Originally Posted on the BICS Blog

At the start of our Curriculum Night last Wednesday (Sept. 13), Vice-Principal Laura Magrath and I shared a fifteen minute presentation which had two intentions: summarize the layers of learning that happen at BICS in every subject, in every classroom, every day; and second, to provide some questions that parents could ask their children that would prompt a dialogue about these layers of learning. This blog post is a summary of that presentation.

Layers of Learning

We are in year 2 or 2+ of many provincial, district and school initiatives. While we are at a stage of continuing to do things differently (and always will be), we are also in a stage of consolidation; of ensuring that our work from the last several years stays current in our minds as we plan learning environments and learning experiences for students.

And so, to integrate these initiatives, we shared the graphic to the right with families. It summarizes four layers of learning:

  1. Engagement – If students are not engaged in the task, nothing else matters. Our staff use an “Engaged Learner Profile” to provide learning experience for students that engage them with (1) the curriculum, (2) the social environment (peers, school staff, guests), and (3) the physical environment. Students can reference this profile as they begin to take greater responsibility for their learning.
  2. Curriculum – Between units, subjects and often over years, students develop understandings of big ideas and relatedcurricular content and develop curricular competencies related to their subject. More simply, students understand, know, and do.
  3. Learning Character – Our school goal is for students to strengthen their learning character including becoming more responsible, open, ambitious and resilient. We use the “Circles of Care” framework to help students understand how they can develop their learning character; for example, being open-minded in challenging ones opinions, open-minded to the perspective of others, and open to new experiences at school and beyond.
  4. Core Competencies – While part of the curriculum, the Core Competencies are in a separate layer of learning quadrant as they transcend the curriculum. Core Competencies are not specific to any subject or any grade, they are instead a set of competencies that one relies upon and develops throughout life. The competencies incorporate many of the foci of our school and district: self-regulation (Personal Awareness and Responsibility Competency), critical thinking (Critical Thinking Competency), and digital access (Communication Competency).

Surrounding the quadrants is the First Peoples Principles of Learning. The Principles, set out by the First Nations Education Steering Committee, outline an approach to learning that will be inclusive of all learners. While they are “First Peoples Principles” the wisdom of these principles applies to the learning of students of all cultures.

Underlying, but visually missing from this framework, is the emotional side of learning. Happiness at school and in the classroom is foundational to learning.

 

Family Discussions of Learning

“How was your day?”

“Fine.”

Some children may provide more than a one word answer about their school day; most others will need a little more prompting!

By sharing with families the Layers of Learning, we hope that questions from parents/guardians can prompt a dialogue, rather than a discrete question and answer session. And in this dialogue, in addition to students sharing what they are learning about, they can also talk about how they are learning, who they are learning from, and why.Layers_Questions

Similar to the layers of learning frame, we introduced the frame with topics related to engagement, curriculum, learning character, core competencies and the First Peoples Principles of Learning.

The layers of learning are not hierarchical. One quadrant is not deeper than any other. Each quadrant is ever-present, to varying levels of importance, in everything students do at school. Our educators do a magnificent job incorporating effective practices in their approach to learning and our hope is that the frameworks above help summarize these effective practices (layers) and provide families with a greater understanding of what students learn about and how, as well as some questions to ask about learning.

These questions are just a start. What other questions prompt a dialogue about learning? Please consider commenting below to add your response or tweet us: @bics_news.

Thank you for reading.

 

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.

Ideas of Happiness

“Open Happiness.” “Comfort in every bar.” “Every dinner should feel this good.”

Our highest priority at BICS is to inspire our students to be lifelong learners.

BICS helps students develop literacy, critical thinking and social skills to increase their capacity as learners and prepare them to make the most of a lifetime of learning opportunities. These skills, or competencies, have been articulated in the Core Competencies of BC’s New Curriculum. Beyond having a highly developed capacity to learn, however, to encourage lifelong learning, students need to love learning. It is therefore important that students are happy at school and so creating happy learning environments is something our school takes very seriously. Happy learning environments mean that students feel safe and connected with peers and adults in their classroom and school. Research shows that students learn more when they are happy and of course, happiness is an end in itself. By my calculation, students spend about 12% of their lives and 18 % of their waking hours during the time they are in school from Kindergarten to Grade Twelve.* School is a big part of life and therefore a big part of a happy life.

In addition to fostering conditions of happy learning environments, I am becoming increasingly convinced of the need to directly teach about happiness, specifically what it is and how to pursue it.

Happiness is not something that happens to us but in many ways something we choose. Convenience and consumerism are prominent features of our society and it is becoming increasingly easy for people to confuse the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of convenience; or pursue happiness through consumerism. There is no shortage of messaging – the slogans of Coca-Cola, Mars Bar and Stouffers Foods being the examples noted at the beginning of this post– implying that happiness is found in consuming an item, be it food, fashion or other items. While eating food and buying items that allow for the pursuit of hobbies can be satisfying, it is worth being clear of other ways of fostering happiness that make the world better for ourselves and others.

The organization Action for Happiness recognizes that there are external and sometimes uncontrollable factors that affect happiness but assert that happiness can often be pursued through the choices we make. Most of these choices are small and occur almost constantly so a framework that will help recognize opportunities to make choices that lead to happiness is helpful.

So what are these daily choices we can make?

Action for Happiness has broken them down into ten keys to happier living:

  • Generosity – do things for othersGreat_Dream
  • Relating – connect with people
  • Exercising – take care of your body
  • Appreciating – notice the world around you
  • Trying Out – keep learning new things
  • Direction – have goals to pursue
  • Resilience – find ways to bounce back
  • Emotion – take a positive approach
  • Acceptance – be comfortable with who you are
  • Meaning – contribute to something bigger

These ten keys align extremely well with virtues noted in the Virtues Project that our school has focused on for many years.

Over the coming months of the school year, BICS will focus on these keys so that students have a shared understanding and language that allow them to become better at noticing opportunities to increase their happiness and the happiness of others. I will write about some of these keys in more detail in future blog posts but hope that parents will also learn more from the understandings students bring home and talk about as the year progresses. “Open Happiness,” associates happy with easy. As we strive to develop capable, hard-working and inspired lifelong learners, a greater understanding of happiness is needed.

*My figures are based on 6 hours at school 180 days per year. Waking hours = 16 hours per day.

“Wrong Thoughts” and Other Things to Consider

Nearly at once, both icons have fallen from grace in ways that were unimaginable just months ago.  They are forcing a reckoning with ourselves and our history, a reassessment of who we were and of what we might become.Blog July 2015

So begins Isabel Wilkerson’s New York Times review of Harper Lee’s novel, Go Set a Watchman, referring to the lowering of the Confederate Flag and the identity of To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman character Atticus Finch.

In the review, Wilkerson writes about the complexity of Atticus Finch as portrayed in Go Set a Watchman, as a “gentleman bigot, well meaning in his supremacy.  In other words, he is human, and in line with emerging research into how racial bias has evolved in our society.  He is a character study in the seeming contradiction that compassion and bigotry can not only reside in the same person but often do, which is what makes racial bias, as it has mutated through the generations, so hard to address.”

In his review of Go Set a Watchman for The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik sates, “beneath Atticus’s style of enlightenment is a kind of bigotry that could not recognize itself as such at the time….  The problem is not people who think wrong thoughts, since we all think what will, retrospectively, turn out to be wrong thoughts about something or other. The problem is people who give their implicit endorsement to violence or intolerance in the pursuit of wrong thoughts.”

So, as an educator in British Columbia, why am I referencing articles about the soul searching America appears to be in the midst of in response to horrific hate crimes, police violence, and the release of a novel reexamining a beloved character.  As an educator, I believe that the most transformational learning is so foundational to the learner’s identity it just becomes who they are and is not recognized as learning at the time.  The articles are a reminder to me to scan my biases and attempt to identify how they may be reflected in my practice.  And beyond scanning biases, it is worth noting that we may be, as Gopnik writes, unable to recognize our “wrong thoughts,” so ingrained are they from our upbringing including what we learned in school.

In recent years, including Stephen Harper’s 2008 statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools and the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, Canadians have begun the process of recognizing historical and current “wrong thoughts.”  We are at the beginning of, what Justice Murray Sinclair notes, “forging and maintaining respectful relationships.”  How else does one go about scanning some of the messages educators and systems (classrooms, schools, Districts, Provinces) share with students and shape their perspectives often in such an ongoing way as to be unrecognizable?

As I question my biases, I’m drawn to some of the work I participated in with several colleagues last year.  We studied learner engagement and came up with an Engagement Profile that educators could use to help learners engage themselves in learning experiences (more on that can be found here).  Engagement_2015

Our Engagement Profile (still under development) asks learners, prior, during and after a learning experience, to ask several questions.  The Engagement Profile could also act as an assumption profile and be a good starting point for examining biases.  So, some thoughts on assumptions follow each question.

1.  Who are you learning with and who are you learning from?

Parker Palmer notes, “We teach who we are.”  An examination of “who” we are teaching includes:  What biases do I reveal to students? What topics/subjects do I show enthusiasm for; what not?

2.  What are you learning about and what are you learning to do?

Provincial policy decisions regarding curriculum guide what students learn about when but classroom policy decisions guide how much time is given to various topics of study and send messages to students about what skills and understandings are important and what are not.

3.  Where are you learning and what are you learning from your surroundings?

This question is perhaps examined the least.   Too often when we think about where we learn, we think about whether the environment is conducive to learning (appropriate lighting, quiet, comfortable…) rather than whether the environment has something to teach us about the topic and or our relationship with the topic.

Gopnik notes that, “we all think what will, retrospectively, turn out to be wrong thoughts,” and I know in 20 years that I might disown and possibly even feel ashamed of some of my current “wrong thoughts.”  But, by asking questions, I can examine some of my biases and, knowing that I will be unable to recognize them all, use these articles as yet another reminder of the importance of not just being open-minded to other perspectives, but to actively seek them out.

Professional Growth Plan, 2014 – ?

My professional growth plan is very much linked to school growth plans.

All schools in BC must prepare a school plan that sets one or more school goals for improving student achievement, the strategies to achieve these goals and the measures for determining success.

It is one thing to measure school growth and improvements in student achievement, it is another to trace results to causes. Schools are not science experiments where one variable at a time can be added and tested. With many teachers and many strategies all at play each year, it is not difficult to acquire data on many areas of student achievement – such as literacy skills – but tracing this growth to the strategies of teachers in a variety of classrooms is difficult.

At Bowen Island Community School, our Growth Plan, poses the question of inquiry:

Will an increased focus on inquiry-based learning that places emphasis on developing students’ critical thinking skills and self-regulation skills improve the level of student engagement and academic achievement?

The question examines the affect inquiry-based learning and critical thinking have on student engagement and academic achievement. As BICS has also focused on self-regulation, digital access for students and teachers, environmental education and place-based learning, tracing improvements in student engagement and academic achievement to any one cause is perhaps impossible; and perhaps unnecessary.

Each of the strategies mentioned above work in concert and I am learning more and more how dependent they are on one another. I often refer to the Galileo Education Network for a concise definition of inquiry. They state:

Inquiry is a study into a worthy question, issue, problem or idea. It is the authentic, real work that that someone in the community might tackle. It is the type of work that those working in the disciplines actually undertake to create or build knowledge. Therefore, inquiry involves serious engagement and investigation and the active creation and testing of new knowledge.

The strategies and approaches of environmental education and place-based learning, where students learn in the community and look at issues or problems facing the community and world, is very much aligned with the definition of inquiry as described above. Further, digital access, far from being a strategy in its own right, can be viewed more as an effort to support inquiry by providing students with as much opportunity as possible to delve deeply into a topic, beyond the opportunities people, places, and print found in the community and library might offer. Digital access also allows students to share their inquiries with others. With access to so much information, the ability to assess the reliability of information and make sense of it, core tenets of critical thinking, is vital. In this way, through inquiry, students practise critical thinking skills rather than just learn what it means to be a critical thinker.  This practise of critical thinking is core to the philosophy of the Critical Thinking Consortium, which has helped guide BICS’ work in this area.  Self-regulation, in the words of Stuart Shanker, is the ability for students to be calm, alert, and learning. It is perhaps the foundation for any other strategies a school might wish to implement.  Inquiry is pointless unless students have the capacity to be engaged.

My growth plan involves inquiring into the following questions:

  1. What does it mean for someone to be engaged in learning?
  2. What factors (culture, strategy, tactics) lead to learner engagement?
  3. How can you tell whether students and teachers are engaged and can engagement be traced to particular strategies (inquiry, digital access, self-regulation), tactics or attributes of a school’s culture?

As I begin my inquiry, I am becoming more and more aware of the challenges of isolating strategies and determining their individual impact. Self-regulation, regardless of what other strategies a school might have in place, has tremendous power to improve student achievement. But it is already bundled together with other strategies our school is pursuing. It may not be possible to weigh the individual impact of various strategies but I am looking forward to learning more about measuring results from the formidable combination of strategies at work at BICS.

Teacher Reflection: Questions to process the barrage of student feedback

9781118575239.pdfI recently read Michael Fullan’s book, The Principal, Three Keys to Maximizing Impact, where he argues the importance and methods of the Principal as instructional leader.  He does not suggest the Principal individually mentors and/or provides feedback for each teacher in the school.  Doing so would stretch the Principal’s time too thin and also not leverage the many other professionals in the building who can provide feedback to teachers.  Instead, the Principal should create a learning culture among teachers with high expectations and openness to receiving and responding to feedback from peers.  Helping set the conditions for a truly effective professional learning community is paramount.

The book’s purpose is to share why and how Principal’s should do this and while I fully support the conclusions of the book and learned from the process of implementation, I also kept thinking about the varied forms of feedback teachers receive on a daily, even period by period, basis from their students, rather than colleagues.  So, rather than attempt to summarize Fullan’s argument in 700 words in this blog post, I will share some questions educators can ask to take advantage of the feedback they receive from students.  Creating a culture of collaboration where teachers can inspire and learn from each other is important.  As is creating culture of reflection, where teachers have the motivation and capacity to reflect on their practice by recognizing and taking advantage of the potentially overwhelming amount of feedback teachers receive from students.

Before diving in, it is useful to note what objectives for which the teacher is looking for feedback.  While teachers may have their own goals, I have found the three goals below, simply stated but anything but simple, summarize what I hope for my students:

  1. Love learning – be engaged in learning and eager to learn more
  2. Learn a lot – develop understandings and competencies that make them more thoughtful and capable.
  3. Find learning purposeful – be interested in putting their learning to use for their benefit, the benefit of others and for the natural world.

 

1.  Love Learning

The focus of my growth plan is to measure student engagement in a less subjective way but teachers can ask the following questions to determine levels of student engagement:

  • Were my students on task and self-directed? Did they need frequent redirection to focus on the task?
  • Were students surprised or disappointed to find out the period was almost over?
  • Did students do their best work?
  • Were students keen to share their learning with others, such as their peers, their teachers, and their families?

 

  1. Learn a Lot

The proof is in the pudding.  The traditional feedback for whether we are doing a good job as teachers is student achievement.

 

  1. Find Learning Purposeful

“Not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done.”  The aphorism is true of education as well.  Educators know that student learning is purposeful, but it must be seen as purposeful by the learner as well.  Asking students the following questions is helpful in finding out if they understand that their learning is purposeful:

  • What do you know now that you didn’t at the start of the day? Why does it matter?
  • What can you do better now than at the start of the day? How is this helpful?
  • What do you want to do with your learning?

 

And a few questions not for students but for the teacher him or herself:

  • What did I do today that ensures my students know I care about their well-being and growth as learners?
  • What did I learn today? How will I put this learning to use?

Being a member of a professional learning community that shares innovative ideas and helps educators reflect on their practice is of vital importance.  The incredible work of the Network of Innovation and Inquiry in BC, the work of Innovation Teams in West Vancouver, and the continuous work of colleagues in schools has made this clear to me.  But as teachers are exposed to unceasing feedback from students, being mindful, reflective and open to this feedback is also of essential importance.

What other questions are helpful to make the most of student feedback?

Why Do You Do What You Do?

Most educators frequently reflect on their practice including why and how they do things. They are constantly refining their pedagogy asking themselves the questions: Why am I doing it this way? What am I achieving? What outcomes are my actions leading to?  Why do I do what I do?

It may be just as enlightening for educators who wish to create engaging learning environments to ask this last question, “Why do I do what I do?” of how they spend their leisure time.  As a child, why did I enjoy playing hockey so much?  Why do I enjoy kayaking? What is so exhilarating about skiing in powder?

It is usually pretty obvious to us what we enjoy and don’t enjoy so the question might seem unnecessary. But digging further and determining what we enjoy about activities can enlighten some key elements of an engaging learning environment.

So, as fall arrives and I start dreaming of the ski season, I’ll examine this last point, “Why do I enjoy skiing in powder?” and try to pull out some insights about engaging learning environments.Winter in Whistler

Despite the immense amount of technology needed to ski in powder comfortably (boots, bindings, skis, clothing…) there is also a synergistic connection one has with the natural world – of working with gravity, rather than against it, of playing within gravity’s rules but with just a little room to bend them. Like catching a wave on a surfboard or laughing uncontrollably, skiing can capture my complete attention so that nothing else – nothing stressful, nothing negative, not more than one thing – occupies my mind and I escape time. Falling in soft powder is of little worry and even necessary as I try to push my limits in order to enjoy the inherent satisfaction of improvement. There is a little bit of freedom to choose my path, even if the saying is true that, Skiing is a dance, and the mountain always leads.” And to be outside all day, in cold fresh air, scanning vast mountain ranges which are on such a grander scale than what I normally see during the week.

I pull from this that I, and I assume most other learners too, crave entering a state of flow; want a challenging and supportive learning culture where mistakes have soft landings; where improvement happens and is recognized as happening; where there is synergy, whether among participant and nature, or among participants; where we are pulled away from what we normally see or get to do; and where there is some level of choice, some decision making, even – because life is like this – if factors like gravity or a mountain guide the way.  

My professional growth plan this year focuses on learner engagement: What is it? What are the key factors? And how do we truly know that learners are engaged and not just compliant? I’m keen to learn more and will share it in blog posts throughout the year.