Last week, I read a blog post by Donna Fry that continues to have me thinking ever since I finished reading it … and even after I commented on it. This post speaks to the speed of change in Ontario schools. It talks about how educators are using technology in their classrooms, but also how they’re combining technology with face-to-face interactions. This post is about teaching and learning, and poses a really important question at the end of it:
My comment on the post had me really thinking about “change.” Yes, I’m a person and an educator that embraces change. Change is scary. It often makes me feel uncomfortable. But I stand behind a comment that I tweeted out last night to an EA at my previous school:
I wonder though, as I did in my blog post comment, whether everyone believes that changes need to happen. It’s fine to say that this is “where we’re going,” but if educators, administrators, support staff, and/or parents, question the benefits of these changes, are we listening to these other voices? And if we’re not, what’s the impact on the change actually happening?
The truth is, I completely understand and embrace what Donna’s saying in her post. I’ve often heard that we need to celebrate the “small changes,” but I’ve often become frustrated with how slow change seems to be. Maybe though, I need to start to see things from a different perspective. I can’t help but think back to a The Challenge Game that Kristi, my previous vice principal, taught me about last year in Grade 5. It completely changed our classroom dynamic! Even as a Grade 1 teacher, I use this game a lot with my students. We challenge ideas through the use of questions. The game is not about having a “winner” or a “loser.” It’s about identifying holes in theories or gaps in practices, and having people reconsider their solutions, revise their theories, or revamp their practices. It’s a game all about thinking, and it gets students to think … but what if it was used with adults?
I wonder what would happen if a Staff Meeting or PD session was set-up like a Challenge Game.
- Pick a topic (e.g., inquiry in the classroom, blended learning, assessment and evaluation, etc.). Choose one where you know that staff members do not all feel the same way about it.
- Filter down that topic a bit to look at a specific aspect of it (e.g., looking at assessment and evaluation of inquiry or looking at the impact that blended learning can have on student success).
- Use a Value Line to have staff members sort themselves according to their beliefs (e.g., 1. You can’t assess or evaluate inquiry because students are all doing different things. 3. Sometimes you can assess or evaluate inquiry, but you do not get enough marks out of it because the process takes so long. 5. You can assess and evaluate inquiry, but it looks different than before, as you are evaluating the process and not just the final product.).
- Use this Value Line to have people pair up with others from different parts of the line (e.g., people that position themselves at a 1 may pair up with people at a 3.) Depending on the size of the staff and the comfort level of the people playing, create groups of two to four people.
- Have the groups sit down together and play Challenge. Let one side share their beliefs, and give a chance for questioning from the other side. Then switch. Get all staff members involved in these Challenge Groups, as it’s important to have the various perspectives.
- Come back together and reflect on learning and determine next steps. I think that everyone will learn something from this process. It’s not about one right answer and a bunch of wrong answers. I think that there can be questions, concerns, and/or uncertainties about all sides of all topics, but without these frank discussions, good questions, and challenged thinking, will change ever happen?
I think that anybody can feel forced to comply to changes in practices. I also think that with this pressure, the changes that happen will be minimal, and instead of having eager staff ready to tackle the questions or concerns that come up, there will be many reluctant staff members always wondering if these changes are necessary. And maybe not all of these changes produce the best results, or maybe not all of them do for all students, in all grades, at all times. I wonder if we’ll ever know though unless we start to talk freely, listen more, and ask these challenging questions. What do you think?
I have heard or read from you before the idea of e challenge game but wasn’t really sure what it was. I like your description of how to use it as a PD session. It would really open up the conversation and perhaps set up a plan or outline of how to implement change at the school level. But what I am wondering about is how to them take that change to a Board level and then to a Provincial level. We can change our practices and have inquiry based or problem based learning and see great things happening in our rooms and students learning from and with each other. But then we are forced to asses them on a report card that many not reflect what they have truly learned or gained. I would really like to see a shift in how we report to parents and not be forced to slot children into pre-determined and defined categories that seem limiting and that may alter a child’s internal beliefs about their abilities. It may not also accurately express a child capabilities. Maybe we need DOE’s to play your Challenge game.
Thanks for the comment, Krista! I totally understand what you’re saying about report cards and marks. When it comes to inquiry, this seems to be one of the biggest areas of concern. I really like how Kristi approached this topic in one of her previous blog posts – http://kkeerybishop.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/2014/12/11/measuring-shadows/. While the mark on the report card may/may not address the “rich learning in the classroom,” the comments can certainly be personalized to do so. And maybe one day, marks will be reconsidered (at least at an elementary level). I look at the fact that the HWDSB Full-Day Kindergarten Report Cards no longer include marks. If the FDK approach is starting to make its way up into the grades, then maybe this change will happen in other grades as well. Also, if we continue talking with parents, students, and other educators about marks vs. feedback and the value that feedback holds, maybe these marks will start to mean less in the long run. We may be forced to give them, but this doesn’t mean that they have to hold the most value. And if, as educators, more of our PD sessions involve these challenging discussions, and then more of us publicly share our learning as a result of them, maybe there will be more interest taken at the higher levels of education: be it at the Board or the Provincial level. This could just be my utopian ideal, but I’d like to believe that it’s true. Maybe Challenge will catch on outside of just our schools. I have to believe …
Here in NS at least in my Board, the Primary report card also is comments only. In fact a change was made this year that for first term, only comments for literacy and numeracy were necessary- science, health, SS, music and phys. Ed. comments were not made until term 2. I agree that our comments need to tell the true learning, and that includes our communication on parent/teacher conferences. I try to communicate what we are doing in class through my weekly newsletter the Totten Times which has received positive comments from parents. I would really like to see no marks on reports beyond primary and maybe into grade 3 when students have had a chance to build a solid foundation.
Thanks for giving steady food for thought!
Thanks for the reply, Krista! It’s interesting to hear about your experiences in Nova Scotia, which are certainly different than what’s happening here in Ontario. A focus on comments in primary is fantastic. I’d argue that this should be the case right into high school. I realize that marks are the foundation for college and university admissions, so maybe there’s no way around marks in high school, but I’m not sure why they need to exist before then. Even with a solid foundation, I think that what students can learn from feedback is far more than what they can ever learn from a mark. That being said, if marks are in place, even just helping students and parents see the value in the comments versus the mark, may change responses to the grade.
Thanks for the great discussion!