Reflections from December 2nd, Professional Development Day
Parents today was a very thoughtful and learning filled day for our teachers at Belfast. We started our day talking about Literacy in a broad sense. The CBE has been developing its literacy strategy for Calgary Schools and through this work we have connected to our own beliefs about what Literacy is. We explored the statement: All students come to us literate. This statement challenged deeply. If this is true, what does it mean?
We have come to understand that literacy is much more than reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing and representing -- the strands we develop through our language arts curriculum. Literacy encompasses our personal experiences (physical, emotional, cultural and individual) that help us to create and make meaning of our world. Our belief that all children can learn is the based on the fact that all children come to us having already mastered many very complex tasks. Learning to walk and to talk, learning to navigate social situations and to understand their own cultural traditions are all learning contexts that our children have already shown us that they are capable and highly able to learn. We discussed how having broader view of literacy can help create more integrated and interconnected learning. It can also promote deeper meaning making than task that focus on reading or writing in isolation.
We looked to our environment for clues. If we believe students are capapble of lifelong learning, and that literacy is far more than reading and writing, what is the evidence that we can find in our school, and how are we communicating this to our community. As we looked at our classrooms and hallways with a renewed perspective we started to question whether what we choose to include in our learning environment is truly reflective of our beliefs. Comparing our gathered evidence to the CBE's Literacy Strategy we looked for correlation and areas that we could grow together.
Our school development plan is written around improvement of student literacy, focussed on a thin sliver of literacy - non-fiction writing. What we have come to understand as a staff is that even though this is the piece that we articulate in our School Development Plan, there is so much more that we are learning about and imlementing for our students. In the months to come we will challenge each other to approach literacy more broadly and to build on the huge capacity each of our students have to learn.
All students come to us literate.
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This past week some of our teachers tried a new formative assessment strategy.
The purpose was to adjust our practice and how we check for understanding in our classrooms. Students quickly learn to adopt the convention of raising their hands to answer teacher questions. Even our kindergarten students had difficulty waiting to be called upon rather than pressing to be chosen by pumping their arm in the air. Some scholars refer to this as "Playing the Game of School".
Teachers commented that "No Hands Up" is hard! It is hard because we develop ways of being in schools that are habitual, but don't necessarily reflect current beliefs about what teaching can be or should be. Some context: Our current model of education is only about 100 years old, and evolved in response to the Industrial Revolution. "Education for all" was not the goal, and schools effectively sorted students into those who would go on to higher education and those who would not. Think about what the function of putting your hand up in such an environment. If I needed to compete with those around me to ensure that I would move on or to ensure that I was seen as the most intelligent in the group, it would certainly fulfill that purpose. From the teacher point of view, it would likewise help me to sort students into the most capable and keen and those who were less worth the trouble. In current practice, we use hands up to train students to be respectful of one another, to wait their turn or to show readiness. We are beginning to realize that there could there be new conventions that accomplishes these desired behaviors while honoring all our students thinking and participation?
"When we encourage students to speak their minds some voices are initially barely above a whisper," (Reggie Routman - Read, Write, Lead). When we insist that all students prepare to be engaged we are saying that each child matters. We are being inclusive in a way that moves all students forward. We also change the dialogue from being about the right answer (sometimes an easy answer) to being about communicating thinking. Students who know they have to consider what they might say are thinking!! They are not passive, even if they are not the one to be called upon. When we can cultivate a culture in each of our classrooms that honours thinking we increase respect among our students while we demonstrate respect for all students.
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