Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Japanese, if you please

This week, we've had the pleasure of hosting students from a high school in Kishi, Japan. Unfortunately, this has meant that we were unable to hold our regular Wednesday morning meeting. It is interesting meeting students from other regions, and other cultures. I wonder what these visitors make of our way of organizing instruction? What kind of feedback do they get from their teachers?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Interims - Continued

We continued our discussion of interims this morning.

So, what is the purpose of the exercise? Yes, we do have a legal obligation to report, but if we are doing it anyway, could it be more meaningful but still flexible and manageable? How can we put together a process that helps students learn better (tied to outcomes?), communicates important messages from the teacher (DEW line perhaps?) and answers the questions that parents have (should I be worried or not)?

Does a flexible format or layout create more opportunities for meaningful communication? (ie. Generic or department-specific; checkboxes, anecdotal space, and/or comment lists.)

If we begin with the end in mind, what do we want students, parents and teachers to understand at the end of the process? (ie. What would teachers like to say; what would parents like to see; what would students need to know?) We ended our session this morning hoping that some good suggestions might come from departments as they look for what would make the interim useful for them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reporting "in the interim"

It means "in between" or "provisional": but what is an interim report for?

Some of our time this morning was spent looking at our practice of interim reporting. Of course, it is a requirement in this jurisdiction, but what is its purpose?

We tossed around a number of questions about the "interim", which in turn suggested others:

Who is it for? Is it meant to give feedback to students about what is working well, and what isn't? Is it meant to point out where the student needs to work harder? Is it meant for parents, as an "early warning signal" of impending doom on the report card?

Are we reporting on specific assignments? on learning outcomes met? on units of study completed? Is it meant to describe behaviour, attitude, concentration or work habits? or all of the above?

How do we report? Is it a check mark? a numbered code? a letter (G, S, N, Y, A, B, C+, F...) or an anecdotal remark? How helpful are the kinds of comments we make? "This student is failing this course." "Lovely student." "Good worker." "Must try harder." "Will not likely pass."

As we near "trick or treat" time, it's also interim time. Asking these questions ("What do we hope to accomplish?") might help parents, students and teachers make better use of the exercise.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The changing face of teaching

This morning, our numbers were boosted by two student teachers who joined in on the discussion.

We know “school” don't we?
Everyone knows how to teach, or at least knows how school works, because "we've all been to school." How different is it to stand on the other side of that teacher desk, especially for a beginning teacher? How has the job of teaching changed over the years for those of us "veterans"?

What will schools look like in 5 or 10 years? The pundits keep telling us that it will "all be different" in a decade or so (although the arrival seems to get pushed back every year) but we are seeing a change in our students, bit by bit, as the technology begins to push its way into the classroom. We're seeing more laptops, iPods and iPhones. Students want the topics we cover to be relevant. "Why are we learning this?" is a common refrain. And the answer "because it's on the test" or "because it's in the chapter" doesn't cut it anymore. Dates and names and places are easy to Google. What's more important is how things fit together. It is a continuing challenge to engage students who find that their most compelling course is "Facebook 11".

It is an exciting time to enter education. Think of all the outside resources we have at our fingertips...or at least the students do: Youtube, papers, journals, blogs, GoogleEarth, etc.

Of course, there is a core to good teaching that never changes: teachers who help kids make meaningful connections between ideas and their own lives.

What are the implications for our time-tested routines and structures? We still have the bells, and the timetables and the classrooms and the lunch breaks. Are we rethinking how we approach the subjects we love (English, Science, Socials etc) and rethinking how we teach them?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Improving our Practice "on purpose"

"Schooling by Design" Wiggins and McTighe, Chapter 4: How Should Teaching Be Appropriately Depersonalized? (p. 111)

"Indeed, schooling and reform have been hindered by the view that it is most "professional" if individual teachers decide for themselves how to teach. The result is not merely an inconsistent array of unexamined approaches to instruction (as if medicine were still what any country doctor 200 years ago thought it should be); a more harmful effect is that any critique of teaching inevitably is seen as an attack on teachers."

From "Craft Knowledge: The Road to Transforming Schools" by Deanna Burney (From page 2 of the journal article:)

"Usually, though, craft knowledge is confined to isolated classrooms, where individual teachers keep a tight grip on instruction and student learning. Our education system, quite simply, does not invest in the cultivation and dissemination of craft knowledge. Schools and school systems are not learning communities. But teachers have a right to investments in their professional development as well as a responsibility to reflect on their work, build their knowledge, share it with others, and pay attention to what others are learning. School systems have an obligation to provide the conditions that will foster this learning, because it is the only way we will continuously improve instruction instead of spinning our wheels."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What do Students need?

Wednesday, Dave P. , four McRoberts students and I were at School Completion and Beyond the first in a series of three forums that will be held over the next two years where teams from all nine Metro Districts work on specific projects to improve the quality of students' high school experience. This event brought together students, teachers, administrators and parents from all the Metro school boards. We asked the students what they needed from high school in order to be successful. The answers were heartfelt and powerful.

The tone for the day was set by a group of students via a dramatized presentation that addressed their fears, hopes and ideals for secondary schooling. (They met earlier in the week and spent 2 days preparing for the conference. )

The following clip is from a similar gathering, and the messages are very much like those we saw Wednesday morning.

When asked what they needed from high school, Lower Mainland students told the participants that they want better connections with their teachers, they want to be treated as individuals, they wanted clear grading expectations, they want to address global issues, they want to know "why" they are learning the things that are being presented in class. In fact, many of the issues they raised can be found in this article Imagine a School (PDF) by Kathy Gould Lundy from the fall 2006 issue of Education Canada.

There will be opportunities here at the school over the next few weeks to extend this topic. A first step perhaps is for us as educators to reflect on the needs that the students have identified.


For more:
Imagine a School... making the play
From CEA's 2007 Workshop in Winnipeg, Rethinking Adolescence, Rethinking Schools (mp3 - 23:02 minutes, 23 MB)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"I'll have a large DI with fries."

We've been looking at Differentiated Instruction (DI) for the last few mornings. And our discussions have led us to ask a range of questions:
Is DI an option or a necessity?
Is it a new "flavour of the month"? a bolt-on strategy?
Is it part of best/exemplary practice?
Is it something that teachers are already doing, (even if they are not using the DI label)?

Differentiated Instruction is about how we meet the needs of our students. But what do we mean by "needs"? Here's a list of areas where our students show diversity, where they have a range of needs.* Take a look and see what you have noticed in your classes.

  • Cognitive abilities
  • Confidence in learning
  • Cultural/ethnic influences
  • Gender influences
  • How students value learning
  • Interest in the subject you teach
  • Learning pace
  • Learning styles (visual, spatial, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, etc.)
  • Readiness
  • Socioeconomic and family characteristics
(* From Differentiated Assessment for Middle and High School Classrooms by Deborah Blaz: [Link] PDF)

Which of these areas has become/is becoming an issue for you in your instruction? Which do you feel you address well? What resources are you using to help you meet these needs? What expectations do you encounter?