Reconciling Assessment & Reporting Practices with the New Curriculum in British Columbia

The implementation of the New Curriculum in British Columbia has garnered a lot of attention throughout the world.  Our population is made up of Canadians, immigrants and refugees from many different places, with many different schooling traditions.  In my little school of only 328 students, we have 34 home languages.  Yet what we are doing to prepare our students for the demands of the 21st Century is bringing good results.

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Students are encouraged to ask the key questions laid out so effectively by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser in The Spirals of Inquiry.

  • Where am I now in my learning?
  • Where am I going next?
  • What do I need to get there?

Suzanne Hoffman, Superintendent, Learning Transformation, Ministry of Education emphasizes the significance of “unveiling the hidden curriculum” by deliberately teaching and assessing core competencies.  Deliberate instruction and reflection of  communication, thinking and personal / social responsibility skills have the power to transform lives of our students (SAHoffman, Nov. 15, 2017).  Mandatory self assessment demonstrates that core competencies are important enough to be measured and help students to learn about themselves as learners, to develop the skills required for collaboration and to supports the creation meaningful goals.

Aside from the students themselves, teachers have the most significant impact on the students in their classrooms.   Teachers in British Columbia have a high level of professionalism.  They  are well educated and have regular access to professional development and opportunities for collaboration.  As John A.C. Hattie aptly states in Visible Learning for Teachers:  Maximizing Impact on Learning ” (2013)  “…those teachers who are students of their own impact, are the teachers who are the most influential in raising students’ achievement.”    By making learning intentions explicit, teachers help their students to learn intended learning outcomes, as well as the strategies of how to learn.   The development of scoring rubrics with students or  a review of criteria prior to assignments or marking, helps students to understand expectations and plan their time.  The challenge for teachers is to determine those strategies and practices that will enable students to ask complex questions, problem solve, work collaboratively and persevere to find answers and discover future possibilities.

In the new curriculum students are given far more responsibility for their own learning.  One rationale is to improve student engagement in school.  Another is to create students who will be able to respond to the demands of the 21st century.  My son works as a designer in Lululemon’s “Whitespace” with engineers, scientists and technologists.  Beyond the frosted glass and carded access, he is researching how clothes impact physical performance and the mental and emotional perception of athletic ability.  The goal is to respond to trends, create markets and tailor sports clothing for 4-10 years down the road.  To our amazement as his parents, the childhood fascination with lego, trials riding, downhill riding, skiing, snowboarding and the construction of death defying jumps were the things that provided some of the rudimentary learning required for the job.  We can’t predict all of the jobs in the future, but the new curriculum sets out to enable students to ask and respond to tough questions and learn through engagement in the things they find fascinating.    Students are now responsible for assuming responsibility for their learning, engaging with peers to learn cooperatively and participating in evaluating their progress.

In the not so distant past, teachers aspired to be a fountain of knowledge and rushed in to speed up the process of answering questions or finishing explanations expeditiously.  Jon Saphier,  recently featured in a Webinar sponsored by Corwin (Nov. 13, 2017), suggested three ways to make learning visible and deeper:  Turn and talk.  Explain. Restate.  In the new Curriculum, we want students to take the time to think about difficult problems, to be comfortable being stuck, to engage in dialogue, to ask peers to explain their thinking, and to persevere until they discover their answers.

 

The shift from summative to formative assessment is necessary to assist students in this new role.  In order for our students to take more responsibility for their learning, they require ongoing feedback embedded in their daily instruction.  The focus is not on one letter grade but movement along a continuum to demonstrate growth in student learning.  The initial response was the development of paper based portfolios that allowed students to self select items to demonstrate learning outcomes.  The accessibility of technology has added several other layers and possibilities with the addition of pictures, videos and attachments with comment.

The Surrey School District has been using FreshGrade for the past four years to facilitate the collection of online portfolios to provide what Sir Ken Robinson calls “a continuous glimpse into each child’s progress that parents and students can share”.  It is one of the possible online applications that BC teachers like for the ease of use by young children and the inclusion of BC Performance standards.  The VSB is currently exploring how Office365 can be used in conjunction with various applications to fascilitate learning, store and showcase student work from entry in Kindergarten to graduation in Grade 12.  All school districts in British Columbia are developing reporting directives for implementation in September 2018 that will mesh with the new curriculum.

 

 

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Reporting has always included the aspect of what students are able to do, the areas that require future attention and the ways of supporting students.  The opportunities introduced by implementation of the new curriculum in British Columbia are the source of many conversations with colleagues, students and parents about how our system in British Columbia can become even better.  Let the learning continue…

Formal assessments continue to play a role in providing feedback about students and  Provincial assessments , National and International assessments provide a snapshot of student performance in key areas and, over time, can help to monitor key outcomes of B.C.’s education system.

From the Ministry of Education Website:

B.C. students participate in three types of large-scale assessment:

  • Classroom Assessment is an integral part of the instructional process and can serve as meaningful sources of information about student learning.
  • Provincial Assessments:
  • National and international assessments measure reading, math and science skills of B.C. students. Various age ranges participate and student achievement levels are compared with other provinces or countries.
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Circle of Courage Reframed

Artwork by The Douglas Fir Pod (Learning Community)

Norma Rose Point School is a Kindergarten to Grade 8 School that opened 3 years ago on the original site of University Hill Secondary on the University Endowment Lands of the University of British Columbia.  The School in located on Musqueam ancestral lands and named after reknowned Musqueam Elder and educational leader, Norma “Rose” Point.  Students are organized into nine learning communities of two to five classes of students.  Students and staff are encouraged to ask questions, work collaboratively and share their learning with peers.

The articulation of the First People’s Principles by FNESC, the surrounding land, the significance of the signing of the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement with the Vancouver School Board and the new curriculum in B.C. has opened our minds to learning about and embracing Indigenous ways of knowing.  Indigenous cultures demonstrated one of the earliest expressions of democratic structures of governance by problem solving and making decisions in circles that gave equal voice and power to all people in the group.  That is what we strive to do at Rose Point School.

Martin Brokenleg has been inspirational in Indigenous, as well as educational spheres.   His Circle of Courage  was initially framed as a model of positive youth development in the book Reclaiming Youth at Risk, co-authored by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg, and Steve Van Bockern.

As explained in the link, “The model integrates Native American philosophies of child-rearing, the heritage of early pioneers in education and youth work, and contemporary resilience research. Brokenleg et al. identify belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity as basic growth needs of all children to thrive.” (Brokenleg et al.)  It has served as the basis for framing the Code of Conduct at Norma Rose Point Elementary School.   

Students are challenged to think of their unique qualities and “voice” they bring to the group, as well as their responsibility to maintain the safety and nurturing aspect of the community.  Indigenous symbols that are meaningful in Coast Salish Culture are used to represent the big ideas presented in the Norma Rose Point (aka NRP) Circle of Courage.  Belonging is central to the definition of Community and symbolized by bear.  Kindness is used to put the focus on generousness of giving of self rather than goods and is symbolized by the whale.  Independence is symbolized by the dragonfly and represents our ability to take responsibility for our learning and actions.  The beaver represents taking responsibility for attaining goals to maintain health, curiosity and lifelong learning.

I came to Norma Rose Point as Vice Principal in January.  Of course this role includes many discussions about the whole gamut of choices made by students.  The beauty of the NRP Circle of Courage is it changes the conversation.  Students are able to reflect on who they are and the choices they are making and their commitment to the community. Discussion of restorative justice frames the process.  The goal is to help students apply the Circle of Courage to their lives in and out of school throughout their lives.

ADDENDUM NOTE:  For a powerful description of the First People’s Principles of Learning, check out Laura Tait.  Her explanantion with pictures and stories of her family is inspirational.

Challenging “Alternative Truths”

“Honesty is the best policy” is an adage that has been kicked to the curb openly of late.  The “alternative truth” is the actually emerging as “a thing”.   I was brought up with several “alternative truths,” but even as a young child I identified them as nothing more than lies.  I also knew that championing the truth was futile in some cases.  It was better not to ask questions.  However the question “why” didn’t disappear.  The people that I most trusted and respected were the people who told me the truth.

The ability of the “alternative truth” to survive, depends largely on the power of the person or institution serving it up as the truth, and how desperately they strive to sustain it.  However the quest for truth  is an long established practice.  The imagery of light is also used to explore the notion of truth, throughout many religions and social justice groups.  If something can bear scrutiny, we can hopefully re-emerge better – more just, more empathetic, more inclusive, more willing to identify similarities and more willing to value differences.

The study of history and political science in university taught me how to adopt a position, create an argument and then switch sides.  The facts and arguments you chose to expound or omit, allowed you to take both sides.  Yet, sometimes the facts were significant enough to define the truth or reality of that time in history.  There is no alternative truth.  Sometimes there are just fears and insecurities that allow people in power to manipulate with Machiavellian intent.  Our minds easily shift to south of the border, pre-World War II Germany or apartheid in South Africa.  Our minds don’t as easily shift to our reality as Canadians.  The Chinese Head Tax, the internment of the Japanese and treatment of our Indigenous people are all examples of that same Machiavellian policy that grew out of fears and insecurities.  Yet, if we never explore our history, we can never understand our current realities or a path to move forward based on understanding rather than ignorance.


I had an amazing week of professional learning this week thanks to Brad Baker and his team of inspired educators from the North Vancouver School District.  My friend, Latash (Maurice) Nahanee, was the first person to ever help me begin to understand the legacy of residential schools and other forms of institutionalized racism.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada brought the conversation into mainstream.  People such as Martin Brokenleg, DeeDee DeRose and Don Fiddler  have done an amazing job of helping us to understand why Aboriginal Education is necessary for us to understand our own history and the importance of changing our relationship with Aboriginal families.

On Wednesday night, Brad Baker presented at a PDK dinner meeting for instructional leaders.  He explored some of the ways how we can move beyond tokenism and engage in meaningful Aboriginal education for all of our students throughout the year.  This can be a basic as including an acknowledgement that we live, work and learn on Aboriginal lands.  Yes, this does mean that we need to find out who were the Aboriginal people that first lived on the lands we now inhabit.  Although I grew up in Vancouver and studied history, I learned relatively recently that I grew up on the ancestral lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh.

On Friday at the Professional Learning Rep Assembly for BCPVPA (British Columbia Principal and Vice Principal’s Association), I participated in the Blanket Activity for a second time.  This activity is very powerful and includes excerpts from government documents and statements from Aboriginal people.  Participants begin standing on blankets that represent Turtle Island in Ontario.  Blankets are manipulated or removed as the story unfolds, as are the people on them.

I participated in this activity for the first time as part of district professional development.  I read passages both times, that reflected Aboriginal voice.  This made both experiences very personal.  However the first time I participated, I was removed from the group relatively early when land was encroached upon and my blanket was removed.  From outside the circle, it became more of a cerebral experience.  On Friday, I was never removed from the circle.  I watched as others were lost to disease, residential schools, placed on reserves or lost status because they left the reserve.  The experience remained very personal and the feeling of waiting for “my turn” ever present.  I can’t imagine anyone participating in this activity and not empathizing with the fate of these participants in our collective history.

Brad Baker emphasizes when he speaks that goal of Aboriginal Education is not to inspire guilt but understanding.  Laura Tait’s video about The Principles of Learning is on my repeated watch list to focus my attention on looking at the world through an Indigenous lens. The inclusion on these principles in the new BC curriculum provides a meaningful way to engage students in learning that has taken place over thousands of years.  There is no “alternative truth” to what happened in our history.  Let’s participate in Jan Hare’s MOOC at UBC – Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education , keep talking and and learning, and step away from judgments and thinking that obscure a respectful path forward.  Most of all, to quote Brad Baker – “Go Forward with Courage!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Science of Art

Dana Mulder, one of the Tecumseh staff members, gave us the opportunity to experience the Science of Art last week.  She has developed a considerable amount of background knowledge through her work providing programs at Van Dusen Gardens and provided an after school session for interested staff members on dyeing wool from natural materials.  My experience to date with dyeing anything has been Rit dyes out of a package.  It felt like a whole new world was introduced.

Dana not only taught us about the natural dyes used historically but also the stories and collection of the plants and insects that they were derived from.  The Brilliant History of Color in Art by Victoria Finlay, Wild Color  and Quilt History also provide a plethora of information for further exploration.  We learned there are three types of natural dyes derived from three different sources.  There are natural dyes obtained from plants (indigo), those obtained from animals (cochineal), and those obtained from minerals (ocher).

We used ALUM as the mordant to facilitate the chemical reaction that takes place between the dye and the fiber so that the dye is absorbed and brightens the colour slightly.  Other common mordants are: IRON (or copperas) which saddens or darken colors, bringing out green shades; TIN to brightens colors, especially reds, oranges and yellows; BLUE VITRIOL which saddens colors and brings out greens and TANNIC ACID used for tans and browns.  Some dyes like walnut hulls and lichens do not require mordants.

I chose the cochineal dye, not for the smell, but for the story and for the rich, red colour.  Historically cochineal was a valuable commodity, only beat out in trading popularity in Europe by silver and gold.  These dead insects, hence the smell, are ground with the mortar and pestle into a fine powder that is mixed with the alum for a beautiful colourfast dye.

As a child I spent a lot of time with my grandmothers.  Knitting, crochet and embroidery projects were clearly enjoyable but also had a specific utilitarian purpose.  Creating clothing, decorating pillow cases and saving money were a driving force.  I learned to appreciate these endeavors and continued to pursue them and teach them to students as hobbies.  Dana’s session provided us the opportunity to consider the cross curricular connections implicit in the craft. Her dyes included crushed marigolds, dandelions, leaves and the cochineal insect.  Dana also provided information on respectful harvesting, although I have grand aspirations of our students stripping the ground of all traces of dandelions in spring to deal with this pernicious weed on our school grounds and use them for something purposeful!

The new curriculum in British Columbia gives educators the opportunity to consider the things that we do in schools through a new lense.  Dyeing wool no longer belongs solely in the realm of arts and crafts.  It becomes part of science, the stories of history and Indigenous practices, as well as outdoor education.  It also provides a high level of engagement that was able to keep educators at school after a week of parent-teacher conferences and preparing for professional development sessions the following day.  It continues to hold our attention as we shake our jars daily to distribute the colour and imagine the final outcome.  Special thanks to Dana for opening our eyes.  My Nanny Keenan would be thrilled .  She had fond memories of this long-haired sheep on the farm in Brandon, Manitoba.  I can only imagine what she could have done with these dyes!