Posted in Why Unlearn?

Why not more Destreaming?

Screenshot 2019-06-18 at 4.04.45 PMhttp://www.thereckoner.ca/op-ed-is-grade-nine-too-soon/applied-academic-jeffrey-liu/

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)

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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 🙂

Cheers, Rebecca

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Posted in Why Unlearn?

Gas to Electric

habits

Last year I bought a new car.  I was driving a large SUV and wanted to find a car that was better for the environment and cheaper on gas – I live out in the country and do a lot of driving.  I really wanted a Tesla, but I didn’t buy one, here is why:

  1. Expensive
  2. Concerned about charging stations – if I wanted to travel from Ottawa to Hamilton (where all my family lives) I would have to stop at least once to recharge which would take at least 45 minutes and I usually don’t stop along the way.
  3. Limited infrastructure  – charging stations, concerns about charging it at home and at work etc.
  4. The fear of the unknown – I’ve only owned gas fueled cars before

I know that driving an electric car is where I need to go next, but when I bought my last car I wasn’t ready to make the change.  Ultimately, if I am going to drive an electric car I will have to change what I know about driving I will have to change my habits, I will have to unlearn what I know about owning a vehicle.  When it is time for the next vehicle, I will be ready.

In education we have a similar situation.  Many people see the need for change, but have not wrapped their heads around or come to terms with how to make the change from gas to electric or teacher lead / grade driven to student lead / reflective practice.

Five years ago I decided enough was enough and I made that transition from gas to electric in my classroom.  I went from the teacher telling the students what and how to learn to a facilitator that provides a framework, suggestions, guidance and support to students.  

As a gas fueled teacher I was the one always in control.  I had my students learning what I thought was the most important.  I had all my students complete all the same assignments and learn all the same things.  I assessed my students all the same way and I focused mostly on the content of the course rather than on skills.  

As an electric fueled facilitator I now expose my students to different issues / organizations, professions in the field that we are studying,  I let my students passions / interests drive their learning, I help connect them with community, I challenge them to get out of their comfort zones, I support them in creating networks that will help them now and in the future. I help my students find their passions and help provide them with skills that will allow them to pursue those passions all while obtaining credits.  My role is to coach them in their learning and to help them reflect and learn from what they do in the classroom. I have given up a lot of the control.

It has taken me five years to get to where I am, I get that it takes time to make the shift. Throughout my journey I have had many conversations with curious educators who want to make the shift. I have had the opportunity to share what I am doing at a few conferences and PD Days and the most frequently asked comment / question is usually, I love what you are doing, but how do I make this happen?  What I have found is this can’t be answered in a 50 minute session or over coffee.  Therefore, I am excited to announce that I am in the process of creating an online course / workshop to help guide educators looking to make the shift, but just don’t know where to start.  It is still in the infancy stage but for those who enrol, it will be a place to learn and understand your own why, a place to network with other educators and finally a place to brainstorm and reimagine your classroom. 

Who’s ready to make the shift from gas to electric?

Thanks for unlearning with us.

Cheers, R 🙂

Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

Dreams do come true if you persevere, my vision of an experiential passion based classroom have come true.

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As mentioned in many of my previous posts my desire for change in education was sparked by my own educational experience and my introduction to trailblazers such as Sir Ken Robinson, and closer to home Dr. Peter Gamwell.  They have been fighting the good fight for years (in a time when it was even more controversial than today) and paved the way for today’s educators to start making some changes.

I am motivated to make change for my students, but even more so for my daughters in grade 1 and 6.  I am on a mission to change the way we do school and have been experimenting within our current system to make some of these changes happen.  As a part of my experiment, over the past 10 years I have been busy researching about different learning environments and different ways of doing things that reflect our ever changing modern world.  

In 2014 some colleagues and I went to visit Westmount High School in Hamilton Ontario who are one of eight schools that belong to the Canadian Coalition of Self-Directed Learning.  

I have read articles and watched videos about places like the Independent School, The MET, Iowa BIG and High Tech High.

I have learned to use Twitter to connect with others out there and have become a part of a Professional Learning Network that I never knew existed.  I learn so much from this network, whether it is seeing what they are talking about on their blogs, podcasts or vlogs, joining in Twitter chats / discussions or meeting up for virtual hangouts with educators from around the world.  I get so much energy and strength from these people.

Every year the research has inspired me to try something new in my classroom.  Each year I slowly let go of the traditional and move to a more modern style of teaching. However, there have been huge obstacles. Working in our archaic system can be challenging, but this semester some of my visions are starting to come true.

My vision starts to come true: Experiential, community connected and passion project based learning in action.

At the beginning of February my students and I embarked on a new journey of experiential learning with our new two credit course that the ministry calls Child Development and Gerontology TOJ4C paired with IDC4O.   We have altered the name to The Experiential Passion Based Study of Child Development and Gerontology.  All my research and the experimenting with my other classes has lead to this course.  I have learned what works and what doesn’t work, what some of the obstacles are and how to overcome them.  Over the 10 years of trial and error this is what I hope to have as our focus in the classroom.

  • Student Driven
  • Exit Outcomes (Essential Life Skills)
  • UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • Technology
  • Entrepreneurial Mindset
  • Social Media
  • Authentic Audience and Community Connections
  • Course Content as a vessel to work on all of the above

Now that we are a month and half into the course we are starting to get into the swing of things.  Generally this is what a week looks like:

Monday

The first ½ of class is dedicated to “Monday Meetings” here we get into randomly selected small groups, play a silly ice breaker game and then we have a very informal discussion about “course” related stuff.  We talk about what has been going on with their projects, we talk about issues that they might be having, the students support each other in solving those problems or brainstorming for new projects. They discuss the outings that they had in the previous weeks,  they share where they went and what they did, what they liked and what they didn’t like. And finally each student fills out a weekly form that helps them plan for the week. They jot down what they are going to work on, where they are going each day (because we are out in the community a lot) anything I need to know about their week and how they are feeling.  I am supported by our Student Success Teacher and our former VP (she’s retired) to help run these meetings. I am SO fortunate to have the support of these amazing ladies to make this happen!! We will refer to them as mentors from here on in.

*Nerdy Teacher Alert* I’ve learned how to use a chrome extension called DocAppender and it has been a game changer for keeping me and my students organized in a PBL classroom.  Message me if you want to know more and I will tell you about it!!  

During the second part of Monday’s class we have a guest come in from the field of Child Development and Gerontology.  These guests give students a look into different careers but also to hear about different issues that they may want to get involved with.  So far we have had amazing people come into our classroom to talk about topics such as: Elder Abuse, Children on the Autism Spectrum, Adult programs for people with cognitive disabilities and an amazing Social Entrepreneur Lindsay Barr who has set up an organization called World Changing Kids (WCK).  

So far we have had two students get hired to work in a one to one Autism program and another one is working with WCK’s on a podcast.  My goal is to provide the students with some inspiration for projects and connections to the community by having these guests in.

Tuesday

Our whole class goes to Woodroffe HS to work with their Junior GLP class.  This group of students are between the ages of 14 – 16 and have a variety of intellectual disabilities. They are in a specialized program called the General Learning Program.  Every Tuesday we meet up with the students to support them in their learning. For our first two meetups we have worked on building trust and relationships between the two groups of students.  Below is what one of my students had to say after their first meetup.

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Our last visit started our first “structured” learning experience together.  We started a 3 day workshop (given over three weeks of Tuesday’s) by Parkdale Food Centre on how to become solutionaries.  We will continue these workshops when we return after the break.

 

Again, I am hoping to provide my students exposure to different career paths, meeting new people and potentially ideas for their passion projects.  So far we have a group of two students who are interested in spending more time within the Woodroffe HS General Learning Program and they have paired up with the Senior GLP class and will be joining them on outings every Friday.

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Wednesday

I have arranged for my students to rotate (every three weeks they change placements) around six different places.  In their rotation there are three different retirement homes right in our community and three different elementary classrooms (grade 1 EFI, grade ⅔ English and a grade 5 English) at the elementary school across the street.  We have been through one full rotation and started their second rotation the week before the break. These placements are hopefully giving them more exposure to different careers, but also an opportunity to learn about who they like to work with and who they do not.  Just like our connection with the WHS GLP group I had hoped to find more ways to inspire my students to organically find real world problems that they might want to try and solve. Like Don Wettrick I want my students to become “seekers and peekers rather than moaner and groaners”.

So, I got goosebumps when one of the groups came to me and said….

When the guest from NROC came in and talked to us about Elder Abuse she mentioned that one of the biggest issues for seniors is isolation, and when we visited the retirement home we really noticed that this was a problem.  So, we want to do something that will bring people together.

After brainstorming with one of the mentors about what they could do they came up with the “Mapping our Roots” Project.  The girls set up with the activities coordinator for them to have a slot on the weekly calendar. They went in for an hour after school one day, explained their project to any resident interested in listening / participating and then they chatted with the residents, asked them their names and where they were born.  They compiled all the information, bought a map and other items and brought it back to the retirement home at the end of the week. See what they had to say about it below.

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Another group is in the process of setting up a learn to curl activity for the grade 5 class that they visited.  These two girls took something that they are very passionate about and are working on sharing their passion with others.

Thursday and Friday

These two days are Passion Project days.  This is where the students choose projects related to the course that they will work on.  The project criteria follows Don Wettricks rule of three. Are you passionate about it, will you acquire new skills as you work on it and how will this project benefit others.  There is a lot of brainstorming and planning that happens for these projects. Once they have figured out what they want to do they must create a project proposal. In their proposal they have to create a detailed step by step process with short term goals (including dates) along with a final due date.  They have to connect course curriculum to their project and then they have to have it looked over and signed off by myself or any of the community mentors. Examples of some of the projects have been mentioned above. The projects are definitely not limited to working with people that we have worked with as a class.  Some students have come up with some really amazing things after a lot of brainstorming and soul searching. Some of these include:

  • Podcasting with Grandma and Grandpa.
  • Q & A style youtube channel about what it means to be a Muslim teenage girl in Canada.
  • Sean who wrote The Fault in our Education blog is going to accompany me to talk to a large group of teachers about his thoughts on education.
  • Organize a toy drive for two different organizations.
  • Working with Grandma to wash and style wigs for cancer patients.
  • Making students in our school aware that we have a gender neutral bathroom.
  • Creating a diversity calendar.
  • Creating a presentation on body positivity for middle school aged girls and going out into our community middle school and giving the presentation.
  • Selling clothes on Instagram to raise money for a charity.

The students are asked to chronicle their learning on social media everyday and then rap the week up with a weekly blog, vlog or podcast. (You can check us out at our class hashtag #TOJ4C). As well throughout the course they will complete quarterly reflections. They completed their first reflection right before we headed out on the break. I haven’t had the opportunity to go through all of them but if you are interested in hearing what two of the students have to say click below.

I am so pleased with how this course has unfolded.  There are so many things that I have dreamed about for my students that are now becoming a reality.  Don’t get me wrong there are still obstacles and keeping everyone motivated is not always easy. But, if I had given up on this 10 year long experiment when I hit roadblocks, this course would not exist.  So if you are trying new things out and feel like it’s not working, keep going, don’t give up because you are making a difference even if you feel like there are always obstacles, perseverance will get you where you want to be!!

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers, R