perhaps a beautiful work of art, a field experience to a National Historic Site, a memorable visitor, help from a dedicated staff member, or simply a student’s persistent effort – and that each of these experiences provided a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of learning.

 

*This quote is attributed to both Albert Einstein and the sociologist, William Bruce Cameron.