In the Ontario high school system we stream students in grade 9 and 10 into either academic / applied or locally developed and in grade 11 and 12 into either university / college or workplace / essential designated courses. When we stream our students, we create an “us” versus “them” mentality. We (school system, parents, society, students) create a hierarchy, which in turn makes students who are not at the top feel that they are not smart or not good enough. Why are we ok with this?
This past semester I had the opportunity to work with students who have many different post secondary destinations. Some will go off to the workplace right from high school, some will come back for another year, some will take a gap year, some will go to college and some to university. As a result my class became a de-streamed classroom and it was amazing.
Destreaming is often a bad word at the high school level. In the traditional method of teaching (the way it has always been done), teachers find it a necessity to work with a group of students who are similar in ability, who are working on the same content and assignments and who are all capable of working at the same pace. However, if we shake things up in the classroom and personalize learning, find out who our students are, what their strengths and weaknesses are the destreamed classroom can happen.
What happens when you destream a classroom?
When you put a wide range of abilities and strengths in a classroom, so many amazing things can happen. The incredible things that I witnessed this semester are proof that when you provide personalized learning, have students recognize their strengths and weaknesses and work to those strengths, extraordinary things will happen.
A.N.D. (Abilities NOT Disabilities)
Over the semester my class teamed up with another class at Woodroffe high school. Both of our classes had a wide range of abilities in it. My class was a grade 12 destreamed class, who were studying child development and gerontology and the other class was a Junior General Learning Program. Together we created a social enterprise called A.N.D. We focused on everyone’s strengths and worked as a group to raise over $400 and spread awareness about different cognitive disabilities. They had booths around the city, they made compost bags and fire starters to sell by donation, they made friendship bracelets and friendship beads to hand out and they spoke to younger students about the importance of kindness. Each person in both classes contributed in the best way that they could. The different roles included:
- Creating a logo
- Creating a brochure
- Creating a twitter page
- Creating a website
- Creating a video
- reaching out to community
- Making the compost bags
- Making the Fire starters
- Making the friendship bracelets and pins
- Giving a presentation
- Creating slideshow for the presentation
- Organizing booths at malls, outside of stores and at City Hall
- Talking to people at the booths
Focus on growth vs comparing students
If we look at each student as an individual and celebrate their strengths and weaknesses everyone can be successful. For example, in my classroom each student comes to the table with different skills and abilities. Each student learns in a different way and should be allowed to flourish no matter what way that it is. My philosophy is to focus on the growth of each student rather than comparing them to others in the classroom. In order to achieve this, there is a lot of ground work that needs to be laid for students to buy in. The students who have not been successful in school still struggle with this, even though it allows them to feel good about who they are and what they can accomplish. Unfortunately, they have always been made to feel that they are not good enough because the do not fit the one size fits all “school” model and have always felt inferior to those who have had success in school. On the other hand it is just as difficult for the students who have done well in school. They struggle with not being at the top, their identity depends on it and are not ready to move over and let those “below” them have success. When we are able to break that cycle and celebrate everyone’s strengths magic happens.
The goal for me and the students is to look at where they are at the beginning of the course and track their growth. All students can learn about child development and gerontology in their own personalized way. I can meet them where they are, figure out what skills and abilities they bring to the table, where they want to go in life and see how we can work on and refine the necessary skills that they will need. For example, for one student, just coming to class and being a part of something might be where they are at right now. They may need time to build the confidence that was stripped of them over the years of feeling inadequate in school. If they are able to show up on a regular basis, participate and even do some work, then they have been successful and have grown. Whereas, another student may come to the table with a whole different set of skills. They may know that they want to go off to post secondary and will require certain skills once they are there. They can do projects that push them further in their own growth and work on skills that will allow them to be successful in their future. Both of these students can have success, it is not compared, it is about personal growth.
If we were to get rid of labels and hierarchies we will create an equal playing field for everyone. For some reason some people are not ok with this, it challenges their idea of what has always been and some how demeans their own value. I would argue that three quarters of our students / society have felt this way in school at one time or another, so why do we continue to value only a quarter of our population?
Thanks for unlearning with me 🙂