May Newsletter

Here is my e-newsletter for the month of May for my family of schools in Thames Valley (Central P.S., Northdale P.S., Roch Carrier FI P.S., and Royal Roads P.S.). Featured in this newsletter – An FDK teacher / ECE team’s idea for leading purposeful and engaging inquiries with their students. Also featured – a fabulous professional resource for teaching through inquiry!

May newsletter

CIL-M…Professional Learning at its Best

Recently a principal from one of my schools interviewed me for a Masters paper she was writing. She asked me the following question:

What changes in professional development and teacher learning do you anticipate most important in creating the necessary conditions for students to be successful in the 21st century?

As I reflected on this question, my first thought was on inquiry based learning as really being critical for student success moving forward in the 21st century. While I have had many conversations and networks this year with teachers around teaching through inquiry, and while I can see them starting to make changes to their programs, I am also hearing and recognizing teachers’ concerns. For many, teaching through inquiry is new and requires a change to traditional teaching practices. Given this, teachers require professional development to equip them with the know-how and provide them with the confidence to teach with an inquiry based approach. But can this happen solely through traditional PD as we all know and have experienced… the PD that is delivered in a boardroom from a knowledgeable other explaining a process and providing resources?

I would argue the answer to this question is “no”. Don’t get me wrong – I think there is a place for some professional development to be conducted outside a classroom from a knowledgeable expert. And teachers always like to be provided with resources! But I believe there needs to be something more. The basis for this thought is associated with the success I have witnessed this year with the CIL-M model (“Collaborative Inquiry Learning – Mathematics”), that has been so successfully delivered by several of the TVDSB Math Learning Coordinators (Stephanie Mitchell, Ann Pigeon, Barb Seaton, and Chris Silcox). With the CIL-M approach, a group of anywhere from 6-10 teachers from several schools get together approximately 4 days over the course of a school year. Each day they get together, they start in the morning with co-planning a problem-solving math lesson following the 3-part structure, to be taught in one of the teacher’s classrooms (from the group). This co-planning is facilitated by one of the math coordinators. Following this, all the teachers go into the host teacher’s classroom for the 60 minute math block, and while the host teacher teaches the lesson that was co-developed that morning, the others observe and document student work, the amount of time taken for each math component, and the overall functioning of the class. They then end the day reflecting as a group on the lesson, discussing any changes that would be recommended, and planning next steps. So far, schools that have been involved in the process for their first year, have been invited to participate for a second year.

I believe the CIL-M approach embodies all of the qualities of effective professional development important for teachers learning to teach through inquiry. First, it is a highly supportive approach. The same small group of teachers come together several times to co-plan a lesson. They get to know each other, they build relationships, and they develop a level of trust critical for learning together, taking risks, and pushing each others’ thinking. This PD is not a one-time dissemination of information. This leads me to my second point. The CIL-M is continuous or on-going throughout the course of at least one school year, and perhaps even two. This is important because we know that it takes time and repeated exposure before a permanent change in practice can occur. Third, teachers are able to see for themselves, how inquiry is conceptualized in the math classroom, and they are involved in the planning process directly themselves. Through the joint lesson planning, all the teachers take ownership for the lesson, which helps them going forward with planning in their own classrooms. Incidentally, the joint lesson planning ensures the focus is on the lesson and not the host teacher. Fourth, the PD with CIL-M is driven directly from teachers’needs. If more time needs to be spent on understanding a particular aspect of the approach, then time is allocated for this. And finally, teams of individuals from schools including teachers, instructional coaches and administrators come to the table to co-learn together in the process. This enables the dialogue to continue in between CIL-M days, and helps to leverage the capacity of the school in general, as collaboration occurs.

I must say, I am a big fan of the CIL-M approach, as I have been involved with it with three of my schools. In all three schools, I am witnessing changes to the math programs of the involved teachers. While not all teachers are teaching problem-solving through the 3-part problem-solving approach every single day, I do see that they are all thinking differently about their math programs, and are more aware of what inquiry in the math class looks like and how it can be implemented. Upon reflection after a CIL-M session this week, one teacher said the process is allowing them to “train their own brains!”. In my opinion, this translates into success of the initiative because as I mentioned above, repeated exposure is critical in order for permanent change to be made.

Clearly I am not alone in recognizing CIL-M as an effective approach to delivering professional development. Recently, our Board’s French Learning Coordinator (Ein Balmer) and French TOSA (Deb Smith) piloted CIL-F (Collaborative Inquiry- French), to help teachers better understand the new French curriculum expectations. The teachers involved were pleased with the outcome! Needless to say I was very excited this past week when, during a science task force meeting, we bounced around the idea of a CIL-S (Collaborative Inquiry- Science) under the direction of our Science Learning Coordinators (Susan Lindsay and Terry Brown). We will be piloting CIL-S in a classroom later this month! While there are differences between CIL-M and CIL-F/CIL-S, (i.e., timing) I think this is necessary because it recognizes the differences and unique needs of each subject area.

At a recent weekend gathering, I bumped into a new teacher who is a friend’s sister. She is teaching Science for the first time this year, and is trying to get her head around how to effectively teach through inquiry, including conducting hands-on experiments with her students. Her open and honest comment to me was that while her introduction to the science inquiry approach at a networking session was very beneficial, she feels one piece she is missing is seeing it in action. The CIL-S would allow this!

I truly believe our Board has hit the mark with meeting teacher needs, in conducting CIL-Ms, CIL-Fs, and CIL-Ss with groups of teachers. In my opinion, the approach is a true reflection of today’s professional learning, as opposed to professional development, which is what needs to be in place to help support teachers effectively in making permanent changes in practice!

What are your thoughts on the characteristics of effective Professional Learning for teachers? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Effective Student Questioning

This post comes from an inspiration from a new-found colleague, Aviva Dunsiger, who I was very fortunate to meet in person this past week, after talking to her through twitter over the past several months. I am thankful to her for providing me with the motivation to write this post!

This year, as an Instructional Coach I have to say my greatest focus has been on working with teachers to be more comfortable with teaching through inquiry. Why now? While inquiry-based learning has been around for a long time, I think the new Social Studies curriculum has forced teachers to take another look at their methods of teaching. One of the big changes in this new curriculum is its focus on inquiry within the Social Studies framework. For Thames Valley District School Board teachers, we had full implementation of this new curriculum this past school year, so it is no surprise that many teachers felt they needed to get a better understanding of how to teach through inquiry.

Over the past months, I have been invited in to many different teachers’ classrooms to help them teach through inquiry. This provided me with the chance to try out many new strategies. However, I quickly recognized the difficulty that many students have with developing rich questions to guide their inquiries. Furthermore, as I worked with students, I found myself somewhat “uncomfortable” with knowing how to lead students through my own questioning, to help them develop these rich sought-after inquiry questions. I was not alone. So many teachers came to me stating the same thing! My quest to help teachers involved reading many different professional resources (I must say, a personal favorite is “Comprehension and Collaboration” by S. Harvey and H. Daniels), viewing videos, engaging in conversations with fellow coaches who really pushed my thinking, and co-learning with teachers in numerous different schools as part of our Professional Learning Networks. It also led me to tap into my PLN in twitter world. It was here that I started to follow Aviva.

Further reading and “digging deeper” helped me to develop success criteria for good inquiry questions. Yet even equipped with this, I still found myself in the heat of the moment with students, not sure how to continue to question them to further develop their inquiry questions (and quite honestly, not knowing sometimes, if the questions were rich enough for good inquiries!). Sure I could provide the inquiry questions for the students, but I knew this would not help them in their own development, and it certainly wouldn’t help them “buying into” their own inquiries.

This leads me to my visit to Aviva’s classroom last week. Aviva has been teaching through inquiry and has been tweeting and blogging about it extensively over the course of the year. I was fortunate to be able to visit her class with a colleague of mine. As we observed her work with her students in an inquiry on natural disasters, I particularly took note of her adeptness with leading some students to redevelop their own research questions. With her skilled questioning, she helped two students refine their original question from “where are places that have tsunamis” to “is it possible for a tsunami to occur in Canada?, Where might it occur and why?” She could have just provided the revised question, but through her approach, the students took ownership of the question because it came from them.

After the lesson, while we were debriefing with Aviva, I told her that she made it all look so easy. What she told me next was both comforting and inspiring! She said that she wasn’t always that good, but that with sticking at it, continuing to take risks to further improve her teaching practice, and by tapping in to her experienced mentors for guidance, she has made improvements with effectively questioning her students.

As teachers we all know that in order to get better at something we need to continue to practice, and to take risks along the way. While I will continue to channel my efforts to improve students’ ability to make their inquiry questions richer, I am less critical of myself, and I accept that the process will get easier and feel more natural as I continue to practice with it.
What aspect of inquiry-based teaching are you most challenged with? What do you feel you need to continue to engage in repeatedly to improve your practice?

April e-newsletter

Here is my e-newsletter for the month of April for my family of schools in Thames Valley (Central P.S., Northdale P.S., Roch Carrier FI P.S., and Royal Roads P.S.). Featured in this newsletter – one teacher’s experience with blogging with her students. Also featured – a fabulous professional resource with ideas to help engage students of all grade levels, and a mentor text with applications to poetry month AND Earth Day – both happening this month!

April newsletter