Sunday April 20, 2014

New focus continues


As the Good Spirit School Division heads toward the latter half of its second year of a five-year plan to improve student outcomes some big changes are coming into play.

This includes uncluttering classrooms to help students focus on learning and tracking student behaviour in real-time to enhance intervention strategies.

The changes to classroom environment with the goal of “creating a calm setting and welcoming atmosphere,” which includes a shift toward natural colours and materials and creating quiet reading corners, is currently being tested at Melville and Kamsack Comprehensive schools.

Quintin Robertson, GSSD deputy director of education, said the division developed the approach with elements of brain-based research and a child-centred educational philosophy from Italy called the Reggio Emilia Approach.

Robertson boiled it down to a very simple principle of focus.

“The brain likes order and symmetry,” he said. “If something is up in the classroom, we want it to be important to learning.”

The program also takes into account the importance of exercise and nutrition in preparing children to be calm and alert, Robertson said, which research shows aids the learning process.

Robertson said the new direction is only “loosely based” on Reggio, but the student-centred philosophy, which a media release from the school division termed “differentiation” is at the core GSSD’s five-year plan.

“Differentiation is a philosophy of teaching and learning that puts the needs of the individual students at the center [sic] of all instructional opportunities,” the release stated. “Learning experiences are planned around each student’s interests, learning preferences, and readiness levels to achieve their individual curriculum outcomes.”

Not everyone is happy with the approach.

In an op-ed piece responding to a Regina newspaper article (“Good Spirit aims to boost learning, naturally,” Leader-Post, December 11, 2013), Michael Zwaagstra, a former YRHS student, now a research fellow at the Frontier Centre, said the evidence does not support child-centred education.

In the piece, Zwaagstra cites a ten-year study call Project Follow Through involving more than 72,000 students comparing the effectiveness of a variety of teaching strategies.

“It found that only direct instruction, a traditional teacher-centred methodology, had a significant and positive impact on the students’ learning,” he wrote. “Sadly, this study was largely ignored by policy makers and teachers.”

The other big change that will be piloted starting in February at six Good Spirit schools, including Dr. Brass in Yorkton, is a new program called Review360. This behaviour tracking system allows teachers to enter incidents using an iPad or iPhone and create a record of a student’s actions. The system includes professional development tools such as three-minute instructional videos that demonstrate intervention strategies targeted to what teachers are actually seeing at school.

More serious incidents can be escalated in real-time to the school administration or division level, which, Robertson said, plays into the threat assessment protocol the school divisions and community partners implemented earlier this year.

“It does in that if students are exhibiting behaviour that warrants that, we would know it immediately,” he said.

Good Spirit is the first Canadian school division to implement Review360. Results of the pilot will help Pearson, the product’s developer, modify it for the Canadian environment.

Robertson said the division will consult with stakeholders, including parents, following the pilot, to get input on how the system will be implemented throughout the division over the next two years.



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