Teachers in Gulf Islands’ schools participated in the BC K-12 Innovation Partnership this year. The hope is to extend the work of being innovation partners into the coming school year. The focus of the project is to increase student ownership of learning by shifting the ways in which we communicate with students and parents.

In November of this school year teachers in the district had the opportunity to attend a series of workshops where they explored ways of connecting with students and their parents about each child’s learning. Together we decided to further develop how we use student-led conferences, pedagogical narratives (learning stories), and e-portfolios during our second term reporting. Approximately half of the elementary teachers in the district participated in this project. In addition, at the secondary level, one grade-less course – Robotics – was offered to students in grade 9-12 this year as part of the Innovation Partnership.

Interviews with over one hundred primary students revealed that students involved in the project were more able to talk about their own learning. For example, in response to “What helps you learn?”, students not involved with the project responded with “listening” or “paying attention”. Whereas those involved in the project had deeper, more reflective answers such as “setting goals” or “self-assessing my work”.

In the Robotics class at the secondary school, not having grades has created a culture where it is okay to make mistakes and learn from them. Students aren’t talking about their grade or final mark. Instead they’re talking about what they’ve learned, how they were able to figure out a solution, and what they want to learn next.

“Research from John Hattie and others tells us that when students are involved directly in assessing their work and planning what’s next, they are more highly engaged in their learning,” noted Lisa Halstead, Superintendent of Schools for the Gulf Islands. She continued by saying that “our goal is to expand our repertoire of assessment strategies in ways that support high quality learning for all of our students. We’re pleased that our experiences this year with the K-12 Innovation Partnership reflect what we know from the research.”

Parents, students and teachers indicated in a recent survey that verbal feedback had the most powerful and positive impact in helping learners – be they adults or students – to understand what they are learning. The survey of over 650 individuals included over 100 parents and was completed in early May 2016. While there was some agreement about the positive effect of verbal feedback and reflection, there was much less agreement about the value of grades and performance scales, and their impact on student learning. Future articles will explore some of the diverse perspectives expressed by those that responded to the surveys.

“The work this district has been doing around communicating student learning has had a positive impact on student ownership of their learning, and their understanding of learning processes.” wrote Dr. Paige Fisher this month in her report to the Ministry on the project. Ms. Fisher is a professor of education at Vancouver Island University and a post-secondary partner to the Gulf Islands School District 64 on this project. She further noted, “There is strong evidence of students developing metacognitive skills…”

As the district moves forward, we know we must continue to communicate with all of our partners – parents, students, and teachers – about the redesigned curriculum and assessment directions taking place in BC and around the world. Teachers are not afraid of the shift in assessment practices. They are worried about how they will implement any changes and maintain consistency. And, as Maureen Dockendorf, BC Superintendent of Early Learning said at a Forum in late May, “we need to meet families where they’re at.”

Doug Livingston
Director of Instruction – Learning Services

photo: John Cameron