School Name: Arrow Heights Elementary School
School District: SD#19 Revelstoke
Inquiry Team Members:Gio Tedesco: firstname.lastname@example.org, Sally Andrykew: email@example.com, Natalie Macleod: firstname.lastname@example.org, Janette Vickers: email@example.com, Hailey Lacroix: firstname.lastname@example.org, Jackie Uremovich: email@example.com, Amber Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Other: Core Competencies
Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving)
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Making the Core Competencies accessible and relevant for the students
Scanning: With the introduction of the Core Competencies in the redesigned curriculum, many teachers had noticed that students were finding it difficult to connect and understand the core competencies. We realised that we needed to ensure that we placed our students at the centre and to explore how we could make the Core Competencies more accessible. The other OECD principles which guided us in the scanning process included working to learn about the Core Competencies in a social way, as a classroom community (social nature of learning). The Primary team had done a lot of work into self-regulation through the Zones, and therefore understood the importance of considering emotions when planning how to educate our students on the Core Competencies. Also, we wanted to include the Core Competencies in all curriculum areas, therefore including horizontal connectedness was vital. The First People’s Principles had a large impact on our scanning, as we all wished to include more indigenous education in our classrooms. One teacher had already explored the Seven Sacred Teachings, and when I discovered the resource which was linked with indigenous animals and legends, it spurred our inquiry on.
Focus: I discovered the book, ‘The Six Cedars’ over the summer break, and realised that connecting an animal to each of the Core Competencies may be a great way to help students understand and connect with the skills related to the Core Competencies. I then contacted several other teachers in my school, and this grew to all of the primary teachers, (plus myself as a Grade 4 teacher) deciding to explore the resource, and using it in our classrooms guided by the inquiry question: “Would students understanding and Connection to the Core Competencies increase by using ‘The Six Cedars’ in our classrooms?”. We were hoping to see a common language used which would increase students connection and understanding of the Core Competencies, as well as an improvement in their ability to self assess their growth in the various Core Competency areas.
Hunch: Our hunch was that the Core Competency language was too ‘dry’ for students’ and that some of the language used was confusing and caused a barrier (especially for primary aged students) which stopped them from fully engaging with the Core Competencies. Therefore, self-assessment was also very difficult for the students to do. We felt if a whole school language (beginning with primaries as ‘guinea pigs’) with the theme of the Six Cedars animal connections was used in all classrooms, then the children would grow in their understanding and ability to self-assess in the various skills.
New Professional Learning: The most useful resource was each other! We used the time allotted to every inquiry participant by the school district to collaborate with colleagues. Within the primary team at Arrow Heights, teachers also paired off, so the two Kindergarten teachers developed lessons and resources which they could use with K’s, the Grade 1 teaching team paired together, the 2/3 teachers paired off to do the same, and as the Grade 4 teacher, I oversaw everyone, and guided them through the Spiral of Inquiry process. Resources were created by each teacher team, plus contact was made with a teacher in the Delta District who had developed her own self assessment tool, which we were given permission to adapt.
Each teacher obtained the Six Cedars posters for their classroom, and we shared a couple of copies of the book, as it was important to have visuals to refer to everyday.
Taking Action: We found that every grade focused on specific ‘animals’ or Core Competencies more than others. For example, in Kindergarten and Grade 1, the focus was on Bear (Self-Regulation and understanding emotions), Wolf was also a strong focus, (teaching how to be good communicators and listeners). In Grades 2/3, the teachers told me that they focused a lot on Orca (Family heritage and understanding self) as it tied in so well with the Social Studies Curriculum. Raven (Creative Thinking) was also a strong focus. At the Grade 4 level, I introduced all of the animals and their Core Competency at the beginning of the year, and then spent a week on each animal, really getting to know that Core Competency. As the year progressed, each animal was a focus for the class at different times, depending on what we were doing in class. Beaver was key for my class, as we did a lot of group projects where collaboration was important. Developing Critical Thinking skills (Salmon) was also a vital understanding for the Grade 4’s, as coming from primary to intermediate, they had not used the language of critical thinking much before.
Tying Core Competencies in with subject areas, really helped the teachers to ensure that time was spent focusing on the animals linked to specific skills. For example, whilst learning about ecosystems in Science, the teacher would ask the students to put on their ‘Salmon Hats’ and use their Critical thinking skills and observation skills to figure out what animals and plants lived in the local ecosystems.
A key finding in our inquiry was that the language in the original Six Cedars was quite complex and confusing for the youngest students. Therefore, the two Kindergarten teachers co-wrote a picture book(with illustrations by our teacher -librarian) with a simpler, more ‘primary friendly’ story which they could then use in their classrooms next year. In my Grade 4 class, each ‘animal group’ of children collaboratively wrote a story based on a specific Core Competency skill, using Indigenous legends as their models. Each story had to include a moral such as ‘How Wolf learned to Communicate’ etc.
For student led conferences, three teachers created an ‘animal sort’ where the students would demonstrate to their parents that they could match the animal to the Core Competency, an indigenous picture of the animal, and a social story which demonstrated that particular Core Competency skill. This worked very well, and helped to teach the parents about the Six Cedars and the Core Competencies, as well as show the students increasing understanding and connection to the Core Competencies.
Checking: After all primary and Grade 4 classes using the Six Cedars throughout the year, we all agree that we have noticed a substantial improvement in the student’s connection and understanding of the Core Competencies. Students now refer to ‘Wolf’ when discussing how to be good listeners, or ‘Raven’ when using Creative Thinking skills. We used the Summative Core Competency self-assessment as our baseline, comparing how well students self-assessed themselves last year, compared to this year.
Overall, we have found that by using the animals from the Six Cedars, students can easily recognise what each Core Competency is, what it means, and where on the continuum they personally are. Even Kindergarten students were able to colour in their self assessment at the stage they feel they are at, which is pretty remarkable! Several parents commented after the student-led conferences that they were impressed how well even very young students could describe the animals from the Six Cedars book, and what Core Competency that animal was linked to.
Students are giving more in-depth answers to the four key questions, as they are becoming comfortable with self-assessment and reflection.
Reflections/Advice: In reflection, we have all gained a lot from doing this inquiry. We have grown as a collaborative team, and this was the first inquiry for many of the teachers involved. I believe after this year, all of the teachers will either continue the Spiral with the Six Cedars, or will be keen to start a different inquiry next year. The principal of the school has been impressed with what we have achieved this year, and wants the use of the Six Cedars to expand into the Intermediate grades for next year. We hope that the language using the various animals will be used widely throughout the school, during assemblies, on school announcements, as well as throughout lesson times, to really cement all students’ connection to the Core Competencies.
We have realised that it is key to spend several weeks introducing the Six Cedars and the Core Competencies at the beginning of the year. Once students have an understanding of what each animal represents, then the Core Competencies can be interwoven into every lesson and activity throughout the school day. Many teachers chose to focus on two specific skills for each animal, as they felt more than this was overwhelming for the younger students. However, at the Grade 4 and intermediate grade levels, I would think that all skills could be taught and discussed.
We hope next year to develop more resources, and we have already had other school district employees (such as the speech pathologist) demonstrate an interest in becoming involved. Teachers in other schools in Revelstoke are keen to learn more, so we are considering doing a pro-d introduction and explanation of what we have learnt through this years inquiry. Hopefully this would lead to more teachers getting involved and it becoming a district wide initiative. We hope to touch base with teachers in the Delta district who have been using the Six Cedars longer than we have, as perhaps they have suggestions for resources or lessons that they may have used that have been successful.