Monday, September 29, 2014

Fostering a Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck’s work in this regard speaks volumes about the power of belief. If students believe they can be successful, they will be. If teachers believe they have the power to influence student learning outcomes, then they can make a positive impact on their learning. It’s interesting how a rather simplistic concept has garnered so much attention in the world of education. Educators here and everywhere are humming this new buzzword triumphantly as the catch-all phrase of the 21st century. But is it really that new?

The power of positivity has been around for years. Everyone knows that having a positive attitude is a prerequisite for overcoming obstacles. So why the big buzz? Dweck’s work is now backed by research in the field of education, that’s why. The research indicated that students with fixed mindsets did not perform as well as students with a growth mindset. So it begs the question, how do we, as educators, foster a growth mindset amongst our students?

We start from an asset-based model. We look and wholly consider what assets students are bringing to their learning. Knowing our learners and capitalizing on their strengths, interests and abilities helps. Starting with the end in mind also helps. Where do we want to see our students at the end of the year? How do we effectively use learner profiles to encourage a growth, rather than fixed mindset? What other tools can educators use to be impactful and inspire learning? And are there old adages that, once proven, can be powerful ideas to transform the landscape of education?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Using Assessment for Learning to Design an Inclusive School - Step 1

Simple Rule: The school will employ effective, inclusive and research-based formative assessment practices in the classroom to positively impact student achievement and to align with Ministry and Board assessment policies. Designing a school with effective assessment practices requires articulation of those practices and development of a school-wide schema (Bain, 2007). Ontario’s Ministry of Education makes explicit reference to the positive impact of formative assessment on student learning in its recent release of its new publication Growing Success (Ontario, 2010a). Parts of this document mimic the CBAL model (Cognitively Based Assessment of, for and as Learning) as a ‘theory of action’ (Bennett, 2010) for implementation in the classroom. In direct alignment with the Ministry policy, our school board released an assessment policy with a similar approach. Also, the Ontario School Effectiveness Framework, a schema used for school improvement planning purposes, offers specific assessment strategies to use in the classroom. The document makes references to the use of ‘assessment as, for and of learning’, ‘feedback’, ‘learning goals’, ‘success criteria’ and ‘self and peer assessment’ as particularly effective formative assessment practices (Ontario, 2010b). It is important to note that often policies and government publications are informed by relevant and applicable research. In particular, the research on the impact of formative assessment is clear: • learning goals and assessment aligned with instruction affords greater learning possibilities (Dwyer, 1998); • formative assessment when used with students with disabilities enhances their learning (Black & William, 2001) and; • using, articulating and revising learning goals enables teachers to deepen their understanding of the curriculum and thereby affect student understanding (Falk, 2011). The research, government and board policies offer tenets of the same message: formative assessment is inclusive and positively impacts student learning and achievement in the classroom. The simple rule is designed to be used in the classroom to inform instruction and next steps. It is questionable whether or not a focus on summative assessment would yield similar results compared to formative assessment and its impact on student learning (Black & William, 1998). The value of focusing on assessment as and for learning is to scaffold the learning so that the student is better prepared and has a deeper understanding of the material which will be evaluated on the summative assessment. Sharing success should be a key feature in the design of this simple rule. Successful formative assessment strategies used in individual classrooms should be shared in ‘communities of practice’ (Bennett, 2010) to strengthen pedagogical approaches to impact student learning and achievement in every classroom.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Developing a Cultural Consciousness

Create, curate and collaborate – seem to be the new buzzwords for students learning in the 21st century according to @markbrumley’s recent blog post. Other c buzzwords that have also been mentioned in the past have been: communicate, and think critically. A 21st century learner would be hard pressed to find substantial employment anywhere without these vital skills. But this list is not exhaustive. In fact, I would argue, that an essential element is lacking from this list which is vehemently vital to our students’ future and would prepare them for a 21st century global society in which they will live. This element is not only a skill that students have to purposefully develop; it will also build their character and ultimately the societies in which they live. Today’s 21st century learner not only needs to collaborate, curate, communicate, think critically and create. They also need to be much more culturally conscious.

Cultural consciousness means understanding what defines one’s own culture – small c and big C and also how it may be similar or different than other’s small c and big C. Big C culture refers to religious denominations, patriotic symbols, language, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. Small c refers to the small things that we do such as family traditions or individual preferences. For example, I may be a Canadian of Italian descent (big C) who does not eat pasta (small c). By heightening our cultural consciousness, we understand people better and are able to make more meaningful connections across ‘big C’ cultures. Teaching kids this important distinction is necessary for maintaining a cohesive social fabric which melds the entire human race together.

A student in Canada may not speak the same language as a student in Afghanistan, yet may love to play soccer like they do. The more small ‘c’ culture we find in common, the closer the human race becomes to each other. Though the human race is diverse, we know that diversity can be regarded as strength and not weakness, such as has been evidenced in our rich multicultural and bilingual country – Canada. In fact, as we understand each others’ preferences, traditions, happiness, hardships, trials and tribulations better, we can relate and empathize with one another.

Social media has been blamed for causing rifts and divisions within communities and amongst people. But we must remember that it has also been used to unite people, to build capacity, to cause revolutions, and to raise our level of cultural consciousness. Though two people may not be from the same country or speak the same language, they may both like to watch old Tom Cruise movies on youtube. This is a trait which unites despite other differences. But we may not know or understand these small ‘c’ cultural quirks until we get to know each other better and realize that we are not really that different after all.

Our pluralistic voices all have one message – the betterment of humankind and societal development. It is our civic duty as educators to make students more culturally aware of themselves and their local & global peers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

How to make a Culturally Proficient School

As I entered my school building this morning, I saw that it had transformed into a Christmas building over the weekend. Garlands hung on all the banisters, a huge Christmas tree was placed in the foyer, posters advertising Christmas and Santa were everywhere to be seen. Ironically, I am celebrating Eid this week and there was no mention of this anywhere (yet). I do work in a school where the majority of the population may be Christian; however, the overwhelming presence of one holiday represented over another took me by surprise. I have worked at this school for many years and do typically enjoy seeing it decorated. This year I was somewhat startled by my preliminary reaction.

It is true, I did grow up in North America and in this culture, and Christmas is everywhere. And I do know that non-Christians also celebrate Christmas in some way or form. My husband lived in Pakistan until he was 16 years old celebrated Eid there every year and it is a big deal (sometimes 3 days long). When I looked at the Christmas decorations around my building this year, I thought about the minority of students who do not celebrate Christmas. I thought about their reaction to their own holiday and the perception of their holiday that they would be bringing home to their parents.

Becoming a culturally proficient school may very well mean, treating each culture equitably. On Friday during our subject PD day, Maureen Smith (a professor at the University of Western Ontario) made a presentation on how we define culture. She spoke about the idea of “drive-by shooting” and that this concept of culture should not be how we integrate it into our classes. It should be woven into the fabric of the school every day, all the time. How can schools become more culturally proficient in what they do every day? Having an awareness and understanding of other cultures is a start. I grew up singing Christmas carols because that is what I learnt in school despite being non-Christian. Perhaps we need to start broadening our base and see all cultures in the school equitably represented.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Principal as an Instructional Leader

On Saturday, our PQP2 class listened to an LNS presentation by Anne Macdonald on the key leadership functions of a principal. These functions included: Building Culture; Leading Change and Managing Complexity. Interestingly, the Ontario Leadership Framework mimics some of these ideas as well. The idea of the principal as an Instructional leader in the framework was echoed throughout the presentation in various ways. The idea of a principal as co-learner with teachers was presented. Though a principal has certain knowledge and competencies, he/she does not know everything. Anne Macdonald included a great quote which summarized it nicely: “The expert in the room depends on the question being asked.”

So it begs the question: “Can the Principal be the Instructional Leader and a co-learner at the same time?” Despite the apparent contradiction, I believe that the answer unequivocally is: “Yes!” One of the competencies of the Framework state that a principal demonstrates “effective teaching and learning.” As a teacher, it is imperative to demonstrate to kids that though we may be teachers, there are many things that we don’t know. In effect, teachers can be co-learners in the classroom too.

According to the LNS, a good classroom instructional task is “connected to the world, has intellectual rigor, involves substantive conversation and multiple entry points.” The role of the principal as an instructional leader according to the framework is to develop professional learning communities for school improvement. In order to do so, a principal needs to incite shared collaboration and ask questions to facilitate discussion. Those questions should be “connected to the world, have intellectual rigor and involve substantive conversation and multiple entry points.”

Therefore, in terms of being an instructional leader in the school, the principal mimics the role of a teacher in a classroom as a co-learner, asking probing questions and facilitating discussion and reflection.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Staff Professional Development

How do leaders in the school effectively engage staff in professional dialogue?

The NSDC (National Staff Development Council) delineates 12 standards for developing pd for staff. In this journal, I would like to reflect on Learning Communities and Collaboration since both are inextricably linked and they are the bases for moving a staff forward in affecting student achievement.

In order to be successful, the NSDC suggests that these communities meet almost every day. In my opinion this may be somewhat idealistic. However, a weekly or bi-weekly or even monthly meeting may be more realistic. I believe that teachers must decide on a focus area that their meetings should target. There should be some literature that is research-based (also one of the standards) available to explore for these teachers. The purpose of the meetings should be clear and the time allotted should be clear.

Collaboration in Learning Communities does not always have to happen face-to-face. Technology can facilitate online collaboration through the use of wikis, forums and google docs. Learning Communities are also not limited to staff within the school, but can also include teachers from the district, different districts and even go beyond conventional borders to include teachers teaching abroad.

According to the NSDC, collaboration (in PLCs) also satisfies the need for “social interaction that often deepens learning and interpersonal support and synergy for creatively solving the complex problems of teaching and learning.” When those conversations are purposeful they can be very powerful in changing practices.