Tag Archives: inquiry

Our Journey into Pedagogical Documentation


Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning,
observe carefully what children do, and then,
if you have understood well,
perhaps teaching will be different from before.
Loris Malaguzzi

Some Investigations Last Minutes
“Inquiry shaped our belief that pedagogical documentation furthers a strength-based image of children, makes their thinking visible, provides for student and teacher reflection and helps drive a co-constructed responsive curriculum . . . Pedagogical documentation is powerful and important when put into practice with our students.” Those are the words of Surrey elementary teachers Hilary Wardlow, Kerri Hutchinson, Laura Verdiel, Lora Sarchet, Niki Leech, and Courtney Jones as they recently celebrated their journey to better understand and implement pedagogical documentation.

Reggio PD TeamWhere did their learning begin? Hilary, Lora and Niki attended Pedagogical Documentation as a Professional Development Tool sponsored by the Vancouver Reggio Consortium Society in October 2014, which sparked their interest in pursuing their learning further. They decided to put forward an application to the Britich Columbia Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) Teacher Inquiry Program to explore pedagogical documentation and extended an invitation to other SD36 Reggio inspired educators: Courtney, Laura and Kerri, to join them. They were awarded the BCTF Program for Quality Teaching grant in late November, jointly sponsored by the BCTF, the Surrey Teachers’ Association (STA) and Surrey Schools (SD36). BCTF Inquiry Facilitators Henry Lee and Catherine Quanstrom provided their expertise in guiding the team in monthly ½ day sessions.

In addition to release time for inquiry sessions, the group used grant funds to observe classes at Meadowbrook Elementary School, the Reggio inspired elementary school.  Classroom teachers, Harpreet Esmail and Shannon Bain, hosted the team’s visit to observe student-led inquiry and pedagogical documentation, generously debriefing their learning.  As well, the team attended four evening dinner sessions focused on pedagogical documentation which were facilitated by Bev Superle, Director of Vancouver Reggio Consortium Society and hosted by SD40.

The team connected regularly through release-time, self-directed Pro-D, Twitter (#sd36reggio) and Facebook as they explored numerous digital and non-digital ways of documenting learning. Their celebratory slideshow below provides a brief summary into their learning.

Simultaneously, many of these same educators, with the addition of Sandra Ball, (Inner City Early Learning Helping Teacher), Sarah Schnare, Carrie Donahue, Julia Thompson from Surrey and teacher teams from four other districts (Richmond, Delta and Burnaby) were engaged in a Cross-District Reggio-Inspired Mathematics Project. Based on the BC Association of Mathematics grant proposal submitted by Richmond teacher consultant, Janice Novakowski, the participating districts asked the question, “Beyond problem-solving which is inherently inquiry-based, are there other practices that nurture mathematical inquiry?” In total, twenty teachers were involved in this pilot.

Janice Novakowski articulates,”Reggio-inspired practices, drawing upon the pedagogy of the early learning schools in Reggio Emilio, Italy, are becoming an area of professional interest to teachers in BC. Many teachers are weaving Reggio-inspired practices into their early primary programs having students share their learning through their “hundred languages” and bring in natural materials, authentic experiences and a focus on the child as being capable.”

The BCAMT pilot focused the teachers’ inquiries around several key questions: “How might Reggio-inspired practices be used in the area of mathematics? What does mathematical inquiry look and feel like in early primary classrooms? How can we ‘make learning visible’ for our youngest students?”

image1How did this transformation of the teaching experience look in the classroom? Janice Novakowski provides specific ways to create the conditions to focus the learning through an inquiry lens: “For example, the teacher may pose the question ‘What is a pattern?’ or ‘How many different ways can yo represent 7?’ and lay out a variety of materials for students to choose from and investigate as they think about the inquiry question. Wondering, observing, thinking, representing, sharing and reflecting are all practices embedded in an inquiry approach and are foundational to Reggio-inspired practices.”

This group also intentionally set  out to foster the creation of an active reggio-inspired professional learning community through “encouraging an online presence and sharing experiences through twitter and blogs.” Share, share, share. Whether it was through workshops, release days of active face-to-face learning, teachers were engaged in deep learning around their own professional practice and widening the circle to include others across the province.  Just as they explored how children could document their learning, these teachers were equally committed to documenting and making their own learning visible for others.

Both of these professional inquiry groups used Reggio Emilio practices as a foundation from which to explore, build and renew their learning journey as teachers. As these educators were encouraged to create joy and wonder in their own students’ learning, they found unanticipated joy and wonder in their own learning as well.

Author’s Note: Special thanks to Teacher Consultants Sandra Ball and Janice Novakowski and Reading Advocate Courtney Jones for their contributions to this article.

Igniting the Passion: Celebrating Our Learning

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“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation.”
Joshua Heschel

Celebration is a choice: we choose to appreciate and value something that we feel is significant. It is an opportunity we create to acknowledge, appreciate and extend gratitude for the good things that are being done in schools–by both students and teachers. We are fortunate to be in a district where we can engage in new learning and transform education to better meet the needs of our learners. A collective of 300 educators gathered together to mark the occasion.

What is it that we are doing well? How do others see us? We asked some people both inside and outside our district this question.  How might they describe our district or what does meant to be part of our district? Their responses can be found here:

During the evening we had several presenters share with us their passion through the form of five minute Ignite presentations. Participants were limited to 20  slides that automatically moved every 15 seconds . The purpose is expressed in the motto, “Enlighten us, but make it quick!” We had the opportunity to learn from our peers and to engage in thoughtful conversations about our learning. Facilitators guided table groups around key questions that examined both our thinking on the presentation as well as how the topic might affect our future behaviour and teaching practice.  Thanks you to Robynn Thiessen, Sally Song, Shauna Nero, Antonio Vendramin, Karen Steffensen, and Jordan Tinney for sharing their passion. You can enjoy their live-streamed stories here.

We ended the evening with a video montage of students, teachers, administrators and out-of-district guests to help us with our celebration.

Author’s Note: Thank you to Helping Teachers @amboe_k, @shelagh09, @librarymall, @kowalyshyn, @ipadtestkitchen and Sarah Guilmant-Smith for planning and organizing the evening and supporting our projects. Thank you to Donna VanSant and Forrest Smith for their assistance with the videos.

 

Guiding Principles: What do we believe?

What do we believe? We have some guiding principles that have anchored our digital learning journey as a district. Our vision has grown and is best represented through our Digital Learning Principles. Below is a short form of the “baker’s dozen,” a series of  belief statements that guide our work. These principles, outlined in the district strategic technology plan, grew over time. The principles are grounded in research about good teaching and learning.

1. Begin with a learning plan
We abolished the district’s traditional hardware replacement strategy and replaced it with a learning-centered strategy. Schools have to provide a forward-thinking, smart learning plan through an application process to ensure schools have the commitment and readiness to move learning and teaching forward in their schools. No grounded plan means no hardware.

2. The learning plan anchored in twenty-first century pedagogy
Key priorities for learning are identified at the outset: authentic learning tasks, descriptive feedback, inquiry learning, differentiated instruction, critical thinking skills, virtual and face-to-face collaboration, student voice and choice, and technology as a tool. The impact on transforming pedagogy? “It has totally revolutionized how I teach. I am not at the centre. The kids are at the centre,” explains Anne-Marie Middleton, Grade 7 Teacher at Hillcrest Elementary.

3. Action grounded in collaborative inquiry
Each application is team-focused and anchored in a job-embedded model of collaborative inquiry. Teams of teachers are engaged in studying meaningful questions about student learning and their own practice. Teachers own their own learning.

4. Evidence of student learning required
The district expects schools to share their organizational and individual learning and that of their students. Participants are required to report out using a flexible template to tell their story of learning.  These digital stories provide the inspiration, advice and resources for other schools also embarking on a digital learning journey.

5. Learning focus for all
While students are at the centre of our raison d’etre, we recognize that in organizations everyone is a learner and that we are all co-learners together: students, teachers, support staff, and administrators can equally share in the learning journey.

6. Empower teacher exploration months before student deployment
Teachers need time to experiment and play. Teachers need time to learn. We provide both devices and opportunity for staff development. Foundational idea: “Professional development is the hallmark of every successful technology implementation,” outlined in  the report commissioned by the National Coalition for Technology in Education & Training.

 7. Teacher-led, teacher-driven and centralized to the school house
The district is not dictating the direction. Schools, and teachers, decide their learning needs based on their school context. The result and our experience, we have gone from push to pull.  As educator Fraser Speirs declares: “I am no longer pushing technology at teachers. They are demanding this technology in their classrooms.”

8. Linking staff development opportunities across the system
Many educators are involved in two-year inquiry projects which include release time as well as a commitment to on-going learning with colleagues at their schools. Educators also have the opportunity to attend an inspiring dinner series with thought leaders in the field of educational technology, as well as after school workshops on topics as diverse as digital storytelling and moviemaking. In all cases, we focus on the learning, and not the tool.

9. Transformative practice shared and promoted via social media
We created our own hashtag: #sd36learn. We promote it and encourage the educators to keep the focus on learning, best practice, sharing resources and building connections. We acknowledge the words of Daniel Pink on the power of social media: “…the deepest, most enduring impact of social media might be on learning.”

10. Intentionally encouraging a radical social movement
Our goal is transforming education. Our diffusion strategy is creating networks of educators committed to creating the best learning conditions for students. As educators take risks, explore, experiment and play with their practice, we want to support their efforts. Creating a tipping point is key: “If you want to bring a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior… you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured,”  underscores Malcolm Gladwell.

11. Multiple projects/people supporting the same ideals all across district
We intentionally create a culture of innovation in practice by seeding pockets of innovation all across the district. Whether it is an Innovative Learning Designs project, a Learning Commons transformation, Making Thinking Visible, Out of Their Heads or a SS11 e-text initiative, they are all opportunities to focus teachers on shifting pedagogy to better embrace the ideals of curriculum transformation.

12. Mobile learning + the new electricity
Based on the key trends identified in The Horizons Report, we made a decision to focus on mobile devices. That decision meant that providing a quality wireless solution together with upgrading Internet links were top priorities for all our schools. We want to create opportunities for students to learn on any device, anytime, anywhere.

13. Education requirements leading technological shifts
Whatever technological changes are taking place around the world, we know the needs of learning should set direction for how technology is provided. All technology decisions are to be made in service of the needs of learners and educators.

Thanks to the many educators in our Innovative Learning Designs projects that contributed to our learning. Thanks as well to the members of the three focus groups that responded to our questions as we explored ideas such as: what works well, what needs improvement, where to next? Your insights enable us to move forward on the continuous improvement journey. The guiding principles themselves were developed and refined by a team: Helping Teachers Orwell Kowalyshyn (@kowalyshyn), Kevin Amboe (@amboe_k), Lisa Domeier (@librarymall), IT Director Dan Turner (@dj_turner) and myself.

High Tech High: A Visual Feast, An Inquiry Journey, A Relational World


Some of the best professional development we can ever do is to visit other schools, classrooms, and teachers. We can do this in our own district and in our own region. Sometimes we are also fortunate to be able to do it further afield. The Kwantlen Park Secondary principal, Rick Breen, and Inter-A teachers, Melanie Skelin and Anthony Jay, joined me to visit two High Tech High (HTH) Schools in San Diego. The tour was a fascinating look at the school, student learning, teacher pedagogy and the principles providing the foundation. There were many things I learned (I could easily write a second post); however, I will touch on five themes here.

1. Learning is a visual feast.

Even the alcove into the washroom is a display space

Everywhere you looked, evidence of student learning was on display. Hallways and classrooms were an explosion of projects, books, models, posters, banners, sculptures, collages, photos and more.  Displays of student work provided a visual feast and a window into the learning. Assignments were accompanied with either an artist’s note or an explanation and the requirements of the project itself. I felt like I had been transported into an art school. I was reliving my own childhood growing up in Nelson, B.C. and following my dad around the Kootenay School of Art where he taught art classes and managed an art gallery. It touched me at the core of my being in a way that only art can. For me, the projects themselves were fascinating and powerful because the visual element was woven into the work. The school felt like it was alive and pulsating with learning.

2. Learning is inquiry-based.

In the elementary school, essential questions were visible on classroom doors, hallway windows and posted beside bulletin boards. The focus of student learning was clear. These questions were woven together by the students in the context of the learning objectives.

Projects are explained and exhibited

Excerpt of student work on exhibit

At the secondary school, we asked, “What’s the curriculum?” The response, “It’s taking risks.” Teachers focus on getting students to be in shape to be learners and to be curious. “Students are motivated because they choose their own path. We ask what they want to know, and what they already know. We are not crushing their souls and their creativity. With project based learning students are very invested in their work and their work becomes a labour of love,” is how Rachel Nichols, a HTH teacher, described the student engagement.

The teacher commitment to project based learning is substantial. New teachers attend a boot camp where they learn about the model and how to collaborate with other staff. They think about projects they might want to try with their students and share their ideas with other staff to find out which teachers might want to team together on the project with them. Teachers meet every week so they can turn their teaching, the learning and the projects on a dime. It’s a culture where everyone is coached and/or coaching someone else. “It is a lot of work to do PBL and make learning more interesting. We are a really committed staff that are passionate about learning.”

3. Learning is relational.

“There is one thing that makes or breaks education for kids, it’s teachers,” declared Jennifer, the HTH Biology Teacher.  The teachers all have advisory groups and they keep the same students for the life of their time at HTH. Some advisory groups meet once a week and others twice a week. There is no typical advisory group. They all are a reflection of the teacher. In some, the grade 12 students lead them. In others, the focus can be on an academic check-in. “We are adhoc parents. Sometimes we know them better than their parents.” And teachers are not just connected to those in their advisory groups. The nature of student learning and the work students produce can be potent, particularly with writing assignments in English. Rachel, an English teacher, stated that, “The intimacy with faculty and students is intense.”

4. Learning is community-based.

The school is committed to creating learning opportunities connected to the community. One of HTH’s guiding principles is to have an Adult World Connection. Projects are authentic, real and deliverable.  Students are involved in internships, field studies and community projects. Visiting professionals contribute to the classroom learning and mentoring relationships are often established with outsiders. When we visited, students were working with a scientist from a local university to collect biological specimens from their home. What were they examining? How is urbanization affecting pollinization in San Diego? All students in grade 12 go out for a six-week internship in their senior year. Prior to the internship they attend workshops to prep, learn about resumes, and even how to shake hands. The internship is the time to do an authentic project on behalf of the hosting organization. The seniors will do a summative presentation at the end of the internship at the intern site itself and other students come to watch. The seniors frequently give presentations to outside audiences and their peers.

 5. Teachers are deeply engaged in their learning.

Foundational beliefs posted on school walls

“I am driven by the very fact that I can do anything I am interested in. Teach to your passions and take risks. I learn 100 times more than the students. It is exhilarating and exhausting here. Somehow keeping the balance is the challenge,” explained Rachel Nichol. When someone asked about burnout, she replied, “I wouldn’t call it burnout here because it is so exciting. People could do a better job of home/life balance but burnout means being bored. We aren’t bored. Like marathoners we need stamina.”

Real projects, real books, on display

When we were touring the school, we were invited to ask questions of any students or staff. I was curious how a student might describe his experience. I interviewed Spencer, one of our gracious student guides, and asked him what three things he liked best about High Tech High. He didn’t hesitate in his response. Most important for him was his relationship with his teachers. Second, the ability to be creative with his schoolwork was key. Third, he loved the ability to choose the work. Spencer was deeply invested in the school, clearly thriving in the environment and finding joy in learning. And truly, isn’t that what we want for all students?

Thank you to the Kwantlen staff for joining me on this venture. Thanks as well to the High Tech High teachers and students for opening their doors to us and providing us a window into their learning.

Genius Hour: Exploring Your Passion

Who owns the learning? The students! Who’s working harder, and enjoying it? The students!                                                                                                        –Joy Kirr

Sometimes we have experts right in our own backyard and don’t necessarily realize it. Gallit Zvi is one of those teacher-leaders. She is creating a path for her students to pursue their interests. Her students own their learning. Gallit is actively engaged in promoting passion-based learning via the use of Genius Hour.  Gallit didn’t invent Genius Hour but is one of the lead-teachers in North America that is encouraging it. The credit for Genius Hour can be shared with others such as Denise Krebs (@MrsKrebs), Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers), Daniel Pink (author of Drive, @DanielPink) and many others.

Gallit Zvi (@gallit_z) is a grade five teacher at George Vanier Elementary School. Her school is one of the Innovative Learning Designs (Phase 1) schools in our district. Gallit’s teaching practice has been transformed by her beliefs about student learning.  Gallit shares her experiences with teachers in our district and around the world through her use of social media and blogging. She is a resource person for many other people. She writes eloquently about Genius Hour here. Moreover, she also created a wiki of helpful resources and links.

Foundational to Gallit’s teaching practice is her own beliefs about education and her role within it.

I believe it is my job to teach students to be creative, critical and inquisitive thinkers. Technology allows me to do this in a transformative way. This aligns with the BC Ed Plan, which states that as educators, our role has shifted from ‘being the primary source of content to focus[ing] on helping students learn how to learn.’  In order to achieve this I am a supporter of passion based learning through Genius Hour.  Genius Hour is an opportunity for students to choose what they want to learn about, by creating their own inquiry project.

Gallit makes use of technology with her students as well.  Her students have created ePortfolios, “in which they documented their own learning and showcased the work they were most proud of.” She writes about the experience here and shares the next steps in her own learning. Her students are very comfortable using technology to communicate as they blog and tweet regularly from their class account.  Her students also use all sorts of technology, from cameras to “their own devices, this was important to me, as I recognize it is important for students to learn how to utilize their own technology, when learning, responsibly.”

Gallit describes it herself in her own post, “because of Genius Hour I am a changed teacher forever.  I no longer need to be in control of all of the learning. I have learned that it is okay, and actually highly beneficial, to step back and allow the learning to happen.”

Thanks to Gallit Zvi for sharing her learning with me. I also want to acknowledge her teaching colleague (Hugh McDonald, @hughtheteacher) and her principal (Antonio Vendramin, @vendram1n) for their support of her learning. Gallit helps moderate a #geniushour twitter chat held once a month. The next one is Wed., Nov. 7th at 6 pm PST.