Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Innovating Through Student-led Inquiry Projects

Thanks to generous funding from the Vancouver Foundation, student-led inquiry projects are in full swing across the province. Students, with direct support from educators, are taking ownership over their learning in new and exciting ways. They are generating their own ideas about what they want to learn and how they will learn it, and often times, inquiry has become a powerful way for students to connect to history and build identity. 

For instance, Ecole Davis Rd. Elementary in Ladysmith (SD #68) is focusing their inquiry around introducing the use of an Aboriginal Value System to increase respectful communication and actions within their community of learners.  Pacific Coast School, a non-traditional school in Prince Rupert (SD #52) is focusing on the concept of stewardship.  Students will develop individual inquiries around what it means to be a steward of the environment, depending on the expertise of the Aboriginal Education Department and sharing the learning with the community Aboriginal Council.   Both school inquiry teams have been influenced by the First People’s Principles of Learning, developed by British Columbia’s First Nations Education Steering Committee, to shift their thinking around using wise ways to develop Aboriginal understandings.

School teams are also learning strategies that support developing a good inquiry question, and how to remain focused on that question throughout the learning process. City Central Learning Centre in Surrey (SD #36) is demonstrating this by providing students with self-regulated learning strategies to promote successful student inquiry in an alternative school setting.

We’re excited by the projects underway and how students, teachers and communities are coming together through inquiry and learning.  For a full list of school questions this year, click here.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Innovative Learning Environments - New Publication

Linda and I are looking forward to being part of the program at the upcoming OECD leadership conference on Innovative Learning Environments Dec 3-5 in Barcelona. Our contribution is focused on how networks of inquiry and leadership development can influence and support system transformation. There are some really valuable resources available on the ILE website including the recently released publication analyzing and synthesizing themes from the cases submitted from around the world. We are pleased that three BC cases feature prominently in this publication.

Another resource that is coming from the ILE  research study focuses on leadership and the kind of leadership that promotes and sustains innovation. We look forward to sharing this resource with our grad students (and anyone else who is interested!)  in the new year  and to thinking even more closely about how we can incorporate the international findings into our work here at home.

All the resources can be found on the ILE site
 Look for the BC cases - and think about how many other BC cases could have been included. There are lots!!!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

NOII AESN Fall newsletter

NOII & AESN November 2013 Newsletter


We hope that by now you are well into another great year of inquiry and learning.  Keep reading below for news about 2013 – 2014 NOII/AESN opportunities, as well as regional happenings across the province – and links around the world.  Please contact us if you have questions about participating in the Network and staying connected.

SAVE THE DATE – Spring Symposium May 2-3, 2014 Hilton Hotel Richmond
Stories of Change – Picture of Possibility: Innovative Leadership BC and Beyond
Planning is now well underway for the spring symposium and we will have additional details out soon about key features of the program. Richard Wagamese (author of Ragged Company and Indian Horse among other works) will be one of our feature speakers, as will David Istance, the lead researcher on the OECD study of Innovative Learning Environments and Chris Kennedy Superintendent of Schools in West Vancouver. We will also be welcoming school teams from Southwest Sydney (New South Wales) who have been working with Spirals of Inquiry and are looking for closer connections with BC schools. Lots more to share – just make sure that you hold the dates for what will be a great event and opportunity to come together to showcase the transformative work taking place across BC.

NOII/AESN Fall Regional Meetings
Regional meetings are looking different in different parts of the province this year – and in the words of a famous Prince George network team – “it’s all good.” The spirit and sense of connections across the networks are sustained through both face-to-face meetings and on-line connections. What is key is that we always find ways to learn from each other as quickly as possible and to deepen the professional relationships across roles and across districts in support of our learners. Here is what’s been happening in a few regions:

The northwest region held their opening meeting at the Crest Hotel (one of our favourite spots!) in Prince Rupert on October 11. Teams from Coast Mountains, Bulkley Valley, Nisga’a and Prince Rupert were there in full force, and the region was honoured to host Dr. Kim Schonert-Reichl.  Christine Franes commented: “We were so fortunate and so grateful that we had Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl join our meeting and share with us the valuable information around social and emotional learning for our students.  We engaged in her presentation in the morning part of the meeting, and in the afternoon we worked on networking and discussing our inquiry projects, and Kim also supported groups in involving social and emotional learning components in their inquiries.” Sounds like a great day in the Northwest.

In the Lower Mainland close to 100 educators converged on EagleQuest Golf Course in Surrey on the afternoon of October 22. Schools from as far away as Boston Bar and Lillooet joined teams from Delta, Richmond, Vancouver, Burnaby, Langley, Surrey, West Vancouver, Sea to Sky and Coquitlam to begin to share resources and ideas. We are grateful to the Surrey School District – in particular Joanne Chrona – for hosting this first meeting. We are looking forward to the February 11 meeting in Delta and the May 13 meeting in Richmond.

And, on November 6, the Mid-Island teams met at VIU. Teams from Cowichan to Port Alberni exchanged ideas and also learned more about ways in which they could participate in Healthy School Inquiries. HSN leader Lynn Brown explained the HSN inquiries will show diversity in areas of healthy relationship building, sustainable inquiry learning with a focus on community partnerships in physical activity and fitness. All participants appreciated the chance to hear about the various grant opportunities available through HSN. It was really helpful to have Daniel Naiman over to show the new healthy schools website and share the new options for participation in HSN inquiry. In Lynn’s words “Good time had by all.”
Innovative Learning Environments and Seven Key Learning Principles
As many of you know, Linda and Judy have been active members of the OECD international research study on Innovative Learning Environments, and this year, British Columbia has been identified as one of five international learning labs along with New Zealand, South Africa, Peru, and French Belgium. This is an exciting opportunity for all of us in BC as we are working to bring coherence across the various provincial initiatives with a focused emphasis on inquiry and leadership development as key to system transformation. 

The seven key learning principles identified in the 2010 OECD publication The Nature of Learning are providing an important framework for strengthening learning - and more personalized forms of learning - in settings around the world. We are encouraging schools to consider exploring these contemporary learning principles through your NOII inquiry this year. Please check out the Inquiry Guide and Inquiry Question Template. You will see that the Inquiry Guide outlines seven key learning principles that should be used to inform your inquiry. These are clearly described in the Practitioner Guide to The Nature of Learning.

AESN – Connecting to the Enhancement Agreement
The focus on developing teacher, support staff and principal commitment to realizing the goals of the district Enhancement Agreements through team inquiry remains a key priority within AESN. With the support of the Ministry of Education and through the sales of Spirals of Inquiry, there will be recognition grants available to schools focusing their inquiries on deepening Aboriginal knowledge and understanding for all students –and improving student outcomes – as identified in the local district Enhancement Agreements.  If your school is interested in this opportunity, please see this template for submitting the inquiry question by November 30th, 2013. 

AESN Student Level Inquiries and AESN Focus on Transitions
The response to the opportunity for schools to focus their inquiries on individual student level inquiries or on transitions has been really positive.  Click on the links for a list of the schools involved and their questions. We are very grateful to the Vancouver Foundation for supporting the individual student inquiry initiative and the Irving Barber Learning Centre for encouraging schools, especially those in rural areas to focus on the issue of transitions for Aboriginal learners. Schools in both of these initiatives have received their start up-grant and we look forward to learning a great deal from both these groups of schools over this year. Debbie Koehn is supporting the schools involved in the student level inquiries and is developing a resource that will be invaluable for teachers looking for concrete ways to involve students in exploring areas of deep personal interest. Stay tuned for the release of this resource!

NEW Website
We are planning to launch a new NOII/AESN website in the coming weeks, with easy to access information, links to stories and videos, etc.  More information coming soon!  In the meantime, if you have ideas to share about how you currently access information via the website and how to increase user-friendliness, please click here to contact us.

School Stories

Randerson Ridge Elementary Participates in Reconciliation Canada
We know that many Network schools participated in some of the events related to Reconciliation Canada in September. As Judy commented on the NOII Blog after participating in the Reconciliation Walk in Vancouver, “I was reminded of how much we have to learn as Canadians about our shared history - and how important it is that within our schools that all our learners have a chance to learn, explore and experiences Indigenous ways of knowing.”  Teachers at Randerson Ridge Elementary in Nanaimo did just that, using the Truth and Reconciliation events as a special opportunity to deepen and extend the knowledge of their learners.  To see just how impactful this experience was, click here to read how one Grade 7 student from Mary Lynn Epps class at Randerson Ridge responded.

Be the Change Conference
We are proud to share that Network member Doug David, teacher at Puntledge Park School in the Comox Valley, was invited to attend the Be the Change Conference in Ahmedabad, Gujarat from Sept. 24th – Oct. 1st this year.  The conference was part of the Design for Change global movement, designed to give children an opportunity to express their own ideas for a better world and put them into action.

The Elder Project – Update
Last June we featured some of the schools and districts around BC that have been involved in the Elder Project with poet Wendy Morton.  Rocky Mountain School District (SD #6) is proud to be launching their own book of poetry after all three of their secondary schools collaborated through the Elder Project during the 2012 – 2013 school year.  Wendy Morton visited with students and Elders at Selkirk Secondary, Golden Secondary and David Thompson Secondary, listening and learning from Elders and assisting students in crafting poetry from their stories.  Network Leader Angela Stott, who spearheaded the SD #6 initiative, commented that “Elders who shared their stories offered a window to deeper understanding of their experiences growing up in Canada as Aboriginal persons. The poems in this book are powerful and telling. They are part of our cultural quilt.” With the support of grant funds from the New Horizons for Seniors Intergenerational Project, SD # 6 was able to host Wendy Morton on October 7th – 9th to launch the extraordinary book in all three school communities (Kimberly, Golden, Invermere).  For more information, contact Angela Stott

   Because of the updates to the website, the case studies from 2012-2013 have yet to be posted on the website
for everyone to access.  We’ll let you know as soon as they are available. BUT, to tempt you with snippets from the many powerful stories that you can anticipate reading, we’ve included excerpts from two case studies below. Happy reading – and thank you to the inquiry teams at Pleasant Valley (SD 68) and William Konkin (SD 91) for sharing their smart and thoughtful work.

2012-13 AESN CASE STUDY - Pleasant Valley Elementary School - SD68 Nanaimo -Ladysmith

  “Where Eagles Fly & Students Soar”

Will the presence of traditional Aboriginal culture, language, and perspectives in the whole school setting increase Aboriginal awareness amongst all students?
Will the teacher collaboration focused on explicit learning strategies increase the academic performance of Aboriginal learners?

Our project originated with recognizing a school wide need to be more actively inclusive with new Aboriginal students and families coming from a nearby elementary school, which closed.  We noticed that these families were not as visibly present in our building or consistently participating in school activities. We also noted that many of our Aboriginal students were amongst our most vulnerable academic learners, specifically in literacy.

We have developed a school wide culture of multi-age clan groups that meet regularly to learn about Canadian Aboriginal culture, language, and historical significance.  Our clan groups are connected to the Eagle, Bear, Wolf and Whale & tied to the traits of belonging, generosity, independence & mastery.  This year we focused on Northern Inuit cultural awareness.  We also have developed, through teacher collaboration, writing rubrics and student exemplars to assess, teach and monitor writing development with all students. This year we used these tools and met to discuss successful teaching strategies, assessment for learning strategies, and make any improvements on our school wide rubrics/assessment document.

Over the past three years, as a staff we realized that we did not all have the background information to teach our students about Canadian Aboriginal history, perspectives, and present day matters.  We had an increase to 13% Aboriginal students in our school and we were not seeing pride in their cultural background.  Our other students did not have this cultural awareness either.  Teachers were reporting that many Aboriginal students had poor attendance and were reluctant readers and writers.

New Professional Learning
We organized professional development learning for our staff on Northern Inuit culture, both historically and today.  We searched out and bought literature and art resources.  We invited guest speakers and sought expert advice through our school district Aboriginal Team.  As a staff we continued to meet collaboratively to discuss literacy needs in the school.

Taking Action
Throughout the school year the Clan groups met to learn about and experience the Northern Inuit cultural history and present day way of life. We immersed the whole school for the first week in September in mini-workshops and activities to introduce this Aboriginal cultural perspective. We had monthly meetings with the Clan groups to further explore and reinforce this learning.  In May, we had a celebration, which started with Northern Games in the gym and then a gallery walk. All students walked around the school to see learning projects completed by every student. 

The majority of our classrooms had bi-weekly lessons on our local Aboriginal language with Elder Jerry Brown.  He also provided drumming lessons to groups. For our literacy focus, all primary teachers were committed to small guided reading groups and used the PM Benchmark assessment.  All teachers also followed the school developed writing rubrics and used the student exemplars for assessment and to teach next steps. They completed two school writes as well. Intermediate teachers used DART assessment for reading comprehension.

We were focusing this year on having students use student rubrics, and writing strategies with a connection to Aboriginal stories and writings.  We have included data from DART, and the School Wide Writes, for our Aboriginal learners: 


DART Spring
Write Fall
Write Spring

We are creating ways to connect with parents, and increase their presence at our school.  We will continue to look at ways to record participation & increase belonging in our school community.

Students were keen to learn about the North of Canada.  We witnessed new learning and interest in the peoples, animals, and lifestyle of the Inuit.  Our celebration of learning was fascinating as each class project was unique, and some classes did individual student projects. They all represented learning and success with our project.

We have had a small group of teacher leaders meet to organize Clan activities and focus.  As we have made the Clan groups a part of our accepted school culture for three years, it is time to pass more responsibility to the whole staff.  We have students that represent all three groups of Aboriginal cultures so have committed to learning about the third group – M├ętis – next school year.  There is a small group of Aboriginal students whose attendance is still poor.  As a result, academic progress is compromised.  We would like to find a way to reach these families more effectively.

A school wide focus on Aboriginal cultural pride and acceptance is possible.  We aim for our students to learn acceptance and understanding for all cultures.

2012-2013 AESN Case Study William Konkin Elementary School

Inquiry Team Members: Colleen West, Marian Mills, Erin Thiessen, Patty Bursey, Dave Beck, Lorraine McFarland, Melissa Evans, Paula Laurie
AEEA Goal Area:  Improve literacy for all Aboriginal learners.
We will focus on improving the quality of oral expression among our students.
How will structured opportunities to engage in A/B partner talk improve oral language and affect reading fluency and comprehension as measured by the oral language and reading performance standards?

We noticed that...
·       students often use gestures rather than speaking.
·       many students show a paucity of vocabulary.
·       in both oral and written responses, students often use one-word or short-phrase responses without elaboration. Many rarely use complete sentences.
·       reading fluency and comprehension are weak.
·       descriptive language is weak for our many ESD students.
·       most of our students are unable to sustain academic conversations.
·       students demonstrate poor listening skills.
·       in the face of challenges, students exhibit resilience and perseverance.

We are focusing on improving the quality of oral expression among our students. We consider this important because the ability to articulate ideas orally is foundational to effective relationships with others, to written expression, and to the ability to express understanding in reading and the content areas.

What is leading to this situation for our learners?
·       Lack of modeling, exposure, practice and opportunities for extended conversations.
·       Lack of understanding of criteria for being a good reader or about quality of oral conversation and oral and written responses.
·       Little consistency regarding explicit teaching of strategies/criteria.
·       Cultural:  English is the second language of many of our students.  Their English is strewn with dialect variations from their own Carrier language.
·       We wonder if the use of purposeful structured partner talk will improve oral expression and have a collateral impact on reading fluency and comprehension.

New Professional Learning
We formed a book study group within our Literacy Meetings using the book Knee to Knee, Eye to Eye: Circling in on Comprehension as a means of meeting the following goals:
·       Study resources related to criteria setting and learning intentions.
·       Study resources related to A/B partners
·       Study how to co-construct criteria with students.
·       Learn and try strategies and questions to use for purposeful structured talk.
·       Establish a group for discussing our learning and sharing ideas and classroom experiences/observations with each other.

Taking Action
1.     Proposal committee met to clarify:  What would we like to do?  Why is it important?  What might it look like?
2.     Made proposal to staff to get participant commitment to the project.
3.     Workload issues expressed by colleagues, and limits to meeting/collaboration time, led us to using a portion of our monthly literacy meetings for discussion and book study related to partner talk rather than create a new set of meeting times.
4.     Since we started our project in January, we realized that professional learning about partner talk would comprise a large part of our focus for this year and we would need to continue our project next year to really go deep enough changing our practice in our classrooms and make a difference for kids.
5.     Each participant committed to participating in the book study and to trying partner talk strategies with their students. At our literacy meetings we have reported back to each other about the partner talk and oral language activities that we were trying and how it was going.

Teachers have been using partner-talk experiences to construct partner-talk criteria within their classrooms. They report that they needed more time to refine their criteria and move beyond the basics (knee to knee, eye contact, turn taking, on topic) and develop skills that would improve the quality of partner talk (prompting, questioning, clarifying, elaborating, piggybacking, connecting, extending). Teachers reported that students were becoming more comfortable conversing with their partners and were able to sustain conversations on topic for longer periods. Most still require directions from the teacher about which questions/prompts to use to illicit responses from their partners. Teachers felt that students need more time and practice before progress in oral language skills will be measurable on their criteria and performance standard rubrics.

Sources for Baseline Evidence 
Kindergarten Assessment, PM Benchmarks, DART

Monitoring Impact
We looked at Kindergarten Assessment, PM Benchmarks, DART assessments as well as teacher informal observations and anecdotal reports of change noticed over the course of the inquiry so far. (See chart showing results from some assessments)

Did we make a difference? Some teacher reflections:
 “The students have become much more comfortable speaking with their partners or to the larger class/group.”
 “I have experienced many less “I don’t knows” and many more valuable conversations.”
   “The students are now able to both describe their own thoughts and discuss what others have shared.”
“Partner talk is providing an opportunity for all children to speak and listen to each other and voice their ideas and understanding instead of just those who volunteer or are called upon.”
 “We have learned that partner talk is a very effective tool for enhancing students’ language and vocabulary development, their enjoyment and understanding of materials, and show their creative and critical thinking skills.
  “Now that they are comfortable sharing their thoughts with partners I see that I need to show them how certain questions they can use may help them to prompt their partner to provide more details and extend/elaborate on their initial responses which still tend to be brief.”

·       In order to be successful, many of our students required support to develop schema and background understandings prior to engaging in partner talk.
·       When effective conversation skills are explicitly modeled and practiced students improve in their ability to express ideas, listen to others, and participate effectively in undirected academic conversations.
·       Formative feedback and student reflection on their conversations is helpful for developing conversations skills.
·       Partner talk facilitates relationship and community building within the classroom.
·       It takes time, modeling, and practice with formative feedback and reflection to develop partner and conversation skills. Next year, we will start in September in order to provide our students with sufficient opportunity to practice and develop those skills.
·       To increase conversation skills, we plan to utilize partner talk activities in all subject areas.
·       As we move forward into next year, we want to establish better ways of measuring student progress. We would like to use our classroom partner-talk rubrics to pull-out/develop a set of common criteria/descriptors that we could track across all classes in order to provide us with progress monitoring data more specifically focused directly on the oral language/partner talk skills. We are interested in how progress in oral language skills may impact other areas such as reading and writing. It is our hunch that we may be able to see corresponding improvements in comprehension and written expression among those students who show improvements in oral language / partner talk skills.

Thanks very much to all of you for joining with us and with colleagues from across BC and the Yukon in pursuit of the three key network goals:

EVERY learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options.
ALL learners leaving our settings more curious than when they arrive.
ALL learners with an understanding and respect for Aboriginal perspectives.

Judy Halbert & Linda Kaser

Networks of Inquiry and Innovation
Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Inquiry Changing District Cultures

Earlier this month Linda and I spent a few days with educators, parents and trustees in Vancouver Island North. The focus of our time in Port McNeil and Port Hardy was to extend and deepen the inquiry work that is taking place. The more we work with the spiral of inquiry, we more we realize how important it is that districts see inquiry as a means for genuine transformation  - not simply for tinkering at the edges of improvement.  Sometimes at the end of a week of travel and presenting, we head home tired and ready for a bit of a break. Not this time. We both left the North Island energized and invigorated by the quality of the work we saw  - and the commitment of the school teams to work as hard as possible to meet the needs of all their learners.

We particularly enjoyed seeing the enthusiasm of  the school teams in explaining the focus of their inquiries with parents and colleagues from all the district schools in an evening session at North island Secondary School. Last fall was the first time such an event took place and the teams were understandably a bit nervous about how the evening would go.  What a difference a year of focused effort and support can make. The conversations were rich, the questions were probing and new learning was evident. There is still a long way to go before North Island meets its own goals of every learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options, but the momentum is certainly growing.

We asked Scott Benwell to tell us what he thought it took for a district to create a real culture of inquiry,

Here's some of what he said:

A culture of inquiry in a district needs to be intentionally and intelligently designed.  Necessary elements of the design are:
a.       High quality learning experiences for all (Parents, community, students, staff, leadership).
b.      Public performances and celebrations of learning together.
c.       Clear and repetitive expectations at all levels including Board of Education.
2.       As the narrative in a district begins to change toward a culture of inquiry, leadership needs to point to examples, nurture the emerging practices, and engage with early adopters.  Where leaders spend time counts.
3.       The ambitions for what will be accomplished through an inquiry mindset must find their articulations through the important artifacts and documents in the organization.  In SD85 the required School Plan is based on the inquiry project.  Trustee visits to schools are focussed on the inquiry project and the school plan. 
4.       Peer review of Inquiry Projects.  In order to share and broaden leadership within the district, a peer review process for inquiry grants is essential. 
5.        It is essential to provide robust support for professional growth within the frame of inquiry to really ensure that inquiry becomes a 'way of life.'  

One of the especially interesting aspects of the North Island evening was that schools were asked to share their work as emergent.  This meant that on their display board were the first phases of the spiral  - scanning, focusing, hunching, and new learning  - with space left to add for the spring showcase the final phases- taking action, checking, and then scanning again. This reinforced the understanding that inquiry is an on-going process with one area of focus leading to the next - a real spiral of inquiry!

North Island is just one of a number of districts that is taking an inquiry stance as the means for transforming district culture and changing results for learners. We are increasingly convinced that this kind of system-wide approach builds commitment, generates enthusiasm, opens up thinking and allows for creativity. We have seen the impact in schools through the networks of inquiry and innovation and now we are excited about exploring more closely the impact at the district level. We invite your comments and observations.

Images from North Island inquiry evening