Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Pedagogy - Public Opinion Gap

I contend that there is a Pedagogy-Public Opinion Gap in education.  For the sake of this post, I would define this Pedagogy-Public Opinion "gap" as:

The gap in understanding between what professional educators and researchers, who work with students on a daily basis, see as "best practice" in education (teaching, learning and schooling) and those "outside" the world of professional education - whose ideas, understanding and opinions about teaching (pedagogy), learning and school are formed, primarily, from their own personal experiences and memories.

 I also wonder if this "gap" is widening.

I invite you to read some of these examples and draw your own conclusions:
  • The "No Zeros" Debate - check out these articles and comments -  here and here
  • Check out these public opinion comments on the Homework Debate? 
  • Should we stop giving grades to students when reporting learning?  Check this on-line "vote" and comments on the CBC website
  • Awards in School?  Check out the hundreds of comments related to the story of a high school principal who wanted cancel academic honours awards.
  • My recent post on "unpacking" of academic excellence  was prompted, in part, by this perceived "gap".
It is my contention that one of the causes of this gap is the presence of "Edu-Blah."  In a previous post on this topic I wrote that:
We do ourselves, as educators, a huge a disservice when we use "Edu Blah" to communicate with our students, parents and greater communities.
We lose them.
And if we, as educators (and schools), can't communicate our own "story" effectively, we run the risk of creating a communication void or vacuum- leaving it to someone else to potentially distort or misrepresent
So how do we bridge this "pedagogy-public opinion gap"?  I offer the following suggestions (and I certainly welcome others to offer their own suggestions)

Individual Students at the Heart of the Matter
Keeping individual students at the heart of our practice and decisions will provide greater understanding and clarity.  For example, our school has a Grading Policy & Guideline.  The policy provides teachers direction for dealing with students who struggle to meet deadlines.  It recognizes that, in most cases, the students who struggle to meet deadlines are our most vulnerable students.  It provides support to students who need to learn the value of meeting deadlines and setting priorities.  With this in mind we place a heavier focus on our  junior students (gr. 8-10) in a effort to identify and support students with challenges long before they become senior students and graduate.

Research Rooted Practitioners
Whether it's brain based learning, assessment practices, student motivation, instructional practices or technology integration - as educators we have a professional and ethical obligation to be "up to speed" with what the researchers are discovering.  Books like John Hattie's "Visible Learning"  provide "evidence-based research into what actually works in schools to improve learning."

Mission & Vision to Set Priorities
"It is far better to do a few things well than to undertake many good works and leave them half done." St. Francis De Sales
There is no shortage of initiatives that we can direct our energies.  To do any of them the proper justice they deserve, we have to determine what students and communities need and prioritize accordingly.    I have found that revisiting your mission, vision and values as a school community or teacher can help with establishing priorities.

It's all about Communication
There are many aspects to an effective communications plan.  I am certainly not an expert in this area.  What I have found, however, is that any communications plan is as effective as the quality of the one on one conversations we have within our communities.   It's about responding to questions, providing exemplars, painting a vivid picture of the preferred future, explaining our "why", deep listening, admitting our mistakes, documenting our struggles, successes and doubts - these, I would argue, are the enduring and effective aspects of communications.

These are a few ideas that may help us close the Pedagogy-Public Opinion Gap.  At the end of the day, our children deserve what's best....

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Digital Literacy and Tech Integration Plan

Regular readers of this blog will know that our school is on a 21st Century Learning journey  that, among other things, calls for a re-visioning of our  school library, and the adoption of a BYOD approach to technology integration.

Related to this larger plan and thanks to the good work of our "tech-brarian" and many others, we now have a specific Digital Literacy Curriculum and Technology Integration plan for St. Patrick Regional. This year's achievements and future goals are listed below.

Special thanks thanks to our tech-brarian"Jill Belanger , for overseeing this plan and making much of it come to life!

Digital Literacy and Technology Integration
Achievements in 2012-13 & Goals for 2013-14

In the areas of digital literacy and technology integration, we have:

Developed a curriculum for Digital Literacy:
·         Created 3 broad standards or objectives for the 2013-14 school year (Note: The Ministry of Education for BC has created draft digital literacy standards .  Our school has chosen to focus on 3 of these standards - Research Fluency, Digital Citizenship , and Technology Operations)
o   Each of the 3 standards are broken down into more specific skills.  (One exciting example is the creation of a 21st Century Research Guide by our Social Studies Department - which will form the foundation of our Research Fluency Standard!)
o   Each of the skills identifies an expected entry and exit point: expected competency level in grade 8 and grade 12
·         Developed a plan for integrating digital literacy throughout the subject areas and the school in the 2013-14 school year:
o   Intro to Technology Operations Basics at St. Pat’s: All grade 8s in September
o   Integration of digital literacy skills development that are grade-level appropriate into English classes - co-taught and/or supported by the techbrarian
o   Digital Citizenship integrated into grade level workshops / retreats
o   Staff supported by the techbrarian to integrate digital literacy skills development into all subject areas
·         Formed a team of teachers and administrators to collaborate in the planning of a digital literacy curriculum
·         Provided Digital Literacy professional development for staff
o   Shared information about digital literacy and plans for integrating the curriculum as part of our Building Experts Sharing Day

Supported teachers and students:
·         Created a database of resources about digital literacy to share with teachers
·         Implemented a framework for Techbrarian support in class that can vary depending on the needs of the class:
o   Task-based: Students develop digital literacy skills specifically as it relates to the task at hand
o   Subject-based: Students develop digital literacy skills in general and related to the subject
·         Provided support to teachers with regard to technology integration, with regular meetings for those whose professional development focus was on technology integration
·         Created a virtual learning space for students: St. Pat's Media Resource Centre
·         Created a virtual learning/sharing space for teachers: Building Experts Professional Learning

Next year, we intend to:

Continue to develop the Digital Literacy Curriculum:
·         Collaborate with the Problem Based Learning Team as they develop a cross-curricular approach for the 2014-15 school year – assist in integrating Digital Literacy
·         Review the existing 3 digital literacy standards and associated specific skills that we have focused on this year and consider additions/revisions
·         Assess the existing opportunities available to students to learn about and practice digital literacy skills:
o   Identify gaps
o   Search for ways to further integrate digital literacy
o   Consider how to track the learning opportunities to ensure that all standards are being addressed

Continue to support teachers and students:
·         Develop an online/interactive version of the Research Guide to the MRC website and introduce school-wide as a resource for digital literacy
·         Review LMS options and consider how an LMS might support technology integration and digital literacy skills development among the students and staff
·         Develop and deliver workshops for students about digital citizenship
·         Continue to assist teachers in integrating technology and search for new ways to expand technology integration through teacher support

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Unpacking Academic Excellence

I get a little skeptical and wary of schools (and those that work within them - including myself sometimes) that espouse "academic excellence" as an organizational value.

I wonder if the "academic excellence" mantra has become the equivalent to the "good job" or "excellent effort" of teacher feedback to students.  Nice words that mean nothing or worse yet, different things to different people.

Don't get me wrong, schools and teachers NEED to be "academically excellent", but what does the ideal look like?

What are the distinguishing features of academically excellent schools or classrooms?  Are the only valid features of "academically excellent" schools those that are common to all to schools?  Can we or should we personalize our understanding of "academically excellent" schools?

For example:

  • When you walk through "academically excellent" schools what are the teachers and students actually doing?  Who's is doing the talking?  Who's is doing the learning?  What are students producing?  Is it a problem if the teacher is doing most of the talking, all the time?  Are the students engaged in relevant work that engages their mind in innovative and creative ways?   Is the work that is expected from students done with a simple "Google" search?  Are we  merely preparing students to score well on a test?
  • I worry that the "academic excellence" mantra, if not unpacked properly, can serve to the narrow the vision of what schools need to be for our diverse group of learners. 
  • Do we confine learning to classroom only?
  • I am the first one to equate our 100% Graduation Rate as a "mark" of academic excellence?  Is that a fair mark for all schools in all circumstances?

What are schools, teachers, parents and students using, as data, to label themselves "academically excellent"?  Are they only using those markers that are easy to measure?

For example:

  • Do we rely on standardized test results to label ourselves as "academically excellent" schools?  There may be some merit to these tests for providing instructional and systemic feedback.  However, when those test are misused to rank schools against each other it only serves to alienate our most vulnerable students and many hard working teaching professionals.     
  • Are schools taking the "long view" when it comes to measuring academic excellence?  There is nothing quite so rewarding as a teacher than when I run into former students engaged in the "real world" as successful, articulate, respectful contributing members of society - from doctors to chefs to teachers to entrepreneurs to parents to religious.   

These are big questions that require organizational and school wide attention and conversations.

Perhaps the time has come for us to intentionally unpack our assumptions about what constitutes "academic excellence" in schools.