Know, Do and Understand through the New Curriculum

lisaLisa Lainchbury is in her second year as Principal at Dormick Park Elementary School in Abbotsford, B.C.. In my many  visits to her school, I have had the good fortune to watch her
grow as an educational leader, working with her staff at embracing practices to personalize learning – practices that engage students in relevant, real world contexts; that integrate technology in classroom places; that provide multiple pathways for student learning; and that connect students to their passions. In short, she is committed to creating a culture of inquiry that engages students and adults in their learning. Along the way, she’s also had some fun with her staff – check out her staff’s adaptation ofWhat Teachers Do (after you Leave School)?

Very recently, Lisa and her staff set out to tackle the new curriculum and make explicit to her community the core competencies that are at the centre of the redesign of the new BC curriculum. This is her guest post on Learning the Now:

The new BC curriculum is an enigma for many parents.  At a recent SD34 Partner Meeting at in which parents, administrators, and District Management came together to discuss current topics on education, a recurring theme presented itself throughout the evening: parents desired clear communication from schools.  They want the teaching content and the purpose behind the methods used to be better communicated to them.  They expressed their desire to understand more about the curriculum shift (in parent friendly terms) and also noted that there is a language barrier presenting itself at every school in the district.

Parents want to make sense of what the ‘new curriculum’ is and how their child’s learning will now be different. At Dormick Park Elementary we relay information to parents of the following demographic: 32% English Language Learners, 13% Aboriginal, and 9% Special Needs.  We have a diverse parent community, and we need to be purposeful and clear in our dissemination of information.  We have had success in the past using video to communicate with our parent community and chose to use this medium to communicate the curricular shift.

Before we did that, we ourselves, as educators, needed to understand the curriculum changes.  The Core Competencies and how they fit into the curriculum raised some questions for our teachers. There was curiosity around how they could be taught to students, what they looked like at each grade level and why they were important?  We needed to take a closer look in order to become familiar with the changes.

L to R Cale Stanage, Shannon Francis, Sheri Leonard, Shane Hipwell, Lisa Lainchbury, Amanda Pelley, Reena Nahal, Kari Petzold and... part of Mr. Hipwell's Grade 4/5 class.

L to R
Cale Stanage, Shannon Francis, Sheri Leonard, Shane Hipwell, Lisa Lainchbury, Amanda Pelley, Reena Nahal, Kari Petzold
and… part of Mr. Hipwell’s Grade 4/5 class.

As our team of teachers delved into the curriculum, they familiarized themselves with the competency profiles.  Each teacher chose one or two facets of a Core Competency and created a lesson.  The associated I statements served as learning targets for the lessons, and they also taught the students about Core Competencies and why they were important.  Students discovered that the competencies were an important layer of what they would learn in the new curriculum.  We were starting to peel the layers back and uncover the transformed curriculum.  Next, we needed to communicate to parents.

Our plan was to create a seven-part video series that communicates the new Curricular Core Competencies to families.  Each video summarizes one Core Competency, and communicates its applications in the classroom. The videos are each hosted by students, and the viewer will see student learning in action.  The videos also communicate the purpose of the curriculum transformation, in the words of students.  Students are aware of the skills they acquire during the lesson and they reflect on how those skills will apply to their jobs in the future.  The series begins with an overview video that outlines the series and lists the competencies:

Students are the reason we do our work.  They are the ones who will benefit from the tireless efforts and creativity of the teachers and they are the first-hand recipients of the curriculum change. Therefore, an essential objective is to include the students in this change.  It is important that they know that there is a shift and that they understand what the changes imply.  Bearing this in mind, our process unfolded in the following manner:

  • Teachers helped the students gain an understanding of what competency means and why it is important to know, do, and understand the learning;
  • Teachers then gave students creative license to host and demonstrate the curricular shift in their classroom videos;
  • Students played the main role in the videos. They were the hosts and actors.

What you see in these videos is a snapshot of a day in the life of a student at Dormick Park engaging with the new curriculum. 

The students learned about the new curriculum as they made these videos and also acquired a deeper understanding of their role as a learner.  They learned that a competency is like a skill and that they need to gain skills in order to contribute to society both now and after they graduate.  For example, in the ‘Communication’ video, the student host talks about the ways she can develop her communication skills, but also how she will need the skills upon graduation because she wants to be a doctor:

There has been a developing collaboration between the teacher and the child throughout the process of creating these videos.  Teachers have empowered the students to take a leadership role and in turn, teachers have learned by watching their students grow as learners and leaders.  Beyond the classroom, the videos have reached parents, other school staff, district staff, the Ministry of Education and the community at large.  The videos have bridged the communication gap by providing information in an accessible way, welcomed responses on social media and started a conversation about a new, complex curriculum.

 Our team’s goal was to communicate more effectively to families in order to increase understanding of what student learning will look like moving forward. What inherently occurred was the manufacturing of a deeper understanding of the new curriculum by both students and teachers. By collaborating with students, teachers grew in awareness of the purpose, the “why” of the new curriculum. In turn, by reflecting upon and articulating the new learning goals, students developed an understanding of the purpose of their own learning.  They came to understand that what they are learning during their K-12 education will provide them with the necessary skills to be successful in their communities and careers.

When I walk into a classroom, I typically ask the students what they are learning. Some may answer, “I am learning to multiply by 3’s”, or “I am learning to read the ‘ack’ sound”.  However, when I ask a student who was a part of this project the same question, I am told, “I am learning to communicate,” or “I am learning to calm myself down when I am upset.”  I reflect on the qualities and attributes that I want my own teaching staff to have and I know that these students are gaining the competencies needed to be successful when they graduate and become productive members of our adult society.  This project has taken the new curriculum to the next level; it has enabled teachers, students, and parents to make connections, take ownership of the new curriculum and make sense of its complexity.  In essence, it has allowed all members of our school community the capability of learning with the same objectives as the curriculum itself: to know, do, and understand.