The Case for Teaching Integrated Skills vs Separate Subjects

I think that we need to have deeper discussions about the importance of teaching and integrating skills versus teaching separate subjects. This is important to help children experience success in school and beyond.

We should learn more about how to best teach the skills for learning across the disciplines vs the disciplines themselves.

This is..

  • NOT just because of the growing support for curriculum that involves application and communication,
  • NOT just because many students are bored studying topics in isolation,
  • NOT just because many businesses are advocating for key skills like problem solving for the future, and certainly
  • NOT just because it promotes more organic and authentic assessment opportunities….

BUT because the wicked problems we face in the world cannot be solved out of a single discipline of knowledge.

For example, our students won’t find much on the internet that merely pertains to one discipline.

This is not to say that studying the disciplines are unimportant. Indeed, subject specific areas are a means of obtaining a strong knowledge base, and answering essential questions.

In addition to this knowledge base, skills are the thread that brings knowledge and experiences together, and helps us to apply them to new situations.

That is why I think we need to seriously begin to look at the skills we need that help students to look at the world across disciplines.

When we help students to harness the skills, we help them to identify and recognize problems as meaningful contexts for knowledge. Students are then able to take different kinds of perspectives, and create new knowledge and solutions.

This is not without some serious issues however.

Here are some of the problems we face when we try to teach the skills across the disciplines vs separate subjects:

  1. It adds layers of fatigue for us educators. Let’s face it, our report cards require us to make sure we have helped our students to succeed with the specific roles inherent in each subject area. i.e., experimenters in science, essayists in writing, analysts in social studies and history. We barely have enough time to cover and assess the disciplines let alone start integrating them.
  2. Integrating skills across the disciplines is no quick fix. It requires greater planning and knowledge of the disciplines ourselves. It requires us to recognize and help students to draw upon the roles and characteristics of each discipline.
  3. We need to understand the main disciplines all at once to help students identify and create essential questions.
  4. There are no ‘thematic units’ available, with worksheets and final assessments and measuring tools at the ready. Measuring skills requires infinite flexibility, and no guarantee that all curriculum will be covered with each student.
  5. Ensuring that our students are well versed in choosing various assessment methods can be challenging. Particularly when we focus on specific assessment methods for each discipline. Students then need to be taught different ways of presenting their learning. Each discipline has its own ‘way’ of conducting assessments. ie., Writing up a science experiment, analyzing a text, writing a test – (I bet you can guess which subjects those forms of assessment could possibly fit into.) Empowering students to choose the best one for the skills they are demonstrating is challenging.

We can overcome these problems by:

  1. Ensuring that students co-create the success criteria of each skill, and that we always refer to them.
  2. Harnessing each discipline to help create essential questions for students. Prompting students to recognize when they have their own questions and let them come up with imaginative answers.
  3. Visually showing how the ‘Big Ideas’ connect to the problem students are solving. Then have students explicitly identify the skills they are using in each area.
  4. Recognizing that all disciplines are flexible. They are always changing based on new research, society and politics. Knowledge is ever-growing and changing. Students have knowledge to share. Student knowledge changes as they grow and mature.
  5. Allowing students to be assessed in different ways. Each student does not have to conduct the same assessment to demonstrate their growing knowledge.
  6. Harnessing the feedback that your students are already giving each other, and teach them how to do it effectively. Continually helping students to give and receive feedback. Make feedback part of the daily social fabric of the classroom. Make it a #feedbackfriendly classroom.
  7. Connecting the feedback with the vocabulary of specific skills that students use. Words matter.
  8. Helping students to have a growth mindset. We can do this by giving them appropriate scaffolds to help students improve their skills no matter what they are learning. The onus is on us here.
  9. Helping students take risks, and manage frustration. Too much frustration won’t help anyone. Teach students the skills to manage frustration, and understand that some frustration is essential to the learning process.
  10. Organizing our lessons around problems that need to be solved, then drawing upon specific disciplinary knowledge to help students solve those problems.
  11. Helping students plan for dealing with new information. Mental models work great here – not as a means to an end, but as an ongoing process.

 

What you can expect is that students will begin to talk and converse in ways that involve the key words, sentence starters and conversations that highlight skills. They will start to recognize that they have questions in the first place. They will ask questions that are meaningful to them, without worrying that they are asking the wrong questions. In this way, they will begin to engage more freely in problem solving, they will collaborate more with others, take more initiative with their learning.

Students will also begin to take more ownership of their learning, and begin to feel respected as individuals. Students will begin to understand that what they are learning has real connections to the outside world and what they are interested in. When they search the internet, for instance, they will realize that no topic is ‘just’ about science, or math, and that all issues are interrelated, and that they have it within themselves to ask questions, manage frustration, integrate their own knowledge, values and experiences, and make a plan for moving forward.

At the end of the day, the most important ‘answers’ are those that have come from the students themselves, based on their own skills. Not the answers from a specific discipline.

My call to action is for us all to consider how we can integrate skills within and across subject areas for our students. How will we help them to be successful in the world?

 

Deborah McCallum

c 2017

Professional Learning: Does it work?

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I have been doing some research lately into Training Evaluation, and quite unexpectedly have become intrigued at how we measure professional development and whether it really works.

A lot of time, money, effort, resources, blood, sweat, and tears goes into PD. We as educators provide and receive PD regularly, but does it change our learning stances? A learning stance could be viewed as our own theory of learning, which impacts how we will continue to develop professionally. These stances cannot help but impact how we choose to change, or not make changes in our own practice.

Sometimes, educators might believe that we have the ‘right’ way, or that ‘we know what works in education’, or ‘we alone understand what the students need’. I do think that these stances can become problematic, in that they can prevent us from learning, growing and evolving with our students. If we are thinking about student learning, in addition to justifying money spent on PD, then we need to think about this uncomfortable area.

Also, in education we may focus more on the design of the Professional Learning, including learning principles, sequencing of training material, and job relevance. However, one area where we may be able to improve includes an increased emphasis on trainee characteristics including ability, skill, motivation and personality factors. In addition to work-environment characteristics including supervisory and peer support. All of which have tremendous impacts on learning, and perhaps this is a reason why schools tend to maintain their ‘culture’ over time. It becomes more of a situation where the learning gets changed to fit in with the culture, versus the culture changing to retain new learning. I think that this embodies a ‘transfer problem’. Can we truly transfer our learning from our professional development, and if so, how would we measure that?

Some interesting information that I have processed include 3 prevailing strategies that can be used used that could prevent us from making substantial changes to learning. (I will need to re-evaluate where I found similar information).

I have re-applied them with my own questions about how we as educators possibly deal with new information.

3 Strategies to avoid Change:

  1. Finding ways to reject the new content we are being presented with
  2. Modifying any new content to make the changes less demanding. This includes modifying the content as close as possible to current practice so that we can say we already teach that way, and
  3. Pinpointing only the content that we can easily implement. This means that we teachers will use elements of the content that we can easily apply to our teaching without changing it fundamentally.

I can’t help but wonder what this all means for education. Myself, I can see #2 and #3 happening quite unconsciously. After all, learning is very hard. Learning new things is uncomfortable. It can be very easy to look at a new professional development opportunity assume that it is already quite similar to what we already do – thereby missing key information that could be important.

I have many questions regarding the 3 strategies as well.

First, are they merely proof of the human condition and how we want to learn in ways that help us to feel comfortable? If we remain comfortable, what are implications of this for our students?

What about our educational institutions? How can our schools actively create cultures where we teachers value this feeling of being uncomfortable with learning? Does this behoove educational institutions to create new organizational cultures? How can leaders work to shake up learning cultures that need to change? Who, or what variables, decides whether a learning culture needs to change anyway?

At what point can we take a step back, feel confident in what we are doing, and give ourselves that pat on the back for working so hard and having a competent learning stance? Can we do that? Should we do that?

How do motivation and prior experience impact whether we will allow ourselves to become uncomfortable with learning? And finally, how do we accurately measure the transfer of learning in the first place? Can our learning stances change?

Finally, if we knew the answers to these questions, would it change the way we provide Professional Development for educators?

Does PD work and how do we know?

Certainly a lot to think about. Much more than what can realistically be discussed in a small blog post.

What are your personal insights on this? 

 

Deborah McCallum

c 2016

 

Learn something new each day!

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Learn something new everyday. That is how the old adage goes. But how many of us are actually learning something new each day? Learning something new is uncomfortable. It is a process that cannot be isolated to one day. How many of us are actually learning new things, versus evolving and reinforcing what we already have learned?

As educators, we teach and facilitate learning each day. We understand the processes by which people learn. We understand the importance of introducing new material and concepts. We provide the strategies, feedback and encouragement to promote learning. We gradually release responsibility for students to take ownership of their learning. We even attend regular PD to learn new concepts, ideas, and more. Education is our passion. Our career. We are always learning and adding more to our learning frameworks. Forever thinking about our students and how to help them succeed.

Perhaps our teaching processes become so automatic that we feel like we have the learning process down-pat. However, sometimes I have to stop and think about whether I myself am also engaging in the kind of thinking that we are asking students to do in the 21st century.

Do I truly understand what active learning is, if I have not actively learned something brand new in a long time?

What does it mean to learn something new?

I don’t mean an iteration of the same learning and teaching we have always done. I mean something completely new. Perhaps something we have no background for. No context.

This is the point where so many of our learners are at when they come into our classrooms and learning environments. They are brand new to what is being taught, with no background knowledge, contexts, or strong frameworks to insert new knowledge.

There is danger when we forget what the learning process feels like for new ideas and information.

When we engage in Professional Development – much needed and so important- and we may in fact be learning new things. However, this can be easier than learning something brand new because we already have strong frameworks of learning build from our years as a student and educator.

Learning that fits into existing frameworks can make us stronger and grow. However, it can also make us forget what it is like to be brand new to a topic, idea or subject. We can forget about the power of talk, and forget about the power of visuals and organizers. We can forget that there are multiple points of view on many different topics and ideas. We can forget how lost and lonely it can feel when are forced to struggle with something we have never done before.

Remember what it is really like for our students to learn something completely new. What having a Growth Mindset really feels like, and looks like. What it means to learn something brand new, and at the same time learn how to integrate into new technologies.

So go out and learn something new today!

 

Debbie McCallum

c 2016

Feedback & Inquiry Twitter Chat Part II

Twitter Chat:

Thursday March 31, @ 9:00 PM  #ontsshg

Link to our new Wonder-Wall Part II!

 

//padlet.com/embed/9ks4mg4zwwrk

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On Feb. 25, we had an amazing Twitter chat that centered around the interconnections between Feedback and Inquiry in the #ontsshg classroom. A big thanks to Louise Robitaille for inviting me to be the host of this amazing chat:)

Here is a Storify of the chat: https://storify.com/24gizmo/the-feedback-friendly-classroom-oessta-chat

I had also created a Wonder-Wall for us to share questions, comments and other wonderings that you had about Inquiry and Feedback Processes. This is the link here: http://padlet.com/bigideasinedu/9eudhsqpcubc

 

The wonder wall was excellent. I think that largely due to the anonymity, we got a page full of valuable questions about feedback and inquiry based learning. I don’t think that we would have had these kinds of questions come up normally on twitter feeds. This Wonder-Wall really provided a place to be ‘vulnerable’, demonstrate a Growth Mindset, and not fear the very real questions that we take with us as teachers.

Also, I believe that when we allow our students to engage in this kind of ‘wondering’ activity, we get a sense of ‘where they are at’ in their understanding. Likewise, as educators, when we have these rare moments to ask anonymous questions, we can learn how to help each other move forward.

Hence, I did not forget about our shared wonder-wall after our last chat however– I am very passionate about Pedagogy, Inquiry, Feedback and Learning – so I stayed with it, compared it with our Storify, and created about 20 more questions that grew out of your own questions and wonderings. Unfortunately, I cannot address all of the questions in our next Twitter chat on Thursday March 31 at 9:00 PM – But I will add them as an addendum to this blog post, and our new Wonder-Wall.

My hope is that this is also a way for us to truly collaborate and work together to propel our learning forward on our journeys with Inquiry and Feedback – particularly as it pertains to the Social Studies, History, and Geography Classroom. Our next Twitter chat is Thursday March 31, 9PM #ontsshg

   

Here is the link to our new Wonder-Wall – and other questions (that won’t necessarily be in our chat on Thursday night) – but might spur some great collaborative knowledge building!!

 

JOIN OUR WONDER_WALL PART II HERE!!!!!!!

 

 

I really look forward to learning with you all on Thursday March 31, 9PM

If you wish to engage in any of these extra questions that I created, right here in the comment section of my blog – please do! I have other questions that we will discuss on Thursday.

A great way for us to build knowledge again. They could even spur on new questions for our wonder-wall:)

  • How can you implement feedback and inquiry processes in Kindergarten?
  • How can I give feedback to students that helps them to incorporate FNMI perspectives and ways of knowing in their inquiries?
  • If in a split grade, should Inquiry questions be kept separate for each grade?
  • Share any great strategies for feedback and inquiry that have worked with you!
  • What feedback can you give to help students, while in inquiry, to move to deeper levels of learning?  
  • What role does feedback play in determining how much information students need before and during an inquiry in order to be successful?
  • How can you use feedback and inquiry to properly challenge students who are gifted?
  • In promoting inquiry, are we using feedback and support to always guide students toward the Big ideas?
  • How will I know whether students are using their feedback to improve their learning?
  • For our final reporting methods, what could be the benefits of replacing the final report card with Portfolios full of meaningful feedback from before, during and after student inquiries?
  • Inquiry can take a long time, and not all students are ready to engage in inquiry processes at the same time. How do we differentiate for a whole class at vastly different places in their learning?
  • What feedback strategies can help students ask deeper questions?
  • What preliminary strategies are necessary to build the feedback frameworks necessary to conduct inquiry?
  • What conditions need to be in place to help students seek feedback?
  • There is so much curriculum. Where do we begin? How do we determine what part of inquiry is the most important?

 

 

Deborah McCallum

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The Feedback Friendly Classroom

 

 

Critical Literacy

Our students need us more than ever. Society needs us more than ever. Educators are key to teaching critical literacy. 

We want our students to think critically about the world around them. We want them to think critically about all information shared through media, and make sure that the information is bias free. Particularly when conducting research. Particularly when voting leaders. Perhaps most important, we want students to not be swayed into rhetoric that is damaging or dangerous to themselves or others.

This is where Critical Literacy comes into play. It is important to make sure that we are still helping our students to be caring, compassionate and have awareness of others and our planet. But what happens when we are tricked into believing that a website is fair and equitable? Or worse, what happens when a leader tricks people into believing they are fair and equitable?

We have a serious problem on our hands. More than critical thinking, critical literacy is essential to ensuring we keep ourselves and others safe from hate speech and other damaging actions. 

We start with our students.

In terms of the internet, sites like the ‘House Hippo’, or the ‘Tree Octopus’, and many more, have been used with many students, especially younger students, to demonstrate that not all sites on the web are what they appear to be. This is a great starting point.

However, often that which we are trying to understand are not this clear cut.  There are very complex media, messages and people that represent hate, racism, and use advertising ploys to manipulate readers and researchers. 

Even white supremacist sites can be cloaked as civil rights websites. White supremacist leaders can be cloaked as civil rights activists. 

People need to understand when they are being manipulated into using and believing information for learning purposes, and beyond.

Daniels (2009) discussed these sites as ‘Cloaked Websites’. They indeed look legitimate, but are not equitable, fair, nor do they promote compassion and awareness of key issues in society. Cloaked Websites are full of propaganda, advertising, politics, racism, misogyny, hate speech and more that converge together in new ways. 

How will we teach our students to separate facts from political spoofs? Marketing ploys? Racism cloaked as human rights? Authoritarian leaders?

This is very difficult for adults, let alone young impressionable minds to make sense of.

‘Cloaking’ relies on the naivete of  target audiences. It is easy for our young impressionable minds to experience the messages, and even harder to understand alternate agendas.

In terms of online media, here are examples of a cloaked sites:

Breitbart – Website for Nationalism and Homophibia

www.teenbreaks.com – Presents itself as a neutral site, but is actually pro-life propaganda.

www.forwalmart.com/about – manipulating customers into ignoring criticisms, and viewing them favourably to continue spending money.

www.canadianvalues.ca – Promoting a ‘Canadian Identity’ that excludes and oppresses.

http://canadiantimes.ca

And now all we need to do is look to world leaders and the messages they are cloaking for their own agendas.

I parsed out from Daniels (2009) some basic traits of  ‘cloaking’:

  • Selective interpretations of information
  • Unidentified ‘We’
  • Distractions that are not normally associated with the ‘agenda’ – meant to throw off the reader
  • Consumer psychology at play with ‘catch phrases’ etc.
  • Telling you that they have the ‘Real Truth’
  • Legitimizing aspects ie., pop quizzes, rap lyrics that make them appealing to youth for instance
  • mixed with political agendas, racism or others.
  • Legitimate sources are added in to fool the reader
  • They show up in the top 10 on Google
  • The website ends with .org
  • Authorship, Publisher, political affiliation – usually this information is not available OR
  • Author is impossible to find out without going to an external website
  • If Author is there, you have to scroll right to bottom which most web readers do not do
  • They may give the appearance of grassroots support
  • Have very convincing domain names
  • Graphics could be similar or the same as other reputable sites

I would also be aware of political agendas that are not necessarily cloaked – they are legitimate – but still serving to ‘trick’ people to believing a side of the story that is damaging to a group or groups of people.

How will we make critical literacy a bigger focus in our curriculum. How will we help students to evaluate knowledge claims on media? How does this extend to ideas? I am particularly concerned about vulnerable youth who perhaps lack self-esteem, or feel confused sexually, racially.

Indeed, at this day in age where our students are more likely to use Google than a trusted adult/educator. Our world continues to experience very serious issues of racism, homophobia, global warming, marketing ploys and political agendas of world leaders – and aspiring world leaders – we need critical literacy skills more than ever.

Where can we go to start this process of critical literacy skills?

Now more than ever perhaps we have to educate against stronger messages of hate coming from new world leaders. 
We have an enormous job to do as educators. This job goes well beyond parsing out fake vs real websites. 

Sites for educators to check out: 

Though we still need educated people to help legitimize websites, here is a list of some excellent sites of resources to help teach and learn about critical thinking and the web:

http://novemberlearning.com/educational-resources-for-educators/information-literacy-resources/

http://www.schrockguide.net/literacy-in-the-digital-age.html

https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/studentsuccess/thinkliteracy/files/ThinkLitComputer.pdf

http://tc2.ca/news/67/94/Snapchat-and-Twitter-and-Facebook-oh-my.php

http://www.etfo.ca/shopETFO/Documents/Think%20Respect%20Thrive%20Online%20Order%20Form.pdf

http://mediasmarts.ca/game/jo-cool-or-jo-fool-grades-6-8

http://mediasmarts.ca/digital-media-literacy/e-tutorials/respecting-yourself-others-online-workshop

http://tc2.ca/uploads/PDFs/TIpsForTeachers/cc_early_primary.pdf

http://www.readingrockets.org/article/using-read-alouds-critical-literacy-literature-k-3-classrooms

http://www.curriculum.org/secretariat/files/Nov29LessonPlans.pdf

http://faculty.uoit.ca/hughes/Contexts/CriticalLiteracy.html

http://oere.oise.utoronto.ca/document/promoting-critical-literacy-across-the-curriculum-and-fostering-safer-learning-environments/

http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/balancedliteracydiet/Recipe/50098/

https://www.ophea.net/product/cybercops-grade-7-mirror-image-teacher-resource#.VubDnNDD5a5

Please share if you have any great sites!

 

Deborah McCallum

 

Reference:

Daniels (2009) Cloaked websites: propaganda, cyber-racism and epistemology in the digital age. New Media & Society, 11, (5), 659-683.

 

The Underlying Stories we tell in Education

There are underlying stories that come to life when we look at what we teach and why we teach it. We as educators choose who will speak, what information will be highlighted, how the curriculum will come to life. We essentially choose what underlying stories we will tell when we choose whose voices will prevail. 

We often hear that we should include all voices of students in our classrooms. This is impossible.  When we hear that we need to include all voices, it can either make us feel very hopeful and work toward unrealistic goals, or full of despair that there is no way we can meet that goal. We don’t need this kind of pressure.

What we need is to ‘reframe’ what we are learning. Reframe how we interpret the student voices that we choose to hear. Perhaps choose voices from different perspectives and backgrounds, to change the underlying stories about how we make sense of the world. We may not even realize that the curriculum is only a guideline, or that we favour certain voices over others. 

Including ALL voices is not realistic. There are countless differences in the classroom, and countless intersections of differences. Next, even if we could acknowledge every single difference in the classroom, we could start contradicting ourselves.

The voices that we do include however, form together to create the ‘story’ of our learning. The ‘story’ of the people. The story of our curriculum, the story of our biases, stereotypes, and the story about who’s voices are the most important. Stories that hide a deep level of racism that we are unaware of.

Most often, we focus on the accomplishments of the privileged. The privileged people in history, the privileged students in our classrooms, the privileged problems that math and science can solve.

As a result, the underlying story becomes a rich account of teaching and learning that is one-sided, privileged, oppressive and non-representative of the many differences that exist in our classrooms and communities.

If we included and focused on other voices that what we consider ‘normal’, then our underlying stories would change.

But we need to stop and check our own thinking first, for instance:

  • If we have students of colour in our classes, do we expect them to speak to racial differences only? If FNMI students look white, do we deny their cultures and histories?
  • Do we ‘add-on’ books about women in STEM careers and call it a job well done?
  • Do we assume that people living in poverty chose to live that way due to laziness, or poor mindsets?
  • Do we acknowledge the stories from the working class in the creation of our history?
  • Do we assume that it is the job of a second language learner to assimilate into ‘our’ story?
  • Does our math lesson only teach students to solve privileged problems?
  • Do we interact with teachers and students in way that disrupts our story about what is normal?
  • Is it enough to simply say that the Aboriginal peoples helped out Canada in the war during a Remembrance Day assembly, and assume that now students have the full story?

 

The fact is that it is easy to assume that the ‘other’ student is responsible for telling his or her story, and responsible for representing all ‘others’.

Also, just adding books and resources can be dangerous too because we end up objectifying the differences.

We falsely assume that there is a storyline that we must adhere to – a story that tells us about what ‘normal’ really is in the world. What ‘normal’ learning looks like. What ‘normal’ teaching and curriculum are.

Twitter is easy in certain ways, because you can follow people who you like or agree with the most. You can be continually reinforced for your own story about what is normal. You can use twitter passively and not seek out that which truly challenges or upsets your teaching and learning storyline.

We need to construct new stories.

Innovation alone won’t change the stories. Edtech itself won’t solve any problems. We need critical awareness of ourselves and how each and everyone of us is part of the problem everywhere.

Our ‘normal’ story about Canada is that it was built and led by strong, privileged white male settlers. Aboriginal people were here first, but their perspective is not equally represented in the curriculum. This story needs to change to recognize and learn new stories about Canada from the First people here. This is most certainly a story that need to be released.

What stories do you wish were heard? 

Deborah

C 2016

 

 

Reference

Kumashiro, K. (2001). “Posts” perspectives on anti-oppressive education in Social Studies, English, athematics, and Science classrooms. Educational Researcher, 30(3), 3–12. http://jwilson.coe.uga.edu/EMAT8990/CP/AERA300303.pdf

 

14 Considerations for Inquiry Based Learning

 

Inquiry is essential.

The fact is that students come to school with partial knowledges.  But the curriculum documents themselves do not address the parts that students know or don’t know. It has been built to present to us about the privileged people and only the most successful moments in history according to those people. Textbooks, websites and other resources generally reinforce this. It may not represent the real stories of our students.

For instance, social studies, history and geography generally focuses on the privileged people who had the ability to win and ‘own’ history. Just consider the lack of focus on anyone who is not privileged in history. For instance, Women, FNMI, Slaves, Middle Easterners, and more. We hear about the achievements of the upper class, but none about the working class.

Just consider the fact that it was not too long ago that only men were thought to be able to think scientifically or mathematically? The last Residential School closed in the 1990’s.

Where does this leave our students who already know some of these things about the world? What about the students who have other equally important knowledge of the world as what is shared in curriculum documents?

This is precisely why Inquiry is an essential part of our curriculum! 

Without student and teacher inquiry, knowledges remain partial and limited. Biases and stereotypes prevail.

But how do you foster inquiry? How do we make it meaningful for students? 

14 important conditions for meaningful student inquiry:

  1. We create a culture of wonder for our students! Wonder walls, and wonder journals are just 2 ways to support this culture:)
  2. We lead students with Big Ideas vs specific expectations.
  3. We encourage questions! We encourage students to continue to refine and hone in their questions, and we model good ones for our students.
  4. We reserve closed questions for Google, but teach skills to help students read and synthesize information for open questions.
  5. We know that younger students need more structure. But as students get older, we enable very messy, rigourous and ambigous inquiries. This really pushes students to demonstrate flexible thinking, and metacognition, grit and more!
  6. We have clear expectations of students, including the expectation that they will need to demonstrate their new understandings from their research.
  7. We allow students to research that which is not ‘privileged’.
  8. We allow connections to their own lives –  even if it is not listed as a concrete expectation in a curriculum document.
  9. Sometimes questions require new background knowledge. Students background knowledge might be only partial. Therefore, we realise that we may need to take time with activities that help students build background information first. We know that teachers and students alike may need to investigate something completely new and uncomfortable first to continue!
  10. We emphasize the process of inquiry, and not merely the creation of the end product.
  11. We realise that different students will be focusing on different skills, and/or different numbers of skills. But we are okay with this because learning is happening!
  12. We hold students accountable to high standards. We expect high quality conclusions, connections, inferences and many other forms of comprehension.
  13. We – as in teachers and learners alike – are continually engaged in feedback and assessment FOR and AS learning processes!
  14. We become comfortable with the fact that this is not ideally done in 1 – 2 fifty minute blocks a week.

 

What do you wonder about the Inquiry Process?

If you have a moment, please take a moment to fill out this Padlet Wonder Wall:

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Deborah McCallum

c2016

In support of Libraries for Academic Success & Equity

Libraries are essential in building academic success and equity in our schools and learning environments. This is very easy when staff and students come from similar backgrounds and share similar languages, experiences and expectations. But what about the ‘others’? The one’s who do not share similar experiences, expectations, languages, and backgrounds?

First, what does it mean to have learners achieve academic success?

  1. Basic skills in reading, writing and math
  2. Basic knowledge of Sciences, nature, history
  3. Skills including critical thinking, analyzing, synthesizing, inferring, predicting, connecting
  4. Knowing that there are consequences for actions
  5. Flexibility
  6. Becoming a lifelong learner
  7. Participating in civic life
  8. Ability to keep up with technical changes
  9. Building confidence in a diverse and ever-changing society
  10. Adeptness at working and living with people different from ourselves
  11. Respecting cultural differences
  12. Embracing multiple perspectives.

 

Often, we as educators assume that we just need better instructional strategies to help learners achieve academic success. BUT, all of the best strategies in the world will not work if they are used in a setting where students don’t feel valued or don’t have confidence that they can succeed.

This is where Equity comes into play.

Libraries have access to resources, expertise and physical and virtual spaces to promote equity.

For instance, TL’s are skilled to organize instruction in ways that can positively build on relationships between students and classes. TL’s also provide adequate resources for students learning in first and second languages, and have the spaces to include students and value what they bring from home.

The Library also promotes citizenship, and helps students understand how we all came to belong. Library spaces have the power to address historic injustices, and connect issues of on-going colonization to the curriculum. The knowledge and resources make it more possible to engage all learners in meaningful discussions with historic specificities.

We simply cannot work with the ‘tools’ in our Libraries when we fail to understand the ‘why’ behind what we are doing.

Libraries are not about assimilation of students into dominant power structures. Rather, they are spaces with professionals who are able to analyze racial inequality, and understand that cultural differences are not temporary disadvantages that lessen over time. TL’s know that we need to go beyond ‘tokenism’ of the First Peoples in Canada. The onus is not on Aboriginal students and teachers to explain themselves.

Students who easily fit in with dominant cultural practices are fortunate to always see school reflected back to them, but TL’s know about social positioning, and work against normal power dynamics to hear all voices.

Further, new spaces, including MakerSpaces, are not used to continue to traditional narratives of education. Rather they are truly flexible and open spaces that promote other ways of expressing ideas and knowing the world around us. We don’t assume that Makerspaces are ‘what the world needs’, rather we help students make it about what they need. We help students connect them to what it means for be a respectable citizen in the world. We also allow them to be unpredictable.

Libraries provide extensive opportunities to write, talk and self-reflect.

Libraries are welcoming spaces.

Libraries encourage students to find ways of interrupting the social and ideological ramifications in which our learning is situated.

Libraries allow for discussions and assignments that trouble our already-familiar stories. And TL’s continually assess teaching and curriculum.

We know that we cannot merely congratulate white students for taking part in our national identity as being ‘helpers of the less fortunate’. Because this continues to put us in privileged positions that continue to marginalize our students.

TL’s are positioned to be aware of unconscious biases. Educators assume that we treat all students equally, but our attitudes often result in different outcomes.

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Students transfer what they know to new situations as they acquire new knowledge. This can only occur through careful planning, and active participation in school activities. TL’s are in the perfect position to help make intentional connections across settings and contexts. For instance, explicitly connecting what students learn in literacy with content areas. Ie., Connecting the reading and writing with the Science content.

Libraries are also open places for parents, and help encourage parents to safely share the language and ideas from the home. TL’s become very aware of students prior learning and literacy experiences, and work to build in opportunities for authentic communication in any language that is simply not found in any other spaces in the school.  This increases risk taking skills and develops safety and security.

We work to make challenging concepts understandable – not water down existing curriculum.

Academic Success is what we want for all of our students. However, all the best instructional strategies in the world will not help if we are not promoting equity. A signifant part of promoting equity is truly understanding the underlying philosophies of why we do what we do – and making sure that we are not doing ‘new’ things just to promote the same narratives that perpetuate privilege and oppression.

The Library is an essential space in the school that requires flexible and knowledgeable professionals who are willing and able to disrupt that which is familiar and promote equity for all.  To recognize the power dynamics that honour what is dominant, and honour other ways of knowing and being to promote true academic success.

 

 

Deborah McCallum

c2016

 

Commins, M. & Miramontes, O. (2006). Addressing Linguistic Diversity from the Outset. Journal of Teacher Education,57(3), 240 -246

Dei, G. & Simmons, M. (2010). Educating about anti-racism: The perils and desires. Our Schools, Our Selves, 19(3), 107-120.