Posts Tagged With: curriculum

Parents Said No to the Test

Two months ago, before Alberta Education announced that the province will be phasing out grade 3, 6 and 9 Provincial Achievement Tests, I was approached by a couple of parents at my school. Initially, I wasn’t sure how to respond to their question. They wanted to know if what they had heard was true. “As parents, do we have the right”, they asked, “to excuse our children from writing provincial achievement tests.” I’ve known the answer to this question for years but quite honestly have been reluctant to openly share it with parents. The odd time a parent had asked me about “excusing their child” I’ve encouraged them not to “for the good of the school.” A great deal of emphasis has been placed on Provincial Achievement Tests as the primary measure of student and school success in our province and each time we excuse a student it negatively reflects the overall school and jurisdictional results. The idea has always been to get as many students writing as possible. I applaud our superintendent Chris Smeaton for encouraging educators to maintain a focus on learning and student engagement instead of PATs. “Excellent learning is the important thing”, he says, “then the assessments will take care of themselves.” He has blogged about Provincial Achievement Tests here and here.

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What’s not really known is that parents can excuse their student from writing the tests; and it’s written right there on the Alberta Education website. The problem is that it’s like solving the Rubik’s Cube to find it, and there’s an unwritten rule that school leaders should refrain from engaging in that kind of conversation with parents. My fellow blogger Joe Bower has written about this.

So as I was standing there with these two parents contemplating an answer, this question kept racing through my mind, “Should I be concerned about my school results or should I be working with parents to determine what’s in the best educational interest of their child?” So, after what seemed like forever I answered and a lengthy and engaging conversation ensued…

Here is a short description provided by Alberta Education about the Provincial Achievement Testing Program:

Capture

(This year we had 52 grade 3 and 6 students in our English stream eligible to write provincial achievement tests. More than half of those students had been approved for some sort of accommodation – reader, scribe, and/or extra time. A great number of them were reading well below grade level and some were English Language Learners. Most of those students would be forced to take hours’ worth of standardized tests in a format mostly foreign to them throughout the school year.)

…the day after our conversation the two parents mentioned above presented me with a letter excusing their children from participating in the Provincial Achievement Testing program this year. Not only did they feel their decision was adequately informed, they also knew their children’s teachers would provide them with other forms of evidence that the curriculum would be effectively assessed as had been the case throughout the year.

The next day 3 more parents dropped off letters excusing their children from writing as well. Apparently, parents started having the achievement test discussion with one another and the word was travelling fast. By the end of the week almost half of the 52 students had been excused by their parents.

As parents approached me for advice I did what my role as school principal calls for me to do. I assisted each parent in making an informed decision for their child. I directed them to the Alberta Education website, encouraging them to review the Achievement Tests link on the Parents Page. I shared the Framework for Student Learning which outlines the future direction for education in our province and demonstrates the need for a more relevant form of assessment for today’s learners. I even encouraged them to speak with other parents who were also struggling with the decision about what to do. It was not my role to decide for them, rather to arm them with as much information as possible in making the decision for themselves (and their child). A few common questions surfaced, like “If they don’t write will it affect their mark in any way” and “If they don’t write will it affect their placement next year.” The only answer I could give was no. Another reoccurring comment was, “I never knew I had a choice.”

When all was said and done the parents said no to the test – all 52 of them. Each and every one provided me with signed consent excusing their child from writing the 2012-13 Provincial Achievement Tests.

And in place of the PATs the students experienced some amazing learning:

Genius Hour Proposal – idea borrowed from Kirsten Tschofen (@KirstenTP) and her blog post at SOMEWHERE FROM HERE

Genius Hour Animoto Clip

Categories: Community Engagement, Education Transformation, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Moving to Central Office & Staying Student Centred

Over the summer I will be transitioning from my role as a school based administrator and moving into a system wide, central office position. After 14 years as a principal I feel up to the new challenge, however along with all the normal feelings associated with any significant job change comes the realization that my new assignment will take me one step further away from direct contact with kids. This is not settling well with me because the reason I entered the teaching profession in the first place was to work (directly) with kids and to make a difference in their lives. Many would say that district level administrators, far removed from daily classroom life, are no longer in the best position to make important decisions that directly affect the students they serve. In the past I’ve remained tight-lipped as those in the trenches complained about directives being forced on them by the higher-ups who “Don’t know what it’s like to teach anymore.”

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This leaves me worried that it may be difficult to maintain a focus on student learning as I fall deeper into the role of Assistant Superintendent. What if the “administrative” stuff overwhelms me? What if I slowly but surely entrench myself under piles of paperwork in an office? What if I become exactly what those disgruntled were talking about not so long ago? That’s not going to happen to me! So, I’ve come up with a couple of lists that I will endeavor to live by in the coming months and years. The first is a list of the big ideas I hope to stay focused on and the second is a list of the little extra things I hope to do day in and day out.

List 1 – My Professional List

  1. Recruit and hire the most forward thinking, innovative teachers who will effectively engage todays students.
  2. Work with principals and teachers to develop collaborative and reflective instructional supervision and evaluation programs in order to build capacity in all teachers.
  3. Provide in-service to principals and teachers on ways to better engage today’s learners, focussing on the Framework for Student Learning.
  4. Model and demonstrate broad involvement and collective responsibility for student learning.
  5. When directing resources always consider the most at-risk students first.

List 2 – My Personal List

  1. Switch from a Dell to a MacBook Air because that’s what most students are using.
  2. Attend celebrations, assemblies, sporting events, concerts, and graduations.
  3. Conduct classroom walkthroughs in every school consistently throughout the year, talking to students about their learning.
  4. Consult with my two daughters (11 and 13) often and always.
  5. Keep Tweeting. Keep blogging.

I’m not sure exactly where the future will take me. I can only hope and pray that I leave this profession some day in the same way I entered it; making a difference in the lives of kids.

Categories: Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

And So Test Prep Season Begins

This past week parent/teacher conferences were held at our school. It was an opportunity for teachers and students to share the many engaging learning experiences they’ve been involved in this year. This interactive timeline outlines some of them. I am so proud of my teachers for trying a variety of new approaches in order to engage our learners in a more relevant way. It’s exciting to walk around the school and see teaching and learning as I never have before.

Awhile back I wrote a post called Is Curriculum Thwarting Transformation? There, I argued that our provinces oversized curriculum is getting in the way of teachers trying to dig deeper into key learner outcomes through real world, authentic learning experiences. In order to get everything “covered” by the end of the year they have no choice but to skim the surface of important outcomes so students will at least have touched on everything. As we all know, that means staying at the lower end of Blooms Taxonomy. And if you’re a grade 3, 6 or 9 teacher with Provincial Achievement Tests staring you in the face, that ups the ante even more.

So with the final term underway at our elementary school, the grade 3 and 6 teachers are starting to prep for the test. Our superintendent @cdsmeaton has always told us that the PATs should not affect our teaching practice. “I am a staunch believer”, he tells us, “that a focus on excellent teaching will lead to excellent results, no matter how it’s measured.” I tell them the same thing. But it doesn’t quite play out that way in the mind of the individual teacher. PATs, existing as they are, leave teachers with a strong sense of responsibility to prepare their students to write them; and as long as the tests are administered in such a way that has very little to do with the type of learning teachers are being called upon to engage in, there will be a bit of an exit from engaging learning around this time every year.

Heres what I’m getting at:

Below is a question from the 2009 Grade 6 Social Studies PAT: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

EquityThe assignment below took place earlier this year at my school, addressing the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Equity vs Equality

Teacher Blog Post to Students

Student Response

Student Response

And yet another project addressing the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Here is another question from the 2009 Grade 6 ELA Provincial Achievement Test: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

Simile

The assignment below addressed the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Rachels Simile Post

Yet another question from the 2009 Grade 6 ELA Provincial Achievement Test: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

Reading Response

The blog post below addressed the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Michelle Reading Response

Many would say that my teachers should continue with these engaging and authentic learning experiences and the PATS will take care of themselves. The problem is that it takes time; much more time than is left over once the curriculum gets “covered.” Time that will now be needed to skim the surface, to prep for the test, to write the test, and to deal with a great deal of unneeded stress.

Is it fair to ask teachers and students to do both?

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Don’t Just “Cover” Curriculum

In our province the English Language Arts curriculum is loaded with numerous outcomes at every grade level. While looking through these outcomes last week my attention was drawn to the concept of  clarifying and extending thoughts and ideas, which is included throughout the K – 9 Program of Study. In grade 5, for example, students are expected to be able to clarify and extend by:

1. seeking others’ viewpoints to build on personal responses and understanding

2. combining ideas by using talk, notes, and personal writing to explore relationships among their own ideas and those of others, and

3. extending understanding by searching for further ideas and information from others.

Not only are teachers expected to “cover” these (and all other) prescribed outcomes, today we are wanting them to do it in such a way that 21st century competencies are being built at the same time.  I blogged about the difficulty with this earlier. What follows is a simple yet innovative example of how these outcomes are being met through competency based learning.

Earlier this year our grade 5s connected with Mrs. Gray’s grade 5 class in Canton, Michigan through our school Twitter account. We got to know each other by tweeting our daily experiences and commenting on blog posts as both classes used Kigblog. Shortly thereafter a Skype visit was set up and the students were able to introduce temselves face-to-face. The level of engagement throughout these experiences was extremely high but the curricular component was missing.

Our current project, I believe, takes care of that. We are writing a story together using a Google Doc. Our students came up with a title and wrote the first part of the story. That alone was an exercise in creativity, collaboration, digital literacy, and problem solving. We then sent the link to Canton, where they edited and illustrated our writing, then extended the story by a couple of paragraphs. They have now returned it to us and the students are highly engaged in illustrating and writing again. This is what I call authentic literacy, calling upon students to utilize higher order thinking skills and build important competencies they will need in the future. Here is a link to the shared story as it currently exists.

I think we have effectively addressed the outcomes listed above, and made them relevant to the students. A number of these learning opportunities are out there for our students. As teachers, we just have to go looking for them.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Give Your Library Books a 90 Degree Turn

Last week we made one small change in our school library/media centre that immediately paid big dividends with student engagement. We’ve been spending the past few months transforming our library to one that better meets the needs of today’s learner, and along the way have been tweeking as we go.

During that time our paper collection has been downsized somewhat. Electronic material is definately increasing but providing a balance is the key. I have found that while our older students prefer electronic devices and reading online books through our Destiny Quest library system, young emerging readers still like to get their hands on books where their tactile senses can take charge. When these students visit the library we usually lay out a few books for them to choose from as it is difficult to navigate the packed shelves. We’ve been looking for a way to provide them with more flexibility and choice

So we decided to give the library a 90 degree turn. Now our younger students can easily browse and have the freedom to make the choices they want. It was neat to watch them the first time they encountered the new set up. The engagement level was amazing.

BEFORE

AFTER

Categories: 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Is Curriculum Thwarting Transformation?

My province is currently taking a very close look at curriculum. The reason for this is to ensure that the Program of Study remains responsive and relevant to students as our world continues to change.  Policy makers are committed to designing “Engaging curriculum that inspires every student, every day.”  They are also calling upon teachers to include learning experiences that build important 21st century competencies such as those I have outline in earlier posts. “These competencies enable students to understand their world, engage fully in their education, relate well to others, manage their lives wisely, and contribute positively to their communities.”

So here’s my take on our curriculum. If teachers are being asked to build relevant learning experiences while still meeting curricular outcomes we are going to have to make our curriculum more manageable.  Yesterday, I took some time to count the specific outcomes for each subject area in the K to Grade 6 Program of Study. Although there is some flexibility when it comes to the outcomes, any good teacher would endeavor to cover as many of them as possible.

Now take a look at this next chart that breaks things down a bit more. (and the 850 hrs is generous)  I wonder how easy it is to go deeper into each outcome and engage students in experiences that call for higher order thinking, inquiry, collaboration, self-direction, global awareness, etc., etc. I would say that it’s a lot to expect of any teacher in a system where school and student success is measured by standardized test results that are connected directly to hundreds of curricular outcomes.   

I think educational transformation would move along more quickly if teachers were not forced to skim the surface of curricular outcomes just to get them covered.

The amazing thing is that I see many examples of competency based teaching and learning every day, right in my own school. I also hear about many forward thinking practices regularly through my PLN.

Just imagine what educators could do if our curriculum wasn’t getting in their way.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

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