Departure Bay Elementary Eco School SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

School Name: Departure Bay Elementary Eco School

School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Inquiry Team Members: Liz McCaw
Alex King
Rebecca Thompson
Kylie Thompson
April Hilland
Donna Larson
Annette Noble

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

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

Curricular Area(s): Arts Education, Other: Teacher focus on a shift in practice to process learning

Focus Addressed: Differentiated instruction, Flexible learning, Growth mindset, Self-regulation

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Educators were interested in offering process learning in their program through art.

Scanning: Educators were interested in shifting student attitudes to learning and creating a safe climate where learners took risks, shared their thinking and explored art materials. They wanted to discover whether process learning could be a pedagogical approach that would work in different curricular areas. We noticed a shift in thinking of the students, especially grade seven students, in participation, self esteem and engagement using the OECD Principles of Learning; fostering constructive, self regulated learning opportunities. We began with guided learning; encouraging learners to explore the materials, technique when needed and added incentives through learning intentions. Later the learners applied their knowledge to self plan which art tool to use to show their knowledge in other curricular areas.

A Story: The Kindergarten students were engaged in experiential learning with the art materials. As they became familiar with different art techniques (i.e.: clay, water colour, pastel), the materials were put out on the art shelves for daily use during free exploration and used during focus tasks as well; for example, using potters clay to create nests during a nest inquiry and nature loose parts, symmetry discs during math, and fairy homes during forest play in the fairy forest. During free exploration the children collaborated on a flower garden, designing their own bugs, dinosaurs and fairy homes at the clay table. The children became independent with setting up the clay table and then tidied up and put everything away at the end of free exploration, including washing the table/floor and emptying the clay wash basin outside.

Focus: As a learning team we wondered if a shift in our practice to process learning would allow students more control in constructing their learning, and if working collaboratively would increase engagement and change classroom attitudes towards learning. Some of us worried that students would be off task and wasteful with materials. We felt safe as educators choosing art as a starting point. This can be a challenging area to teach as many students lack confidence, are uncomfortable with peer judgements and tend to disengage. We discovered that student engagement was the biggest shift. We also recognized that it was not easy for educators to give up some control and trust students.

Hunch: We wondered if by shifting our perspective to a focus on the process of learning and not the product would make a difference in student engagement, our understanding of student learning and impact our relationships with the students. We were worried that it might be hard for students and teachers to adjust to construction of knowledge, especially the older learners as their school experience had been focused on the product and producing one or two pieces with the technique and then moving onto a different art lesson. By offering multiple opportunities to use the same materials or have choice in how to use the art materials to show their learning, and time to work on their skill-set, the student confidence grew together with risk taking and a reduction in peer to peer criticism.

New Professional Learning: We are still in the beginning stages but are excited by this shift in engagement and look forward to continuing to explore more curriculum opportunities for students to construct their knowledge from repeated experiences with materials.

The most valuable strategy for our learning was our co-hort. Working together to share our frustrations and concerns, and brainstorm solutions worked well for the adults. For example, we wondered if the intermediate students would have to unlearn in order to value process learning, and how to engage them with this new approach. We decided to try giving them a learning intention.

Taking Action:
– We brainstormed what art materials would be suitable for our grades and our knowledge as teachers regarding technique.
– We revisited our daily schedule to identify time for students to explore materials.
– We looked for curriculum links where students could use art to show their learning instead of using art for a monthly art lesson and family gift.
– We met 3 times to share our success and challenges so that we could support each other. However, some teachers met informally throughout the year to support each other.

Checking: We are excited about the difference in student engagement and all plan on continuing with the inquiry next year. We acknowledge that shifts in practice are difficult and that a learning co-hort is important to our individual success. We all had someone to lean on, and to have a critical colleague was pivotal to our success. One of the motivating reasons this year was the increase in student anxiety, as students returned to school during a COVID year. We observed that by giving them time to explore the materials and the choice to use them to show knowledge and understanding, was calming for many students.

Reflections/Advice: We recommend finding a critical colleague when making a shift in practice. This got us through the tough times when many of us might have given up. However, by having a peer to talk to and share solutions or brainstorm with or just talk it out was incredibly helpful.

Next year we have decided to continue our co-hort and practice process learning in our programs. We are in different entry points but we are excited about the shift and grateful to share our learning journey with each other.

We would recommend that with or without a learning grant, seek out critical colleagues in your school when choosing to make a shift in practice.

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