Tag Archives: inquiry

An Evening with Dr. Jean Clinton – @drjeanforkids

Dr. Jean Clinton is a pediatric psychiatrist and advisor to the Ontario Minister of Education.  Yesterday she spent two hours at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium, speaking with parents, educators and community members interested in the well-being of children in our communities.

How are the children doing?  Is this the major concern and question that it should be in our country? Are we making our children (our future) our priority?

Her message centred around the importance of relationships in raising healthy, creative, curious and learning children.

Children learn through serve and return, serve and return.  They initiate, adults respond, they respond…

How do we become conversational partners in this back and forth?

How are we responding to the cues from children? How are children learning from our language, our facial expressions, our interest in them, our engagement with them?

Caring adult relationships and connections are critical.  So how do we spend our time with our kids?

Do we spend it “almost with them” while we do other things on our phones?

What is our connecting to redirecting ratio?  How much time is just “being with” vs. “directing and redirecting”?

Talk more, tune in, listen and turn off the TV!

While I was there to hear all of her message, I was particularly interested in her take on technology in schools.  Here are my notes on Dr. Jean Clinton’s response to a question about the use of technology in JK/SK and the remainder of the primary division.

“The use of technology in schools is tricky.  We know that we need people who are going to be skilled in technological ability and the best time to start that is, well, we know we can start the concepts of coding very early.  But we have technology now not just as a tool but as an interference.  We are going to need some courageous work, where parents are told not to text their children during the school day, and to trust the system to get in touch because the majority of texts that kids are getting in class are from their parents. 

But I think we need to take a stand and understand how very important technology is, but also how we are going to limit its use in the classroom.  For example, I am not a supporter of using iPads in the earliest years. The development of the brain and how the kids are making connections, they get mesmerized and pulled towards those iPads and it should be later, once the brain has developed further, that they should be allowed to do it.  It’s a tough question.”

We know that being outside and experiencing the natural world builds brains differently.  We know that schoolifying, ranking and comparing children can result in stress reactions. And we know that stress changes biology.

Our kindergarten curriculum rests on inquiry-based learning.  Is this what is happening in kindergarten classrooms?

We have to consider the research on brain development before advocating for the use of screens in the early years.

I know that I have much more learning to do on this topic.

Thank you to Dr. Jean Clinton for travelling to northwestern Ontario, and for sharing so much important information with our communities about how building those personal interactions with children is absolutely critical to their positive growth and development.

Resources:

Dr. Jean Clinton: http://drjeanclinton.com/

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A Vision of Effective Mathematics Teaching and Learning

What is your vision of effective mathematics teaching and learning in elementary school?

This is a new question for me.  This blog is Learning About Learning, and I have a lot of learning to do about mathematics education.

I am hoping you can help me.

Here are a few of the things I am thinking about right now.  What can you add to this? What have you learned in your own practice? What do you think about when you consider a vision for teaching and learning mathematics?

I think that efficacy is critical.  Students have to believe they can achieve at high levels.  Teachers have to believe that students can achieve at high levels and that teachers have the capacity to  get students to that high level.

Is mathematics skills (as I was taught), or is it ideas (as Dr. Marian Small suggests)?

Is math about making connections?  Is it important that we work with big ideas rather than teaching skills and concepts only in isolation?

I think students have to be able to choose the tools and strategies they need to help them solve problems.

It isn’t up to us to tell them what tool to use, but to teach them how to use many tools effectively so they might pick the one that is right for them in each context.

Math needs to be fun.  Kids need to be the ones doing the thinking. Teaching through problem solving can be very effective (problems are not add-ons).

Teachers need to collaborate with other educators, to share their thinking openly, to challenge the thinking of others, to read and write blogs about their work.  Isolation is a choice, and isolation is unprofessional.  Kids need the thinking of many professionals, not just the one assigned to them.

As I work through #mathleaderNEO over the next few years, I plan to grow this thinking.

I encourage you to share your ideas too.

Featured Image: shonk via Compfight cc

Notes Instead of Thoughts – From 3 Rules to Spark Learning

When talking about Digital Portfolios, both Dr. Alec Couros and George Couros talk about the place where you do your messy work and then the place where you put your best work.  Below is some of my messy work.

Sometimes you know you just need to keep things around to refer to and to think about.  I hope others will read and think about this too.

While flying this morning, I watched a 6 minute TED Talk from 2013 called 3 Rules to Spark Learning by Ramsey Musallam.

Right now, one of my personal inquiry questions is, how can we convince parents and our communities that the status quo in public education is a loser (to quote Michael Fullan)?”

How do we engage in questioning the current system of assigning two-digit numbers to our children, sorting them top to bottom?

How do we focus on creating cultures of learning, not cultures of schooling and filtering?

Dean Shareski responded here that we need talking points.  We need a clear message.  I am looking for those messages that will resonate with the public.  We need messages that will resonate more strongly than a Fraser Report or a PISA ranking.

Ramsey Musallam shows me that we can have powerful messages in 6 minutes.  His talk is engaging and entertaining and worth watching.

There were a few points that resonated with me.  I am simply note taking here, and sharing the notes, so that I am not alone in thinking further about these rich statements.

“Questions and curiosity are magnets that draw us toward our teachers, and they transcend all technology and buzzwords in education.”

Our greatest tool as teachers is our students’ questions.

Lectures can be dehumanizing chatter, flipped or not.

If we have the guts to confuse and perplex our students, then we can tailor robust and informed methods of blended instruction. (Just “blended learning” on its own isn’t engaging – it still needs inquiry, questions, trial and error, investigation)

“Snap me out of pseudo-teaching.”

“Students’ questions are the seeds of real learning, not some scripted curriculum that offers tidbits of random information.”

At this point I am reminded of the frustrations over the past two years in Canada, when it seemed impossible to get anyone to ask questions about the destruction of scientific data and libraries, the closing of top-notch research facilities like the Experimental Lakes Area, and the removal of environmental protection for our waterways.  If we want engaged citizens, we need to embrace the importance of asking questions.

Three rules for lesson planning:

  1.  Curiosity comes first.  Questions can be windows into great instruction, but not the other way around.
  2. Embrace the mess.  Learning is ugly
  3. Practice reflection.  What we do is important.  It deserves our care.  It also deserves our improvement.

Can we practice as though we are surgeons saving lives? Our students are worth it, and every student is different.

Four-year-olds ask why about everything.  How will their future teachers embrace and grow this?

Dropping out of school comes in many different forms.  

Students do not have to be out of the room to be checked out.

Graduation rates are a low bar, a false measurement, because there is no evidence of any engagement in learning.  Students who hate school and students who have learned to hate learning can walk across a stage.  

We need a different measurement of our success as a system.

As educators, we need to rethink our roles.  We are not just disseminators of content, but cultivators of curiosity.

Resources:

Three Rules to Spark Learning

Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions From Going in One Year and Out the Other

Let me begin with a huge thanks to @RoyanLee who suggested the @InquiringShow Inquiring Minds podcast in his blog last summer.

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It has been such a great source of learning for me, especially while out walking the dog, doing the dishes, folding laundry or even (yes, Brandon Grasley) while brushing my teeth!

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 9.14.57 PMThe January 2, 2015 Inquiring Minds podcast is all about positive thinking, and how it relates to achieving our goals for 2015.

 

I grew up with a grandmother who was a disciple of Norman Vincent Peale and “The Power of Positive Thinking”.

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But does “positive thinking” actually lead to a better outcome?

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Is this quote actually even true?

Professor Gabriele Oettingen  helps us to rethink our beliefs about positive thinking.

She challenges us to think about positive thinking as a number of different activities instead of just one way of being.

Sometimes, we think very positively about an upcoming event because we have had similar success in the past.  This type of thinking is based on reality, and it often results in better outcomes because it is a motivating factor.

However, having positive daydreams about upcoming events is linked to poorer outcomes.  Positive daydreaming can lead to relaxation.  Professor Oettingen suggests that people who frequently use positive daydreaming as a strategy, convince themselves that they are fine, and they don’t take the necessary steps to move forward in achieving their goals.

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Image shared under a Creative Commons attribution, non-commercial share-alike license by Angie Torres.

 

Mental contrasting“, however, is a technique that can lead to successfully achieving  some goals, while letting go of goals that you will not be able to achieve.  The important factor is building close connections between your current reality and your goal as well as your current reality and identified obstacles, and what is needed to overcome the obstacles.

The process is known as “WOOP” – Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.

The process is explained here: http://www.woopmylife.org/.  It’s a scientific approach to achieving the outcomes you want in life.

Can it turn your wishful thinking into the life you are looking for?

In the podcast, Indre Viskontas struggles with this confluence of science and “self-help”.  We are all looking for ways to help us achieve the things we want in life, but is this really science?

I would love to hear if this little piece of research helps you “stick” with your 2015 resolutions.

Could this be a helpful strategy for students?

Happy New Year!

Who Are You Leaving Out?

 

Why would we want to exclude other educators from our professional learning network?

Stephen Katz, in his book Intentional Interruptions, discusses the problem of confirmation bias when it comes to professional learning.  It is our tendency to “only look for things that confirm rather than challenge our beliefs and practices“.

We need to make sure that we are not looking for our professional learning in echo chambers.  We need to find the people who will challenge our thinking.

When we hear, “Let’s build an online community so we can share our learning”, it sounds like a fantastic idea.  It is a fantastic idea.

But when designing how that community will work, ask who you want to exclude, because as soon as you put your sharing behind a password protected site, you are excluding other thinkers who might contribute to your conversation and challenge your thinking – exactly what professional learning needs to include.

It is easy to share your learning and thinking openly.

Consider, for example, the Inquiry-Based Learning Project in Ontario, and their conversations on Twitter under the #ontsshg hashtag.

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They have discussions, vote on topics, document their learning on a blog, and keep it in the open for anyone else to join in the conversation, make comments, search, read, and remix.

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While the conversations focus on Ontario topics, anyone is welcome to join, to share, to learn.

Similarly, Lakehead Public Schools chose to share their collaborative inquiry work with the world on an open blog rather than excluding readers who might learn from their work.

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Before choosing to participate in an online community that excludes learners, think about what you are able to share openly with other educators.

There is a need for protected spaces to share private information about student learning, but if your purpose is to share your own professional learning and to grow as an educator, why would you exclude others from the conversation?

Why not make your thinking and learning visible to all, and model that learning for our students?

 

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Related: Just Make It Public! by Mark W. Carbone:  http://blog.markwcarbone.ca/2014/08/05/just-make-it-public/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digging Into Collaborative Inquiry

Over the past few weeks, I have been taking some time to dig more deeply into collaborative inquiry.

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 10.39.28 AMI began reading Jenni Donohoo’s book Collaborative Inquiry for Educators: A Facilitator’s Guide to School Improvement, which is a valuable resource for anyone involved in education.  It contains not only clear, research-based information about CI, but also includes excellent examples of how to facilitate learning through CI.

Image shared under a Creative Commons attribution license by ThinkPublic
Image shared under a Creative Commons attribution license by ThinkPublic

After reading through the whole book quickly, I sat down to dig more deeply into some of the ideas, and I was stopped on the very first page.  It’s here that Jenni discusses the two different types of challenges we face as educators.

“Technical” challenges are those we face regularly, and where we have set protocols and solutions to come to the resolution we are looking for.  We have the capacity and will to solve them as part of our daily work.

“Adaptive” challenges, on the other hand, are challenges that require new learning.  They are problems that old solutions don’t work for any more, or new challenges that we don’t know how to address.  In order to tackle these new challenges, we need to rethink what we believe to be true.

Shared through a Creative Commons attribution license by Nick Fletcher
Shared through a Creative Commons attribution license by Nick Fletcher

We have to “adopt new values and beliefs” (p. 1) before we can solve adaptive challenges.

As the world continues to change at an exponential pace, educators face more and more adaptive challenges.  The old models of “school” don’t work in our connected world, and our methods must evolve to support our students to thrive in today’s reality.

Adaptive change is particularly difficult because it requires that we reconstruct our understanding of our work.

As we work together to solve adaptive challenges, our thinking changes, and our way of doing business changes with it.  As we adapt to these new challenges, it changes us.

Image shared through a Creative Commons attribution license by B K
Image shared through a Creative Commons attribution license by B K

For me, one of my greatest personal challenges is engaging leaders in the notion that connecting, sharing, and learning together – modelling the change we want to see in our students’ learning – is important and worthwhile.

This simple explanation of adaptive challenges, and the fundamental change in thinking and acting that must accompany our response, helps me to better understand the difficulties we face in trying to adapt an entire system to the realities of the world today.

How are you adapting to new challenges in education?

 

 

 

What is the Purpose of School? Nova Scotia Considers Its Future

It’s perplexing to me that as Canadians we can unite at ungodly early morning hours to cheer on our hockey team as a country, yet when it comes to education we live on seemingly unconnected islands.

In my province, Ontario, we have just completed a “visioning” exercise, looking at how to move our public education system from “great to excellent“.  In the meantime, in what feels like a different country (because we rarely connect and share what we know), the province of Nova Scotia is about to embark on an education review.

Last week, the Province of Nova Scotia launched its urgent call for change.

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http://noworneverns.ca/
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http://noworneverns.ca/

The report states that a crisis exists that threatens the standard of living of Nova Scotians.  It outlines 19 goals and 12 long-term strategies that are needed to turn the economy around and stop the current decline.

Robert Sutton, in his recent publication “Scaling Up Excellence” demonstrates that using logical arguments to spread the need for change are often not effective, and we need an emotional attachment to an idea to really move change forward.  The Ivany Report, with the focus on Urgency and Mobilizing Strengths, has created this “hot cause” to “stoke the engine”.

However, critics say that the report, while strong on ideas, lacks concrete policy.

As an educator, I read the report looking for how the education system would be redesigned to meet the goals of “One Nova Scotia: Shaping our Economy Together”.  With a quarter of the population under the age of 19, it would seem that transforming an economy would certainly require a transformation in how young people were educated.  But there is very little in the report to suggest how this might occur.

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A small section entitled “Excellence in Education and Training” (combining those terms is concerning) suggests that a “rigorous curriculum review” and “setting the bar high” will hold Nova Scotians accountable for reaching their goals.

There is essentially no conversation on how a system of schooling, created with an industrial mindset, could now produce young adults who thought like entrepreneurs rather than obedient assembly line employees.

So what, then, should be the purpose of Nova Scotia’s upcoming comprehensive review of the education system?

In Ontario, we have learned that public support of public education is critical.  In our three priorities, raising the bar, lowering the gap and securing accountability, we have focused on how, as a province, we can believe in what we are doing as being the best for our students.

At the same time, research must be central to learning.  So what, then, is the role of public consultation?

Perhaps the real question Nova Scotians need to answer is “What is School for?” How can we possibly determine what is working, and what needs improvement, if we aren’t in agreement on why we have schools in the first place?

Once we know what schools are there to accomplish, there is a world of research available to help move those goals forward.  High yield strategies like assessment for learning, and student-work-study teacher initiatives are well-documented.

The citizens of Nova Scotia,  faced with the findings of the Ivany Report,  now need to deeply consider their expectations, their beliefs, and their understanding of the purpose of the school buildings in their communities, and the reasons for the hours that young people spend there every day.

What kind of person emerges from the years in the school system, and what kind of province results from that education system?

As Canadians, what do we see as the purpose of school?

Further reading:

The Future of Schooling: Are Students Being Prepared to “Dance with Robots”?

http://educhatter.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/the-future-of-schooling-are-students-being-prepared-to-dance-with-robots/

Stop Stealing Dreams – Seth Godin

http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/docs/stopstealingdreamsscreen.pdf

What should a school be?

http://www.salon.com/2013/10/13/what_we_talk_about_when_we_talk_about_public_education_partner/

What Will You UnLearn Today?

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What did you learn today?

David Warlick often begins his talks with something new he has learned that day.  He frequently shares these learnings on his blog as well.

Every day I try to follow his example and think carefully about all the new things I have learned.

But sometimes we need to UNlearn before we can really see the need to learn something new.

A very wise AQ instructor once suggested that without even realizing it, we (teachers) often revert to “delivering content” basically the same way day in and day out, regardless of the audience – and often in exactly the same way we were taught in school.

When I started to examine my teaching practice, I realized that this was true.  She challenged me to shake up my routine, to collaborate on ideas with other teachers, to focus on the needs of the learners rather than my perception of how things should be done.

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I realized that my teaching style had been influenced more by how I was taught in school than by what I learned when I took my B.Ed.

The foundation of a teacher’s knowledge and competence comes from a teacher education program. But does Ontario’s teacher education system influence prospective teachers’ behaviour and thinking?

Do teacher-candidates change their practice as a result of their teacher education program, or do they default to the methods used during their own education?

Do the years of being part of the education system have more of an effect on practice than the teacher training program?

Student teachers arrive with views of teaching and learning, developed during their own time in school, that can distort their new ideas of learning during teachers’ college.

Research has demonstrated that the effect of teacher education on changing the prior beliefs and learning of student teachers is weak (Tryggvason 2009).


LEARN
         opensourceway via Compfight cc

But teachers now have to teach in ways that they themselves were not taught. Currently, as we consider 21st Century skills and the pace of change, there are more and more demands on teachers and what society expects them to accomplish.

In Finland,  teacher educators use reflective and critical thinking and the introduction of a variety of new and useful teaching strategies helps new teachers to question their current thinking and adapt new methodologies.

Teacher education in Finland is being moved into research universities, which reflects the understanding that the training of teachers should be done in conjunction with innovation in other areas.  This type of setting also assists Finland in attracting some of the best international minds in teacher education.

I’ve started to think more about what I believe to be true vs. what I know to be true.  How many of my ideas about learning need to be challenged and unlearned? How do we catalyze deep conversations about practice that challenge our default methods?

What is it that I need to unlearn today?

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 duane.schoon via Compfight cc

Further reading:

Learning, UnLearning and ReLearning

Hargreaves, A. (2000): Four Ages of Professionalism and Professional Learning, Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 6:2, 151-182

Kosunen, T & A. Mikkola (2002): Building a Science of Teaching: How objectives and reality meet in Finnish teacher education, European Journal of Teacher Education, 25:2-3, 135-150

Tucker, M. (2012). Teacher quality: What’s wrong with U.S. strategy?. Educational Leadership, 69(4), 42-46

Tryggvason, Marja-Terttu (2009). Why is Finnish teacher education successful? Some goals Finnish teacher educators have for their teaching. European Journal of Teacher Education, 32(4), 369-382

When Knowledge and Belief Collide

Recently I had a second opportunity to listen to the Director of Education for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, John Malloy, speak at a conference (#NOELonline).

Below are my notes (with personal annotations) from his presentation.

What are our beliefs as educators?

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Photomatt28 via Compfight cc

We have beliefs around what classrooms should look like and what should happen in schools.  Parents have beliefs around what they expect for their children.  There is a shared experience of what school is, and the ‘one size fits all’ approach is essentially the universal past experience for adults.

These beliefs have a stronghold on our vision for schools.

We KNOW that the current approach and structure are not adequate.  But shifting our beliefs to align with what we know is very challenging and tough work.  Changing the ‘rules of the game’ is most threatening to those currently winning at the game (just try to remove competition from classrooms and awards ceremonies for ‘top students’).

If we are going to shift, we need to support teachers.  They need to learn to use technology meaningfully to engage students and enhance instruction.  They need training in 21C skills, or should we call them 22C skills now that we are almost 15 years into the 21C?  There can be no easy outs.  We have to do the work and stop making excuses.

Teachers need to deeply know their students.  They need to understand their passions, strengths, and especially their needs.  Teachers need an inquiry stance that asks what they can learn from their students.  It takes a genuine process of integrating student voice into school planning.  How will we authentically know, engage, serve and learn from students?  What has to change to really do this?

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Kerri Lee Smith via Compfight cc

A student-centered approach to teaching and learning is only possible where the culture of the entire system is supportive.  What does this look like?  Focusing at the student level means that classroom decisions are key, learning must be personalized, and teachers need exist in an environment that allows them to do the work.  Classroom work must “bubble-up” and inform work at the system level to support teachers in determining and responding to the greatest needs of their students.

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If we want a culture at all levels that encourages continuous improvement (and we really need to think about that because it means constant change), then the culture needs to  promote and embrace risk-taking.  Educators are a vulnerable group because they have been seen traditionally as those with the knowledge.  Teachers need to understand that they don’t have to (and can’t) know everything.  They need to feel safe learning how we expect students to learn, taking risks, receiving feedback, and growing within that supportive structure.

Does your system work like this?

Teachers care.  They are maxed out on dedication and time they put into their profession.

We need to work differently, to think differently about the type of instruction, the learning conditions, and support teachers in the learning process.

“The only way to provide what our students need, is to collaborate together to learn from one another, to take risks, ask questions, experiment and respond to what our students are saying, creating and doing.  Support each other to be brilliant.”

Changing the Trajectory

What assumptions do we make about the life trajectories of the students in our classrooms?

Over the past three days I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to share in learning with the Northern Ontario Education Leaders at their fall conference #NOELONLINE.

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The pre-conference address was given by the Director of the Bruce Grey Catholic District School Board, Catherine Montreuil. I learned so much from her presentation that I went home that night, tossed mine in the virtual garbage, and began again, this time aligning my message for the next day with her very powerful approach to educating all children.

Below are my reworked and reorganized notes from the first hour of her presentation.  The idea that really stuck with me was the thinking around how to change the trajectory of the lives of the students in your classroom.

It is unacceptable for any child to be stuck and not learning in our schools.  

(Think, for a moment, about any grade nine or ten applied class, or about any child who is not reading.)

It is also unacceptable to respond to this  with “oh but …” statements, like “Oh, but that child is LD”, or “Oh, but that child came to us in grade 4 and couldn’t read”.

Every child can learn. If the child is not learning, our JOB is to figure it out and fix it.

Learning is HappeningPhoto Credit: Krissy.Venosdale via Compfight cc

We do not do this alone though.  We solve problems of student learning as a team.  We invite in outside professionals who view data differently. We take a collaborative inquiry stance and continue to try until we solve the issue.

Working in isolation as educators is inconsistent with professionalism.  We can’t solve all the learning problems in the room on our own.

We measure, very carefully, the impact of our actions on student learning, and there must be a positive impact on student learning.

We honour the fact that teachers work very hard and care deeply, but it is not about how hard teachers work, it is about the impact of their work on student achievement.   Working hard and spinning your wheels helps nobody. We need to do it differently.

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Photo Credit: Renato Ganoza via Compfight cc

We need to focus on building the capacity of the classroom teacher.   The triple P approach is a place to start: Precision teaching to student needs, Personalization of learning, and Professional learning around how to effectively use assessment data to inform practice.

All students deserve and need a trained, talented teacher who is doing precision work.  There is no evidence that working with an Educational Assistant strengthens academic outcomes for students.  Our students with the highest learning needs require professionals who can do the precision instruction that will impact learning.

When we step back and closely examine Student Success initiatives, we see that in Ontario they are primarily structural. Necessary, but structural.  It does not, however, result in sustained improvement in instruction. If we work on engaging reluctant students, and we can increase their productivity, and then we have something we can work with to move their learning forward.

Every student needs a personalized learning plan. If you we’re to walk into a classroom and “freeze” the room, for every child we should be able to ask, “What is she/he doing?”, and “Why is he/she doing it?”.  The answers to those questions must be to meet the individual learning needs of the student, based on observation, conversation, or other assessment information.

technology in classroom Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc

Assessment data + Thinking, collaborating teacher + Technology

Accurate assessment data, in the hands of a thinking, networked, collaborative teacher, using technology to personalize learning  and engage students can change the life trajectory for a child.