What’s New?

As I sit here trying to complete this post after weeks of picking away at it, I hear TSN in the background telling me that NHL hockey is soon to return…. the question will be, does anyone other than the players and owners care right now?  That’s a topic for another day so let’s move on to a few of my recent, somewhat random thoughts.

Blueberry School implemented the new report card last year which has sparked many good discussions among parents, students and teachers surrounding this new reporting system even now.

I have had the fortune of speaking to numerous parents over the past year about why we are reporting using descriptors such as “Exemplary” and “Proficient” as opposed to percentage or letter grades.  For more of my thoughts on that particular topic please consider scrolling down to a previous post titled “Here We Go!” or take a quick look at a blog post I recently read via twitter which has an interesting perspective on this topic.

During these conversations, I have also been asked why we are focusing so much of our effort on teaching, assessing and reporting the skills of learning as opposed to the traditional focus on the content or the “stuff” kids are learning.

To be clear, literacy and numeracy remain critical skills for students at Blueberry School.   We still very much expect our students to work towards mastery of basic skills such as math facts, spelling, grammar etc.  Students engage in daily reading throughout our school.

There are many knowledge based outcomes which are important  for students to understand, I mean recall, but no longer is this simple recall of basic facts good enough.  In fact, memorizing facts and figures hasn’t been meaningful for quite some time, as evidenced by this video.   We also need to assist kids to use this knowledge to do something meaningful.  Knowing your basic math facts is not overly helpful if you can’t figure out whether to add or multiply when making a purchase in a store.  If the NHL players and owners had a deeper understanding of the math, would they have let 113 days of revenue slip through their fingers?

No longer can we simply view teachers as experts full of knowledge, and students as empty vessels into which we must pour this information.  Our kids must learn beside their teachers.  As educators we are needing to teach our kids how to research online to find reliable, valid information.  Our students need to recognize that Google is not Gospel!  Gone are the days where all of the kids in the neighbourhood came to my house to use our complete set of World Book Encyclopedias with the red covers and shiny gold lettering to do “reports”.  Kids are now able to find answers to questions immediately using their hand-held devices.  Does it not make sense that we should support them in how to use these effectively for more than texting and Facebook?

Not only do our kids need to know how to conduct meaningful research, but what about effective communication?  We all believe we are great communicators, but would our co-workers agree?  What about our family members?  I know what my wife would say!

I think we would all agree that effective communication is an absolutely critical skill in the “real world”.  Wouldn’t it have been helpful in the NHL labour dispute!  I cannot tell you how often as a teacher, and now as an administrator that when I conduct my walk-throughs and ask a student “How do you know?” I hear “I just know!”.  They finish a math calculation or process and cannot explain their thinking or answer.  Often they feel if it’s correct they do not need to be able to explain or justify.  Does that work in your office?  How often in the “real world” are you given a problem by your boss to which she already knows the answer?  When she asks you to explain how you came up with a your solution to the problem do you tell her you “just know”?  I would suggest that it is more likely that you take days or weeks worth of your work and summarize it quickly, concisely and accurately to take her through the process of how you solved the problem, answering her questions to provide clarity where required.  Are these not critical skills for us to support and develop within our students?

What about the ability to collaborate?  How do we foster this in our schools today?  Do you believe that there is value in focusing our efforts on developing collaborative citizens in our schools?  I know that this is something we strive for on a daily basis at Blueberry School.

“What our collaborative learning style empowers and enables is a student’s resilience — how do you look to your neighbor as a resource, how do you test your own theories, how do you understand if you’re on the right track or the wrong track?” says Monique DeVane, College Prep’s head of school. “It teaches them that it’s not just about content; it’s about cultivating habits of mind that are the underpinnings of deeper scholarship.”  Read this post for more information about the collaborative culture of College Prep.

In a discussion I had several weeks ago with a colleague we arrived at the conclusion that these skills of critical thinking; problem solving; communicating; etc. are consistent.  They are needed in virtually every walk of life.  We also realized that as strange as it sounds, knowledge changes over time.  We either change the knowledge that we are to impart to kids every several years (the almost daily comments I hear from parents about how the math today is so different from in their time is but one example of this), or the knowledge itself changes.  Yes, you heard me right.   In a classroom walk-through in December I had a grade 6 student explaining to me why Pluto is not a planet but rather a star!  Think back to the video above, is Texas still the largest of the 39 states?

I will conclude this somewhat scattered post by asking you to take a moment to share with me some of your thoughts on what’s new in your classroom today?

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About Shaye Patras

I am a husband and father of two fantastic girls. I currently work as the Principal of Woodhaven Middle School in Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada. I am excited to be continuing my administrative career in this learning community!
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