What is new in BC’s New Curriclum

This post was originally published on the BICS Blog.

It has been said, “The only constant in life is change.”

That statement certainly holds true in education, perhaps now more than ever.

Last week, BICS Vice-Principal Laura Magrath and I spoke to parents about BC’s New Curriculum as part of our BICS Open House. Our staff has been learning about and working with what until recently has been termed the “Draft Curriculum” for two years and I have been sharing information with our BICS PAC and writing blog posts on the topic since November 2013. But the “Draft” stamp has recently been removed from the curriculum and it is now referred to as the New Curriculum so we felt it was a particularly important time to share aspects of the New Curriculum with parents; particularly three important changes.

This post summarizes some of the key messages of that presentation. For the 2015-2016 school year, both the “old curriculum” and New Curriculum are usable documents. In 2016-2017, what is taught in Kindergarten to Grade 9 classrooms will be based on the New Curriculum only.

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For purposes of explanation, the curriculum can be divided in two parts:

1. What students understand and know à this is termed Content in the New Curriculum

2. What students can do à this is termed Core Competencies and Curricular Competencies in the New Curriculum

 

Three Key Changes

1. Content – What Students Understand And Know à Start with the big picture.

The “old curriculum” was organized by themed learning outcomes. For some time, teachers who have taught with an inquiry-based approach to learning have tried to discern the essence of the learning outcomes. Teachers would find themselves asking, What’s the big idea here? Beyond facts and figures, what is the concept or understanding that students will take away from this unit of study that they can apply to future learning situations?Big_Ideas

The New Curriculum starts with the big picture. Ideas and theories are presented as Big Ideas and from there the content, which is used to develop an understanding of the Big Ideas, is articulated. As suggested by the name, Big Ideas are greater than what can be covered in one subject in one grade. So, many Big Ideas are repeated throughout many grade levels as students develop more sophisticated understandings of theories and ideas.

2. Competencies – What students can do à Competencies are key.

While all people need a level of general knowledge to understand themselves, others and the world, knowledge is easily lost; skills less so. For example, most people likely have forgotten many of the facts, figures and ideas they learned in Grades 1 and 2, the age when they were learning to read. But people don’t forget how to read.

2015-03-19_0946In the New Curriculum, Competencies are key. The content, while still worthy in its own right, is a vehicle to develop two types of competency.

The first type of competency are the Core Competencies – Communication, Thinking and Personal and Social. The Core Competencies are not subject or grade specific. It is thought any learning activity can demonstrate and develop some or each of the competencies. As learning is a lifelong endeavour, the competency continuum is also lifelong.

The second type of competency is Curricular Competencies. These are subject specific skills; for example in Science, Questioning and Prediction as well as Planning and Conducting experiments, are curricular competencies

3. Communicating – How Student Learning is Communicated

As part of our transition to the new curriculum, in terms two and three of the 2014-2015 School Year, many BICS teachers used language from the Core Competencies in their opening comments. However, the report card looked identical to previous terms and did not reflect the changes that have been made to the curriculum. Kindergarten and Grade 4 reports will look very different in 2015-2016 offering space for Core Competency and Curricular Competency assessments. Further, as reflecting on learning is essential, there is space on the new reports for student voice and reflections. Further information will be shared by Director of Instruction for West Vancouver Schools Lynne Tomlinson regarding a change of reporting for Kindergarten and Grade 4 students in 2015-2016, and a change for all elementary school students in 2016-2017.

While this curriculum signals a major change in BC education, it is also a response to the innovative work being done in classrooms across BC including BICS. The Curriculum will support the work we started long ago – inquiry, self-regulation and critical thinking – and also push us to examine and evolve in other areas of practice. Change truly is the only constant in life, and so to in education.

Preparing Students for Anything

This post was originally published on the BICS Blog.

It is not easy to predict the future.

BC’s School Act asserts, “the purpose of the British Columbia school system is to enable all learners to become literate, to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy, democratic and pluralistic society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.”

It is very possible to determine what skills and attitudes are needed in society now. What is more difficult is predicting the skills and attitudes needed for society many years from now.

One example:  How will people use technology? I have some concerns with the amount of screen time for children and adults who often disengage from their immediate environment  and instead connect online with others. Will people tire of staring into the screen and will there be a major pendulum swing back to living in the immediate world: less Wii baseball, more baseball, less online messages, more phone calls, less Guitar Hero, more guitar. Or, will technology become even more engaging, entertaining and successful at connecting people to others?

Will the ecological imperative to consume less impede access to technology? Instead of buying electronic goods and other items, will people need to not just buy locally but also build locally and grow locally? Will gardening skills, carpentry skills, sewing skills etc., trump all others? Should these skills be prioritized in schools?

These are all very challenging questions that as an educator, I can’t answer and fortunately don’t need to. Even if the future was predictable, human interests and possibilities are so diverse that there is no singular future we could possibly prepare students for. There may be some similarities, but “the future” will look different for everyone.

It is therefore impossible to prepare students for everything so we must prepare students for anything. What that means is that the most important role of a school is to increase students’ capacities as learners so that whatever the future looks like, they will have the literacy and numeracy skills, problem solving skills and most importantly the motivation and confidence, to learn whatever is needed.

In speaking with a colleague recently, I shared my puzzlement at the current trend of teaching coding to elementary school children. Coding seemed like a waste of time: I figured by the time students would actually need coding skills, the coding system students were learning would be replaced so what was the point? He shared that while his students are encouraged to code really what he was encouraging was problem solving.  I understood what he meant:  I’ve taught students to use PowerPoint, a program that may very well not exist by the time students are giving presentations for work, but I was not really teaching PowerPoint, I was teaching how to summarize and how to present – timeless, transferable skills like problem solving.

It is a relief to know as an educator of students entering a quickly changing world of immense diversity and possibility, that it is not my role to prepare students for everything but instead help prepare students for anything.  We do not know what a student’s lifelong learning journey will look like, but we do know that there are core skills and attitudes that must be identified and developed in students to build their capacities as learners so that whatever the conditions of the world they live in and whatever diverse passions they pursue, they can adapt – which is to learn.

In British Columbia, the “core skills and attitudes” students need have been identified and articulated as Core Competencies as part of British Columbia’s draft curriculum. When students learn coding, PowerPoint, or gardening, they will be developing core competencies. The competencies are helpful in virtually all settings and while perhaps nothing is change-proof, the Competencies should stand the test of time for they increase a person’s capacity as a learner which increases a person’s capacity to adapt.  I will write about the competencies and what they look like at BICS throughout the school year. These competencies, including students feeling inspired and confident to make use of them, are at the heart of what we do: preparing students to be learners, helping prepare students for anything.

“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.

Making Use of the Core Competencies

Many of our efforts at Bowen Island Community School (BICS) to transition to the new draft curriculum are focusing on understanding and making use of the Core Competencies: Communication Competency, Thinking Competency, and Personal and Social Competency.  This is not easy work and my understanding of the competencies continually shifts thanks to conversations with educators at BICS and in #SD45PLN.2015-03-19_0946

Below, shared in green, are three understandings I think will affect the way educators and students make use of the competencies.  In blue, based on the understandings, I share how the competencies can be used by teachers and students.

1.  The Core Competencies, the Draft Curriculum notes, “are sets of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies that all students need to develop in order to engage in deep learning and life-long learning.”  The competencies are not subject-specific (subject-specific competencies are called curricular competencies, i.e., the scientific method in the subject science), they are transferable and often applicable to all areas of learning.

Most learning experiences can develop some facet(s) of one or more of the competencies.  While teachers are always mindful of developing literacy and numeracy foundations, in my experience as a teacher I have sometimes planned lessons and assignments with too great a focus on knowledge acquisition and not enough focus on what students would be able to do, or to do better, as a result of the lesson or assignment.  When planning, the teacher can examine the competency facets to ensure what students can do is a core part of the lesson or assignment.  The facets may even broaden or simply make explicit the range of abilities students can develop.

2.  The competencies are a continuum which a person develops from the moment they start learning to the moment they stop learning.  In other words, they are not limited to a student’s experience in K-12 education and the profiles of each competency are not intended to align with any grade level expectations; for example, it is not expected that all students have reached profile level 3 in the Personal and Social Competency by grade five.

It is not important to focus on what profile level students achieve because a students level will vary from task to task.  Profile level 8 for the Communication Competency does not mean “A+” or exceeding expectations.  Students should also know that experiences outside of school, such as participating on a sports team or attending a community event, develop competencies.

3.  Following from point 2, the profile levels within a competency are more pertinent to the task assigned to the student rather than the student’s performance in the task:  some tasks only require the development and demonstration of a certain level of competency so regardless of how competent a student might be as a communicator, the task itself may be limiting to what the student does.

The competencies are helpful for self-assessment.  But self-assessment when using the competencies is more about assessing the task and the opportunities the task offers the student to demonstrate and develop the competencies than it is about assessing the student’s performance in demonstrating the competencies.  In other words, self-assessment is more about understanding the task and what competencies the task makes use of and develops.  Therefore, a major, if not the major, part of self-assessment happens prior to starting the task when the student assesses the task and identifies what abilities they have, or need to develop, to be successful at the task rather than after completing the task where the student evaluates their performance.

In summary, teachers can use the competencies to design learning experiences that effectively develop what students can do, not just what they are to know.  Teachers have long used learning outcomes and the Performance Standards to ensure planning developed students skills as well as understanding but determining what facets of a competency might be applicable for a task allows teachers to broaden the purpose of learning tasks and provides language to articulate this purpose clearly.

Students can use the competencies to understand a learning experiences:  beyond what knowledge and understanding they are to gain, how is the task intended to make the student a more capable/competent communicator or thinker?  What skills do students already have that they should apply to the task?

The key to planning for teachers and to self-assessment for students is to have a strong understanding of the end in mind.  While I am not yet certain how students will be assessed or self-assess the competencies for reporting, or even if they will do so, what is clear is that educators can make use of the competencies for planning, and students can make use of the competencies to understand tasks and their purpose.

Moving or Wandering?

Tolien ImageIn a recent blog post, I referred to Bowen Island Community School as a “moving school.”  As I was writing the post, I shared it with my colleague Laura Magrath for her input.  She suggested I clarify the word “moving.”

Her concern was that “moving school” might suggest simply moving from trend to trend without taking the time and expending the required energy to implement anything of substance.   If schools are planes and educators are its passengers, this would be like flying around the world, touching down on various runways but taking off before anyone has had a chance to disembark and learn about a place beyond what they could see in brief moments below the clouds.  Lots of energy is expended in such sightseeing but little is gained.

The ambiguity of the word moving encouraged me to clarify between moving and wandering.

As individual educators, it pays to wander broadly:  to read blog posts, learn of the latest trends, experiment with strategies.

It is best, however, for schools not to wander.  Implementing change in a school requires a significant amount of time, energy and inertia, and if not done well or without follow-through, innovation too often feels like adding to practice rather than evolving practice, of increasing workload without increasing student achievement.  A wandering school means that broad changes may be made, but likely not deep ones.

So, with all of the opportunities to improve the education we offer students – new curriculum, insights into brain research including executive functioning and self-regulation, access to new tools for learning – how does a school ensure it does not, in an effort to “keep up with the times,” wander from one great initiative to the next without spending enough time to do any of these initiatives well?

I have far more thinking to do on this and it is central to my professional growth plan for at least this year but my first thinking on this suggests there are three keys that help a school move rather than just wander.

The first is to clarify what the drivers of change are – goals for students – and what the strategies are to achieve goals.  In other words, to start, as educators have long known, with the end in mind and then look at strategies to achieve those ends.  To move, alignment of strategies towards well-articulated goals is needed.

Regarding being clear on goals for students, the new BC Curriculum, currently in draft form, clearly articulates what students are to know and understand as well as the skills – or competencies – students are to develop.  The core competencies – Thinking CompetencyCommunication Competency and Personal and Social Competency, as well as a focus on foundation skills – literacy and numeracy – provide an ideal starting point for any discussions as to the validity of instructional strategies or tools for learning.

The second key is to identify whether professional learning is an evolution of practice or a revolution of practice.

Evolution, as I am referring to it, means doing similar things better; revolution means doing things markedly different.  Evolving practice is, inherently, constant and there is a tremendous capacity among educators as learners for evolving practice.

If it is a revolution in practice, doing things markedly different, it is worth assessing what existing practices are being replaced and can be discarded to “make room” for significant changes.  It is not common where entire practices are so far off the mark as to be discarded outright but changes in how students are assessed, and how student progress is communicated as related to the core competencies noted above, will likely involve a revolution in assessment as educators do more than simply adapt to the profiles of the core competencies, but instead change significantly.

It is important, through the measurement of school goals, to recognize a staff’s capacity for revolutions and to engage in evolution constantly, but revolutions infrequently.

A third key is recognizing that the crucial element of innovation is follow-through and that follow-through takes time.  A school’s growth plan may be in place for several years and this does not suggest stagnation.  Engaging an entire staff to pursue an initiative – and to do it well – is a far less facile process than individual learning and the inertia generated through collaboration takes time to develop and even more time for the benefits of this inertial to be fully realized.

As a new principal, I have been asked what kind of stamp I will put on the school.  I will work with our school community on the evolving vision for BICS and school-wide initiatives, keeping in mind our goals for students and where we are at in achieving those goals.  I believe it is important to find a balance between incorporating insights into learning and being responsive to the changing world we are preparing students for, with ensuring that educators have sufficient time to truly move on the agreed upon core strategies.

Similar to how students are encouraged to learn deeply and how teachers offer time and space for that to occur, schools must also take time to go deep.  Often, continuity in change is needed.

I am interested in learning more about the keys to moving on innovations rather than wandering between innovations.  Please consider commenting below on how this is done.
Further Reading and Viewing:

For an interesting perspective on the art of wandering, click here to read Sean Nosek’s blog.

Click here to read Chris Kennedy’s post, “Less But Better.”

And for an example of a true revolution in education related to student discipline shared with me for a laugh recently by a BICS parent while I happened to be writing this post, click here.

A New Beginning?

In January of 2005, I started my teaching career at Bowen Island Community School.  It was a temporary assignment, just six months, teaching Grade 6-7.  After leaving BICS, I taught Grade 5 for several years at Ridgeview Elementary School before returning to BICS as vice-principal in 2010 to carry on my teaching career and begin my career as a school administrator.  Now, in January 2015, I have the honour and privilege of leading BICS as principal.  So, in many ways, BICS has been a place of beginnings for me.

But will the change of principals at BICS be a new beginning for the school and, if so, a beginning of what?

At first thought, it might seem ungrateful and naïve to suggest that the school will carry on just fine without the thoughtful guidance and inspirational leadership of BICS’ now retired principal, Jennifer Pardee.  But so much of Jennifer’s work at BICS was to create a shared vision for the school involving students, educators and the community and to build capacity in staff to pursue innovative approaches to teaching and learning.  So, while Jennifer will be deeply missed by the BICS community, professionally and personally, much of her leadership has been to foster conditions for continued success after her retirement.

Over the years, I have heard BICS described as a “moving school.”  A moving school is one that has very clear priorities and where there is buy-in from staff to develop and implement strategies and tactics to achieve those priorities.  In other words, a “moving school” is an improving school.  Current research, insights from experience, as well as technological innovation, have created many opportunities for schools to move forward on several key initiatives.  At BICS in recent years, there has been a greater focus on social and emotional learning, aboriginal education, self-regulation, and a restorative justice approach to student conduct; there is increased access to digital technology, and our school iswell on its way to an inquiry-based approach to learning where students practise and develop critical thinking skills and mindset.

We are certainly not at the beginning stages of any of these initiatives but they will each continue to guide the work we do for years to come.  I will use this blog space, as Jennifer and I have done over the last several years, to write about our school’s progress.

So there is much to be continued, but there are other changes on the horizon in BC education; there are new beginnings.  The BC Ministry of Education has released a new curriculum, currently in draft form, that BICS will transition to in coming years.  The curriculum is a major redesign that articulates what students are to know and understand in a way that supports inquiry-based learning (I have written on this aspect of curriculum here), and will change the way student learning is communicated with a focus on three core competencies – Thinking Competency, Communication Competency and Personal and Social Competency (I have written on this topic here).  Our school is well-positioned to transition to this curriculum as we have been focusing on many of its core elements – inquiry, critical thinking, flexible learning environments – for years.

What students need from their education to be successful in a rapidly changing world and insights into how people learn means that the vision for BICS will continue to evolve as we strive to provide students with the most relevant and effective learning experiences we can.  But as the BICS staff is deeply invested in many initiatives, at this time of transitioning principals, at this time of a new beginning for me, consistency for the school in pursuing the initiatives in which we are immersed, in doing them as best we can, is needed.

Change is certainly upon us at BICS, but change is nothing new in a moving school.

The Year Ahead

This post was originally shared on the BICS Blog here.

At BICS’ first Parent Advisory Council (PAC) meeting of the school year, I had the privilege of sharing my excitement for the year ahead by speaking about BICS’ 2014-2015 Growth Plan.School_Growth_Plan_2014-2015_Visual

This is a tremendously exciting time to be in public education.  More than any other point in my ten years as an educator, I feel there are incredible opportunities to improve learning for students.  Below, I share some of the strategies in our school’s Growth Plan as well as the provincial context.

To a greater degree, our work is being influenced by developments in brain research and a deeper understanding for the varied needs of students.  Teachers are utilizing self-regulation strategies so that students can be, in the words of Stuart Shanker, “calm, alert and learning.”

The Ministry of Education and teachers across the province have also worked together to develop a new curriculum, still in draft form, which was introduced in the fall of 2013.  The curriculum supports teachers to utilize an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning.  Teachers now have access to planning documents that organize the understandings students are to acquire around big ideas that are in many ways transferable from subject to subject.  Furthermore, curriculum is designed to develop previously gained understandings and lay the groundwork for subsequent learning.  And students are able to support their inquiry by connecting with people, places, print and digital media.  BICS is filled with passionate educators and volunteers who inspire students. Bowen Island has incredible opportunities for students to learn from their environment.  The BICS library is filled with a broad range of resources, and our school has 80 portable devices. This year, students in Grades six and seven have been encouraged to bring in their own devices so that student can access a vast and current variety of resources to support their inquiries.

In speaking to the BICS PAC, it was hard not to overuse many of the buzzwords in education that I used above which are core to the work of BICS and the West Vancouver School District: Inquiry, Digital Access, and Self-Regulation.  But these words, which represent pedagogical strategies and tools, quickly lose significance if they are not connected to the goals they are to achieve.

In my ten years as an educator, I have distilled three simply stated yet anything but simple goals for students:  that students love learning, learn a lot, and see and seek opportunities to put their learning to use.  These goals guide my decisions as an educator but they are too vague for planning purposes.  More specifics as to the objectives for student learning, particularly what “learning a lot” means, is offered in the new draft curriculum.  In addition to supporting teachers with utilizing an inquiry-based approach to learning, the new curriculum articulates very clearly the concepts and big ideas students are to understand and also the competencies students are to develop.  In an information rich society, it is becoming less important for students to know a plethora of facts and details.  What is becoming increasingly important are competencies that help students make sense of the ubiquitous information they are surrounded by and to provide them with the skills necesseary to adapt to an ever changing world.

The Ministy of Education has articulated three Core Competencies which the Ministry asserts, “are vital to personal and social success, life-long learning, and to the changing workplace,” so a student’s development of these abilities are core to their quality of life.  The Competencies include Communication, Thinking and Personal and Social Competencies and I have written on these competencies here.  While it is still important that students acquire a general level of knowledge that allows them to understand the world they live in, the essential goals of the curriculum are the “Core Competencies.”  Reporting is likely to shift in the next year to reflect the changes in the curriculum.

With a greater understanding of how people learn, access to traditional and new tools for learning, and with the introduction of a curriculum that assists teachers with planning and effectively articulates the goals for student learning, change is very much upon us in BC education and very much so at BICS.  Change is challenging, but is far more comfortable when we recognize and understand the goals we are working towards.

With a greater understanding of how people learn, access to traditional and new tools for learning, and with the introduction of a curriculum that assists teachers with planning and effectively articulates the goals for student learning, change is very much upon is in BC education and very much so at BICS.  Change can be challenging, but is far more comfortable when we recognize what all this change is for and be clear about our goals for students.  When immersed in change, there should still be room for asking why and not just how.​

Prezi for PAC Presentation