By Janine Chabot and Sabrina Theriault
1. Tell us about your learning community.
We are a part of a Grade 8 French Immersion Learning Community at École Dr Knox that is made up of 56 students and 2 educators. We cover all the Core curriculum, including French Language Arts, English, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. We integrate Career and Health education as well and try our best to meet curricular targets in Physical Health Education, though it is by no means our specialty! We really try to model a growth-mindset when it comes to P.H.E.! In early September, our first community-wide project had students using the design-thinking approach to develop a brand for our community. In groups, students conducted empathy interviews and then designed a name and set of core values to which we could all hold each other accountable. The name that was voted by the students was Affinity / Communauté Affinité. Our new community came up with a set of guiding principles that we try to uphold at all times.
2. Tell us about your approach to designing learning for your community. What values, underlying beliefs, educational principles, etc are the foundation of your approach?
The OECD Principles of Learning and the First Peoples Principles of Learning are honoured and practiced in order to develop the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of each child. We believe that students should be at the center of their own learning, and as such, students are empowered to make decisions about what they learn, how they learn and how they demonstrate their learning. We act as facilitators to this end, supporting the students, offering feedback and helping students find their next steps. We believe that students learn best when they are engaged in authentic learning that they are passionate about, so higher-level thinking is promoted through inquiry-based learning. We attempt to go beyond texts and the internet to include experts, guest-speakers, peers, videos, hands-on materials, nature, and field studies.
Learning opportunities may take many forms, including but not limited to: debates, storytelling, Socratic discussion, knowledge-building circles, individual and group problem-solving tasks, hands-on learning experiences, project-based learning and inquiry-based learning. Students set goals, collect evidence and reflect on their progress continuously. Our flexible learning environment allows for whole class, small group, and personalized instruction. We strongly promote horizontal connectedness across areas of knowledge and subjects as well as to the community and the world.
Finally, we try not to take ourselves too seriously. We are very real with our students - showing them that it’s OK to make mistakes and to laugh at ourselves!
3. Tell us how you have tried to maintain this approach during this time of remote learning. What have been your favourite learning activities you have done with your students? What have been your favourite ways of connecting with your learners and building a sense of belonging/community?
After the ministry decision to suspend in-person classes, we met several times virtually and began by outlining our plan for continuity of learning. We shared that with parents and students our first week back. Our primary goals are to ensure that our students feel connected to their school community and to continue to provide them with meaningful learning opportunities. We believe that learning is social and that emotions are integral to learning. In order to maintain the community connectedness and to honour their mental health, we offer daily check-ins with our students and a weekly Community Circle. During our check-ins, students can ask questions about tasks or their learning, but most just come to chat!
During our Community Circle time, we deliver any important messages, but then also offer the chance for students to share their worries, wonders, suggestions and gratitude through an anonymous Padlet. Students post their comments and queries and we address them as a community. We use the North (What do you Need to know?), South (What Suggestions do you have?), East (What are you Excited about?) and West (What are you Worried about?) approach.
In addition, in order to further encourage connectedness and to promote their oral French language development, students post daily responses to prompts on FlipGrid. This online platform allows students to record short videos and respond to one another in an asynchronous manner. We’re having so much fun listening to their thoughts and stories! We believe fun and laughter are so important for learning and for building connections.
Our first project for remote learning is focused on ethical judgment. Students are using their knowledge and understanding of historical significance and critical thinking to pass a moral judgment on whether or not Christopher Columbus is a remarquable historical figure. This is based on a TC2 task. In class, we would have put him on trial, but a Zoom debate will have to suffice for now!
For our other Core subjects, we offer voice and choice in how far students will go in their learning. Each Literacy or Numeracy task has a “Must”, “Could”, “Try” component. We also make use of PearDeck, a Google add-on to make Google Slides interactive. It’s a great tool for asynchronous learning!
4. How are you making learning manageable during this time, while upholding your beliefs about teaching and learning?
We send out a weekly newsletter to help our parents and students stay organized. We put in announcements and shout-outs as well as show our weekly schedule. We create a weekly checklist for tasks and assignments for our students as well. We believe that students can and should be empowered to navigate their own learning, and so our “Must, Could, Try” approach allows for a lot of choice and flexibility, while ensuring students are still engaged in concept-based, competency-driven learning. All students complete the “Must” activities. We encourage all students to engage in some of the “Could” opportunities, and we provide “Try” activities for those students who want to take their learning further. This helps families keep learning manageable by making it clear the minimum expectations, all while encouraging and supporting more deep learning if they want it! We use Google Classroom to stay organized. We launched Affinity 2.0 when we started remote learning. We keep our “Classwork” tab organized by week, rather than subject, to keep things simple! See an example of our Newsletter here. We’ve also taught ourselves how to use some new tools! We’re becoming quite adept at Screencastify and Zoom! These tools help our students feel connected to us, and us to them.
5. How are you giving feedback to students? How are you gathering feedback from students and families?
We mostly use Google Classroom and its tools: rubrics (we just figured out how to construct anecdotal rubrics without attaching a score!), adding comments directly on submitted tasks and/or assignments, and using the private comment bar. We are continuing to conference with students about their learning over Zoom, through email loops and reflection tasks. Smaller tasks like Google Forms are used for quick checks of understanding and offer immediate feedback (i.e. correct / incorrect response with explanations).
We have always welcomed feedback from our students and parents. Students are primarily using the weekly Padlet and our Community Circle as well as Google Forms to give us feedback. Parents have been incredibly supportive and will often make suggestions over email and or phone calls.
6. Is there anything else you think is important to share?
We are continuously impressed by our student’s resilience and work ethic during these unprecedented times. They have shown us an incredible growth-mindset and adaptability while we navigate remote learning. Equally, our parent community has been so supportive and encouraging and they will often just send messages of thanks. We are incredibly touched by the level of support we’ve received from students, parents, administration and our colleagues at the school and across the district. There is so much sharing and collaboration happening right now and we sincerely hope that continues when we all get back to the classroom!
A huge thank you to Sabrina and Janine for making themselves vulnerable and sharing!
To see more of what Communauté Affinité is doing, check out these links:
One way they are working on Belonging and Connection
To see examples of what other educators are doing, click here:
For more ideas about how to schedule learning, click here.