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Blog: Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Turning Vision Into Action

Christine Ross has been with the District since 2003 and presently teaches English at Yale Secondary. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of travelling with her as part of a team visiting the Thames Valley School District in London, Ontario. She shared with me how she was translating vision into action with respect to offering the “new” English 10. Her plan, in essence, reflects the overarching vision of our Secondary Operational Plan: focus on creating innovative learning experiences within flexible places in the service of student engagement and achievement. – Gino Bondi, Assistant Superintendent

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. - Oscar Wilde

While I could accuse Oscar Wilde of sensationalism (a charge he would probably find flattering), there is a kernel of truth here. We all know that students learn best when they are interested in the topic and it has some relevance in their lives, but the old model has not always permitted us to teach the way we might have wished, instead focusing on minutiae we know the students will instantly forget. 

The new curriculum, with its emphasis on student choice and deep understanding over shallow rote knowledge, is exciting precisely because it frees us from the tyranny of relevant details and creating some incredible opportunities for inquiry, creativity, and learning beyond the curricular content. In other words, allowing us to instill in students those twenty-first century skills that they will need in a workplace whose form we cannot predict.

The new English 10 format is a prime example of this. At first, the idea of two half-semester modules was terrifying (How do we schedule it? How will we prepare them for grade 12? What if we let them choose novels and they only read Twilight?!). After we finished panicking, however, we realized that we could ensure students develop their English skills while giving them the opportunity to select modules and projects that interest them by using a blended, inquiry model, and focusing on learning outcomes. Our plan is to teach the inquiry skills and structures through literary studies, and then allowing students to select the module they will pursue through a guided and free inquiry, thus offering all modules simultaneously in each class.  By asking big questions that connect to real-world issues - and teaching students how to form such questions themselves, scaffolding the inquiry skills, and gradually increasing the scope and choice in projects - we can support students as they gain the curiosity, critical thinking, and resilience they will need for success beyond the school doors.

The freedoms the new curriculum affords don’t stop there; in fact, the more we explore the possibilities, the more ideas we have. We can encourage students to design projects that they can use towards multiple classes at once, creating relevance through cross-curricular connections. We can bring in community experts to give students real-world problems to solve, making the learning relevant right from the beginning. We can provide students with a problem to solve through mini-projects and game-jams, and then have them self-assess on the core competencies. The final product itself doesn’t even need to be what is assessed - if we are looking at their ability to communicate, plan, and revise, the process may be far more relevant. It almost doesn’t matter what they create - the curriculum can be connected in some way.

Teacher, Yale Secondary School