For four years, Springbank Community High School has been on a journey to building a 21st Century learning environment, utilizing the Schooling by Design and Universal Design for Learning philosophy. The initial action was the implementation of an outcomes-based mission statement and learning principles. Since then, the school has become a leader in the implementation of a one to one ubiquitous computing environment with project based learning and the universal learning concept as the cornerstone to teaching and learning in the school. Further, Springbank High became an Alberta Flexibility School in the fall of 2011. With this status the school is afforded the opportunity to think differently about how teaching and learning is organized in the high school environment. With this shift came a focus not only on how we teach students, but how we assess. For the past two years, SCHS has looked to the data gathered from students that points to the need for emphasis on intellectual engagement and a stress-reduced environment.
SCHS is a ‘creative commons’. A focus on fostering an innovative learning culture has created the conditions for teachers to flourish creatively in the area of project-based learning, flexibility, and personalized learning. When such a culture is built, there is a compelling need to change the assessment practices. Our journey with assessment paralleled a cognitive dissonance with teachers. Questions arose as to how to accurately assess students in a project-based environment. Rocky View Schools bold move to create a cutting-edge policy on assessment assisted in this discussion. Last year, all departments looked at their percentage breakdowns for the different types of assessments and asked the following question: Does the department assessment practices reflect 21st Century learning? From there it was decided that a more balanced approach across the curricular areas was to be undertaken. Now, all departments include project/problem-based learning and have adjusted percentage breakdowns that reflect a balanced approach. Rubrics are universally used, students are given time to learn the material during the formative assessment stages and all teachers give students more time and opportunities to learn the outcomes in more authentic ways. Further, students are given opportunities to re-submit assignments/tests. The conditions exist for differentiation, metacognition, critical, and creative thinking. Intensive coaching and professional learning has been undertaken at the school to get at the core of why this journey must be undertaken.
With a one to one environment, endless possibilities exist. All students have digital access all of the time. Students who have alternate learning profiles and, for that matter, all students, have built-in opportunity to “show what they know” in alternative ways. Teachers are responding to this by giving students multiple opportunities and ways to demonstrate what they know. With a focus on the learning management system, Moodle, lessons reflecting multi-modal opportunities are now employed on a regular basis. Students can use the reflection tool, take formative assessment quizzes to understand what they know, engage in a forum discussion, and make decisions and choices about their learning. They can submit their creations in a paper-less environment.
With our Flexibility School status, the school has been granted a relaxation of the 25 hour requirement. The school is offering flexibility in course delivery, providing students with the opportunity for a flexible use of time, and creating more flexible learning spaces. Teachers are also now available in a different way, which opens the possibility of growing a more personalized learning environment.
Our philosophy of Learning for All is creating a Universal Learning environment. For two years, the school has supported the “Learning Support Centre”. This space has specifically been designed to give all students space to work on a multitude of tasks, creating the conditions for an inclusive environment for all. Within the Universal Learning framework, there exists the need for opportunities for students to have a more personalized learning environment. Students have unique learning styles and ways of knowing. To that end, they often need one on one time with the teacher to assist in understanding concepts. Students at Springbank High have the ability to benefit from tutoring time from Monday to Thursday. Teachers post their availability on-line and students can go to any teacher to whom they may feel will assist them. As there has been an increased number of projects assigned with collaboration at its core, this provides students time to meet within a regular school day. Further to the concept of flexibility is the opportunity to offer courses during the lunch hour that do not fit into the regular timetable. Students have also reported that they would like an opportunity to do more activities during the school day. Because Springbank High is a bussed school, it leaves very little time during the school day to meet for extra-curricular/co-curricular activities. To satisfy the 1000 hour requirement, the tutorial time is published and became a part of the school timetable. All students have an advisor; someone that follows that student throughout their schooling at Springbank High. Advisories meet every two weeks.
Further, all students have an Springbank High E-Portfolio for Life. Simply put, students need to have a blueprint for collecting data during their high school years. This E-Portfolio contains: learner profile, four year plan, place for best work, access to career profile information and goal setting. For some of our students who are on individualized program, they also have a page that describes their accommodations and unique learning needs.
The way we interact with parents and students is changing. The concept of parent engagement also needs to change. The idea of traditional parent teacher interviews twice a year no longer represents effective communication for most students and parents. Parents want to have timely communication and access to their child’s teacher on a more regular basis. The concept of Personalized Learning and how we engage parents has been a long-standing barrier in high schools. If we are going to work with parents and students, it is important to look at how we communicate with parents. Starting in the 2012 school year, SCHS staff will post office hours. The idea is to think more deeply about the important question, “Who is not learning and what are we doing about it?” By collapsing the parent teacher interview times, this gives teachers the opportunity to communicate with parents on a more regular and timely basis. For more information on the personalized learning and personalized learning and personalized communication initiative, please click here for access to the full proposal and accompanying literature base.