Seize the Moment! Reflecting on Jan Unwin’s presentation about the BCEd Plan and what it means for my practice

I’m sharing what I took away from a presentation I saw back in July because I’ve just read the draft 10-12 curriculum for Science 10 and Biology 11 and 12 proposed by the BC Ministry of Education. I love the curricular competencies; the skills outlined are essential for successful  citizens no matter what career choice they make. Students proficient at questioning & predicting, planning & implementing, processing & analysing information, evaluating, communicating, evaluating & innovating are sure to have a positive impact on their communities.

I am concerned with the content knowledge described in the draft. This knowledge that “students are expected to know” seems curiously similar to the current PLOs, with some Bi 11 content trickled down to Science 10 and Science 10 content now placed in Science 9.

Jan Unwin, the superintendent of graduation and student transitions, presented on how the BCEd Plan is Transforming Education in BC on July 8, 2015 and I was lucky enough to be there. Here are some of the highlights:

Jan notes that by the time students leave high school they have been transformed from confident, curious learners full of questions to compliant learners who have disengaged from the learning process. This is what I notice in my students and this is what forms the basis for my inquiry. Jan also pointed out the the language we use that students have been exposed to during their time in the system may contribute to this loss of engagement and apathy. Language like “not yet meeting” may lead to “not yet learning” and “not yet attending”. So rethinking the performance assessment rubrics we have created at my school is on my list of things to change.

Unwin asked us, “Why does school look the same when the outside world has changed exponentially?”

Good question, eh?

The BCEd plan is developed by teachers. It builds on what we know about learning and, according to Unwin, is not politcally motivated. It’s not about starting over, but building on our strengths as educators. Personalizing learning is an opportunity to take what students are learning and make it relevant to their lives, so that the learning sticks.

What do we value and believe as educators? We believe that all kids can learn. We believe that all kids can learn to a high level, some need more support and time to achieve that level of proficiency.  And, as Jan suggested, we value whatever kids achieve as their passion. Thus, a trades path is not less valued than an academic one.

What is engagement?

When we were asked to think about a time when we were so engaged in learning we didn’t want to stop, the common themes were: outdoors, hands on, owning it as opposed to being told what to learn,challenging, choice, relationships, safe to fail and make mistakes, collaborative, supported by peers, not being evaluated or judged, just doing it. There was a relationship, a connection with people and also with the thing being learned.

The examples the audience recalled all describe learning as being situated, collaborative and co-created. These commonalites are what I am trying to develop in my practice. These are what I value as a teacher and a learner. “Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).”

Unwin went on to reflect on the rapid pace of change, the “game changer” that is the internet which has redefined the role of teacher from that of a transmittor of knowledge to that of a coach or a mentor.

One of the biggest conflicts, sources of tension in my practice, is the fact that I have to give my kids a grade/percent. I have a problem with assigning a 92% to a student as a way to describe their learning. What does it mean in terms of what they know or can do or what problems they can solve or what kind of contributions they will make to our society?  Why do we continue to evaluate (judge, establish worth) and assign points to student work? What would happen if students assessed their work against examples of quality or excellence as a way to self-assess and take ownership of their learning?

I have always felt that my hands are tied because what I want to do in my practice doesn’t result in the student getting a % which is required by the post secondary institutions that some of my kids will be going to. Unwin has been having conversations with the post secondary institutions because we can’t change our practices unless they change theirs. Right now, a percentage is an easy sorting system of applicants, it’s how they decide who to “let” in. However, percentages don’t correlate to success in post secondary school. Unwin suggests that post secondary institutions are willing to change their own pedagogical practices but don’t know how to do it…yet.

“It’s harming children! ” said Unwin about provincial assessments, FSAs, Science 10 exam, Socials 11 exam etc. Apparently, these may change to a variety of formats that will assess depth of thinking and understanding rather than the breadth of content knowledge that is now assessed. There may also be a self-reflective element that focuses on thinking and communicating. (That’s alot of maybes)

The new curriculum for K-9 focuses on doing, understanding and knowing. It is written by teachers and, says Unwin, feedback is welcome. Looking to produce educated citizens, the core skills of literacy and numeracy are emphasized, as well as understanding and application, thinking, and communication.

In response to a question about recommended resources, Unwin responded, “ The days are gone for sure where it’s gonna be here’s the textbook and here’s the curriculum.”

Teaching as a profession was emphasized. “ You are the professional with the freedom to do what you do best.”  This was refreshing, especially after the past year with the strike and the late start. It has long seemed to me that teachers are regarded as less than professional, as if anyone could do our job. It is one of the reasons I’m pursuing my Masters because I want to be treated as a professional.

“Teachers roles are changing to roles of coaches, mentors, and activators to assist kids in finding their passion and guiding them to a successful pathway to their future.”

“The change and transformation is really not about curriculum, it is actually how we engage students in learning.”

Unwin suggested changing from reporting at endpoints to ongoing communication of student progress towards a goal/target. Right on, I say! This is what Wiliam and Black, 2001, talked about in Inside the Black Box . Assessment for learning (AFL)  or formative assessment practices have been encouraged at my school for the past four years. I have witnessed tremendous transformations in staff and students over that time. The disconnect comes at report time when we winnow learning down to a number. This need to change.

How can we help students see themselves as owners of learning? Catch them doing things, capture it as evidence. Authentically show evidence of student learning which looks different for each student.  “Honour and value learning regardless of where, when and how it takes place.” If it contributes to student growth, then it should be valued. Fresh Grade (hate the name) is being used by some educators to capture evidence of learning in the moment.

“How can we represent learning on a continuum, not a grade level? Learning experiences are not separated by grades, so why do we batch kids by grade level? It doesn’t work.”

Unwin stated that we are working towards a proficiency-based system where time for students to become proficient will vary. We are also looking a developing a capstone project where students can demonstrate learning that is both deep and personal, where students have selected what they believe to be the best pieces of evidence of their learning and, where students create the best picture of themselves as learners.

This is what will happen K-9 but not in 10-12 yet because we are still putting an exit ticket on our kids that the post secondary institutions can use to see who gets in and who doesn’t.(Sounds like the factory-based system of 100 years ago where we are produce students to fit a mold that no longer exists.) We need them, the institutions,  to change what they need as evidence of learning before we can exit our kids with something that doesn’t fit. But as professionals we need to align what we do with what we know, we need to start trying to awaken the students who are sleepwalking through high shcool before the new system comes in.

Unwin’s final message to us, “ Go forth, you’re our best chance.”

In the meantime...

In the meantime…


2 thoughts on “Seize the Moment! Reflecting on Jan Unwin’s presentation about the BCEd Plan and what it means for my practice

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