I. General Information
School Name: Nakusp Elementary School
School District: SD#10 Arrow Lakes
Inquiry Team Members: Kim Hood: firstname.lastname@example.org, Dorraine Gustafson: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Name/Email: Kim Hoodfirstname.lastname@example.org
II. Inquiry Project Information
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Areas Addressed:
- Other: social emotional learning
- Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving)
- Formative assessment
- Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies
- Social and emotional learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our focus was to facilitate our most diverse (low incidence) learners to reflect upon and communicate their individual diverse needs, developing ways to advocate for increased, meaningful inclusion.
III. Spirals of Inquiry Details
Scanning: We used a combination of class reviews, observations, and discussions with classroom teachers and EAs, and asking low-incidence intermediate students the 4 key questions, to get a glimpse into the learning experience of these students, at the beginning of the process. The class reviews and observations showed everyone was working hard to include our diverse learners. However, usually inclusion was viewed through a lens of ‘How can we include students in lessons and activities that are designed for the majority?’. When we asked the Four Key Questions to six of our low-learners, their answers also indicated that they viewed their education through this lens. While they could mostly name two adults in the school that believed in them, evidence for this mostly was in the realm of how well they could ‘be good‘. Statements included: ‘I need to be kind’; ‘I’m learning to be good’; ‘I’m learning to be patient’; ‘I have to do all those kind of things like morning routine’; ‘keeping answers in my head’; ‘behaving’; ‘being good to other teachers’. Even with lots of scaffolding, no student could answer where they were going with their learning or what was important to them. They hadn’t seemed to have experienced feeling that they were at the centre of their learning environment. They also didn’t have a strong sense of why they were learning what they were learning and could not demonstrate a sense that learning in school is connected to the wider environment and society (The Seven Principles of Learning).
I don’t think this reflects failing to think of the needs of these students; more that there isn’t a clear understanding of what those needs are (from the perspective of the students themselves). I do think that these students can be at the center of creating an opportunity to ‘do better’. First Peoples Principles of Learning gave an excellent framework of how we might ‘do better’. Particularly, we were interested in framing this project within the following principles: learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the spirits, and the ancestors; learning is holistic, reflective, experiential, and relational; learning requires the exploration of one’s identity; and learning involves patience and time.
Focus: There is great support for our low-incidence learners, but we wanted to see them more at the center of their learning. We wanted to facilitate time and space for them to understand how/discuss how they learn best, and to know what they really want to learn now and in the future. We wanted to share this learning with their classroom teachers and collaboratively explore how these students could contribute to the learning of other students.
Hunch: Our hunch was that our intermediate students with diverse learning needs could begin to have a more self-determined learning experience with some space and time to explore their identity. With better self-reflection skills, they could be better self-advocates, hopefully leading to increased understanding from the wider school community of how they experience their learning; and this could result in new learning experiences based on both these changes.
New Professional Learning: We explored the following learning:
- Authentic participation—Dr. Alyssa Hilary Zisk
- Compassionate, collaborative and neurodevelopmentally informed approaches—Greg Santucci
- The double-empathy problem. Some websites to start (thanks to Laura Munoz!):
https://autismlevelup.com general website
- The SCERTS Model—A comprehensive educational approach for Children with ASD (and others)
- Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS)—Lives in the Balance—Ross W. Greene
A very useful resource we came across was: How Self-Determined Are You? A Toolbox of Resources to Help Build Self-Determination Skills. It was part of the I’m Determined project, which aims to facilitate youth, especially those with disabilities, to undertake a measure of control in their lives.
Taking Action: We began the project by committing two afternoons a week for six of our intermediate students (from grades 5 to 7) with special needs to come together. We planned to use half of the time working on conversation skills, collaboration skills, fun activities to build rapport and activities to increase independence. The second half of each afternoon was to be used for self-advocacy discussions and creating individual ‘All About Me’ booklets, which would be a concrete document to share with teachers outlining learning needs/strengths/accommodations etc.
There were lots of challenges. The group initially needed a lot of support to work collaboratively, but they soon learned to compromise and make decisions together. Creating a self-advocacy booklet also proved to be challenging. It took some time to find an appropriate template. Our students were also not used to making choices, decisions or communicating their likes/dislikes/preferences. We found that we had to back up and work on core components of self-determination (self awareness and self knowledge; choice making; decision making; problem solving; goal setting; self-regulation). We provided opportunities to practice these through activities like: planning activities for small groups of primary students and parties for peers, playing games that involved making decisions and choices, planning ‘the perfect room’ and ‘a good day’.
Working collaboratively with Dorraine on a NOIIE project ‘to facilitate our most diverse learners to be able to understand and communicate their individual diverse needs’ through Social and Emotional Learning lessons aimed at exploring identity (Tuesdays and Thursdays). This will include other peers at times, life skills and learning in the community (November to June).
Checking: Students did not finish the year with a completed Self-Advocacy booklet, but most of them did improve and develop self-determination core components. Two pieces of evidence of their growth stood out for us.
1) The first was their ability to work together in naming their group. Over several sessions they brainstormed ideas, discussed the meaning of words and how words applied to their group. The finished product was a name that they all agreed on and felt proud of–FRIENDS, which is an acronym for: Fair, Respect, Identity, Empathy, New Nakusp Experiences, Dialog, Social. They even added a motto–Friends together, working together.
The second piece of evidence of growth was the group’s planning and executing a walking field trip for a group of primary students. They chose the students to go on the trip, decided on snacks and purchased them within a budget, and each took responsibility for the safety and happiness of one child on the day. All of these were evidence of self-determination skills.
The four questions continued to challenge our students, but some of their responses were encouraging. Answers to the four questions included: ‘I think I’m doing pretty good’, ‘Next year I want to make a popsicle stick model of the Mento paddle wheel boat’, ‘Well, I’m going to the high school now and I want to do karate there’. They were able to share ideas that were meaningful to themselves.
The differences we made were small steps, and one year was not enough time; but, we feel like we laid a foundation to make bigger differences next year.
Reflections/Advice: Through this project we learned that providing space and time for our intermediate students with significant self-determination stretches to work on core components increased their confidence and led to more meaningful inclusion. They had opportunities to be viewed as leaders, to improve their communication skills (e.g. hold a reciprocal conversation) and grow in their ability to collaborate with peers in their classes. We have lots of ideas for expanding the project next year. We’d like the group to take on a leadership project (possibly implementing a school-wide recycling and composting program); we’d like more ‘typical’ students to join the group for some self-determination lessons/activities and fun/celebration days.