Showing posts with label Personalized Instruction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Personalized Instruction. Show all posts

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Choose Your Own Adventure

The Grade 12 English and Grade 12 AP English classes have now reached a point in the year in which their learning must be divided according to their own learning needs. Both classes are focused on the skill of critical thinking yet are moving through classroom activities differently because of separate course goals. Ultimately, we have the same goal which is to prepare the students to be critical thinkers and clear communicators as they move on into the world beyond Greenwood.

The AP course necessitates preparation for the standardized exam and these students are well engaged in in-depth analysis of a breadth of poetry spanning the centuries.

Node Chairs allow students and teachers
to easily rearrange the room based on
learning needs.
Students in the Grade 12 course are currently working on an integrated research paper connecting to their learning in another course. Certain students have also chosen to pursue research topics according to their own interests or subjects of focus for next year. The unit includes a trip to the Toronto Reference Library for an orientation tour as well as a workshop on the research process to help prepare students for future research projects in various institutes of higher learning.

As teachers, we realized that there are times when it is necessary to divide according to course priorities. We have found the flexible learning space allows us to do this. We use a moveable wall for visible separation and the Node Chairs provide easy room arrangements.

Within the classroom, you will find a very calm atmosphere with short lessons and plenty of quiet independent work time. Having two teachers allows us plenty of possible one-on-one conference time and facilitates the independent personalized atmosphere that is desired.

Caley Blyth
English Subject Team Leader

Stephanie Martino
English Teacher

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Grade 7 Integrated Project: Designing for Disaster

Shannon, Megan and Taylor with
their disaster survival prototype.
In March, Grade 7 students were challenged to ‘Design for Disaster’. The students’ goal was to use their scientific knowledge and understanding of resources to design a device that would allow their literary character to survive a natural disaster.

In the process of completing their prototypes, students were challenged to integrate subject knowledge, think creatively and develop their teamwork skills.

Students had the opportunity to create diverse products that covered several curriculum expectations. Project tasks were designed to provide appropriate structure, while being open ended to foster critical thinking and capture student interest. Students could choose how they demonstrated their design process, what they built, what supplies they used and even where they worked.

Choice served to empower our students’ thinking and creativity. Taylor Davis ('21) commented that “getting to be creative and build things without a written plan pre-given” was really rewarding. While reflecting on connecting her school subjects in one project, Zoe Starnino ('21) stated that she “really liked doing all of the science and math parts because it was kind of like you were solving a mystery, or going on an adventure, and you just kept discovering all these things”.

Learning should go beyond curriculum. A collaborative approach to design thinking was used throughout the week. This allowed students to learn from each other, as well as problem solve in a team.

Working in teams was a highlight for many of the students. Toby Bower ('21) stated that “sometimes we didn’t agree”, but as the project progressed they enjoyed  “coming together as a group”. Callum Thomson ('21) thought “it was really fun working with the same people. Splitting the jobs up worked really well for us because we got the work done quickly.”

Students experienced successes and failures throughout the week. While no two groups took the same path, all students realized their design goals in creating final products they were proud of.

Students and teachers are looking forward to the second Grade 7 Integration Project in June!

Elysia Jellema & Erin Klassen
Grade 7 & 8 Teachers

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Connecting Visual Arts to World Issues

The concept of personalized learning is likely most applicable to the visual arts when students are taught to see better, to envision, to persist, to be playful and learn from mistakes, and to make and justify critical judgments. Art teacher Colleen Petch shares how, in the senior visual arts program at Greenwood, students are provided with a tremendous amount of choice and are consistently challenged to problem-solve, persevere, be resilient and to find a personal connection to their work.

Recently, in Grade 11 Visual Arts class, students inquired about the correct technical approach to paint an acrylic portrait. My response was, "Well, that depends...on your comfort level with acrylic paint, your level of experience, how you want the viewer to feel about this person, what style of painting you appreciate, if you want to work on blocking the form or defining specific details first, how many tones of one colour you want to use, what your intended final product might look like, etc." Each student requires a different personalized discussion with the teacher and spends time developing an individual plan to approach creative assignments. One-on-one meetings and discussions are common during each period.

Grade 12 Visual Arts students recently completed their first independent large-scale work for their final exhibition, based on their year's personal theme. They were required to
  • create a large-scale work of art based on a current social, environmental, global or political issue of their choice;
  • take a stance on this personal interest and then express this stance visually; and
  • connect this issue to their personal theme.
The students were challenged to find an interesting way to connect the issue and their personal theme visually, which then became the subject matter for a creation in a medium of their choice.

The process involved individual and group process work, such as:
  • An evaluation of each student's technical strengths, weaknesses and goals
  • Class critiques in which students expressed issues of interest, as well as their personal and thematic connection to the issue
  • An exploration of materials, subject matter, techniques and approaches.
The final works are thought-provoking and technically impressive. Each represents aspects of the students' identities and creativity, local and global and concerns, and a superb commitment to their artistic studies. As the students reflected:

"I am proud of the message I represented and how I have portrayed it. My main goal was not just to represent the issue, but to [also] evoke guilt and responsibility for the issue, which I feel I have accomplished."

"The one main thing that I have learned is that, once I go deeper into [the] thought [process] of making a more creative piece, I can make it look amazing. I have also learned that I can paint and do very well with issues and pictures that I am passionate about."

"I scrapped a piece the day before the final critique and started a new one. This new image captivated my thoughts and with the help of espresso coffee, I painted throughout the night to meet the deadline. Switching my idea was worth it in the end."

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Teaching and Learning in Greenwood's LearnLab Space

Room 207 is a flexible space where students and teachers learn in tandem with one another. A flexible space demands a flexible approach. This post focuses on the value of having a flexible physical space in terms of the diversity it creates for instruction.

In Grade 9 English we have found a good balance between consistent classroom routines to start and end the class, and a variety of cooperative learning strategies throughout the lesson. The large room provides opportunities to co-teach and the teachers act as facilitators of learning, moving smoothly throughout the space

In the classroom, abstract learning goals become concrete physical arrangements. In advance of the class, we determine groupings and seating arrangements so that students may choose, or be placed, in a grouping based on their strengths, their interests, or the level of support they need to learn and interact with the material for the day. We also have the benefit of being able to easily rearrange students as the lesson progresses. When students work ahead, or need to meet with a teacher one-on-one, their needs can be met right away. The teacher-student conferences have been especially supportive and informative. We are able to meet with students one-on-one for anything from conversation assessments of learning, to relaxed check-ins. Getting to know the students in this way informs us about how to make our groupings and how to adapt our teaching to meet the needs of each student.

This space allows the more abstract elements of differentiated instruction to be made tangible. Students make choices and have to partner their choices with a physical action. Something as simple as moving to the corner of the room that reflects their favourite style of instruction, their need for support in the moment, or their choice of text to read, allows students to become partners in designing their course. While reading Into the Wild in our survival unit, students were able to choose to actively read the book alone in one corner of the room, read the book with a partner in another corner, read the book in a 'popcorn' style in a larger group, or have the book read to them by one of us teachers aloud. Even as the activity was taking place, students were able to move to the corner that they realized suited them best for the day. The fact that Grade 9 students are aware of their learning style to this degree is excellent. Similar activities have been done with instruction and support. It has been interesting to observe their level of engagement and self-awareness as the year has progressed.

In our current unit about family and friends, students will be in literature circle groups based on one of four novels that they chose based on interest and stretch. We're looking forward to applying what we have learned about the space and the students to these discussions.

Catherine Menard
Teacher, English

Caley Blyth
Subject Team Leader, English

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Challenge and Complexity in Fashion Design

Learning different forms of art allows students to push their creative boundaries, express themselves in various ways and explore new skills and techniques. Art students are learning to communicate effectively and are involved in the community in different capacities. In Fashion Design, students access challenge through consultation with their teacher, who pushes them to grow and take risks with their designs.

Throughout the fall, Grade 11 and 12 Fashion Design students applied their knowledge and understanding of costume design and their sewing skills to a real world situation by designing and creating costumes in different capacities within the school's community. The Grade 12 students worked on the junior play production, The Little Mermaid, while the Grade 11 students teamed up with the Grade 7 Drama class to work on costumes for their production of James and the Giant Peach.
James and the Giant Peach

The Grade 12 Fashion Design students were assigned three to five costumes based on preference, construction complexity, intricacy and skill level. The Grade 11 students were assigned one costume based on the same criteria.

In both grade levels, students were encouraged to explore a variety of options and experiment with different techniques before moving forward with a final design. This ensures students consider multiple factors to create the most successful design for a particular character while still fitting a specific actor.

James and the Giant Peach
Receiving feedback and reflecting on one's work throughout the process is a key stage in the the creative development of a successful piece of work. Students were required to document their costume journey and how they worked through the creative process to achieve their final product.

Each student designed their costumes using techniques that they were familiar with but that also challenged them in some way. Students who had not sewn prior to taking this course created garments using techniques such as elastic waistbands, ribbon ties and hems. Students who had some experience sewing were challenged with more structural features such as boning, darts and zippers.

The Little Mermaid
With support, guidance and encouragement from both adults and peers, each student conquered their own personal challenges, developed solutions when problems arose and created a unique costume design following their own creative interpretation. These successful art students created cohesive and elaborate costumes that truly reflected their individual ideas, skills and styles.

Michelle Bianchi
Teacher, Media Arts and Fashion Design

Thursday, 4 December 2014

How We Show Our Learning: Personalizing Learning through Assessment

There are many approaches our teachers use to personalize the learning experience for students. One way is by giving students different ways to demonstrate their learning. Edwin Bryson, Greenwood's Vice-Principal of Teacher and Staff Development, shares an example from his Grade 10 Introduction to Business class, in which differentiated assessments were used to personalize for student readiness, interest and learning profile.

Step 1: Identify what students should know, understand and be able to do (skills)

I began by identifying what each student should know, understand and be able to do as a result of a particular chunk of learning. In this case, students needed to "demonstrate financial planning skills and produce a...personal financial plan (e.g. monthly plan, budget)."

Step 2: Identify one or more formats for the product

Next, I brainstormed all of the types of evidence that a student could use to show they have met these learning outcomes. For example, they could
  • Complete a monthly budget worksheet for themselves
  • Analyze a case study that requires a monthly plan
  • Complete a quiz on key terms and processes
  • Role-play between a financial planner and client
  • Create a board game that illustrates income, expenses and savings, etc.
The goal is to determine financial planning skills, but the teacher has the flexibility to create more than one type of assessment for this skill.

Step 3: Determine expectations for quality

The third step was to clearly describe the success criteria; it should be general enough that a student can achieve the top band of achievement, regardless of their choice of activity. I did this in the form of a rubric, using the following criteria to evaluate each assessment:
  • The student understands the relationship between types of income, fixed and flexible expenses.
  • The student demonstrates the use of planning skills (gathering information, organizing a budget/project).
  • The student uses critical/creative thinking processes (evaluation of spending and saving goals, actual versus planned budgeting).
  • The student makes connections between the financial planning process and future career and life goals.

Step 4: Decide on scaffolding needed

The fourth step was to select a few assessments that would meet the different levels of student readiness, interests and learning profile.

Complete a monthly budget using a template: This option would suit students who are still gaining confidence with financial planning, liked working individually and benefited from concrete and sequential tasks rather than abstract and non-sequential tasks.

Work in pairs and create a board game: The game should demonstrate the key concepts of income, personal income tax, expenses, savings and investment. This option would suit students who had attained a conceptual understanding of financial planning, liked working collaboratively and enjoyed abstract and non-sequential thinking.

Create a role-playing game: This option was created by a few students who wanted to modify the board game assessment to create a role-playing game. Since the rubric focused on learning outcomes, rather product specifications, it was very easy to accommodate this request.

Below is a summary of the differentiation found in each assessment.

Assessment  Readiness  Interests  Learning Profile 
Create a monthly budget using a template Basic understanding of terms and concepts  Wants concrete application of learning of this topic  Works best with clear instructions, small steps and linear approach. Prefers working on own assignment 
Create a board game  Strong conceptual understanding  Wants to expand and extend their learning of this topic  Is stimulated by creative challenges and conceptual thinking. Prefers working with peers. 
Create a role-playing game  Strong conceptual understanding  Wants to expand and extend their learning of this topic Is stimulated by open-ended challenges and enjoys abstract thinking. Prefers working with peers. 

Regardless of which assignment was chosen, students were engaged in an authentic learning experience and making meaning by linking the concepts to their own lives. Each assignment allowed students to reach the top level of achievement and provided different approaches to suit their learning styles. The end result was increased engagement and more accurate evaluation of each student's progress toward meeting the course's learning goals.

Note: Many of the concepts discussed here are borrowed from one of the foremost authors on the subject, Carol Ann Tomlinson, in her book How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms (2nd Edition).

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Grade 8 Social Studies: Extending Students Inside and Outside the Classroom

Part of  personalizing education is creating opportunities for students to extend their learning when they are ready and able to take on more of a challenge. Teacher Cara Pennington gives some examples of extension opportunities for students in her Grade 8 Social Studies class.

Grade 8 Social Studies is a unique course that utilizes the history of Canadian Confederation and Western settlement, along with different aspects of human geography, to develop critical thinking, reading and writing skills. On many occasions, students are encouraged to think outside the box and imagine what life would be like in different time periods or in different parts of the world by taking on the roles of different people and characters throughout history.

Students receive ample choice when it comes to assignment topics. The choice allows for personalization and challenge for students who require a push. Some of the topics that students are able to select include extensions that require students to complete additional research and analysis of their topic. This allows students who are ready for more of a challenge to make deeper connections and to develop their critical thinking skills.

Furthermore, day-to-day tasks in class include extension options for students who are quickly developing an understanding of the material and content. These more in-depth questions encourage students to analyze the same material in different ways and from different angle, in order to to come to new conclusions about the topic.

 Students in Grade 8 Social Studies are also extended outside of the classroom through a field trip to Black Creek Pioneer Village. Here, the students are able to live like the pioneers they have learned about in class, both in British North America and during the settlement of the Canadian western provinces. They perform tasks reflective of the time period such as woodworking and candle-making, and are able to bring the knowledge they have learned in the classroom to life and apply their understandings in a real-world setting.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Personalized Extensions in Grade 7 and 8 Science

The core skills that science students need to develop are effective scientific inquiry and problem-solving. In Grade 7 and 8 science, we focus on helping students to build those skills. 

To ensure all students push their personal limits, they are challenged through individualized extensions. Opportunities to do so are provided on a variety of scales and embedded into the program to ensure each student is consistently and appropriately challenged.

During labs, students have extension opportunities that expand their critical thinking skills and help them connect the material to other subjects. In our Grade 8 "Systems in Action" unit, students are investigating the mechanical advantage of pulleys. Students have the opportunity to extend their learning by building increasingly complex pulley systems with various mechanical advantages. They may also link their learning to math by creating a graph comparing the actual and ideal mechanical advantages.

In Gr. 8 "Systems in Action," students can extend their learning
through integrated mathematics .
In the classroom, students can challenge themselves when completing practice problems. In the same Grade 8 "Systems in Action" unit, some students are extended by being given more difficult challenge questions to complete when determining the work and mechanical advantage of various systems. The challenge questions are designed to push the students' conceptual understanding and may require more advanced computational skills. The focus of these questions is on different practice, not more practice.

Personalized choice in projects allows students
to communicate their understanding using their
individual strengths
Science is also personalized through a choice in projects. To convey their knowledge of cell organelles and their appearance during the Grade 8 cells unit, students are given the choice to build an edible cell model or write a creative story that incorporates cell organelles. This choice between written and visual expression allows students to communicate their understanding of cell organelles using their individual strengths.

Extension opportunities are also delivered on a larger scale to ensure each student is consistently challenged. Last year, a Grade 7 student demonstrated a keen interest in science and the ability to quickly learn new concepts and scientific skills. To ensure she remained challenged, she was given the opportunity to learn Grade 8 Science that same year. A self-paced program was developed for her, in which she had reduced work for Grade 7 Science to allow her time to focus on the Grade 8 curriculum as well. This individualized approach gave her the opportunity to explore a subject she was passionate about on a deeper level, develop time management skills and foster independent learning skills.

Elysia Jellema
Teacher, Science and Mathematics

Friday, 31 October 2014

Computer Literacy Skills Both Stretch and Support Student Learning

Grade 7 and 8 students at Greenwood participate in a Grade 9 course titled Information and Communication Technology in Business (informally referred to by staff and students as BTT) which gives them the opportunity to reach ahead and develop skills they will use in their other courses. BTT teacher Sarah Thornton discusses how this personalized, independent course helps students gain valuable skills in communications, technology, planning and organization.

Students complete the BTT course independently over two years (with fifty percent of the course completed in Grade 7 and the remaining fifty percent in Grade 8), which is both valuable and challenging. To scaffold this effort, there is a BTT coordinator appointed to the Grade 7 and 8 programs respectively. The coordinator oversees the BTT co-curricular periods that are supervised by each student's Adviser, marks assignments, and tracks and reports individual student credit accumulation to students, Advisers and parents. The personalized support provided by the individual Adviser and the oversight of the coordinator ensure that the students are able to set and meet clear goals so that they can achieve the credit in the most efficient and organized way possible.

The enrichment that Greenwood students gain by participating in the BTT course is twofold. Firstly, they are able to demonstrate the mastery over communication technology and online organization necessary to be successful in Greenwood's innovative technological environment. Moreover, participating in the course challenges and further develops students' executive functioning skills, as they are required to take responsibility for their work in a course that exists beyond the walls of their physical classrooms.

In this way, their participation in the course encourages perseverance. It teaches them how to implement and execute strategic plans, as they negotiate their way through the personalized assignment options. It provides an opportunity for Advisers and the BTT coordinators to coach the students on how to choose the best and most effective way to navigate an assignment or topic. Finally, the BTT course challenges students to maintain a clear organizational system that allows them to balance the homework and assignments required to complete the BTT course in a timely manner.

Grade 7 and 8 students benefit in both the long and short term by participating in a BTT course. This course prepares them to be successful throughout their high school careers, by giving them freedom of choice to personalize their schedules and perform to their best, as well as equipping them with critical technological skills. It also allows them, with the support of their Advisers and the BTT coordinators, to practice and apply executive functioning skills that will allow them to be successful in their current courses and beyond.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Blended Learning in Media Arts

Teachers Johanna Liburd and Amy Adkins discuss how personalizing learning for their Media Arts course helps students to acquire not only technical skills but also confidence in their learning capabilities.

What is Media Arts?
Media Arts provides an avenue for students to experience new technologies and the ways in which those technologies interact with and build on the traditional arts. Students explore such areas as photography, image manipulation, sound recording and editing, video recording and editing, digital animation and web design. Students acquire communications skills that are transferable beyond the media arts classroom and develop and an understanding of responsible practices related to the creative process. Students will also develop the skills necessary to create and interpret media art works.

The Traditional Media Arts Class
There are many ways to personalize student learning in the arts. One of the more traditional methods is personalizing by student interest. This year, the course has been further developed to incorporate even greater opportunities for personalizing learning based on readiness. For instance, in each unit students are given a variety of options for how they go about learning course concepts, skills and the ways in which they express their knowledge and understanding. With a focus on choice, students are able to use their interests and strengths to navigate their own learning through each project.
When personalizing for readiness, the teachers get to know each student and create lessons and projects that build upon their unique interests, strengths, prior learning and academic needs. We identify when a student needs a push or challenge and gear their choices and projects in a more challenging direction.

How Will This New Course Benefit Student Learning?

Blended Delivery: Students will be given a variety of ways to learn material based on their specific needs and/or learning preferences. By delivering course content in a variety of ways, students will learn the same material, but in the manner that suits them best. Students will also be encouraged to consider when, and if, they need to revisit prior learning. With the guidance and support of their teacher, students will be given opportunities to push themselves and will be challenged to develop strong and effective work habits.

Greater Teacher Support: The course Groodle page will contain resources presented in a variety of formats, such as videos and written tutorials, as well as one-on-one demonstrations provided by the teacher. With a greater focus on online learning, it is our hope that students will further develop their independent learning skills. This also allows the teacher to circulate around the room and provide support based on individual need.

Student Choice: The last unit of the course is an Independent Study unit. This unit provides students with the opportunity to propose a project that revisits and expands upon prior learning in the course. After submitting a proposal, students will be challenged to further develop their independent and collaborative learning skills. Regular check-ins with their teacher will ensure that the student stays on track while exploring the topic of their choice.

Collaborative Learning: Our goal is to give students a realistic sense of what it is like to work in a creative field. To that end, we aim to create and support an environment of collaboration, teamwork and leadership. Lessons will begin with warm-up activities that energize, challenge and promote community within the class. Students will not only gain a broad set of technical skills during the year, but they will also develop their interpersonal and collaborative skills, as well as their emotional intelligence.

In conclusion, it is our hope that students are able to experience greater success in Media Arts because of blended delivery, greater teacher support, student choice and collaborative learning. We aim to increase our students' ability to learn in a self-directed manner, to build their creative thinking skills and to foster a love of the arts. As we prepare our students for the future, our focus is not only on equipping them with competitive skills, but also instilling confidence in their own ability to learn.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Personalizing Reading Assignments in the English Classroom

English teacher Heather Wright explores how students become more engaged in literature when they are able to take an active role in their reading choices.

"There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book." - Frank Serafini

As an English teacher, getting students to not only read, but to enjoy their reading and reflect upon it critically is an ongoing challenge. I have found that in order for students to get the most out of the reading tasks, they need to first be reading the right book - a book that both challenges them academically and also peaks their interest. One of the ways we do this at Greenwood is by offering students choices for reading assignments.

Last spring, the Grade 12 students each read a novel as part of their unity on identity. Students were asked to develop and answer essential questions as part of their reading. Some questions that students created included:
  • How does our cultural identity affect the decisions we make?
  • How do others' perceptions influence how we view ourselves?
  • In what ways do we assess our own worth?

In order to increase student engagement, students were offered three choices for their reading. The first choice was Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, a Canadian novel exploring the history of Aboriginal Canadians and the residential school system. This text, while dealing with very mature themes, tells the story through accessible language, short chapters and a charismatic male protagonist. The second choice offered to students was Camilla Gibb's A Complicated Kindness. This novel, also Canadian, tells the story of a young woman living in a Mennonite community and having to deal with the practice of ex-communication. Though the story also explores the theme of identity, the writing itself is more advanced, making greater use of literary techniques. The final choice offered to students was an enrichment option to read Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, comparing how masculine identity and socioeconomic class are explored in each text. 

By providing these choices, each student was able to select a text that provided them with an appropriate academic challenge and read a story that held their interest. This resulted in some very impressive final essays and presentations from students in each of the three groups.

I have found that encouraging students to take an active role in their reading choices helps them to develop their own reading tastes and practices outside the classroom. This was evident at our recent annual Summer Reading Book Fair. It was great to see so many Greenwood students engaged in selecting the books they wished to read over the holiday and being genuinely excited to push themselves to read new and more challenging texts. Hopefully, this enthusiasm keeps up as each student begins another year of English class this month.

Here's to a great year of reading!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Minerva: The University of the Future?

Critics of contemporary North American education often claim that it’s driven by flavor-of- the-month thinking. Not surprisingly, personalized learning has been described by these same critics as the latest educational fad. As followers or occasional readers of this blog realize, we take exception to such criticism, as personalized learning is at the heart of our educational approach here at Greenwood.

Consequently, it was refreshing to read this month’s cover story in The Atlantic, “The Future of College?” and learn that other educators are not content with the preservation of the status quo. The article by Graeme Wood, a graduate of Harvard, focuses on Minerva, a small for-profit university that has established itself in San Francisco. What makes Minerva unique is its use of an online learning platform, which uses technology to re-imagine the traditional university lectures and seminar.

The strength of the online platform is that it forces students to engage actively and be accountable for their learning. By using this technology, professors can simultaneously communicate with each student. Unlike the traditional seminar, there is no opportunity to sit back and let others do the work, nor is there the typical stand-and-deliver lecture in which the professor does almost all the work. Professors use the online platform to group students to debate topics and gauge learning through pop quizzes. After experiencing one of these 45-minute seminars, which Wood describes as “good, but exhausting,” he observes that Minerva’s seminar platform “will challenge professors to stop thinking they’re using technology just because they lecture with PowerPoint.”

One other benefit of this approach is that it forces professors to think more carefully about how they teach. Rather than seeing teaching as an art and a science, the leaders of Minerva believe teaching is “a science and a science.” In other words, effective teaching is dependent upon student learning. Lesson design is rooted in research related to retention and engagement. Ongoing assessment, which is a key element of personalized learning, is used to group students effectively and to support remediation.

Though Minerva makes no claims about personalizing education, their efforts at reinventing the traditional university model bear some similarities. Rather than educating large numbers of students in a cost-effective manner (which is why lecture halls exist at universities), they instead are focused intently on individual learning. The entrepreneurs of Minerva are also leveraging technology to make this possible.

It is reassuring to know that our use of blended learning and other aspects of personalized learning at Greenwood are preparing our students to be able adapt successfully to the inevitable changes that are happening or will soon take place in the world of higher education.

Allan Hardy

Monday, 9 June 2014

Thinking Differently to Meet Students' Needs

Two years ago, I posted “Reinventing the High School Experience,” which reflected upon one educator’s claim about the need for high schools to “revolutionize” themselves. As the postings on this blog over the past two years demonstrate, Greenwood has made great strides in this direction.

Here are some of the highlights:
  • 15 high school courses, ranging from Grade 9 to 12, are now delivered using a blended learning model. Using this approach has allowed students to learn at their own pace and freed up class time for more individualized and small group learning. 
  • Non-blended courses continue to leverage new types of learning technology, such as Oxford Next and The Academic Zone, which enable students to customize their learning. 
  • 6 Grade 7-10 subjects are now scheduled in a block format, which enables flexible grouping based on readiness or interest within a grade cohort. 
  • Our Grade 7-8 Arts program has introduced a major/minor approach where students can specialize in one or two of our four arts electives. 
  • 75% of our teachers now use Hapara on a regular basis. Use of this Google tool allows teachers an overall snapshot of individual student learning. 
  • We have re-modeled two classrooms to create one flexible learning space, equipped with state-of-the art technology and furniture.

Ann Marie Kee, the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Independent Schools, recently observed that independent schools are often reluctant innovators. I am proud to be leading a team of educators that have the expertise and courage to think differently about high school and how it can be improved to better meet the needs of our students.

Allan Hardy

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A (Novel) Study in Personalization

Providing students with choice not only allows greater personalization in the classroom, but gets students really excited about learning. English and Student Success Centre teacher Kathryn Connelly details how giving Grade 7 students three book options for a recent novel study made a big impact.

At Greenwood, all sections of Grade 7 English meet at the same time in adjacent rooms. We also see this class every day. This method of scheduling in Grade 7 English allows for a great deal of flexibility, which benefits both students and teachers.

Our most recent novel study unit gave us the opportunity to work in flexible groupings based on the individual learner’s interests and needs. Before beginning the unit, each teacher gave a brief introduction of the novels, all by Canadian author Eric Walters: Safe as Houses; Wave; and Shaken. These novels varied in length and difficulty. Students then selected one of the three novels by filling in a preference sheet. Based on both student interest and literacy skills, which were assessed in previous units, the students were grouped.

The English classes were then mixed and regrouped based on which novel the students chose to study. Each teacher took a different novel group.

The individual strengths and needs of each particular group of students determined how the class was taught. Where one class took more time to read and analyze the novel through basic story devices, another class worked on examining and analyzing the novel through real-life examples.

These groupings allowed each student to be stretched to reach their own individual potential, as well as develop a genuine and inquisitive interest about the topic. As a result, all three classes had great success!  

At the end of the unit, student reflections highlighted how happy they were to not only have had the opportunity to explore a novel they were interested in, but happy to have had lessons, activities and assignments that were tailored to meet the strengths and needs of the wide variety of learners in their grade. 

Eric Walters visited Greenwood during this novel study unit to discuss his work with our Grade 7 and 8 students. Read about his visit on our website.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Personalizing in a Flexible 21st-Century Classroom

Personalized learning isn't just about the content of the lesson - it's also about the space in which students learn. Geography teacher Christine Joannou discusses how Greenwood's new flexible classroom allows students to choose the learning method that works best for them.

The flexible setup supports individual, small
group and teacher-led lessons - all in the
same room.
The Grade 9 geography class (CGC1D) is one of the most unique classes at Greenwood. Two teachers are in the classroom at all times, working within a 21st-century classroom with flexible seating arrangements. This setup has allowed us to personalize the classroom, so that students are able to choose the type of learning they want:

  • Individual lessons
  • Peer-to-peer or small group lessons
  • Teacher-led lessons

If students choose the teacher-led option, one of the teachers will take them through the lesson, explaining concepts, asking guiding questions and pacing the lesson based on student needs.  

Students also have the option of learning in the "quiet zone". In the quiet zone, students work independently to go through the lesson on their own; a teacher is always available for questions, should students need clarification. Learners work through the lesson at their own pace, and dive deeper into certain topics if they finish the lesson early. 

The classroom setup also allows students to work in small groups around small display screens. They can still work at their own pace, but have the support of either their peers or the teacher if needed. This option fosters student collaboration throughout the learning process.

The flexible classroom setup has allowed us to cater to each student’s needs. Students who need more time to understand a concept are given that opportunity, while students who want to complete the lesson and move on to enrichment activities have this opportunity as well. 

Students have enjoyed this lesson approach, as many find the pace of a more traditional lesson does not cater to their needs. They enjoy the flexibility of this 21st-century classroom set up, which uses two teachers and blended learning tools to enable them to choose the most effective learning method for them.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Math Mix 7

At Greenwood, the three Grade 7 math classes meet at the same time, on the same day, but with three different teachers. In fact, the three teachers teach their math classes on the same floor, all in classrooms next to each other.

I’m one of the Grade 7 math teachers, and I have loved being part of this program. This “block scheduled” format allows us to mix and mingle our students based on student interest, or on the level of support needed on a topic. Sometimes, the mixing is done at random.

One day last year, two of the Grade 7 math classes reshuffled and grouped students based on gender. Students were tasked with assembling a brownie recipe based on their calculations of fractions, which allowed the students to work on a math problem with peers with whom they don’t normally work.

This year, after evaluating a geometry assignment, we split up our classes based on the different concepts for which students needed additional support. Rather than teaching a “one size fits all” class on the topic, which can often lead to disengagement or stress, we grouped students by readiness and were able to keep them engaged.

The re-shuffling of our classes happens about once per unit, so as to not disrupt the structure and routine of the class. The Grade 7 math team has found that students find these sessions engaging, useful and fun. In addition, the Grade 7 teachers have appreciated the opportunity to get to know even more of our wonderful Grade 7 students!

Kelly Smolinski
Math Teacher

Monday, 28 October 2013

Using Hapara to Help Guide Student Learning

Research shows that constructive, immediate feedback, and anecdotal comments given in a timely manner, result in greater student learning (Chappuis, 2007.Hapara is a tool that supports personalized learning in this key, strategic way. Leveraging Google Apps, Hapara allows teachers to get a snapshot view of each student’s most recent work in Docs, Sites, Blogger and Picasa.

Hapara creates shared folders between students and their teachers where student work is kept. From here, teachers can see the initiation and process of student learning, and even the final product of individual student work. They can support learning during the process by provide timely feedback and by designing strategic in-class learning experiences. Watch the video below for a demo of how Hapara can help teachers support the learning process.

I have used Hapara to assess students' homework prior to class and then to organize their next class based on readiness. I no longer need to wait until they are in class to take in their homework, nor do I have to assess it, and then design the learning for the following class. Through Hapara, I use their understandings immediately and design learning experiences appropriately.

I can guide some students to engage in learning activities that reinforce the learning, while students who have demonstrated a solid understanding of the previous lesson can extend their learning. This allows me to work more directly with the students in each group to help them achieve their learning goals at a pace that is appropriate for them. This immediate feedback gives students a strong sense of their own understanding, and ensures that they know the lesson before moving on to the next concept and/or skill.

Garth Nichols
Teacher, Student Adviser Program Coordinator

Monday, 2 April 2012

Teachers Need to Focus on Deliberate Practice

The term following March Break is the one where I begin to reflect on what I have done to increase student learning. This is the last opportunity for me to really help students show growth, and so I have to think about which students are well on their way, and which ones need something else from me to help them improve their performance.

Because this is the frame of mind that I am in, I was curious to join a webinar put on by the Marzano Learning Centre on March 30, 2012 on “Becoming a Reflective Teacher.”

Marzano is a respected leader in the field of teacher development, and his research has influenced my development over the years. One of the things he spoke about in the webinar is how teachers need to focus on deliberate practice and select three specific things to work on each year in order to improve.

In a previous posting I noted that my work with teachers at Greenwood College School is similar to my work with students in my English class in the way that focusing on specific areas for growth is more effective than trying to look at everything at once.

In this article from Educational Leadership, Marzano writes about how a teacher might find areas for growth from the behaviours that he considers essential for the classroom.

I had made it a goal to increase the ways I personalize instruction this year, and as I reflect now on which students need more, or different types of, instruction, it is with the goal of personalizing so that each can achieve a high level of performance, at or near his or her capacity.

Jennifer Walcott
Director of Teacher Development