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Learning from a Childhood Hero

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Anne Frank, 1940 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diary_of_a_Young_Girl )

On Remembrance Day this year, I watched a documentary about Anne Frank. This brought back the memory of my reading of The Diary of Anne Frank- a story that made a lasting impression on me. Anne Frank was definitely one of my childhood heroes!

A whole new understanding of Anne’s life was revealed through the documentary. I learned that there are several versions of The Diary. Apparently, the one I read was intended for children; the one where the reader is left to believe that Anne escaped the holocaust unscathed and lived to publish her story.  Much to my dismay, that is not the way things really turned out! The documentary taught me that the family was eventually apprehended, and Anne died of typhus in a concentration camp. Anne’s diary was found after her family was taken from their ‘hiding place’ and it eventually made its way to her father, Otto Frank, the only surviving member of her family. Otto eventually had several different versions of The Diary published. I’m actually quite happy that I didn’t know the real ending when I was 10 years old; even now, the reality is disturbing.

The documentary prompted me to go to the library to check out the other version. My reading experience this time around was, as you may expect, quite different… And it’s no surprise that I began to read from the perspective of an educator! The first part of The Diary, in particular,  lends itself to analyzing the education system of the 1940’s. Anne began to write in her diary several months before her family went into hiding, so I relished in reading the passages of Anne’s musings of her school experiences.

The following  3 excerpts resonated with me for various reasons…

From pages 10-11: “Betty Bloemendaal does very well at school, but that’s because she works so hard, not because she’s so smart.”  [This excerpt almost sounds like it could be a quote from Carol Dweck’s Mindset- very insightful thinking during a time when school systems were convinced that intelligence was a fixed trait.]

From page 11: “D.Q. is a very nervous girl who’s always forgetting things, so the teachers keep assigning her extra homework as punishment.” [No comment!]

From pages 16-17: “Our entire class is quaking in its boots. The reason, of course, is the upcoming meeting in which the teachers decide who’ll be promoted to the next grade and who’ll be kept back. From morning to  night, it’s ‘You’re going to pass,’ ‘No, I’m not,’ ‘Yes, you are’… teachers are the most unpredictable creatures on earth. I’m not so worried about my girlfriends and myself. We’ll make it. The only subject I’m not sure of is math. Anyway, all we can do is wait. Until then, we keep telling each other not to lose heart.” [Did the students feel that the teachers just randomly determined whether or not they would pass to the next grade? Were they not cognizant of the extent to which they successfully met the learning outcomes? When  we know better, we do better, and I, for one, am glad that we now know better than to “keep students back.” I am also happy that we are consciously working towards a system where all students know what the learning outcomes are, understand that learning happens along a continuum, that different students in their class may be different points on the learning continuum and may need different levels of support to help them move forward – and THAT’S OKAY.]

The experience you bring to a reading really does define what you take away from it. Thank you, Anne Frank, for enlightening me, yet again, with the words in your diary.  You are an even bigger hero to me, now that I know the real ending.

 

 

 

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Building a House… Through the Lens of Critical Inquiry

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iMovie  “tour” of our house on You Tube

January, 2015- My husband and I are in the midst of celebrating the completion of building a log home on our lakefront property at Lac La Nonne. Had it not been for the critical thinking inquiry framework that laid the foundation for our decision making, I’m afraid we would be celebrating its completion for the wrong reasons- i.e. we may be celebrating the end of a strenuous journey! Instead, we are reflecting upon the learning experiences we shared, and enjoying the product of our thoughtful deliberations and productive physical work.

From the outset, this overarching question framed our thinking:

“To what extent should we participate in the building of our house?”

Additional questions helped guide our decision making throughout the build. We worked through questions like:

  • Would it be better to hire a contractor to oversee the build, or should we take on the responsibility of attaining all the subcontractors ourselves?   When we considered criteria like ‘completion of the house within a reasonable time frame’ and ‘having access to reliable contractors’, we decided that hiring a contractor to oversee the project would be the way to go.
  • What physical tasks would be best for us to take on ourselves? With criteria in mind of ‘doable within our time constraints of weekends and holidays’, ‘taps into our current skill set’, and ‘new skills are learnable for us and don’t require a journeyman ticket’, we decided to take on the following tasks:
    • Co-design the floor plan (The design course I took a couple years ago came in handy for this!)
    • Select all the materials for a custom build (We chose EVERYTHING – from the more obvious materials like the logs, stonework, flooring, cabinetry and light fixtures, down to the less obvious choices like the type of door knobs.)
    • Stain the logs
    • Do the stone work on the fireplace (interior and exterior- yikes, that roof was high for my husband- I was the ground crew!)
    • Paint the drywall and the interior doors
    • Acid stain and seal the concrete basement floor
    • Lay and seal the slate tiling in the foyer, laundry room and bathrooms
    • Stain the exterior trim
    • Stain the interior trim
    • Tile the back splashes (Selecting the perfect tiles was perhaps the hardest decision of all!)
    • Build the closet organizers
    • Install the mirrors
    • Be the clean-up crew and take all garbage to the landfill (huge tasks in themselves that lasted throughout the course of the build!)

The other questions we considered were:

  • What are the best resources to help us learn new skills?
    • We knew our sources  had to be reliable and instructionally sound,  so we decided that face-to-face discussions with experts at home shows and retail outlets, along with carefully selected You Tube clips would be our best teachers.
  • What would be an effective process for determining which materials we should select? Considering criteria such as effective use of time, minimal travel, accessing products that appealed to us and were of high quality, the process that worked best for us was this:
    1. Do as much preliminary research on the internet as possible, looking at product reviews and availability of the materials in our area
    2. Use this information to narrow down the multitude of choices to a few desirable selections
    3. Find which retailers in our area carried those selections
    4. Go to retailers to physically see the products and ask a few more questions
    5. Make the selection!

 We now get to enjoy the fruits of  all our mental and physical labor! As a result of this huge two year undertaking, we have a beautiful end product – a house we will temporarily use for weekends, holidays and family celebrations; the house we plan to call “home” after we retire.

Fall 2016 UPDATE: Over the past 2 summers, we worked on our landscaping. Here’s the iMovie of Our Landscaping at Lac La Nonne.

Growth Mindset – So much Promise for Education

wildflower_May 2012_Lac La Nonne_ Diane Lander

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend the MathConnect Conference in Calgary. The first keynote speaker of the day was Carol S. Dweck Ph.D., author of Mindset.

Dr. Dweck’s “research focuses on why students succeed and how to foster their success. More specifically, her work has demonstrated the role of mindsets in success and has shown how praise for intelligence can undermine students’ motivation and learning.” (http://mathconnect.org/wp/presenters/)

Although I learned a lot about her work through the Mindset book study our Learning Services team participated in last year, it was great to hear her story in person. I am using this blog post to share some elements of the presentation that stood out most for me.

Dr. Dweck told us that Alfred Benet originally developed the IQ test to see which students weren’t succeeding with the current curriculum, and used the results to change that curriculum. Like other theories and concepts that have been applied out of context (e.g. Bloom’s Taxonomy, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences), educators have misconstrued the intent of the IQ test, and the result has led to the idea of intelligence being a fixed trait.

Current research shows “the brain can be developed like a muscle”; every time you stretch out of comfort zone, neurons grow new connections. So intelligence CAN be developed.

2 Opposing Beliefs

Fixed mindset– intelligence is a fixed trait

Growth mindset– intelligence is a malleable quality; a potential that can be developed

As a result of her research, Dweck has developed several “mindset rules” which help us differentiate between fixed and growth mindsets:

Rule 1:

Fixed mindset– look smart at all costs; tell me when I’m right

Growth mindset– learn at all costs; tell me when I’m wrong

Students with a growth mindset care more about learning than about grades. Good grades are the bi-product of effort and a successful learning path, not of an innate intelligence.

Rule 2:

Fixed mindset– learning should come naturally; if you have ability you shouldn’t need effort

Growth mindset– work hard, effort is key; ability is increased over time

Geniuses are a result of the work and effort they put in over time- building on successes and addressing their shortcomings, over and over again; continually trying until they succeed.

Rule 3:

Fixed mindset– hide mistakes: In the face of setbacks, these students said they would spend less time on the subject from now on, why spend time on something I’m not good at?

Growth mindset– capitalize on mistakes, formulate new strategies to address the problem. In the face of setbacks, these students said they’d spend more time studying and work harder in class.

Rule 4:

Fixed mindset– Praising intelligence develops a fixed mindset- in Carol’s research, these kids wanted a task that they could easily be successful on.

Growth mindset– Praising process and effort develops a growth mindset- these kids wanted a harder task that they could learn from.

Human beings are born as natural learners, so how do we make sure our students remain learners? Kids are tuned in to what the environment values; if we value effort, hard work, and progression of skill development, they will, too. Growth mindset has kids embrace learning and growth, and understand the role of effort in creating talent; it can be taught everyday in our classrooms.

How can we help students develop a growth mindset?

  • Praise effort, struggles and persistence despite setbacks.
  • Praise the strategies they try and choices they make.
  • Praise choosing difficult tasks, praise learning and improving; do not praise marks
  • Use the word YET- “not yet” puts you on a learning trajectory- “I’m not there yet, but I will get there.”

How does this relate to teaching math?

Many students have given up on math because they believe they are not good at math, and will never “get” math.

Fixed mindset– Teachers comfort students who are doing poorly, telling them, “Don’t worry, not everyone is good at math.”  This kind of feedback writes kids off, gives kids lower confidence that they could ever do it, releases them from the responsibility of ever doing well in math.

Growth mindset – Teacher says, “Let’s work to understand what you are not getting, and try some strategies to see how you can get better.” When teacher and students believe skills can be developed, it opens students up to learning.

Mindset Website http://www.mindsetworks.com/default.aspx

Students are very interested in how their brains work and how they can get smarter. I’m really excited about the Brainology application Dweck’s team has developed. “Brainology raises students’ achievement by helping them develop a growth mindset.” Guided by Brain Orb, students learn how the brain works, how we learn, and some brain-based learning strategies.

The website also has a teacher toolkit to support teachers in developing a growth mindset in their classroom.

Our students are so fortunate that our school division is embracing Dr. Dweck’s work. Won’t it be great when all of our students demonstrate a growth mindset!!

Critical Thinking as a Way of Teaching

“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” Albert Einstein

What should I write about for my first post, the post that by the very nature of its hierarchical position, indicates that the topic is of utmost importance to me right now? It would be remiss of me to write about anything other than critical thinking!

Critical thinking has been identified by researchers as one of the competencies that students need in order to be successful in the 21st century. In its Framework for Student Learning publication, Alberta Education has identified critical thinking as one of the 7 Competencies for 21st Century Learning.

With so much talk about critical thinking, it seems odd that there is still so much confusion around how to teach students to be critical thinkers. “Critical thinking” conjures up such misconceptions as teaching students to criticize, or to look for flaws in everything they read and view. When you come to know critical thinking, you realize that it has nothing at all to do with criticizing!

When people discuss critical thinking, it tends to have as many definitions as there are people in the discussion. The definition I have come to champion is that critical thinking is about “making a judgement in light of relevant factors or criteria.”  I love how Roland Case, co-founder and CEO of The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2), defines critical thinking in the first minute of this video clip from LearnAlberta.ca

Critical Thinking as an Effective Way of Teaching

A misconception of the critical thinking approach is that it is about teaching skills rather than content. In fact, the critical thinking approach is about teaching and assessing both skills and knowledge outcomes, along with the thinking tools, resulting in students learning the content more deeply.

Over the past three years, Parkland School Division (PSD) has embarked on a journey to embed the TC2 Critical Thinking Model into teaching and learning. At first, it did not come naturally for us to teach using the model; it was a huge shift in our way of teaching… in our way of thinking. When we are teaching students to think critically, we are no longer transmitters of knowledge, but instead, designers of learning experiences; we ask questions and design tasks that have children make judgments in light of relevant criteria that we co-create, and we have them support their judgment with evidence from the content.

Are we all experts in the critical thinking approach at this point? No, absolutely not, and we’re not expected to be; we’re all at different places in the implementation journey, and that’s absolutely okay. I concur with the advice Roland Case gives us in this video clip:

Advice to Teachers

Through my work in supporting implementation of the TCCritical Thinking Model in PSD, I have seen several significant shifts in practice:

  1. Increased use of criteria to help make judgements
  2. Increase in intentional collaborative work as a way of learning
  3. Shift from reliance on pencil and paper tasks, to teachers posing authentic problems to engage students in learning subject area content
  4. Shift in assessment practice; greater focus on self-assessment and peer coaching
  5. Intentionally teaching the tools of critical thinking

Along with changes in teacher practice comes growth in student outcomes. Our teachers are reporting these things:

  1. All levels of thinking are supported through the Critical Thinking Model
  2. Less academic students are experiencing noted success and are becoming leaders in classroom conversations
  3. Vocabulary development is enhanced
  4. Students are more creative and more willing to take risks
  5. Assessment for and as learning are becoming more prevalent

Upon considering the huge potential this approach has in supporting the educational shift – moving from the left side of the continuum where teachers “cover the outcomes”, over to the right side where teachers engage students in “uncovering the outcomes”-  how can one NOT be excited about critical thinking as a way of teaching!

I’d love to hear about your experiences with teaching critical thinking. Do you have any gems to share or any lessons learned?