Friday, October 31, 2008

Leaders Councils Plan for December PA Day

I received an email with the subject line, "So Good, We Have to Share". The email praised both the Canadian World Studies Council and the Business Council for their PA Day plans. Student achievement data, curriculum revisions and research-based strategies informed the creation of their agendas for the subject-specific PA Day on December 5th. These planned professional activities also indicate what our teachers are concerned about in terms of student learning.

Based on their analysis of student achievement data, Canadian World Studies (CWS) teachers plan to explore strategies for improving the achievement of boys in applied courses. CWS teachers will also host a session addressing the use of hypothesis in the CWS classroom, a session that stems from Chapter four of Marzano's The Art and Science of Teaching. Their afternoon will focus on technology in the classroom, with a hands-on Web 2.0 workshop and SMARTboard and Arcview (GIS) workshops.

The Business Council is inviting a presenter to speak on business ethics; they will explore business ethics through case studies. In the afternoon, the integration of social issues into their business courses will focus their session, with the goal of making explicit the teaching of character education and social responsibility within their course content.

The Avon Maitland DSB has 14 subject councils and each council consists of a department head or leader from each high school. These councils meet twice per year to share best practices and resources; to brainstorm solutions to problems; to gather information from the board and the Ministry of Education and to plan their subject specific PD day.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Math Teachers Develop Anchor Charts

Avon Maitland Math teachers are using anchor charts to guide students through specific tasks and to reinforce concepts that have been introduced through lessons. Anchor charts provide an explicit framework for student learning and independent work and are used in all subject areas. They help students be successful by explicitly showing them how to reach the expectation. During recent school visits, Math teachers shared their anchor charts and how they are using them.

One Transition Inquiry Group (TIG), developed anchor charts for written communication in grades 8, 9 and 10 Math, elaborating on key terms from the EQAO test, such as explain, compare and describe. (Pictures are also posted below.)

Although the most effective anchor charts are developed with students and can take many forms (t-chart, steps, a diagram), this team decided that part of their chart needed to be pre-created, and the examples would be co-created with students and posted on the classroom wall.

What do AMDSB Math teachers have to say about anchor charts?


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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dilemmas Help to Focus Inquiry Based PLCs

In our first round of Inquiry Team meetings, teachers identified a dilemma they face in their practice. A dilemma is what I call a ‘bang your head against the wall’ problem with teaching and student learning. A teacher has a dilemma when he thinks, no matter how many times I’ve taught this concept/expectation, I still see a considerable number of students struggling with it.

You aren’t dealing with a dilemma if you know the solution or if you’re on your way to resolving the issue. Most importantly, it isn’t a dilemma if it is about changing someone else. Thus, it isn’t a dilemma if you want the elementary school to better prepare students for your grade 9 course or if you think, my Principal needs to buy me a SMARTboard for this to work. Ultimately, a dilemma needs to be phrased as a How can I question such as, How can I help students learn to provide complete responses to questions and show evidence of higher order thinking? When teachers struggle to distill their dilemma into a concise question, the PLC helps them clarify their thoughts. I have yet to meet a teacher without a dilemma.

Some of the questions teachers posed to their PLCs include:
  • How can I help math students who aren't communicating their thinking?
  • How can I help students learn by bringing more collaborative learning into my classroom?
  • What can I do to improve students’ written responses to questions?
  • How do I get students to initiate and engage in reflective writing?
  • How do I help students learn to add supporting detail to their writing?
  • What can I do to help students reflect on and write details about their coop placements in journals and logs?
  • How can I help students improve their procedural writing in construction technology?
  • How do I get students to complete and use process work to improve their writing?
  • How do I help students improve their use of science-specific vocabulary in written communication?
  • How can I help my students correctly apply the structures they are learning to their writing?
  • How do I get students to improve their lab report writing, specifically their hypothesis and conclusion?
  • How do I, as the SERT, help students transfer their understanding of written structure from one subject to the next?
  • How do I get students to give clear written responses using technical language?
  • How can I get students to provide thoughtful writing that shows they are making connections to historical events?

Our teachers will be focusing their PLC inquiry around these questions. Do any of the questions resonate with you? Which ones? Have you tried any strategies that might be helpful or inspiring?


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Professional Learning 2008

This year, each Avon Maitland Secondary School has two teacher learning teams dedicated to developing an open and collaborative practice and to improving student learning. The first team will focus on student writing and consists of teachers from various curriculum areas (WAC - Writing Across the Curriculum). The second team will dedicate their studies to issues that affect student achievement in the transition years. In many schools, these teams consist of grade 8, 9 and 10 teachers (TIG – Transition Inquiry Group). Team members are not required to present their new learning to the whole staff, but may do so if they wish.

Learning Team members will drive their practice deeper and take steps towards building a sharing, collaborative culture by



  • identifying challenges they face when teaching;

  • sharing these challenges within a PLC;

  • using conversation structures (protocols) to focus inquiry and

  • looking for and trying strategies to improve student learning.

Student work, assessments, lesson plans or classroom observations are always on the table and at the heart of the conversations. Like the protocols, these records of practice help to focus dialogue and discussion.

Informed by Teachers
Teachers want more time to work in their buildings, on their own practice, with their own staff. Our 2008 Professional Learning model moves away from the centralized professional development of teachers to a model that provides structure and support to teacher learning and collaboration within schools.

Informed by Research
This model of professional learning stems from the research of
Lynne Hannay, Bob Garmston, Richard DuFour and Rebecca Dufour, Michael Fullan and Richard Elmore.

Across the DSB
As I spend time with the Inquiry Teams, I will share their process, work and photos (with permission, of course) and hopefully, teams will begin to share their strategies and successes.


Next - read about the first round of Inquiry Team meetings.

Why Blog?

When I thought about starting a blog, I believed I would write clever and witty articles to prompt discussion about teaching practice and instructional strategies. After writing my first posts, I realize that I may have to leave clever and witty up to you. I will focus on facilitating networking between inquiry groups, department heads, literacy chairs and anyone else who chooses to join in.

My posts will share ideas from conferences and ministry sessions; they will also share conversations and strategies that emerge from inquiry team, literacy chair and leaders’ council meetings. I hope we break down barriers, not dwell on them. I hope we build on each other’s knowledge and practice, and grow because of our collective intelligence.

I hope you will post.
I hope you will question.
I hope you will share.