Tag Archives: inquiry

#craftreconciliation: The Climbing

In the fall of 2016, Wab Kinew wrote a Facebook post inviting educators to partner “mainstream” classes with First Nation schools/classes to discuss “What does reconciliation look like?”.  Jaclyn Calder and I joined forces (along with Shannon Simpson and Caroline Black) to design a project that offered students an opportunity to think deeply about the relationship between Natives and non-Natives in Canada, generally, and their understanding of reconciliation, specifically. You can view the project at #CraftReconciliation with SCDSB, Wikwemikong, and Rama First Nations.

Here I am summarizing and reflecting on the project. There are five posts in the first part of the series organized around the Ontario Adolescent Literacy Guide‘s five components:

I have also organized the posts in a way that I hope makes visible the teaching – learning process so that other teachers can ‘see’ the learning that emerged from this project. To meet this goal I have attempted to include the tools that were created for this project and to show them in action.

The Trek In

We have described for you a mountain. We have shown you the path to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing.

— Justice Murray Sinclair, TRC.

The climbing metaphor is an apt one. The preparation-physical, mental, emotional-for the task at hand, be it climbing or reconciling, is a process. As one does not simply head out to climb Everest, one does not just reconcile the past.


We didn’t reach the summit of the mountain, nor did we expect to. We managed to get to and set-up base camp. We figured out what tools we might like to use, what supplies we would need, and who would do what. We made short forays out from the base camp to check the terrain and plot out possible routes. We acclimatized. While this foundational work was valuable (and made visible our next steps), our biggest accomplishment was that we became a ‘we’. Students and teachers from all over the province from grades 3 to 12 sat around the virtual campfire and began the conversation on reconciliation.

All of our students … they’re the next generation. They’re the ones who are really going to have to come to terms with reconciliation [and] understand it.

When we have conversations together, when we get together and collaborate, and we learn together, then that personal connection can carry us a whole lifetime.

CBC Interview

The Summit Bid

It’s no small feat to make the summit of a mountain. Beyond the physical, emotional, and mental preparation, climbers need to be knowledgeable about the mountain they are taking on. This is the learning I need to better organize for next year: Ensure more opportunities for students to build robust background knowledge early in the process. We began with some background readings and videos on the TRC calls to action. We had conversations in class and online. We did some writing around which call to action was most important. But many students still struggled to connect personally. Of course, they connected with the overarching narrative: my students certainly know about residential schools and their own family history. Locating themselves personally in the conversation about reconciliation was more difficult, and I didn’t understand the gap until late in the process when we hosted Waubgeshig Rice.

This interview was a game changer for many of the Wikwemikong High School students. Wab summarizes his coverage of the Canadian Government’s apology and the TRC hearings as a journalist, and he answers student questions, ranging from water issues to the Indian Act to the future of the language,  from his own experiences. Post-interview, we saw an increase in student engagement, which carried students all the way to the finish line. It’s obvious, I know. The personal connection made via the hangout plays into what we know about student voice and choice.

The interview also reviewed or consolidated the foundational background knowledge that students needed to have to continue on with their own investigations.  The shallow background knowledge that the students acquired in the first part of the course led to a quality of ‘sameness’ across the project. If I want my students to truly engage in the topic (from a personal perspective), we need to spend more time on the front-end teasing out the issues so that students can see them. Yes, of course, residential schools were wrong and people’s lives were traumatically impacted. Yes, of course, racism is hurtful and harmful. Yes, we do want to build relationships between Native and non-Native people based on trust, honesty, and a greater understanding. But, diving deeply into reconciliation will mean grappling with really tough issues, and that is what we need to do. Consider these issues:

  • How sustainable are the many First Nation remote settlements, regardless of changes to education, infrastructure, and governance?
  • How can the treaties be honoured in the 21st century?
  • How might the land-based resources discussion be part of the reconciliation discussion?
  • How might the education of First Nations students shift to include cultural teachings?
  • How might individuals participate in the MMIW inquiry?
  • How might we debunk common myths about First Nations people?

These are some of the issues that people are talking about via social media. Reconciliation between peoples does not occur in the abstract, but rather in the concrete world the people share- land, water, laws, institutions, and language.

What Next?

Beyond bringing in more experts at the beginning of the course, we need to connect students across the project more intentionally. We need to devise a way for students to build knowledge together and then share their learning with each other. We need to facilitate student conversation via commenting more directly and purposefully. This last item-thinking through commenting-is an important modern skill to have, and in the work that I do in all of my classes that connects us to others, I see students struggling to engage in online discussions.

If we can do these things, we will be more prepared to make a bid for the summit of reconciliation.

Our future, and the well-being of all our children rests with the kind of relationships we build today.

– Chief Dr. Robert Joseph

 

 

 

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The #craftreconciliation rubric.

In a way, this experience did prepare me for the future, as I now have a deeper understanding of the people of Canada.

-Grade 11 student

In the fall of 2016, Wab Kinew wrote a Facebook post inviting educators to partner “mainstream” classes with First Nation schools/classes to discuss “What does reconciliation look like?”.  Jaclyn Calder and I joined forces (along with Shannon Simpson and Caroline Black) to design a project that offered students an opportunity to think deeply about the relationship between Natives and non-Natives in Canada, generally, and their understanding of reconciliation, specifically. You can view the project at #CraftReconciliation with SCDSB, Wikwemikong, and Rama First Nations.

Here I am summarizing and reflecting on the project. There are five posts in the first part of the series organized around the Ontario Adolescent Literacy Guide‘s five components:

I have also organized the posts in a way that I hope makes visible the teaching – learning process so that other teachers can ‘see’ the learning that emerged from this project. To meet this goal I have attempted to include the tools that were created for this project and to show them in action. I am still learning how to display docs in the best way for this platform. If you have ideas for me, please take a minute to leave them in the comment box below.

You will also notice that I am asking the students to “Self-Assess using this rubric” and “Determine a mark and add it to the bottom of the rubric”. Not connected to the #craftreconciliation project, but connected to my own evolving work in assessment and evaluation, I decided to have the students self-assess this semester. While this is not a grade-less class, as I do need to put a mark on a report card, students need to engage in the process of reviewing their work, submit it to me for feedback via a digital Assignment Submission form, revise it accordingly, and then assess it using the established criteria. Sometimes the criteria are organized into a rubric, and sometimes it is a Met Not Yet Met Checklist. They can choose to repeat this process as often as they wish, but once it is “their final answer” they post it somewhere…Sesame, Goodreads, Hightail, D2L, their blog…depending on what the item is.

Assessment and Evaluation

Assessment: Feedback First.

During an inquiry process, it is crucial to have built-in times for checking in with students. Part of the learning we do is together (hangouts, small group discussions, collaborations), and part of it is an individual endeavour. Both arrangements can run into obstacles, and it’s my job to help keep everyone on track.

Most of the check-in times see me sitting with the students and having short, intentional conversations about their work. I have my laptop with me and I track these conversations in a Google sheet. Other times, I will leave text or voice comments on the students’ digital documents, and of course, I will comment in their notebooks and respond to emails.

There are times, however, that I want to give students individual feedback that is specific to their work, and I want them to take stock of where they are. I didn’t include this tool in the Metacognition post but the Success Criteria Met Not Yet Met Feedback tool (if used well) is a metacognitive strategy. I leave digital comments after the student has completed the checklist.

Evaluation: Where is the evidence of your learning? 

The #craftreconciliation inquiry project ran the entire semester divided essentially into three main strands:

  1. The Build
  2. The Research
  3. The Literature: Starting Over

The build and the parts of the research process were assessed together with one rubric that I designed before the project started. Backwards planning is key to the success of any course design, but this course was going to be designed as we went. There were so many factors at play:

  • Group dynamics
  • Group deadlines
  • Combined classwork (Ms. Black and I combined our ENG3E/4E and ENG3C/4C classes for many learning events
  • Combined literature circles across our classes
  • Student choice
  • Minecraft!?!

and on and on. I knew that by having the over-arching rubric done and at the ready, we could keep pulling the course back to where it needed to be.

What I have done below is to provide thumbnails of the rubric and a link to the actual document. Below that are a series of screenshots of a student completed rubric.

See the rubric here. 

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I can’t link you to the actual student rubric since it is full of hyperlinks to documents set in edit mode (at my request). I’ve kept the images large enough so that you can read them. I don’t think you need to see all of the student work. This exercise is not one of moderation, but rather a chance to see the tools in action.

Student completed rubric.

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Finally, this evaluation was part of a whole course Evidence of Learning document that the students completed in order to determine their mark for the 70% portion of their grade (I held onto the 30% this year since we are all new to this process. Everyone -you know who I mean-felt better with this arrangement.)

I do need to write about the self-assessment process (separate from #craft because I did it in all of my classes), but suffice it to say here that I will continue with self-assessment next semester. Students told me repeatedly that for the first time in their academic careers, they understood what they were learning and how that connected to their marks. Comments like this were not uncommon:

After speaking with Ms. Balen about the mark I gave myself on this document, we came to an agreement that in self grading my mark I didn’t give myself enough credit for the work I’ve done.

If you have questions about #craftreconciliation or if there are parts of this post that need clarification, please use the comment box to connect with me.

Up next: The Climbing

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#craftreconciliation: Metacognition

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 2.29.57 PM

In the fall of 2016, Wab Kinew wrote a Facebook post inviting educators to partner “mainstream” classes with First Nation schools/classes to discuss “What does reconciliation look like?”.  Jaclyn Calder and I joined forces (along with Shannon Simpson and Caroline Black) to design a project that offered students an opportunity to think deeply about the relationship between Natives and non-Natives in Canada, generally, and their understanding of reconciliation, specifically. You can view the project at #CraftReconciliation with SCDSB, Wikwemikong, and Rama First Nations.

Here I am summarizing and reflecting on the project. There are five posts in this series, and they are organized around the Ontario Adolescent Literacy Guide‘s five components:

I have also organized the posts in a way that I hope makes visible the teaching – learning process so that other teachers can ‘see’ the learning that emerged from this project.

Metacognition

refers to students taking active ownership of their thinking processes so that they understand themselves as learners, they understand a given task, and they understand a variety of strategies and how to use them in a variety of situations.

Metacognition means…

From theory

Learners identify their own understandings in relation to learning goals and success criteria

To practice

It took me a long time to think about how I could best make visible some of the metacognitive thinking that happened in this course. A big part of the difficulty is that student thinking about their thinking happened in conversation and/or their notebooks. Digitizing this process is something that I will definitely change for next year. Another issue though are the types of questions the students were asked. Because this is an English course, many of the questions focused on reading and writing. (We did also read long texts for literature circles and write about our reading.) I decided not to include those reflections here, so that the focus on #craftreconciliation remains consistent. I also decided to include reflections from only one student for this first point both for the sake of economy as well as to give you a sense of what that trajectory might look like.

At the beginning of the semester, I ask students to create learning goals based on what they believed they needed to learn next, including growth mindset, which I always teach to at the outset of the course. You can see that oral communication and media creation don’t make this student’s initial list.

Course goals set in February:

Here are the things I want to learn to get better at in this English course.

  • Writing stronger sentences will help me out a lot I think because it will help me express my writing make it look like it is not even me.
  • I would love to do is being able to read faster, so I can read a lot more in a short period of time. I would still love to be able to understand what I am reading so I have to work on all reading skills like think about what I am reading, re-read if I don’t understand etc. I think reading faster will also help a lot in college and for the program I am going in.
  • My growth mindset area is extending more effort or seeing effort as a path to mastery. I think that fits me best because I like to try my best to extend when researching in topics I enjoy. I like to see myself make progress instead of thinking negative and saying I can’t do it. 

Reflections post-Google Hangouts and initial literature circle:

One of my strengths is oral communication because I am better at listening and talking than I am at reading and writing. For example, during the Google Hangout for the #craftreconciliation project, listening to other students ideas helped me think about what I want to do for the project.

Mid-term Thinking: 

In oral communication … I was able to engage more because I could share my understanding [of reconciliation] with others [on Google Hangouts] which helps me out more by exploring people’s suggestions and what reconciliation means to them. My reading is a whole different ball game I am not as strong as I wish I could be with my reading.

Media: #craftreconciliation interview (not reflection on strategies and learning; just content)

 

Year-End Reflections on learning:

The listening strategies that help me the most is having good posture when listing, making good eye contact with the speaker, and taking notes on something that will help me when I am called upon to speak or write about later. In a group discussion I think it is good for me to talk and try keep it going because most the time I am paired up with people who are too shy to talk or even participate in. To make sure I am using appropriate language I will listen to how others are using their language and how they choose to pick their vocabulary. I will try and follow up and use similar vocabulary or language to match and make myself sound more educational or into the conversation. The strategies I use most when understanding oral communication is writing notes and really finding a connection to what the speaker has to say. I think writing notes will keep me on top of things when I am called to talk or finding a connection will help me because I will be able to really engage in the conversation and be able to share and express my own thinking more.

Media: #craftreconciliation build final reflection and tour

 

From theory

Learners reflect on their learning and engaging in conversations about their thinking

To practice

Here are a variety of students’ responses to their learning in the project:

#Craftreconciliation did connect with the way I like to learn because I got to learn from other students from other places about what reconciliation is and what it means to them.—Tammara

#craftreconciliation definitely did connect a lot with how I like to learn [because] one of the ways I like to learn is creating stuff and getting all my creative juices flowing with something that I know that can really speak to someone or a group of people.—Austin

My favourite learning activity in the #craftreconciliation inquiry has been researching my own topic because I was able to look at how reconciliation has changed and became stronger over the years.–Seneca

However, the bulk of the digital reflections centred on the students explaining their vision of what reconciliation looks like to them, not on their learning, the way they accessed strategies or how they overcame learning challenges. I need to do more work here.

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If you have questions about #craftreconciliation or if there are parts of this post that need clarification, please use the comment box to connect with me.

Up next: Assessment and Evaluation

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#craftreconciliation: Strategy

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 3.02.53 PM

In the fall of 2016, Wab Kinew wrote a Facebook post inviting educators to partner “mainstream” classes with First Nation schools/classes to discuss “What does reconciliation look like?”.  Jaclyn Calder and I joined forces (along with Shannon Simpson and Caroline Black) to design a project that offered students an opportunity to think deeply about the relationship between Natives and non-Natives in Canada, generally, and their understanding of reconciliation, specifically. You can view the project at #CraftReconciliation with SCDSB, Wikwemikong, and Rama First Nations.

Here I am summarizing and reflecting on the project. There are five posts in this series, and they are organized around the Ontario Adolescent Literacy Guide‘s five components:

I have also organized the posts in a way that I hope makes visible the teaching – learning process so that other teachers can ‘see’ the learning that emerged from this project.

Strategy

Refers to students purposefully selcting and using techniques and processes in order to construct and communicate meaning.

Strategy means…

From theory

Apply comprehension strategies before, during and after reading, listening, and viewing to develop understanding.

To practice

The #craftreconciliation project for me was a way to frame the research process for students. I want them to care about their topic. I want them to learn the steps in the process so well that they can decide to innovate and make the process theirs. But first, we work on making meaning with increasingly complex text. The conversation about reconciliation can be challenging not just because it might be emotionally charged content, but also because the content; that is the history, the politics, the culture, the opinions found in these conversations are complex. Take, for example, Daniel Francis’ ideas around the imaginary Indian. Students struggle to grasp the notion that people think that “Indians” don’t exist in the modern world, and especially that Francis’ argument that the “history of the “Indian” image mythologized by popular Canadian culture since 1850, [propagates] stereotypes that exist to this day.” Or the article on the Greetings Native Savages” sticker that I wrote about in #craftreconciliation: Critical Literacy. This is interesting, but tough stuff.

And worth the effort.

When we recognize how the ideas in a text connect to our experiences and beliefs, events happening in the larger world, our understanding of history, and our knowledge of other texts, we value what we are reading.

What’s the purpose of doing this thinking?

    • To deepen meaning and understanding
    • To think critically
    • To evaluate what I  have read/viewed/listened to
    • To accept or reject the text
    • To understand various perspectives

How do we do it?

The strategy I focus on is annotating a text. There are many systems for annotating a text but all of them push readers to read actively. Here is my list:

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Students initially hate this process because…well… because it is work. And because they have not yet discovered the pure joy that comes from marking up a text as a means of discovery. Although the student below includes highlighting in his repertoire, he identifies what each colour signifies creating intentional and meaningful annotations.

 

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From theory

Use subject-specific processes to create, solve problems, research, make decisions, revise thinking, communicate ideas and reflect on learning.

To practice

I want to make two points about teaching the research process.

  1. We need to teach it.
  2. It’s a process.

This is hard, hard work that we need to do. Every time we make a major purchase in our lives, we will want to research to find the best product, the best deal, the most appropriate item. Never mind the loftier research pursuits that we might engage in like researching for a job or which candidate should get my vote.

Here are the steps in my research process:Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 5.45.55 PM

Here is one student’s process:

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Here is one student’s mid-term reflection:

When it comes down to researching and creating research notes, annotating, increasing vocabulary to understand harder texts, and learning about media portrayal, I have to say this is the biggest learning process I’ll ever go through. I have to say it is fun and hard, and in going through it I have learned about so many things: purpose questions, styles of text, elements of text/posts, learning new words and phrases. Furthermore, the process gives me more knowledge to use for when I head off for college.

Did you notice he used the words FUN and HARD in the same breath?

That’s what I’m talkin’bout.

From theory

Select and use appropriate organizers to gather, manage and communicate information and ideas

To practice

I realize I am running the risk of English teachers everywhere lining up to take a shot at me for using a formulaic approach to writing. I hate it too, and as soon as a student says to me “I’m done with that structure!” the celebrations ensue. We are learning to include evidence from our notes into our writing to support our ideas. We are learning to use transitions to connect and link our ideas.

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I do lots of modeling on how to write, which is posted digitally and in the classroom for student reference.

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From theory

Use a writing process to generate, explore, develop, and refine writing for particular purposes, forms and audiences.

To practice

 

This image is the bottom portion from the Research Process above. Not only do I model how to write each type of paragraph in the report, but we work together through the writing and revising process. While I know that many teachers are dissatisfied with the peer editing/reviewing process, my students use peer feedback extensively, likely because we use the same peer editing tool structure over and over. Practice for mastery!

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The #craftreconciliation project is full of examples that illustrate how students used reading and writing strategies to help them develop their researching skills, including the planning skills they used to plan their #craft builds.

If you have questions about #craftreconciliation or if there are parts of this post that need clarification, please use the comment box to connect with me.

Up next: Metacognition.

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#craftreconciliation: Questioning

 

design process

Wikwemikong High School #craftreconciliation 

 

In the fall of 2016, Wab Kinew wrote a Facebook post inviting educators to partner “mainstream” classes with First Nation schools/classes to discuss “What does reconciliation look like?”.  Jaclyn Calder and I joined forces (along with Shannon Simpson and Caroline Black) to design a project that offered students an opportunity to think deeply about the relationship between Natives and non-Natives in Canada, generally, and their understanding of reconciliation, specifically. You can view the project at #CraftReconciliation with SCDSB, Wikwemikong, and Rama First Nations.

Here I am summarizing and reflecting on the project. There are five posts in this series, and they are organized around the Ontario Adolescent Literacy Guide‘s five components:

I have also organized the posts in a way that I hope makes visible the teaching – learning process so that other teachers can ‘see’ the learning that emerged from this project.

Questioning

Refers to students’ curiousity, exploration, and inquiry to evoke, expose, and extend their thinking

Questioning means…

 

From theory

Pose and answer questions in collaboration with peers to expose various ways of thinking

To practice

I use the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) whenever the students need to generate some questions on a topic or issue.

The (QFT) is a step-by-step process that helps students learn how to produce their own questions, improve them, and strategize on how to use them.  Using the QFT requires that students ask all the questions.  The teacher’s role is simply to facilitate that process.

Below you can see what the students did in small groups. One student does all the writing. I review the process (because we have done this many times). I manage the time. I cheerlead. I do not give students question suggestions.

I used this question focus (thanks Jennifer Casa-Todd) because it incorporates the general idea of tolerance, racism, and the dominant culture without focusing on ideas specific to First Nations, the Truth and Reconciliation  or  #craftreconciliation. The goal is to teach students how to use questioning to generate ideas to ultimately create a research plan.

Question Focus:

“Canadians are tolerant of people’s heritage, customs, and religious beliefs; we are far less racist than any other country.”

Step 1: Write the quote above on your chart paper.

Step 2: In your group, brainstorm as many questions that relate to this quote as your can – 5 min

Step 3: Categorize your questions as opened or closed – 1 min

Step 4: Change one open question to a closed question – 1 min

Step 5: Choose what you feel are your 2 most important questions and discuss why they are the most important – 4 min

Step 6: Present and add you questions to the wall.

Here are a few of the questions the students presented:

  1. Why is Canada so accepting of other cultures and customs and not FN’s customs & beliefs?
  2. How is Canada more tolerant than other countries?
  3. Are we necessarily talking about Aboriginal people?
  4. Is this prompt by a non-aboriginal person?
  5. Why are Canadians good with everybody who isn’t First Nations?

Want to learn more about the QFT process?

From theory

Explore, wonder, and investigate to solve problems and build understanding

To practice

Next, students used an Inquiry Planner to track their thinking and to help them determine a specific topic for research that they are truly interested in.

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I wish I had more of the inquiry planners to share; however, this was a non-digital task so I don’t have them anymore. The final column is not completed because this early thinking led students into the full research process. The connections they made turned up in the research report planner. This student drew upon her prior knowledge of racism, the class readings we worked with together to expand and extend our background knowledge, and the QFT questions to help her generate her own thinking about the topic of racism. Others explored stereotypes, residential schools, a specific call to action, etc.

From theory

Ask questions that clarify, extend thinking and challenge ideas to probe more deeply into an issue or topic.

To practice

The above inquiry planner generated some thinking and questions around a topic the student wanted to know more about. She drew on the readings and conversations of the course, but she also had to find her own article, annotate it, and create a research note. Now, she was ready to tackle the full research process. Students could choose to continue working with their initial topic or they could change their topic based on the learning that they did in the initial inquiry process. The student who chose to explore racism initially (above) decided to explore a new topic. You can see that she has  a few questions on the topic of intergenerational trauma. This was new learning for her that emerged from her reading for her racism inquiry and it drove the focus for her research report.

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From theory

Use technology to pose questions and explore divergent perspectives

To practice

We used many different types of technology to ask questions and consider each other’s perspectives. Some of the students used bubbl.us or Mindomo to organize their thinking and planning. Others posted questions and responded to questions in the discussion forum. We all listened to various members of the project present their ideas about reconciliation via Google Hangouts. Click on the image below to hear a brief exchange between a student from Caroline Black‘s class and another student. Also note the responses of the students on screen to the question, the wait, and the response. Interesting.

 

 

From theory

Use self-questioning to assess readiness and guide learning

To practice

design process

Throughout the build portion of the project students were asked to reference the design process, and ask themselves, Where am I in this design cycle? What do I have to do next? What’s my plan?  This self-assessing took place in their notebooks and in conferences, neither of which I collected. One student did make reference to this process in his final course reflection, which I included in the first post of this series. 

The #craftreconciliation project is full of examples that illustrate how students used questioning to help them make connections, build knowledge, and develop as independent learners.

If you have questions about #craftreconciliation or if there are parts of this post that need clarification, please use the comment box to connect with me.

Up next: Strategy

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Standing at the crossroads, trying to read the signs

 crossing the threshold

Will Richardson often thinks out loud about how we need to be getting our students ready for a world in which they will work project to project as freelancers or contract employees. His most recent post is no exception, and I couldn’t agree more.

Let me introduce my 24 year-old daughter. From the ‘About’ page on her fledgling blog FREE WATER FOR ARTISTS:

i hate writing bios. i’m mikaela and i like to dance. i want to create choreography that speaks to issues that affect people. issues around politics, the environment, equity and our emotional well being. i want to create dance that is geared towards stage performances, site specific live performances and for video. i want to expand the dance audience, moving dance from the club or a unit in your grade 8 gym class into a common element in people’s lives.

that being said, i love art. i pay for the music i listen to. i frequent shows of all types. i also delve into the craft world, venture into food, fashion, design- essentially, self expression. i love dogs. i am from Manitoulin Island. my favourite kitchen utensil is the spatula (spatula, not a flipper). i’ve only had one hair dresser my entire life, she’s amazing. i like sports, playing more than watching. i’m a mutt. i’m practical. and i always seem to be working three jobs.

All manner of jobs. Some have been related to her passions. Some have been independent ventures. Some are required to help pay the bills. She is currently a server, a gardener, a freelance dancer, and an entrepreneur.

This is the way it is, which makes the question valid: Are we preparing students for this life?

Many educators are moving toward inquiry or problem/project based learning to connect students’ in school and out-of-school experiences, interests, and skills, and to engage students in the process of learning.

Richardson suggests, however, that problem/project based learning isn’t enough.

Students have to work in flexible, fluid teams, collaborating and adapting as they find solutions and then tackle new problems. They need to be working on projects they care about, projects that have a real purpose in the world.

And he cites NuVu School as an example of a school that is pushing the boundaries of what school might look like.

NuVu School is exceptional. Its ‘coaches’ are highly specialized, the ‘studios’ are equipped with all the resources and materials to actually prototype designs and try them out, and the class ratio is 6:1.

What does this mean?

I think it means that students who go to NuVu can afford to go, which speaks to their socio-economic background and from that we can infer that they have supportive family, access to resources, and freedom from the distraction of poverty.

This is not likely the reality for many students–or teachers. I am, for instance, not qualified to teach at a school like NuVu.

So what does this mean? What is the goal then? What can I reasonably take on?

I think it means that we need to learn from students like Mikaela. How did she cross the threshold from a school system designed to produce 20th century adults to her current reality–the current reality? I believe she is able to negotiate this crossing-over because she is learning ready. She can read and write well, she speaks and listens well, and she is open-minded, flexible, resilient, independent, confident, and hard-working. She didn’t leave high school knowing how to blog or produce a dance film. She had no experience in project based-learning.  And yet here she is doing all of that and more.

I can’t create a NuVu studio in my classroom, but I can work toward getting my students ready for that threshold.

This is very hard work. Project-based or inquiry learning relies on prior knowledge both in content and in skills. My students don’t always have either.

Students in poor jurisdictions with high levels of poverty suffer academically from the get go. They enter school behind their better-off peers and rarely catch-up. Something will be missing. Maybe they’re not reading well enough to do the kind of research that independent PBL or student inquiry demands, or not reading well enough to have experienced the world vicariously, and so students struggle to identify individual passions or burning desires. Maybe they are aware that their written work is lacking, so students are reluctant to share it with a global audience.

This lack of confidence impedes collaboration of any kind which is at the heart of all inquiry/PBL/PBW. Many of my students, say 50%, will not talk in class. They will not ask a question, make a comment, contribute to small group conversation, or make a presentation.

I am stubborn and persistent, and I have high expectations for my students, so we will push through all the above. But the focus is not on PBL per se. Yes, there are learning opportunities that can be called inquiries: students strive to generate their own rich questions; we work in a blended learning environment; and student choice is embedded in many of the learning events.

My main goal is to teach my students how to learn. I want them to know how to be flexible in how they might learn, how to access the resilience needed when the learning gets hard, how to stretch their peripheral vision to include ways of knowing that are not yet familiar, and how to be not just reflective, but metacognitive.

If this, then, is a learning ready stance, and if we can learn anything from the story of one student, then learning ready is beginning to look like the state one needs to be in to learn how to do Project Based Work. And that is an achievable goal.

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Time changes everything.

Time is tyrannical. It strong-arms my work to fit, to conform, to be done without allowing me processing time–the conversation required for me to think out loud and for my colleagues to respond.

When I try to work within the parameters of job-embedded professional learning, the pressure is ever-present. The tick-tock of the clock, eyes shifting upward, phones flicking on & off; time taps its foot, and if I don’t respond, pouts. We are not done, but time is out:  papers shuffle, chairs scuffle, apologies mumbled.

 

The power of the collaborative inquiry is real–if we only have time for it.

I have the extraordinary opportunity to work-learn with an educator who has battled time and won. With her (@CarolineBlack39), I have (we have, I am sure) experienced the satisfaction thrill of deep collaborative learning.

Let me back up a bit.

We know that “we are better together”, and that working in isolation is now a choice. We know that “CI requires a safe, inclusive environment built on trusting relationships”. We know that “genuine learning can only  take place when we collectively accept that learning is not about knowing all the right answers, but about struggling together to find them, without being intimidated by the mistakes that  are inevitably made along the way” (In Conversation). And we know that ongoing learning is not a choice. Jim Knight says it well…

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                           Image is linked to video.

To help educators begin this work, various frameworks have been designed like the Ontario Ministry of Education’s organizing framework for CI processes, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s The Disciplined Collaboration model, and Jenni Donohoo’s step-by-step guide to collaborative inquiry. What all the frameworks have in common is the acknowledgment that CI can only succeed if “trusting relationships” exist so that educators can ” struggle safely”. Stephen Katz and Lisa Ain Dack  in their book Intentional Interruption, suggest that professional learning only takes place when there is permanent change in practice, and to get there our current thinking must be intentionally challenged. We need to be pushed beyond what we think we know, past the head nodding and the congenial (historic? predictable?) conversations. Stephen Hurley builds on the Katz/Dack comment “most people if left to their own devices will talk by defaulting to the lowest common denominator of agreement” by asking us to consider what might happen if the criteria for professional learning includes the notion of intentional interruption.  When we learn to monitor the thinking that emerges from within our conversations, we might be reminded of the need to be challenged.

That’s powerful stuff.

Trusting relationships

Collegial conversation

Intentionally interrupt assumptions

Push past the echo chamber

Work within an organizing framework

This is the recipe for a good professional learning opportunity, and “good” is a goal. But to get to the kind of professional learning that is fearless, energizing, contagious and yes even, joyful, another ingredient is needed—time.

Of course, job-embedded time (not release time) for educators to meet and learn together is a must. (School boards and unions need to figure this one out.) And yet, even this amount of time is not enough to satiate the appetite for learning together, once tasted. It’s not enough when the work/learning you do together can, for example, closes gaps in students’ learning by years.

And that’s the battle: to allow yourself the time to deeply invest in your practice.

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