Big Lake Elementary SD#27 Cariboo-Chilcotin

School Name: Big Lake Elementary

School District: SD#27 Cariboo-Chilcotin

Inquiry Team Members: Holly Zurak:
Tess Riley
Michelle Roberts

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Area(s): Applied Design, skills & Technology, Arts Education, Career Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Mathematics / Numeracy, Physical & Health Education, Science, Social Studies

Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Differentiated instruction, Flexible learning, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Inquiry-based learning, Universal design for learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Cultivating a school-wide culture of thinking, and increasing student initiative/ownership of learning.

Scanning: Using the Circle of Courage, staff members continued to work collaboratively to ask ourselves, “How are our learners doing in these areas?” We are proud of the inquiry work we began two years ago, and our scanning conversation indicated agreement to “continue the work”.

At our school, teachers have continued to undertake learning around Visible Learning and Cultures of Thinking. To teach collaboratively and school-wide can be challenging and requires deep and collaborative planning, as well as flexible and student-centered teaching.

We continued the work from last year around: planning for “Innovative and Inquiry-Based Learning” in several ways:
– Students in grades K-7 are engaged in an hour-long Inquiry block daily, with Holly & Tess as lead teachers. During Inquiry we taught the processes of Social Studies and Science using the inquiry cycle with students. Topics include big content ideas.
– Guided math, with a focus on taking math outdoors
– Exploratory work in early primary math using “loose parts”
– Student voice and choice using platforms like Flipgrid to do assignments like reader’s responses (Book Talks), parent-teacher-student conferences, and French language learning
– Weekly ADST-focused afternoon, with stations and challenges
– Outdoor place-based education (WILD TIME) twice a week

Students and staff were responsive to these innovative and collaborative ways of teaching and learning. Scanning showed that based on these examples of changes of practice and learning, students and staff alike were ready to take Next Steps in our learning.

Focus: We met as a staff to discuss our PLC inquiry. After sharing our observations, reviewing support plans, and using the four questions, we looked for foundational pieces that we could continue to build upon. We decided that a renewed and deeper focus on teaching visible learning and thinking strategies, would build on our good results from last year and provide common language for future growth. In this school year, our school has implemented the ongoing communicating of student learning through Fresh Grade in place of traditional report cards. Focusing on deepening the initiative of our students in/for and of their learning, was an exciting next step for our inquiry team.

A student will demonstrate initiative of their learning when that student:
• acts upon new ideas and opportunities for learning;
• demonstrates a willingness to take risks;
• demonstrates curiosity and interest in learning;
• approaches new tasks with a positive attitude;
• assesses and reflects critically on her/his strengths, needs and interests;
• identifies learning opportunities, choices, and strategies to meet personal needs and achieve
• and perseveres when facing challenges

Hunch: We needed to look at how we support the independence of our learners, so they can develop ownership of their learning and consistently demonstrate and begin to document their thinking/learning. Doing this in a coordinated and intentional way would continue to support learners’ growth towards independence.

We made the assumption that students were already thinking about their learning, but that a heightened focus on getting them to notice and name their learning and growth will improve their development as learners.

New Professional Learning: We continued to use these key resources to support our learning and planning:
– ‘Cultures of Thinking’ by Ron Ritchhart
– ‘Visible Learning’ by John Hattie
– Successful Learner Traits
– POPFASD ‘8 Magic Keys’ for inclusive learning
– ‘Powerful Understanding’ by Adrienne Gear
New professional learning from:
– ‘Assessing Critical Competencies’ by Tom Schimmer
– ‘A Guide to Documenting Learning: Making Thinking Visible, Meaningful, Shareable and Amplified’ by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano & Janet A. Hale
– Fresh Grade online seminars and working with collaborative teachers in our school district

Taking Action:
• Continually adjusted flexible learning environments (physically) to support diverse learning needs
• Continued to provide literacy choices (Daily 5)
• Guided math framework — getting kids thinking and talking about their thinking in Math
• Inquiry Hour (Grades 3-7) for the processes (and big ideas) in SS & Science
• Provided structured opportunities for independence in classroom and school routines
• Integrated technology such as Read & Write, as appropriate, to encourage independence
• Explicitly taught Ritchhart’s ‘Thinking Routines’
• Encouraged parent involvement action (communication and aligning language/expectations) via Fresh Grade portfolios for each student
• Celebrated the Learner Traits (HOW students think/learn) through celebration assemblies (monthly) and at the year-end awards assembly.
• Curated student assessment data in individual binders as evidence of deep and ongoing learning continuum

New actions taken:
• Involved students in the selection of artifacts of, for, and as learning
• Captured student learning in a shareable format
• Met to discuss our learning around documenting OF/FOR/AS learning
• Communicated student learning in an ongoing manner through Fresh Grade
• Used Microsoft Teams to share as a PLC group

Checking: During the 2019-2020 school year, in-class learning was interrupted for several months due to a pandemic — COVID-19. Few students visited school infrequently until the end of May, when approximately 18/30 students returned 3 days/week for the remainder of the school year.

While students were away from school in mid-March-end of May; students were encouraged to engage with remote learning. Remote learning at Big Lake Elementary took on a blended delivery approach; partially online and primarily paper-based. Weekly work packages were delivered by our school bus driver and an EA. Teachers connected with their students weekly via telephone for learning appointments.

How has the work on the BRLP influenced student learning and school improvement?

What sets Big Lake apart, is its inclusive school culture and laser focus on engaging student thinking and curiosity. The learning that has been taken on by the staff at Big Lake Elementary over the past three years to incorporate student thinking and increase the visibility and communication of student achievement and success, has been impactful. We see the difference because the greater community embrace the changes as well, and are supportive and vocal about the success. Student achievement is increasing, as students work towards increasing ownership of their learning.

Evidence that you can point to that would support the idea that ownership of learning has increased:

Ownership of learning increased through the year, and was heightened during remote learning. While each family approached the remote learning through different lens’ – we noticed an increase in student engagement with many students during their learning appointments on the phone, and online.

The content of parent contributions has been rich this spring, as parents dove into online forms of communication with teachers. Parents had more time and an increased awareness of where their child(ren) are at with their learning.

We notice that increasingly, students have moved towards reflection language that is more sophisticated and less simple (“That was fun”). Students are talking about their learning, their mistakes, and their growth.

Students demonstrated learning by increasingly learning to use the devices and self-select artifacts themselves, and then publishing those artifacts on Facebook and Fresh Grade. In fact, we had one family join in on this learning who didn’t previously engage with social media at all.

What are students doing now that they wouldn’t have done before, that shows they ‘own their learning’:

A byproduct of remote learning is that many of our families engaged with the Fresh Grade Student app to upload artifacts of learning. We hadn’t yet explored the app use with students, so during this time of remote learning was a good time for families to engage with it together. Many families also took video and photos of students demonstrating their learning. These were new habits that many families hadn’t tried before. We used a Facebook group called “Big Lake Keeps Learning”.

Ways in which their growth has been enhanced/accelerated because of the school culture:

We created a Facebook group called “Big Lake Keeps Learning”, where families were encouraged to upload evidence of learning to the group. Students and families could engage with each others’ artifacts of learning, give praise and feedback, and also ask clarifying questions and build relationships. This “learning together… apart” opportunity was enhanced by the rich existing collaborative school culture. We now have parents and families online that previously weren’t.

Reflections/Advice: What is important we now realize we don’t want to lose? What have learners and their families shown us? What about our relationships with colleagues?

– Close relationships with students and families made learning at home for our students accessible and possible. Checking in with, and supporting families, would have been extremely challenging if we hadn’t already established school-family relationships and the easiest mode of contact with them.
– I felt very thankful that I was at the Big Lake school throughout this pandemic. The small school setting and the great staff made the experience not overly difficult.
– Relationships with families need to be genuine, thoughtful, and nurtured. Professional and well-kept, maintained.
– We need to keep creating, building, feeding and maintaining those relationships.
– Some of the positives for me during this time have been getting the opportunity to get to know everyone better. I truly am thankful for the amazing group of ladies I worked with this year. I also got on Facebook!!! And, I loved seeing all the kids and their work during this time.
– One last thing that I enjoyed was the exercising/walking and yoga together. I would love to keep that up next year somehow.

Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently when the students were in front of you? What have we learned about what is critical learning at each grade level/in each subject?

– It felt like the ‘slide’ of their learning was worse for some students, and it made me wonder about the effects of trauma and stress from the pandemic for our students and their learning. This process reinforced that relationships and grace were, and are, the most important part about being a teacher. If students and their families trust you and feel connected, it is much easier to have a conversation, support, and guide, as needed. It highlighted that the school is more than a place of education and is crucial for some families well beings, as well.
– More outdoors, more math outdoors. Tried this and enjoyed it very much. Critical learning in Math is asking open-ended questions — analyzing, revisiting, risk taking, exploring, inquiring.
– I want to remember the importance of questioning to deepen learning and to make kids want to know more, understand more, to go further. Communication is more about listening then talking. We need to ensure that we are listening to kids about their stories and help them to manage and speak with intent in mind.
– The importance of intrinsic learning, the want and need to learn. The capacity to want to learn, to get to learn, to make learning your priority and passion. We could shed that we have always taught TO kids. We now need to be guiders and suppliers of opportunity, working alongside students. To teach is to give kids a sense of wonder.
– We worked really hard at continuing to express the importance of core and critical competencies. We asked students to show us their thinking, their curiosity, their care and compassion. These pieces of curriculum matter the most.
– I really noticed that the most engaging parts of learning that we set up for students all year long, and especially through remote learning, were hands-on projects and project-based learning. Using physical materials, technology, building challenges, outdoor science, and nature activities, were the most appealing for students and they gave their best learning energy towards those.

Leave a Reply