Crossing the Stage

By May 6, 2011Uncategorised

We believe in action and are proud that schools across BC are taking up the challenge of EVERY learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options. For a Grade 9 girl failing Math 9 improving dramatically in just one term, for a class of Grade 10 students who have all struggled with literacy and within a semester succeed beyond all expectations, and for the young Aboriginal learners whose mother and father are helping every week in their local school to show their families how much they care about learning, this vision is becoming a reality.

One of our greatest pleasures is to visit schools and to see the impact on young people, teachers, principals and families where inquiry about really important questions is a way of life. Recently we were in a secondary school where at the end of the first reporting period, a new vice principal took seriously the challenge of “if you can predict it, then you can prevent it.” Knowing that punitive approaches would do nothing to improve the behavior and failing grades of “Sam”, a strong-willed Grade 9 girl, the vice principal entered into a different kind of agreement with Sam. She believed that Sam could and would learn under the right conditions. The short version of the story is that Sam passed every course at the end of the second term with especially dramatic improvement in Math. We have encouraged this action-oriented VP to write a fuller account of what she did, how Sam and her teachers responded. Look for an article coming out soon!

Over dinner with a group of assessment savvy colleagues in Cowichan, we saw video clips of Grade 10 students talking out loud about the difference it made to their learning when they were clear about the learning intentions, when they were able to co-construct criteria and when they received regular coaching feedback. This class was filled with kids who had struggled for years with reading, writing, and had experienced limited success in previous English classes. The next day we had a chance to talk in person with some of these young people, including the young man in the photo. We were moved by their expressed confidence as learners and by enthusiastic plans for their careers after they ‘walk the stage’. What made the difference? The key was a courageous teacher who was determined to apply everything that she was learning about formative assessment and everything she knew from her previous experiences with struggling learners. This class not only demonstrated substantial growth in their skills and confidence, each one of them passed the provincial exam with flying colors.

The third school we visited was a small elementary school serving primarily Aboriginal students. As soon as we walked in the door we were struck by the smell of freshly popped popcorn and the bright displays of student work everywhere in Hul’q’ummi’num’ and English. Among the first people we met in the school were a mom and dad, responsible for the smell of popcorn. With five children of their own, they spoke eloquently about the importance of parent involvement. Never have we heard the impact of family support better articulated than by these parents – we wish they had both been wearing a wire! They were showing all the children how much they valued learning. They – along with the staff – were determined that their children would cross the stage and they were doing their part to make that happen. And if popcorn made by a caring mom and dad helps, then bring it on!

Occasionally we can get discouraged about how hard it is to make large-scale system-wide changes. When we visit schools and classrooms such as these, however, our hope is reaffirmed that we can indeed ensure that EVERY learner will cross that stage.

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