Thinking about Data in the OCDSB

I’m currently involved in a really interesting project with other coaches at the OCDSB to help improve the OSSLT achievement of students in Applied courses. We began the project with a focused vision of examining student data, and developing a co-created lesson through a Lesson Study model, with the goal of seeing improvement in student outcomes using high yield instructional strategies and moderated marking.

We named of our project LAMP: Literacy Achievement through Moderation in Applied Courses.
The group of teacher and administrator participants is intentionally cross-curricular and the goal is to target one specific task on the OSSLT used in a co-created lesson study with moderation of criteria evident in student work. Our timelines are tight, but the intentional examination of data is fostering some wonderful discussions.

This week, I visited Merivale High School and we looked at a range of student data, creating Learner Profiles for students in Grade 10 Applied courses. We used past achievement, attendance, and anecdotal information as we tried to build in multiple measures of data. It was great working with such interested and enthusiastic teachers who are clearly interested in the success of each and every student.

I left thinking of an article about Dr. Bernhardt on the EQAO website and a couple of ideas struck me as important.

The article says, “It is vital to know where we are, as opposed to where we think we are.” I reflected on this and considered the reading of data. Data is factual, but interpretation of the data can be varied. For example, the letter “A” is the letter “A” – that is fact. But, interpretation of “A” may lead a reader to different conclusions; it might be a part of speech (an article), it might be the first item in a list, or a grade in a course, or the symbolic hesitation in a conversation or dialogue. How we read and interpret that letter “A” says something about us, the audience, and the context of our understanding.

But, what is student data?

I must admit that in my early years of teaching, I was somewhat mystified by data and I don’t think that I used it purposefully. Bar charts and pie graphs without a narrative left me cold and unmoved, until I reminded myself that student achievement is my business and data is one part of purposeful decision making.

Another idea in the article stood out for me; “data-driven decision-making, instructional coherence and a shared vision for school improvement”.

This makes a lot of sense, but I wonder how do we measure a “shared vision”?

Why I chose my #onewordONT: Bridge

I follow Julie Balen on Twitter and she posted the #onewordONT challenge last week.

Having to select just one word, just one single, lonely word, to guide me in my work this year was harder than I thought. 

I gave myself a half hour which quickly turned into several hours and several discussions.

But, I eventually decided on “bridge”, and I’ll explain why.

According to my dictionary of symbols, the bridge enables passage from one state to another and is a symbol of transition. Bridges connect places we have been with places we are going. I have often stopped along a bridge to look back, to pause in my journey for a moment of reflection. 

Bridges require creation, they need a strong foundation, a stable structure to traverse.

Bridges unite. 

Bridges span gaps.

I often find myself pondering the strange and wondrous paradox of going back in order to go forward. But this is the nature of reflective practice, and, I suppose, of a reflective life. If I am to grow and change, I must consider where I have been, celebrate the journey, and select the destination. And this is why I decided on the word, “bridge”. I want to physically connect people on their journey, to help them build their creative ideas, to bring pedagogy into practice and provide that stable frame for others to carry forward along their journey.

Bridges are the larger metaphor for connections between lands, languages, and cultures. 

But, perhaps for me, most importantly, bridges are the structural metaphor of understanding. Bridges are “patience, for patience joins time to eternity”.

Poetry reminds me to slow down and none say this as lovely as Wendell Berry and you can hear him reading this poem here.

“How to be a Poet” 

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Negotiating New Year’s Day Reflections with poetic "Possibilities"

New Year’s Eve is the night where we celebrate on the precipice between past and future. It is a time to reflect and prepare for a meaningful year, so I decide this morning that I will reflect and think about possibilities.

I woke up to the CBC radio show, The Current, with Sherry Turkle. I’ve used her Ted Talk, Connected but Alone, with students and we usually have some really interesting discussions about the use of cell phones in our social lives. Students readily admit to an addiction. But some of Turkle’s statements in this radio interview made me wonder.

Now, I know that she is a well educated scholar who has done extensive research on this topic, but my own personal experiences with my teen aged children and my own students make me wonder about some of her claims. To begin with, both my boys, much like me, dislike talking on the phone for anything other than purely pragmatic purposes, yet we are lovers of radio and podcasts. When communicating with family, we prefer face to face interactions, or the next best thing, the written word. We enjoy long conversations at the dinner table, in the car, or on walks with the dog. Both sons write long text messages in complete sentences and tell me that they care about word choice and punctuation, knowing how imprecise diction and punctuation can skew a message. These are young people who have grown up with computers and cell phones. On the other hand, my over 60 husband frequently sends out messages, sans punctuation, which leave me frothing at the mouth in frustration as I try to figure out his possible meaning.

Another idea raised by Turkle bothered me. She talked about students exhibiting a decline in empathy, yet I see students involved, concerned for the planet, for refugees, for social justice. In Canada, we elected a young Prime Minister whose philosophies of inclusion and social justice are humanitarian and grounded in empathy. She said that the markers of empathy in children have declined in the past ten years.

Yet, I was reminded of a British documentary series which followed the lives of school children as a sociological experiment. The series recorded observations and interviews with the children every seven years starting in 1964.

In the first series of the documentary, 7 Up, young British children are seen throwing rocks at a Polar Bear in the zoo, and at the 7 minute mark of the video, the audience witnesses two young school boys having a full on fist fight in the school yard while others carry on playing, and a teacher is slow to respond. In interviews, the children say that they are “concerned for the poor”. I wondered if there is a gap between the action and the word.

And as I scrolled through my Twitter feed over coffee, this Upworthy video called Cyber Seniors appeared. I open the video file and watched this with my husband:

There is a Senior’s residence right beside my son’s high school, so I’ve resolved to bring this idea to the school Administration. What a wonderful way for students to contribute to the community, to learn about patience, and teaching someone else is always the best way to learn.

This idea that New Year’s Eve gives me time to reflect upon the past and prepare for 2016 requires that I step outside of my own experience and reflect. With or without technological connection, I must do this. Language, whether spoken, or written, always mediates between the lived and the shared experience. I do think Sherry Turkle’s message is important; we are connected but alone. But, technology can document our experience and allow us to emotionally, if not physically, connect and hopefully, empathize. Technology is full of possibilities, if we choose.

As with anything new, time must pass, observations must be made, and reflections on the purpose and meaning must be drawn. And where there are gaps, whether they be economic, academic, or otherwise, the reflective empathetic person is called to action, called to possibilities.

May your year be full of possibilities and poetry.