Last year our district changed our school progress reports. Gone were the days of beautiful binders with reams of data – so much in fact that is was essentially meaningless, and in its place was this “new” concept of inquiry. Each school was free to choose their own question that made sense in their context. Empowerment…what a novel idea. I love the model, but I am still learning and we are still only in the beginning steps 1.5 years into it. I will chronicle our journey to date over a number of blog posts. What I would love is for people to comment, challenge our thinking, offer suggestions – in essence join us on our journey.
Part One – The Question
This question emerged over a three month period (Oct.-Dec. 2010) through a series of thoughtful conversations.
I was new to the school, so in August of 2010 we looked at historical data from our school – primarily school wide assessments. We noticed that the number of students fully meeting and exceeding expectations in reading decreased dramatically in Grades 3-5. We noted this was the time the assessment tool changed format and included a significant writing component. We thought that our question should focus on reading, in particular the reading writing connection.
Fast forward two months after the first round of school wide assessments. When we looked at the results from our Reading and Writing assessments in October, the numbers told us that most of our kids were reading at or above grade level. Those who were not were already getting direct support through 1 to 1 reading, Special Education or Learning Assistance. However, our writing data was not as strong. In every classroom writing scores were lower than the reading scores. At that point we felt our question should focus on writing.
It was about that time that we attended a School Planning Council (SPC) training. In BC the SPC is a group of parents that are part of the team that reviews school goals. At the session we were led through a variety of activities and engaged in a lot of table discussion. The discussion kept coming back to the concept of connectedness. We heard a personal story of a parent who was academically successful, but did not feel any connection to school and almost dropped out. As tables reported out and shared ideas it became clear that the job of schools went far beyond reading and writing.
At our next Parent meeting we reported out on the training session. This led to an engaging discussion about schools and their role in society – specifically what parents wanted kids to learn. While the curriculum is important, more than anything parents wanted their children to be engaged in learning and be on their way to becoming well rounded citizens.
After all the meetings and conversations, we had a staff meeting and we went through the same process. Again, people shared personal stories and we had an engaging and thoughtful discussion about our “real” jobs as teachers. The notion that kept coming back and reemerging time after time was this concept of connectedness. We didn’t know what it meant exactly, but we knew it had to do with the culture of our school and we agreed that it was an area we needed to focus on.
The last part we wrestled with was how to define this term “connectedness”. We looked at a study by John Hattie that compiled data from 500,000 studies on student achievement. His work showed that outside of a student’s cognitive ability, it is teachers that make the largest impact on a student’s achievement. No surprise there, but it gets more interesting. The single factor that had the biggest impact on student’s achievement, even more than cognitive ability was descriptive feedback. It was then that we realized the key to connectedness and achievement was in the relationships that are created when students and teachers engage in descriptive feedback. Research tells us that focusing on descriptive feedback will have an impact on achievement, but what impact will it have on connectedness? From all these conversations our question emerged:
If we have a school-wide focus on providing students with descriptive feedback, will students feel more connected to the school and will academic achievement improve?
Thanks for reading Part One. As I review where we have come from, I realize how much we have learned over the last year and a half and how much our thinking has changed. I hope you find time to comment on our journey.