Nechako Lakes teaching in focus, school by school

On June 1, Nechako Lakes school district staff gathered at W. L. McLeod Elementary to share their inquiry learning

A teacher from Burns Lake’s William Konkin Elementary presents on the school’s focus of the year: how to help their struggling readers.

A teacher from Burns Lake’s William Konkin Elementary presents on the school’s focus of the year: how to help their struggling readers.

Students are not the only learners reviewing their progress in the classroom this June.

On June 1, teachers and staff from across the Nechako Lakes school district gathered at W. L. McLeod Elementary to share with each other their inquiry learning from the past school year.

Started eight years ago, the annual review is an opportunity for teachers in teams to reflect on what worked well and explore suggestions for the following year, explained Michelle Miller-Gauthier, School District No.91’s district literacy coordinator.

“Rather than working with one teacher at a time in supporting literacy,” Miller-Gauthier said. “We’re trying to help students find their true colour, particularly those who get bored and disengaged.”

For Sinkut View Elementary, the latest inquiry focus initiated with the addition of Kindergarten to Grade 3 students to the school two years ago, when Prairiedale Elementary shut down, said principal Wade Fitzpatrick.

“Our students taught us that learning is very messy…we struggled because most of us want lots of control,” a teacher recounted. “They taught us that what they needed was time.”

With support, younger students are introduced to projects targeted for older students, in order for them to be used to the work process.

“We learned that peer support is important…looks like they are more engaged working with peers than with us,” another teacher said.

Distance-learning EBUS Academy explored B.C.’s new curriculum through a series of cultural activities this year.

Venturing beyond the screen, EBUS students joined others from Mapes Elementary to learn about salmon netting and the traditional smokehouse with the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, made friendship scarves with Elder Marion Hunt, performed mini drum and hoop dancing workshops in Chilliwack, visited the Ksan Historical Village, and studied “The Stoney Creek Woman” with a relative of the novel’s author Mary John.

A series of video lessons on Aboriginal culture are also in the works, in collaboration with staff from Nak’albun Elementary in Fort St. James.

At Evelyn Dickson Elementary, teachers are working developing a school culture based on the growth mindset, focusing on student perseverance and resilience.

Staff noticed that some students just started giving up when encountering a tough task, and were inspired after a workshop with education consultant Damian Cooper last year.

During this past year, as teachers adopted new language revolving around growth mindset, a natural shift in students’ learning attitudes was noticed even by some parents — according to a survey sent out to parents in spring.

For teachers of Burns Lake’s William Konkin Elementary, the focus of the year lies in how to help their struggling readers.

With support from “Catching Readers Before They Fall” by Katie Keier and Pat Johnson, staff is looking to spotlight different reading strategies over the course of the school year to target different readers and their ways to make meaning of print.

By encouraging self-regulation, readers can learn how to self-monitor and be thoughtful while reading — such as asking questions.

At W. L. McLeod Elementary, teachers this year introduced simple machines to intermediate students as a group problem solving project, as they found students weak in critical thinking and disengaged from traditional teaching.

Over the course of several months, students were put into groups, where they brainstormed about ideal collaboration methods, shared ideas about making composite machines, and recorded a daily log of learning and questioning. While the process proved to be challenging for some kids, others were inspired to explore in multiple directions.

For teachers, it’s about letting go, realizing that not one specific answer is looked for, allowing students to be the teachers, and stopping themselves from providing suggestions.

The same problem-solving approach may be applied to social studies lessons next year, as the teachers aim to encourage students to be more cognitive.

Inquiry learning is a provincial network of idea sharing between teachers that included conferences in various parts of B.C. throughout the year. 2015/16 is the first year where senior district leaders supported and honoured teacher inquiry learning with resources through specific funding.