School Name: Edgewood Elementary
School District: SD#10 Arrow Lakes
Inquiry Team Members:Tracey Wallis
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOII (focus on core competencies, OECD learning principles, etc.)
Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Mathematics / Numeracy, Science
Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Differentiated instruction, Flexible learning, Growth mindset, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Inquiry-based learning, Self-regulation
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? To create a class of active learners.
Scanning: The scanning phase involved various activities placing students at the center. Tasks were given that assessed student cognitive strategies, how they viewed themselves as learners and if they valued learning with others, including their peers in the classroom.
It became apparent that students could not articulate steps they would take to increase their understanding. For instance, when given a blank sheet to explain what “is going on their head when they think” responses were unconnected and seldom went beyond making images. When asked for strategies for problem solving no student raised their hand.
During various subjects, student responses during reflection time often contained comments such as; “I’m not good at writing”; “I don’t think well” ; “I have never been able to read well”. These fixed mindset responses were especially applied to the subject of math, where only one student implied they liked math because they always got an “A”.
Attempts at small and medium group work often failed as students lacked the ability to collaborate with their peers, actively listen and generally respect one another as learners. During these activities it was usual to find one student doing all the learning while the others in the group were disengaged.
It became visible that students in the class were unable to learn independently because they lacked either cognitive strategies and or a mindset to travel into unknown territory. In addition, students did not see any value in learning with others.
In summary, the most important realization was that overall the class exhibited themselves to be passive learners as they viewed/experienced learning as a void that filled “for them”.
Focus: Class observation, activities and dialogue (whole class and one to one meetings) made visible what students needed to move students from passive to active learners. This included targeting four issues, fixed mind-set, self-regulation, cognitive skills and boredom. Within this focus, passive learners are categorized by their inability (or desire) to begin assignments on their own and the resilience to take steps either independently or with peer support to overcome obstacles independent of adult intervention.
My hope was to see a group of engaged students taking the initiative to promote their own learning and, understand the importance and value of collaborating with others.
Hunch: A) Small school and a multi-grade classroom unknowingly created a learning environment that was static
As a multi-grade classroom I believe the students had difficulty in respecting the learning of others (i.e. a grade 7 dismissing the ideas of grade 5). Their school experience also had limited opportunities for meeting “new students” as the majority of students in the class (16 in total) had been in the same class since kindergarten. The school contained two classes, primary and intermediate. This situation could have led students to make assumptions of themselves and others in relation to learning (and expertise).
B) Hunch: Students unaware of how learning occurs
A majority of students had a fixed mindset and were able to state with confidence what they have always been good or bad at, in relation to school. During activities to assess thinking students would often refer to another class member that was better than they were at drawing, writing etc. (connecting to the previous hunch).
New Professional Learning: As with any learning, my professional learning process was complex and it is difficult to narrow it down to specific resources. In reflection, keeping track of how the journey took place would have helped and will be implemented in further projects. The following is a base outline of how my professional learning occurred. It reads as a linear process but it was not – as I continually went back and forth between resources and identified targets.
I began with increasing my knowledge of how to create a dialogical classroom though group work activities. These activities would be centered on activities to promote a growth mindset and self-regulation. As the class was social I thought engagement would keep students motivated.
This focus led to reading Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom as my first area of study. I found this resource especially helpful in the concrete activities used to build a community of learners.
After creating this foundation, I began to look further into how to foster a growth mindset, especially with math, and the brain science behind it. This involved a multitude of resources including conferring with other teachers, Jo Boaler’s website youcubed.org and researching programs that focused on building a growth mindset.
My professional learning journey also introduced me to various Ted Talks which stimulated an avalanche of knowledge in not only these areas but, curriculum content as well. From here my professional learning became one of learning more about the subjects I was teaching –
Taking Action: The following is a list of the actions taken and their success. The ultimate focus was to create a classroom of active learners. The four identified issues identified fixed mindsets, self-regulation, dis-engagement (boredom) and cognitive strategies have not been separated into specific parts because they all be connected to the other. All of these actions culminated for the goal of creating a class of active learners.
Action: Began with doing the activities from the book Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom. This included providing students with specific roles during group work.
Result: When students were aware of what their role was they became engaged. Over the course of the year if roles were given student engagement was more successful. (* success was based on observation, students learning without teacher intervention). Student feedback at the end of the year enjoyed these beginning activities.
Action: Teaching students the “Question Formulation Technique” based on the book Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions.
Result: This turned out to be a great strategy for starting whole-group inquiry projects. It was successful in both self-regulation and increasing cognitive strategies. When done, students were not reluctant to begin their inquiries because the direction was determined by them. In the beginning of the year, very few questions were created verses the end of the year when students filled an entire page.
Action: Brainology on-line course.
Result: Students enjoyed learning about the brain and it stimulated good class discussions. It also was a great tool for assessing what students were thinking about their own learning potential. Some students felt it made them realize how many things they were capable of but, they didn’t enjoy the characters used in the course, feeling they were too “childish”.
Action: Explicitly teaching of “Thinking Moves” based Visible Thinking Website: www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/visible-thinking
Result: These were used continuously throughout the year. They engaged students in their learning and provided an assessment of what students were thinking. In comparison to the beginning of the year students became able to articulate what thinking move they used to increase their understanding across the curriculum from designing art posters to math problems. These activities were rated the highest during a year end assessment.
*** The following actions were the transformation stage – moving a student from a passive to active learner. They involve inquiry projects where students applied the preceding actions.
Action: Large Group Inquiry based on Big History Project (connecting to science curriculum). This was the first stage in the scaffolding of students to become active learners.
Result: All students did well in this stage. Specific roles were given and all work was completed with little, to no intervention. I finally became the facilitator! Time only allowed us to do five to the eight thresholds presented in the project and students not generally engaged in class were disappointed. This action, using an existing program with open ended application was great! The approach using on-line, attention grabbing videos (less than 3 min long) provided the hook many students in class needed.
Action: Partner group work on Climate Change using documentaries found though the Global Oneness Project https://www.globalonenessproject.org/
Result: Most students did well. Observations and notes detailed how at times one partner would become less engaged than the other. At times, students worked this out themselves and at other times my intervention was required. Whole class discussions after each documentary was where most learning was visible along with whole group activities. During partner inquiry some students had difficulty keeping motivated. (This led to further actions around design thinking to promote student empathy). A similar action to the Big History Project above, visual literacy as an instrument to engage the learner.
Action: Personal Inquiry based on Your Passion
Result: This action was the least and most successful. In terms of concrete output it was the least successful unless a they were doing specific activity regarding their inquiry. During this time, 1 hour weekly, students would often be transfixed to their computer screens watching a video related to their inquiry. Intervention was applied and specific tasks were given which, lessened student interest.
Checking: Students became active learners throughout various parts of the day, depending on interest, activity and general well-being.
My notes and assessments at the beginning of the year provided my baseline. They included discussions that only lasted 5minutes instead of the allocated 30 minutes because of either student disruptions or lack of participation. A mind map completed by each student in September showed limited understanding of what the brain does when thinking and/or solving a problem. An assessment from Brainology in the first unit showed that many students understood being smart or being good at something as innate and not a learned process. Continual off task behavior, poor collaboration skills and low independence showed signs of limited self-regulation.
Change was evident and clearly seen when asked to do an activity in May that was the same as one done in September. May mind maps from all students included over 80% of the thinking moves covered in class and everyone had specific evidence to support their thinking! An assessment from Brainology showed a marked improvement in everyone’s mindset (although, when asked during a one to one conference 3 students still felt they would never be very good in math – and this subject was specifically targeted throughout the year. Class discussions never reached the expectations I had (no 30-minute class discussions) but, they did learn to interact and become better listeners.
The limiting factor in moving students from passive to active learners was boredom. The inquiry projects that offered a strong visual literacy component were the most effective. All actions that were implemented were chosen because of student involvement.
Reflections/Advice: In the beginning I had thought that maybe opting for one specific focus, instead of the four identified issues would have been better. However, in hindsight and keeping with the belief that “everything is connected” I feel the multi- facilitated approach did work well, as each student benefitted from at least one or more of the targets chosen.
My advice for all educators is to remember one approach does not work in class with more than one student To remember that the learning community in your classroom is not only a complex environment but, an emerging as well.
In moving forward in learning to be an effective teacher I will focus on generating an emerging curriculum based on observation and evidence of student interest, activity and questions.