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.

How many times can a problem be solved?

How many times can a problem be solved?

If the answer is available to everyone, can it be solved more than once?

Is there any point in asking students to solve problems where not only has the answer been found but it is available to anyone with digital access and the skills to find it?

Should efforts in education be directed more towards students developing their skills to locate previously found answers than to solving problems for which solutions already exist?

Surely students should be problem solvers too so should students spend their time solving problems that already have available solutions or apply these solutions to the next step of the problem or to some unique situation?

 

These are the questions I was left with after listening to Daniel Pink’s keynote address and Alan November’s session at the FISA BC 2016 Convention.

Pink suggested that problem solving is a useful skill but that problem finding is a more useful skill.

November suggested that internet tools exist to share not just information but knowledge and more of students’ time should be spent using this knowledge to solve new and unique problems rather than simply rehearsing the solutions and steps identified by previous learners.

November spent much of his presentation discussing the power of the knowledge engine Wolfram Alpha which doesn’t just access information as stored (as a search engine does) it re-sorts it, remixes it. Essentially, November suggests, it turns information into knowledge.

WA

So with such tools as Wolfram Aplpha, the question arises: What aspects of the knowledge base are suited toward archiving and accessing when appropriate and what aspects are essential for students to know and understand so that they can understand themselves and the world?

In other words, what learning should be repeated, generation after generation, and when is it appropriate to simply start with what is already known and go from there? Is it necessary for students to always start at “square one”, or is it possible to enter the subject at a later point and find the knowledge that has been created before and take it further.

The question is directed more towards content than foundational skills. Each generation needs to learn to read and write; there is no mechanism to pass that on through the internet. But when there is a mechanism, the question of whether what is being learned is actually helpful must be asked.

For years, not just in the Big Ideas of BC’s new curriculum, a shift has been underway to develop understandings, not just acquire knowledge. But with the development of tools to access the learning of others, and more importantly the ability of students to, in Daniel Pink’s phrase, curate this information, the speed of the shift may accelerate.

So beyond inquiry-based learning and developing understanding, what does that look like?

November suggests that students should spend less time solving problems and more time learning about topics that involve a concept or idea. He notes this idea has been foundational to the teaching of the US Military Academy at West Point for decades. The difference is that instead of solving a problem related to volume, the student creates their own problem that involves volume. Doing so allows the student to take what is already known to both create and solve a unique problem, essentially building on the knowledge of others rather than simply repeating it. More time is spent applying knowledge; less time is spent recreating it.

Clearly a level of general knowledge is needed to understand the world. Nevertheless, as we become increasingly confident in the internet’s ability to store information and knowledge (think about Gmail and Outlook archiving emails instead of deleting them) and students develop greater abilities to access information and knowledge, educators may become increasingly comfortable with students using what is already known to solve new and unique problems rather than simply repeating the steps established by others to solve a problem.

In the age of the knowledge engine, the question, “Do students really need to learn this?” has become even more complicated and pertinent.

Who’s the Boss?

With the title, “The collapse of parenting: Why it’s time for parents to grow up,” it is no surprise that this Maclean’s article is getting a lot of attention. In it, the author Cathy Gulli, often citing the works of psychologists Dr. Leonard Sax and Dr. Gordon Neufeld, argues that while guided by the best of intentions, many parenting styles are doing children no favors.

The article is worth reading but I will do my best to summarize it as follows:

(Common) Parenting beliefs and interests

Parents want…

  • the best for their children.
  • their children to feel listened to and respected.
  • their children to be independent and think freely.
  • to avoid conflict and be liked by their children.
  • their children to be assertive and able to stand up for themselves and others.

Parenting behaviour

Guided by the beliefs above, parents…

  • ask their children to make decisions over major and often seemingly minor things (to finish eating green beans) which become significant things (parent’s control, child’s nourishment).
  • negotiate with their children; e.g., “If you finish your green beans, you can have dessert.”

Response of children to parenting behaviour above

The result of this parenting behaviour is role confusion: children question whether the parent is going to make decisions and as a result take on this responsibility. Children begin to see themselves as the decision maker and take on the “alpha” role in the family hierarchy.

Consequence of role confusion

  • Children will make decisions on important matters such as food choices and thus, despite often having limited experience or information, have control over their nutrition and physical development.
  • Children control access to technology and may, due to lack of understanding and/or discipline, not prioritize sleep over screen-time.
  • Same age peers will become more important and influential to children than their parents and other adults.

The crux of the argument is that the world is becoming less hierarchical but hierarchy is still needed in families, and classrooms too, where the relationships involve people with vast differences in knowledge and experience.

 

I feel quite lucky as a teacher and now principal that prior to becoming a parent myself I have seen a tremendous amount of remarkable parenting. I have also seen that sometimes small moments – a child throwing his backpack at his parent as he runs to the playground whilst barely acknowledging them – are really big things but could quite easily be overlooked by the parent who has just been at work all day and wants nothing more than to see his son play on the swings rather than telling his son to take care of his own backpack. In that instance, who is in control?

And issues of hierarchy are not exclusive to parenting. An example in schools: Self-regulation has been a major focus of BICS and many schools for several years. Self-regulation differs from regulation in that the goal in self-regulation is for the student to take control. Parents regulate a child with a scraped knee with a kiss on the cheek or a hand on the shoulder. Self-regulation involves the student identifying their emotions and self-regulating so that their behaviour matches their environment and/or activity. Dependence is therefore a key element of regulation while independence is the key for self-regulation. This is a worthy goal: parents and the school have an interest in students becoming independent and self-regulation is about self-control, not control of others.

But how about when self-regulation includes taking a break from the classroom and learning activity? Most schools have self-regulation spaces in classrooms or rooms where the student can take a break from the busyness of a classroom. The spaces are great: they are usually quiet, with subtle lighting and comfortable furniture. As classrooms are potentially the most stimulating learning or working environment most people will ever be in, it makes sense that students might need a change of environment at times other than scheduled (and often stimulating) recess and lunch times.

However, like a child avoiding their greens with the result of malnourishment, too many breaks from the classroom may come at the cost of learning. One might argue that the dysregulated student who feels they need a break won’t be learning anyway, but what happens when student decisions take precedent over reasonable expectations from the teacher. If the student feels the expectations of the teacher take precedence over their decisions to need a break, might that student be more likely to rise to the occasion? Balancing authority and control with honouring student/child voice and independence is not easy but is important.

The key element in who should have most control of decision making is whether the decision is best informed by personal preference or life experience. For example, if it is a matter of a child wearing a red or blue sweater to school on Thursday, it is a matter of personal preference. If, however, the question is about wearing a sweater at all, the parent’s life experience, knowing that the child has soccer after school at 4:00 PM and that the temperature outside will drop when the sun goes down, trumps. Clarity and comfort as to who is in charge and why is essential for parents, educators and of course children/students. A child’s trust that the parent or educator has their best interest in mind when applying their life experiences to a decision is essential.

This balancing act is not easy and the article concludes with the idea that it is OK to make mistakes; in fact, it has to be OK as mistakes will be made. Ideally, awareness of who is making decisions and why will be helpful in the relationships so that students/children feel heard and so that adults can look out for the long-term interests of students.

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.

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.

Prezi_15

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.

Who’s Leading?

I enjoyed this video recently shared with me by my West Vancouver Schools colleague Tara Zielinski. In it, author, speaker and former submarine captain David Marquet makes a great case for distributed leadership and the power of not just shared decision making, but distributed decision making.

Schools are very different than submarines: teachers lead their classroom and make countless decisions without their principal being involved or even aware. But direction-setting initiatives and innovations can be less distributed and Marquet does a nice job of explaining why that is problematic.

“Leaders can take control and attract followers” or “give control and create leaders.” Marquet argues that the latter is far more difficult and far more effective.