Sunday, December 16, 2012

Results from 2011-2012 (Academically Strong Students)

A few weeks ago a question was raised about our students who are doing well at school. The question was,  "In this project if we focus on the students at risk, then what are we doing for the students who are strong academically and socially?  Are we letting them down?"

This project was designed with all of our students in mind.  The purpose was to try to make school more engaging and meaningful for all kids, and so we collected data from all of our students hoping to gain feedback about what we were doing well, and what we needed to work on.  In addition to collecting data on all students, we compared data from three smaller groups:  Students who were academically and socially strong, students who were doing average work, and students at-risk of not completing school.   We watched our students at-risk closely, but all students were involved in the classroom based strategies where teachers attempted to make the curriculum more meaningful and connected to students' lives.  Students were given choice, challenged to use their strengths, and were involved in interactive classroom activities.

We surveyed all the students both pre- and post- in order to see how we were doing.  We surveyed them with questions in four areas:  academic confidence (how confident and competent do they feel at school), social engagement (how well they work with others and the teacher), knowledge of their strengths and how to use those strengths in school to help them succeed, and academic engagement (how engaged are they with the learning tasks).

The results in a nutshell:

• the mean score for ALL students went up from pre- to post-
• when comparing the results of the survey for three groups of students, (students who are strong academically and socially, students who are doing average work, and students at-risk of not completing school), the mean score for the students who are strong academically and socially improved the most; followed by the mean score for students at-risk, and then students doing average work.
•  the students who were strong both academically and socially showed an increase in  15/16 questions, one question stayed the same.  Of the 15 questions, there was a .3 or more increase in the mean score for eight questions:  I felt confident and competent, I felt smart, I had a good relationship with my teacher, I had a choice in showing what I know, My strengths and talents were recognized, My strengths and talents helped me perform better in this class, I saw other student’s unique talents and strengths, There was a t least one adult in the school I could talk to.

In summary:

The changes that teachers are making to engage more students, and to have students deal with the content in multiple ways rather than only pen and paper, is having a positive impact on all our students.  The surveys show this, and the interviews with students make it even more apparent as they talk about it being more meaningful, more connected to their lives, easier to remember, more engaging and interactive, and more fun.  In a number of interviews with students who are strong academically and socially, they confided that while these strategies really work for them, they were pretty sure they might even work for kids who are struggling.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Happened in Year 1 of the Project?

The project this year has taken off and there has been lots to do to get all the groups started.  Lately I have been thinking a great deal about why we are doing this project at all -- who are the students we are focusing on and why, and the benefits to all of our students.  It is true that when we look closely at our practice through the lens of one or two students we learn a lot, and all of our kids can benefit from that learning.

In June and then during the summer, I wrote the final report for Year 1.  Though I sent out the report to the teachers that participated last year, I have been neglectful in summarizing it here, and highlighting some key learnings.  So to start with, I am attaching a summary from the full report written in the summer for Year 1.  What I’d like to do is follow this blog up with more specific information about student growth and teacher reflections.  What happened for the kids?  And what kind of learning happened for us as well.

Here is the summary of the official report on the data collected last year:

         The purpose of the Through a Different Lens project was to see if we could remove some
of the barriers to learning that our vulnerable students face, particularly our Aboriginal students
and students with behavioural difficulties.  Teachers in the project made a commitment to teach
and assess in alternate ways in order to capitalize on students’ interests, talents and strengths. 
Each teacher recorded the strategies that they used and the students’ response to those strategies,
with a focus on one or two students at-risk in their classrooms.  This was not an easy task, as
many of the students that they focused on had difficulties in both academic and social areas –
behavioural issues, emotional issues, attendance problems, drug and alcohol involvement and
         Case studies completed in January, April and June 2012 on 36 students showed the power
of this work.  Thirty-four of the 36 students successfully completed their course or grade level.  In
all cases, the teachers observed their students at-risk engaging in the content to a greater degree,
participating in class, and interacting with both the teacher and the other students more often and
more successfully.  In addition, these students who do not normally feel that they are
academically capable began to demonstrate their strengths and talents in the classroom.  Student
interviews with students who are academically successful, and students at-risk, showed how
students positively respond to being taught and assessed in more interesting, hands-on and
creative ways (see ‘student voice’ on our blog, and how they 
appreciate having choices in their learning.
         Student surveys reinforced what was learned in the case studies and interviews.  Students
felt more academically confident, more socially engaged and amore aware that they had strengths
and talents that could help them and others in the classroom.  The biggest change overall was that
students felt they had more positive relationships with the classroom teacher, and had an adult in
the building they could talk to.
         Strategies that the teachers found most successful included:  teaching and assessing in a
variety of ways and connecting with student strengths and passions; building a positive and
supportive relationship with the student; being flexible and creative when adapting curriculum for
student needs; scaffolding student work so that they understood the steps involved; partnering
students thoughtfully and working with students to monitor their own behaviour.
         Teachers in the project grew professionally as they met regularly and shared ideas with
colleagues, observed students, planned with their students at-risk in mind, and worked diligently
to establish positive relationships with the students.  These teachers made a huge commitment to
their students and to the project, and experienced some powerful successes with some of our most
vulnerable students.