The Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) has been a driving force in educational change in Alberta and Parkland School Division for the last twelve years. “AISI constitutes a world-class and world-leading example of a system-wide educational strategy.” (The Learning Mosaic, p. xi) Unfortunately this visionary program has been suspended in the last provincial budget. While the funding and formal requirements of AISI are no longer, the work of AISI will continue in PSD.
Our work has been centered around critical thinking and assessment and we have made great strides, seeing great results for students and teachers in our classrooms. One of the ways that we know that critical thinking has become part of the culture of PSD is that we hear students and teachers speaking the language of critical thinking throughout the school and even into the community. The wordle above is a word cloud of three of our critical thinking source documents sharing vocabulary, habits of mind and key points. This is the language we hear in our schools daily.
By using critical thinking as a basis to teach concepts, students are provided a structure to enhance their thinking and learn the content more deeply as one of our grade two teachers notes, “My grade two students just finished writing their “powerful cinquain poems”. I was really impressed with how well they critiqued each poem and if they couldn’t find evidence to meet the criteria how they were able to adjust the poem to meet the criteria. I was really taken back by how well the kids used critical thinking vocabulary in their discussions. Great critical thinking lesson!”
As students become more proficient with their critical thinking skills, they become more deeply engaged in their learning. A grade four teacher shared a story about her students taking the lead in their own learning. “After working through several critical challenges throughout the year, I introduced the concept of diversity. The students asked me if they could do a critical challenge around diversity. The students created the challenge; posed the problem, created the criteria, and carried out the challenge. (They) really uncovered the concept of diversity.”
Comments from a PSD grade six teacher illustrate how embracing critical thinking as a way of teaching also has a positive impact on teacher practice. “My teaching has evolved to include more student involvement. I am constantly thriving to ensure my students are engaged in their learning and making the most of it. I love it when students do the questioning and set the criteria for judgment. This gives the students a sense of empowerment in the class so they have more control over their learning. I want to give students the opportunity to learn how to think not just what to think.”
The strategies used to develop critical thinking skills, like asking powerful questions, permit students to engage in their world and make meaning of the information they gather, as another grade six teacher notes. “Students are starting to receive their letters from their local representatives. The answers are wonderful and provide the students with mountains of information. It is wonderful to note the looks of surprise on their faces when they share their letters with me and their classmates. It is interesting that all of the students are getting different answers because they asked such a diverse number of questions. They enjoy reading their letters out loud to their class and sharing their answers. What a great activity made even better with powerful questions!”
You can be assured that Parkland will continue the work that we’ve already started in the areas of critical thinking and assessment. This work has been integral to PSD and student learning and will remain priorities within the Division. We’ve got a great foundation to continue to build upon with the expertise and resources that we’ve built already. We’re still looking forward to great work in these areas!