Arden Elementary School and Lake Trail Middle School SD#71 Comox Valley

By September 17, 20192018-2019 Case Study

School Name: Arden Elementary School and Lake Trail Middle School

School District: SD#71 Comox Valley

Inquiry Team Members:Doug David: doug.david@sd71.bc.ca, Ilana Green: ilana.green@sd71.bc.ca, Debbie Nelson: debbie.nelson@sd71.bc.ca, Naomi Radawiec: naomi.radawiec@sd71.bc.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: naomi.radawiec@sd71.bc.ca

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Area(s): Career Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Writing

Focus Addressed: Formative assessment, Growth mindset, Self-regulation, Social and emotional learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? We focused on the First Peoples Principles of Learning: Learning is holistic, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).

Scanning: Mrs Radawiec’s Grade 3/4 class (Arden Elementary):
We interviewed students about their learning and noticed that they were not able to talk about the big ideas or reflect deeply on how they were doing with their learning, and where to go next. We noticed that some students needed a lot of support to answer the question “What are you learning?” Many said that the purpose of school is “to learn,” but they were unable to see many connections between what they are learning at school, and their lives outside of school. We noticed that students were not independently setting purposeful goals for their learning. Those that could, expressed goals that were related to our identity inquiry: Who am I? We did notice that the Independent Learning Board (where students track what they are working on using personal magnets) helped them remember and explain things that we are learning. They were able to look at the board and think about all the different learning options on the board and what we do each day at school. Students also described how they felt like they were able to “make choices all day” (noticing that they made choices on the Independent learning Board). Students in grade ¾ said that their learning is “going good” but were not able to say why.

Mrs. Green’s Grade 6/7 Class (Lake Trail Middle School):
We noticed that students in our middle school are challenged in defining their purpose of going to school and many of them are struggling to become engaged in the learning. Students are often focused on their peers and are naturally very social. Their energy tends to go into conforming to group norms that are set by the most popular students. This led us to wonder, how can we create new norms of inclusion, diversity, appreciating differences, so that all students feel respected and supported in a safe and caring classroom community? We noticed that students want to engage with the teacher as a trusted adult, but when it comes to learning, their sense of ownership is minimal. We noticed that our learners are relational and reflective by nature, and we wondered how we could involve them in deep discussions and sharing that would have an impact on their perspectives related to the interconnectedness of all they are learning and the purpose of school.

Focus: How can we help students feel connected, like they belong, and are able to see the purpose for their learning? How can we help students communicate what they are learning and why is it important?

We wondered about how to effectively communicate the big ideas and purpose behind what we are learning, help students reflect, set goals, and see the connectedness between all that we are learning. We wondered how to engage students so that they are able to take ownership over their learning.

Hunch: Arden Elementary:
Our hunch was that we were not providing enough time for discussion with our students around the purpose for learning, and we were not effectively communicating the big ideas. The teachers were aware of the big ideas but the students seemed to have a minimal understanding. Big ideas in the curriculum are often not written in student friendly language. The big ideas or inquiry questions that students did remember were short and simple. We wanted students to understand the “why” behind what they are learning, and how it applies to their lives. They need to know that what they are learning is going to add value to their lives. We also noticed that as teachers we were not drawing attention to the connections between what we were learning. Perhaps if they saw their learning as being connected, they would gain a deeper understanding of the purpose behind school.

Lake Trail Middle School:
Our primary concern in our school community is to provide our students with a safe place in which to learn. We want our students to feel comfortable and secure. There is a large focus on trauma informed practice.We have found that students were relying on teachers for their thinking. In order for students to learn they need to push themselves and feel uncomfortable. We need to find a way to make these both work at the same time. Our hunch was that by allowing students to act as guides in their learning, this will help to keep them feel comfortable and to be willing to take the risk to learn.

New Professional Learning: We collaborated with our Curriculum Support Teachers and consulted our Indigenous Support Workers to help us embed the First Peoples Principles into the learning, and to gain a deeper understanding of the first two Principles that we focused on.

We investigated literature on the core competencies and how they can be taught and embedded into our teaching.

We also looked for research and documentation on how the creation of a community of learners can improve engagement. We also read books about motivation, purpose (asking WHY), and shared our new learning with each other. We used the Positive Personal and Cultural Identity Competency Profiles from the BC curriculum.

Taking Action: Since we are in two schools and teaching different grade levels, our “taking action” looked different. Through the process, we were flexible and responsive, open to changes that needed to happen, and we were always seeking to engage students in taking ownership over their learning.

Arden Elementary School:
This year We’ve been focusing on the why (purpose for learning). Our students are often asking “why?” They are deeply curious. Instead of responding with “you need to know this for grade 3/4,” we flipped the question over to them. Why do YOU, as the learner, think this is important?

In Mrs. Radawiec’s Grade 2/4 class, we used our Independent Learning Board as a way for students to make choices, track what they are working on, communicate where they are at, and take ownership. We hoped to better communicate the big ideas, and unpack those with the students to deepen their understanding. We focused on developing the core competencies, helping students set goals, and continuously reflect on the interconnectedness and purpose of their learning.

Mrs. Nelson taught a few lessons in Mrs. Radawiecs class. These lessons really got students thinking metacognitively and reflecting on their learning. We focused on the questions: How do we view ourselves as math learners? What does a mathematician do? How are we learning as mathematicians? It’s important to understand ourselves as mathematicians, writers, researchers, readers…and to think about what it is like when things are going well with our learning. Mrs. Nelson brought in some Mindset Meerkat magnets and explained “the posture of one leaning in to discovery.” She explained the three magnets with photos of Meerkat’s that represented: 1. Learning with stillness, 2. Learning with purpose, and 3. Shared responsibility. Students explored what these magnets meant and Mrs. Nelson referred to them throughout the lessons.

We challenged students to look critically at themselves as researchers and take on the role of being a researcher. We asked questions like: What are you doing as a researcher today? What have you learned most recently as a researcher? During our time together, Mrs. Nelson taught nonfiction research skills. Students then reflected more on the purpose behind the research and the steps it took to gather the ideas. Looking at themselves as researchers and mathematicians helped them develop a learner’s mindset.

Lake Trail Middle School:
Students were invited to participate in a lesson series that became an inquiry into diversity. The inquiry began with students co-constructing ideas in response to the question, “What is diversity?” Using fiction and nonfiction text, video clips and music, our intent was to engage learners more deeply in noticing, naming and celebrating diversity in their classroom, school and community. Students explored, analyzed and reflected on messages of diversity presented in stories and songs. Lessons were competency-driven. With 48 students in the learning space, we were deliberate about naming and creating opportunities for communication, thinking critically and creatively and social responsibility; learners creating space for each other and learning from each other.

The following video shares the final celebration of our inquiry into diversity, a collaboration accompanied by the song Everyday People, by Sly and the Family Stone. Students designed placards with lyrics they felt most connected to, and actively participated in this fun collaboration.

Checking: Arden Elementary School:
Recently, six students in Mrs. Radawiec’s grade ¾ class were interviewed by two researchers from England who are looking at effective assessment practices in BC and around the world. The students were asked questions about assessment, how they know where they are at with their learning, and what assessment practices we use in the classroom. We noticed that the students were able to explain what they were learning, aside from just talking about subjects. Their responses to the questions were far more detailed and they seemed to be able to explain the purpose behind the learning and assessment practices. We were proud and excited to notice their ability to reflect on their learning and communicate our daily assessment check-ins and big ideas.

In our grade ¾ class, we also created a class book on learning in nature. We explored the question “How can we be a community of Learners who make a difference in the world?” and the Big Idea: “Everything in the environment is connected and we have a responsibility to care for it.” In this book the students reflected on learning in nature. We noticed that they were able to reflect on their learning and describe the why behind environmental sustainability. They were able to describe why this learning is important, and why it’s important to take care of the earth.

After each lesson, we reflected and shared responsibility for offering next steps in our learning journey. Reflections were holistic and looked at the broader vision and purpose for learning as well as student needs as the learning environment. We feel that a focus on the why behind our learning has helped students to take more ownership and understand the purpose of what we are working on.

Lake Trail Middle School:
Nearing the end of the inquiry, Grade 6/7 students at Lake Trail responded to the questions, “What are you learning? How is it going? Where to next? and Can you name two people in our school who believe in your success?” Student responses are attached: http://bit.ly/2L9oZA9. The reflections the students submitted were honest. Some mentioned social responsibility and extending their learning to family and home while other reflections were less in depth. As this is unadulterated evidence of thinking, student voice is clear. The timing could not have been better as there was a crisis in the school that precipitated at a sharing circle where we asked these same questions of one another as a whole group. The students reiterated the ideas that they had mentioned in their earlier reflections.

Reflections/Advice: Arden Elementary School:
We came to the realization that we need to think about where the why (purpose) comes from, who communicates it, and when it emerges. We discovered that the why is not something that should just be explained by the teacher to the students. Often the why emerges naturally through the learning process as students are discovering, exploring curiosities, and reflecting on their learning. This is critical if students are to see the inherent value in what they are learning. They need to be able to say what they are learning, and why it’s important. If they don’t know the why, then what’s the point in the why? The learning is not going to stick.

As teachers, we are learning how to embrace the uncertainty, be vulnerable, and be ok with not knowing how everything will go. Teaching is about finding balance. It’s about allowing creativity and critical thinking to flourish, allowing students to take ownership, all while maintaining a calm learning environment. At the end of the day, we have to reflect learn with and from each other, share our stories, and let go of that which we cannot control.

When thinking about the purpose for learning, and allowing students to take ownership over knowing the purpose, we noticed the need for us as teachers to let go a little. Because if we let go of control, of telling, of pre-planning and organizing the learning in a logical manner with little room for uncertainty…this letting go allows space for our learners to share their ideas, to be inspired to think differently, to discover the purpose behind the learning, to feel valued for their contributions, acknowledged for who they are, and to breathe a little more freely themselves.

Lake Trail Middle School:
There was a core group of students who led, leaned in and learned much. They engaged in the learning process in the Inquiry tasks with Mr. David and synthesized it in the creation of their final task for “Elephant Secret.” Some students chose to represent learning exactly as they had in the past without really referring to the criteria of the assignment. Throughout the year we have been working towards giving students greater freedom to enhance their engagement. Through a triangulated assessment process, we learned that although the final product may have been different than expected, the observations and conversations throughout this inquiry showed that many students were engaged and thinking critically while creating it.

Our School Connections:
When thinking about how our two schools and classes are connected, we reflected on student understanding of the purpose behind learning and how this impacts student engagement. We believe that it is important to engage our young learners in thinking critically about the why, the purpose for learning, so that this practice becomes the norm for them. Then later on when they get to middle school, they are more engaged and invested in their learning because they have a deeper sense of purpose.

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