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Archive for Learning Through Inquiry Projects
I often find myself getting frustrated with the timing of what I feel are extremely important learning days in a school – our Professional Development (Learning) Days where our lead learners (teachers) come together to reflect, discuss, collaborate, share best practices and learn together in order to create engaging learning for our students at Greystone. These very important learning days are usually scheduled on a Friday – not always the most productive day of the week. Our most recent PD Day fell at the end of a week when we were pretty exhausted from endless hours spent on getting Report Cards and Individualized Program Plans completed, reviewed with students and sent home. I went into the PD Day last Friday thinking it was going to be incredibly tough, due to bad timing, to get our teachers to do some very thoughtful reflecting and sharing around creating criteria together for what we believe learner engagement should look like in our classrooms. I really wasn’t sure what to expect…
First, we started the day looking at this inspiring video to get us thinking (and re-thinking) about the possibilities for our learners. It was included as part of the day at TEDxEdmonton last October.
We spent time reflecting individually, and sharing in groups, about what stood out for us in this video. We then moved on to a four corners activity where we discussed and debated our level of agreement with the following statements:
- I believe I have to teach all the foundational skills before I can do inquiry work with my students.
- I believe I need to know something really well before I can teach it to my students.
Teachers entered into dialogue around their individual experiences and beliefs. What we discovered was that there are so many different ways to interpret these statements, but fundamentally, most were on the same page about the importance they placed on creating learning opportunities for students that allowed for exploration, curiosity, providing meaningful context for learning skills and following student interests.
We then asked teachers to work in groups to revisit the components of learner engagement that they had established at our last Professional Learning Day. We asked them to create criteria on a google doc for what they would see students and teachers doing when there was a focus on these areas:
- Evidence of Learning
- Risk Taking
I was absolutely blown away with the engagement and thoughtful contributions made by our teachers that day. What an excellent example they set for our students as the lead learners in our school!
I am looking forward to our next steps as we continue to develop our “This We Believe” document for Greystone this year.
I had a moment this week that stuck with me – so decided I should capture it in a blog post.
I have not done a lot of reflecting and writing lately as I have been on the gerbil wheel, racing around frantically trying to complete the “to do” list of report card reading, teacher evaluations, finishing touches on the School’s Annual Report and hiring new staff. This, combined with my choice to spend the last four weekends traveling near and far to visit family, watch my son play hockey, take part in an annual run with friends and present at a conference with colleagues from Greystone – has left me feeling like there’s not enough time during the week to get everything done…time to slow down!
From experience, I know that I do my best thinking and reflecting when I make time to relax – ideas flow, I get inspired by what I read or things I hear. That’s what happened today – something I heard during a meeting popped back into my head – it was a moment from this past week that I want to remember.
I had an “aha moment” in teaching – about fifteen years ago. It was in that moment that I understood what it meant to be a teacher. I figured out that the most important thing I could do for my students was to create a love for learning. Not only did I understand that this was the reason for my existance as a teacher, I also learned how I could make it happen. I needed to get off my stage and take a back seat to the students. They were the ones who needed to question, think, explore, figure things out. They needed to do more talking than me. They needed to learn how to think for themselves. They needed to NOT NEED ME. When I figured this out, my job became even more complicated and complex – but far more rewarding! I realized that in order to move my students to a place where they were directing their learning, I had to be even more organized, more thoughtful about my planning, more knowledgeable about the need to knows versus the nice to knows in the curriculum, more flexible to let students take their learning in unexpected directions and most importantly, more responsive to them as individuals. I needed to remember that each learner brought different background experiences, prior knowledge and even possibly some misconceptions to the table and that each learner required something different to build their understanding around a topic. I needed to create the setting for students to explore, deeply, the landscape of a topic. My job was to coach their learning by asking the right questions, sharing the discoveries as they were made and supporting students to reflect and ask questions of each other. I needed to create curiosity and a sense of wonder in my classroom – then get out of the way and put the learning and thinking in the hands of the students. I remember, so clearly, the moment when this happened for me, as a teacher. I became an observer, listener,facilitator and coach for the students – I was no longer the “chick in charge” at the front of the class.
Fast forward fifteen years later – I am Principal of a school full of bright and talented teachers. One of the many things that inspires me about my work now is when I see the “aha moment” happen for teachers at my school. This took place for one of our teachers and she shared it during a meeting last week. She said something like this:
I realized that it isn’t my questions that are important or me telling them what they need to learn about. What needs to happen is that they ask the questions – they come up with what they want to learn more about. I need to figure out how to help them do this.
YESSSS!!!! The “aha moment” – shifting control of the learning from the teacher to the student. Creating a sense of wonder and curiosity among our students – this is the real art of teaching. As John Medina puts it in his book Brain Rules:
Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.
We need to provide students with the opportunity to become curious about the world and then give them the freedom to explore and discover for themselves. This is how we help them create the memorable moments in their learning.
Initiatives, programs, technology tools, resources, meetings, workshops, deadlines…all of this has been swimming around in my head these past few weeks and I have been trying to make some sense of it all – aligning all of the new opportunities with the work we are currently doing at Greystone while making sure we don’t go off course or become distracted by the next “bright shiny thing”. Something I am keeping at the front of my mind – I don’t want to overwhelm our teachers by adding too much to their already full plates. Specifically, I have been hashing out ideas with team members around how and what to share with teachers in order to keep the main thing the main thing.
As we started this new school year – our teachers were energized (and so was I) by the high levels of trust and collaboration taking place. Last year, as we were planning for our upcoming year, each grade level Learning Community asked that the main thing we continue to focus on was collaborative time for our teachers to work together – developing common assessments, continuing to develop their inquiry/critical thinking projects and assisting each other to develop skills with technology. This is the main thing that teachers wanted us to commit to – and we have. Every Learning Community has common “team time” this year to continue their learning together.
Next step…reminding teams that all of the work they are doing together needs to have an end in mind – what is it we are hoping to accomplish and how will we know we are getting there? What is it that we will keep in mind as the main thing when we collaborate and learn together? How will all of the programs, tools, resources, initiatives support us in keeping the main thing the main thing?
This past Professional Learning Day – we suggested that we keep the idea of Learner (student & adult) Engagement the main thing. We shared ideas around what this looks like, experiences we have had in the classroom when students were fully engaged, what fully engages us as adult learners, and we looked at exemplars from other schools who are working towards this. We connected the dots by reminding teachers that all of the work we do, the initiatives that are out there, all need to support our goal of increased Learner Engagement. We shared our overarching guiding question for our Adult Learner Inquiry this year:
What do we believe about Learner Engagement and what is the evidence that we are getting it right for our Learners?
Teachers built on each others’ experiences and ideas by capturing the themes around learner engagement: choice, purpose, risk-taking, beyond the walls, dialogue, investigation, questioning, connections are a few of the examples that emerged.
As we move forward this year – we will be focused on ways to develop Learner Engagement and what we will accept as evidence that we are finding success. Now that we have established the main thing- Learner Engagement - we can look at all the “bright shiny things” that are out there, the initiatives, resources, programs, with a critical eye and ask ourselves “how will this support our work in increasing Learner Engagement?” in order to decide which “bright shiny things” to take on.
Learner Engagement at Greystone…that’s our main thing.
Year End Reflection 2012
As another school year ends and I begin to wrap my mind around all of this year’s successes, challenges and changes that made up the past ten months, I, more than any other previous school year, feel a real sense of pride and accomplishment in terms of understanding my students as learners, the effectiveness of my team and that I am working in a very special place that has helped me as an individual, classroom teacher and member of the school community.
Going into the 2011/2012 school year, our team dedicated ourselves to doing all we can to make sure that we were always ahead of the game in terms of planning projects, planning assessments, and handling the day to day operations of an LC. Sound difficult? Well we all know that it can definitely be met with its share of difficulties, but being blessed with a team like mine, makes accomplishing these goals much easier. I always feel a level of support that encourages me to do my best but at the same time, a level of responsibility that I need to do my part for the team to achieve success. This makes the life of a teacher much easier when you are coming to work each day. Knowing you have a group of individuals that work so well together for the success of the students, the school community and each other is a blessing that I hope I have for many years to come.
The success of your students is always the most important goal of any classroom teacher. We all want our students to do their best, but this also takes the support of a team of teachers, not one individual. You always wonder at the beginning of a school year, sometimes before that, who the students are that you will see coming though the doors in September and what they will be like? It can sometimes be stressful and worrisome and you do what you can to prepare but you don’t really get a sense of it until those classroom doors swing shut. I have to admit, I was worried this year. And although this school year was not without it’s challenges, I can say that after 11 years of teaching that this was the most successful I can remember. Successful because I really felt I accomplished a lot with my students in terms of covering curriculum, creating meaningful assessments and guiding them to become responsible citizens, but most importantly, knowing who they are as learners. Their strengths and areas of growth. This could not have been accomplished without the proactive support of our administration, the forementioned dedication of my team but also the wonderful teachers we have in our building. The students see and feel that we are here for them. Here to help them grow and learn. We have created an atmosphere in our school that encourages students to do well and it has helped me in turn get to know them better as learners.
I have never been a very overly emotional person in my life, and definitely not as a teacher, but with the events that transpired at the beginning of this school year, we were all thrown an emotional curve ball that tested us all as individuals, as teachers and as a school community. And although we are not out of the woods just yet, it has been reaffirmed that I am working in a special place. Greystone is always being thought of as an innovative school through its collaboration, inquiry based learning and integration of technology, but I think our staff should also be known for how we come together in difficult times. It is amazing to be a part of such a special place.
So what is the theme of my reflection this year? Support. I truly felt an immense amount of support this year from my team, administration and my fellow teachers. Does that give me a grade of emerging then? I hope not. What it does tell me though is that despite all of the changes, challenges and unforeseen circumstances we have seen this school year, the successes could not have been possible without the support for our students and for each other. It feels good. Good to know that I am coming to a building everyday that has this kind of support for you as a person. Our kids are lucky.
~ Craig Letendre, Learning Community 5 Teacher
The Professional Growth Plan Reflections from this teacher were shared via this Youtube video. Be sure to watch the entire video – he shares his enthusiasm for learning through some great dance moves at the end!
~ Matthew Stelmaschuk, Learning Community 7 Teacher
|“The Review” Evaluation – How am I doing? What have I learned? What revisions and adjustments do I need to make?|
| This year our Learning Community made a concerted effort to emphasize process rather than the correct response. This is encouraging our students to make their thinking more visible by explaining (words, images, actions or a combination of three) how they came to their desired response. The focus on looking for patterns in math is now being utilized in other subjects as students use general and subject specific strategies to achieve their outcomes.The use of collaborizeclassroom.com to allow students see each other’s work, and participate in online constructive criticism has provided valuable feedback to students and an opportunity for teachers to evaluate the comments made by students. We are able to determine what students do know and what they have yet to grasp (issues that lack feedback) which helps us plan our future lessons. The students also get to see a variety of exemplars on the same topic that they are working on which can help them clarify what the intended outcome should look like. The website is also allowing teachers to compare student work with the rest of our Learning Community so we can see if our instruction is covering all the required concepts (I guess we are looking for patterns too). Preet did a great job in leading us through this valuable process.
Students have commented that they would like more input on topics that we use to write about. They allude to higher engagement when the topics are more meaningful and interesting. This is an area that I need to address in order to accommodate my more mature writers who will demonstrate their passion in the material. The emphasis on planning and increased description (using the 5 senses) is starting to show as students are now keeping their topics more specific and adding more detail. With the increase in feedback from classmates, students are starting to understand that acceptable grade level material needs to be pretty good.
The structured activities (See, Think, Wonder) were essential to guiding the students through the process necessary to effectively demonstrate inquiry and will be something I would like to incorporate at an early stage in grade 5 next year. The topics Katy found this year were very thought provoking and I hope I can call on her wisdom to suggest some curriculum appropriate topics next year.
After the recent PAT (Provincial Achievement Test) in Language Arts, I am noticing how students can benefit from that 5-10 minute, small group discussion that students were allowed, to clarify the topic. I have to gain more trust in their desire and abilities to collaborate constructively (build on each other’s ideas and understanding of the desired outcome).
As far as PD activities go, the opportunity to collaborate with the other loops and clarify the key skills and attributes they would like to see my students come forward with has helped me focus on process. By clarifying expectations for outcomes at the next level, my subject discipline team reinforced my need to use the process, rather than focus on the content when designing learning activities. I would like to continue to have those opportunities available in my next two year loop.
The year has gone by fast and my only regret is that I missed some opportunities to build on student success due to a fear that I needed to cover more concepts rather than build expertise in the process. Having gone through this two year loop though has reinforced that our biggest successes occurred when we took the time to practice and develop skills. I will seek more opportunities to reflect on student work with my teaching team to help me improve the quality of feedback I can provide for my students next year. That will involve sharing more assessment for learning with the team in a timely manner.
My teaching team is extremely supportive and provide a good balance of praise and constructive criticism in our meetings. This open dialogue allows us to consider alternative opportunities that have proved to be very beneficial over the past 2 year loop. That valuable collaborative time requires that we come prepared to justify our planning decisions, use consensus effectively yet delegate some activities without question. It is a model I can follow to provide an effective collaborative learning environment in my classroom.
~ Dale Johnston, Learning Community 6 Teacher
Once again, I have asked my teachers to submit reflections on their growth from this school year and I have asked if I can make their learning public. I am looking forward to sharing the learning of my incredibly dedicated team of teachers in the coming days and weeks ahead as we finish off a very memorable year at Greystone.
~ Carolyn Cameron
As I reflect on this past school year, I wonder how I ever got from point A, September, to point B, June. Where have the last ten months gone? Dealing with the stress of returning to work with two little kids was one thing but to have it follow with the tragic death of a colleague and as a result spending months being afraid to be alone, to my husband getting laid off, finding work out of town and then to get laid off again, to on-going drama with my only brother and our unreliable childcare provider, constant worry about Cara’s speech delay and recently developed stutter, and JT’s typical boy characteristics (ones I’m not accustomed too) … the last ten months have been surreal! How did I ever find time to teach?
As I turn the page and reflect on how these stressors have affected my professional life and how that equates in terms of success in the classroom, I’m 110% thankful, grateful, over the moon in debt, for my supportive professional learning community. As a team, the five of us were able to play on one another’s strengths in order to develop meaningful inquiry based learning experiences – experiences that will impact the students forever. Regular common collaboration time made everything from planning, to assessing and reporting for the new report card, easier than first thought possible. Initially, I was so afraid when my individual prep time was taken away. When was I going to get my work and planning done? I saw this ‘so-called’ collaborative time as a ‘waste of time’ because we were often scrambling, talking off task and sometimes dictating, not collaborating and then leaving with nothing. Through it all we have learned how to collectively bounce ideas and experiences off one another, how to maximize our time, and how to take negative feedback and turn it into a positive. Ten months later, as I reflect, I can’t imagine not having this time to work with my colleagues. The days of planning an agenda for our meetings are done. As educators, we know what needs to be done and we get it done. I love the connection we have built as a team and I’m appreciative of the qualities everyone brings to the table.
I decided early on this year that I was going to make a conscious effort to build stronger relationships with both my students and their parents. I wouldn’t say I ignored doing this in the past, but I really wanted to make sure students knew they could come to me about anything and parents knew my door was always open. By putting relationships on the front burner, I can honestly say I see a large difference. Many of those little bodies in our classroom have dealt with more hardships in their 10 years of life, than I have in 35. Regular private two minute conversations have given students an opportunity to gain trust in me and allow me to help them as needed. Since September, I’ve kept parents in the loop by having students’ complete detailed daily agendas; I do daily blog updates; bi-weekly group emails on classroom current events; emailing project pictures and notification of ‘Established’ assessment results. As a parent myself, I know how important communication between two separate yet intertwining entities is and above all else, I want to earn each parent’s trust. As challenging as this past year has been at times, not only have I persevered, but I have gained a clearer picture of who I am personally and professionally. I have educated and, most importantly, I’ve been educated. Thank you for a great year!!!!
~ Patty Nicholls, Learning Community 5 Teacher
Individual awards did not receive the spotlight at Greystone’s year end assembly. Instead, we featured Inquiry Learning, which is the cornerstone of our school’s learning communities. Here is my message from this part of our Year End Celebration of Learning:
Welcome to our film premiere showcasing the community projects that our students from grades five through eight were involved in this year. This film, and the public sharing of it, are part of a commitment our school made when we applied for a community incentive grant to purchase additional technology for our students to use in their learning this year. In order to meet the requirements of the grant we were awarded, we needed to demonstrate how our learning connected us to the greater community outside of the walls of our school through the use of technology.
This project became an excellent opportunity for our teachers and students to continue to develop the kind of learning that we have been working towards at Greystone since we opened the doors to our new school six years ago. It was a chance to make learning real, relevant and meaningful to our students by helping them make connections from the school based program of studies to the real world, outside of the school – the real people, places and stories of our community.
So, that was our challenge…how would we use technology to connect our curriculum and our students to our Spruce Grove Community – and how could our learning be captured in a way that had lasting value, beyond a test score, or an assignment to be handed in to a teacher? How would we create something to demonstrate that our students are developing the skills needed to be successful in the world we live in today – a world that requires them to be active, critical thinkers, collaborators, creators of new knowledge and how could they demonstrate they were using technology in ways that connect them to people in our community and our world?
Today’s changing world needs our students to develop so many different skills than those that were needed from students in the past. We need today’s students to be able to obtain information in new ways…not just from books but by interviewing real people, hearing their stories, and accessing relevant sources from the internet. In addition, today’s learners are required to take their learning and create new ways of sharing it – with each other and with the world outside of the school. Our goal, through this project, was to demonstrate some of the important skills we are learning that will help our students find success in the 21st century – a world that has changed and will continue to change significantly as our students become adults. We are preparing our learners for a world than none of us can quite imagine right now. These are very exciting times!!!!!
Many of the important skills our students need for success in our changing world were developed through this project. First, students took up a question, an inquiry, related to our Spruce Grove Community. Our teachers ensured that there was a meaningful connection to the curriculum. Students developed criteria for creating powerful questions for interviews, for what makes a powerful visual image and for what makes a powerful story. Students worked with new technology to create digital movies, digital books and learned how to use various devices for voice recordings and filming people both inside and outside of the school. Students examined different perspectives in a historical context and compared them to present day perspectives. Our students created a variety of final products – one of which is a feature movie that will be shared with Learning Community 6 students, families and guests at the Parkland Cinema following this assembly.
For the purpose of this assembly, we wanted to compile a snapshot of all of this learning from our Learning Communities 5 through 8, so we invited our friend, Mr. David Matthew Bonner, to create a movie that captured the highlights. We hope it will demonstrate to you how student learning can be made more meaningful when students are involved in work that takes them outside of the walls of the school or when the students are engaged in active exploration and demonstrations of learning that get them thinking like and acquiring the skills of real reporters, set designers, photographers, videographers, actors, authors, historians by asking important questions and seeking information to share with a bigger audience. Thank you for being our bigger audience today as our students learn from the past and the present to become our future – our future business owners, farmers, City Council members, community volunteers, even future mayors, in our Spruce Grove community…ENJOY!
P.S. Our Mayor, Stuart Houston, was in attendance at our assembly and will be linking our movie to the City of Spruce Grove’s website.