Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Christmas Concerts...Good Pedagogy?


It's hard to determine the value of the annual Christmas Concert at elementary schools.  If you go by the stress level of the staff at this time of year, it certainly gives you reason for pause.  If you gauge their importance by the beaming smiles of the parents as their child graces the stage, it is easy to see why they continue to take place.

Given that there are no curriculum requirements around a concert and the fact that the preparation of such an undertaking actually takes a significant amount of class time and school organization, it is fair to pose the question:  Is this good pedagogy?

While it is not the only way to promote school community and school connectedness in general, events such as these do play a part in the sense of belonging a student and his/her parents have in their school.  Much of the research we have seen recently around the link between school connectedness and academic success certainly suggests that we must pay attention to this aspect of school life.  

Laura MacKay, from the nursing program at UBC, goes even further and establishes the link between school connectedness and student health.

It has also been noted that in the adolescent years, it becomes even more important for these opportunities to exist.  Unfortunately, this is often the stage in our school systems where they diminish.  In addition to school events and positive relationships between students and teachers, researchers have outlined other criteria that are critical to school connectedness.

Below is a summary of this research under the umbrella of the Wingspread Research Group:

Wingspread Declaration on School Connections

Students are more likely to succeed when they feel connected to school. School connection is the belief by students that adults in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals. The critical requirements for feeling connected include students' experiencing
  • High academic expectations and rigor coupled with support for learning.
  • Positive adult/student relationships.
  • Physical and emotional safety.
Increasing the number of students connected to school is likely to influence critical accountability measures, such as
  • Academic performance.
  • Incidents of fighting, bullying, or vandalism.
  • Absenteeism.
  • School completion rates.
Strong scientific evidence demonstrates that increased student connection to school promotes
  • Motivation.
  • Classroom engagement.
  • Improved school attendance.
These three factors in turn increase academic achievement. These findings apply across racial, ethnic, and income groups.

One thing to remember is that the traditional Christmas Concert is not the only school community event that can take place at this time of year.  Many schools have opted for a concert every other year and a family dance/crafts night in-between.  This recognition of the balance between the school community and staff burnout is absolutely critical.

Thanks to all school personnel for their hard work at this time of year.


Monday, 3 December 2012

The Leaning Assessment of PISA

I suppose I always imagined that the PISA test leaned towards a very narrow reflection of academic-type students in wealthy countries.  This past month at the #BCSSA conference, I had the opportunity to listen to Andreas Schleicher of the OECD describe a much more potent and universal tool that goes well beyond the numbers.  While it may sound simple to say, the tool and the OECD remind us that the way we design and value our education system truly makes a difference for all students, regardless of their background. Here is a relatively brief RSA animated video (12 minutes) that gives a great overview of it's nature and purpose:

I didn't realize, for example, that in addition to the actual test that focuses on reading, math and science, there is also a questionnaire that queries everything from the learning relationship with the teacher to the cultural and socio-economic background of the student.  Because this information is aggregated into a macro view of an educational jurisdiction or country, no personal information is revealed.  Nevertheless, a very rich tapestry of information is created that allows educational systems to see how they are servicing ALL students.

In the 2 minute video below, Andreas Schleicher gives an update on some of the trends in education in 2012:

What I find very interesting is that we sometimes need to reflect on the macro view of education in order to remind ourselves of our moral imperative.  Andreas describes this well when he refers to education as a "lever for equity" (Schleicher, 2012).  While there are certainly some factors such as parent education level and the number of books at home for pre-schoolers that have an effect on a child's future success, there is not a single variable that absolutely precludes a disadvantaged student from achieving high levels of success.  We might also assume that the countries who spend the most on education see the best results.  This is not the case:

"The data also shows that there is little correlation between spending and student achievement. This is true for both per pupil spending, and for a nation's wealth. Many high-achieving nations spend proportionately less on education than other countries who have lower rankings. In the United States, there is a higher correlation between socio-economic context and student achievement, but there are very notable exceptions of students who succeed on PISA and in life, against the odds. This is good news for poorer communities and nations." (Schleicher, 2010).

At our own district level, we have been meeting with schools over the past couple of months to look at the results of their students on the district literacy assessment from May, 2012.  We have been able to drill down to groups and individual students, such as First Nations and Learning Disabled and we are seeing data that reflect the complex nature of the PISA assessment.

For example, the overall results of First Nations and Learning Disabled students for comprehension is low overall yet we see anomalies in various schools.  In some cases, there is no difference between the various groups - which is astounding.

The questions remain: what can we learn from these schools/countries?  What are they doing that is effective?  How do they get their disadvantaged students to succeed?  

The research continues...Have a great week,