Posted by: darcymullin | April 4, 2012

#bcedplan…Times they are a Changin’


Last night I attended a regional working session on the #bcedplan in Kelowna.  The purpose of the meeting was to share some of the thinking and work that has gone into the plan and get feedback from the group.  The presentation looked at the areas of curriculum, student reporting and grad requirements.

The presenters were clear – what they were sharing was different than the presentation last week and the one they will do next week.  Feedback given at each regional meeting (there are 9 on these topics) get incorporated into the vision.  The plan is continually emerging based on feedback from the field.

The presentation was only 2 hours, but I left really excited about where education is going in BC.  Political issues aside, based on what I saw last night education is moving in a direction that makes me excited to be in the field.  As a parent, I am happy that my children are going to grow in a system that is going to try and meet their needs rather than the other way around.

Here are some of my initial thoughts about last night on what we heard and talked about last night.

Grading and Reporting

No letter grades K-3 will continue.  However, it looks like letter grades will be optional in grades 4-9 – the decision will lie with school districts and with schools.  Anyone who reads this blog regulary knows who I feel about this.

Assessment for Learning

With a de-emphasis of letter grades, there will be a corresponding emphasis on the 6 Big Ideas of AFL.  We will have to sharpen our assessment tools  – a real emphasis on Clear Learning Targets and Descriptive Feedback.  While we didn’t speak specifically about AFL, the connection is clear.

Curriculum

In all the reading I have done about the #bcedplan one thing that is universally agreed upon is the need to change the curriculum.  If we are going to change teaching and learning in our province, the curriculum needs to change – based on what I saw last night it will…and for the better.

The IRP’s are a great resource, but they are terrible curriculum.

– Sharon Jerowski

The curriculum is being redesigned in a way that is enabling.  By enabling, the Ministry wants the curriculum to be laid out in a way that allows teachers and students to experience it.  It will be organized in a way that allows classroom teachers to engage in inquiry, project based learning etc.  Ultimately, it will be a curriculum that will enable teacher and student creativity.

One of the most exciting things about the new curriculum is the importance of competencies.  According to Sharon Jerowski, the vision for the new curriculum will be less about courses and more about the development of competencies.  Content will be fixed – something that you will move through in a linear fashion, but competencies are on a continuum and students will move through them at their own rate.  As it stands now, the competencies are defined as Communication, Criticial Thinking, Creative Thinking and Innovation, Personal Responsibility and Social Responsibility.  With a curriculum that has significantly fewer outcomes, these competencies will be woven (they often already are) into classroom instruction in a purposeful way.

We were given a draft example of a Science 7 curriculum.  I wish I had an electronic copy to share, when I get one I will add it to this post, but it looked awesome!  Looking at it as a classroom teacher, it lends itself to the project based learning I have been doing.  The document will be digital, so the main interface is simple, but there will be links that can take you deeper and give you more information should  you need it.

Grad Requirements

I have spent my entire career in Middle and Elementary schools, so admittedly I am not well versed in this area.  Last night, our presenters mentioned they have only just begun talking about how this might change.  The discussions at the tables and on the bus home indicates to me that this will be a big challenge.

The biggest obstacle is a complete paradigm shift.  If we are more focused on competencies and learning at grades K-9, then how do we shift to letter grades and courses requirements in Grades 10-12?  Without letter grades, how do we give out scholarships, get students into universities?

All good questions – ones that I certainly don’t have answers for.  However, if we are focused on process and learning for the first 10 years of education, why do we need to focus on product in the senior secondary years?  Is it just to rank students for scholarships and university?  I don’t feel that reason is justified.

Overall, it was a great night that has me excited about the way education is moving in our province. As mentioned earlier, there is nothing concrete at this point and the plan is emerging as it is vetted around the province.  I was most appreciative of the committee working on this aspect of the plan – they were truly appreciative of our attendance and welcomed (begged for?) our feedback.  They do not want to do this work alone and realize the importance of involving the education community.

I know my thinking will change and develop as I discuss the plan with my colleagues, but change is good and growth is even better.

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Responses

  1. The curriculum changes sound fascinating. I’m not sure how they’re going to dovetail with standardized testing — but maybe they’re going to get rid of those?! Sounds more like we’re going tin the direction of teaching kids rather than content.

    • It’s a good question Betty-Ann. The issue of testing did not come up, but it is something that would need to be addressed. I agree, the concept of teaching students is exciting.

  2. Hey Darcy,

    I was just wondering if there were any specifics on a) who is designing the new reduced curriculum b) who is going to lead the very significant paradigm shift (that I agree with) from content to competencies (and are subject areas being integrated?). Finally c) is there any type of timeline? Just a few questions. Thanks!

    • Naryn, good question. Sadly, one of the essential stakeholders (teachers) are not at the table. If we are going to move from content to competencies teachers will be leading the charge. My hope is that at some point politics gets put aside and we can move forward. There was no mention of timeline, but it seems to me that they are taking the time to make sure it is done right.

  3. Darcy,
    Great post! Our conversations at FKSS sounded very similar and I found it all very, very encouraging. Lots of issues to work through but the direction certainly feels right to me.
    PJ

    • I agree Peter, there are still more questions than answers, but it was exciting to see progress. Let’s just hope it keeps moving.

  4. Hey buddy… I attended our regional forum last night and came away with the same excitement. My only concern is what Searcy brings up… Timeline. Although the facilitator said that this would never work top down I fear that without adequate support for teachers in the form of time to meet, this will be a challenge. For many of us who discuss edreform on an ongoing basis, this is exciting… But this is a HUGE paradigm shift for a culture of educators that have been forced (or have chosen to for years) to get through a curriculum and use this textbook.

    I see this being an easier transition in elementary but tougher in high schools.

    All in all, I love the ideas but am concerned with implementation as I do not want to see this as a “ministry initiative” or a “fad”. This could take BC education to a whole different level of learning… If it is done well.

    • Chris, I agree on all fronts. I don’t see the timeline as a big concern. I think if people are seeing progress and more importantly seeing the quality of work they will be understanding. My bigger concern is buy in and the appearance of top down. I hope the current climate does not derail what looks like some really promising work.

      • Unfortunately, the timeline is a concern. As long as this remains a ministry initiative that is politically driven, there will be problems with “buy in and the appearance of top down”–because it is top down. To implement a plan like this, those at the bottom (i.e. teachers) need to be given time to collaborate and participate, which is only happening on an ad hoc basis right now. That’s not enough, and I’m not convinced that’s going to change.

        In talking to senior academics and consultants–people the ministry goes to for advice–I have heard little to reassure me that this is going to be any different than the “Year 200” initiative (in fact, much of it is recycled). This goes beyond the current labour dispute, and points to the unfortunate persistence of top-down management styles, both at local levels and provincially….

      • Jonathan,

        I agree with you to a certain extent. I understand the reluctance and resistance to any initiative that comes from the top down. Based on my (albeit limited) experience with this group, they want feedback and did say at the meeting I went to, that this plan goes nowhere without teachers. The idea may be top down, but we in the field have an opportunity to have a say and be a part of something that could change the face of education as we know it – for the better. I think it involves trust, and we both know trust has not been present in our province for some time. To me, this is the biggest stumbling block.

      • Well said, trust is a two way street and somebody needs to extend a genuine olive branch. My hope is that it happens so that we can move forward. Great discussion – thanks.

    • Properly implemented, online computer aided curriculum design, curriculum management, competency tracking tools would enable teachers, parents and students to drive these kinds of changes. I described one scenario on the BC Education Plan website here:

      http://engage.bcedplan.ca/2011/11/question-6/comment-page-1/#comment-703

      And here is a Grade 10 student response to that idea:

      http://engage.bcedplan.ca/2011/11/question-6/comment-page-1/#comment-730

      In addition to online computer aided curriculum tools, a centralized, province-wide online communication, collaboration and decision-making system for teachers, parents & students (all citizens) is also needed. Imagine such a website with forums, private messaging, public comments that could include poll questions to which others can respond, etc. Those tools are available now…it’s just a matter of when we will choose to implement them. I described the need for such tools on the BC Education Plan website, including here:

      http://engage.bcedplan.ca/2011/12/question-wrap-up/comment-page-1/#comment-3407

      Other related comments on the BC Education Plan website can be found here:

      http://engage.bcedplan.ca/2012/02/question-11/comment-page-3/#comment-3886

  5. You’re right–trust is huge. And both sides can play the game of “they don’t trust us, so we can’t trust them.” However, I do teach my students that it’s the responsibility of the privileged party (i.e. the one holding more power) to reach out to the other side. For example, since men have historically been dominant in our culture, we need to help redress violence against women rather than demanding an equal focus on violence against men. In the case of the #bcedplan, the government (which holds the balance of power as we see with Bill 22) could build trust by spending time and money to release teachers to participate in the process, rather than merely requesting feedback…

  6. Darcy, the bcedplan is a curious thing. Despite agreeing with many or most of the principles involved, something about it just doesn’t seem right to me. One thing that is strange is that no one has actually asked the teachers to do anything. I guess this could be because of job actions and strikes. But all that teachers get are public campaigns and colorful brochures.

    Now, stepping away from politics, why would the above matter? I’ve been studying a lot about cognitive change in learners and while this is typically applied to students (as in kids) it also applies to teachers. We can probably say that there needs to be one of two things in place for teachers to make a change in their practice. They either need evidence or direct observations that something is wrong, or they need an emotional reason for change. I’m guessing that people like you and me might have both. However, for a typical classroom teacher that experiences class averages that match provincial averages, it’s likely they don’t have any direct evidence on a need for change. This leaves us with emotional reasoning. How the bcedplan has been disseminated to teachers does not play in its favour.

    What is needed for teachers to embrace this plan? Take me for example. I’m already trying to do things that align with some of the new bcedplan principles. Technologically, it’s a write-off at this point as there is absolutely no money or resources. Assessment is interesting path forward, and I’m fighting this one mostly on my own I feel. I held an info session at my school on standards based grading, and no one showed up, not even admin (who I thought would have been quite interested). I’m fine with that, but it’s not a model that will ensure success for schools across BC. At some point there does need to be some top-down help in terms of expanded collaboration, mentoring and yes, resources. Somewhere from up above, the MoE and school districts will have to be proactive in fostering teacher-led change. VSB has one or two employees that help with this, but certainly there could be many more. It will be very interesting to see how this goes, and if enough change happens that will build momentum.

  7. Thanks for the comments Doug. You bring up some very interesting points. The emotional response is a large factor. I too worry that the average person who is doing a “good job” is not going to feel compelled to push themselves to do a great job, particularly if they feel it is a top down initiative. It could truly hinder the implementation.

    It’s a shame that nobody, nobody (really?) wanted to talk about standards based grading. I would of been there!


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