Can Ontario fix its maths curriculum – Not Yet: Response to Greg Ashman

Greg Ashman seems to be one of the few people writing in opposition to the ongoing disaster that is math instruction in Ontario. This week, he wrote another great article on what is not working with math in Ontario – Can Ontario fix its math curriculum.

Great article and really interesting comments. I agree that Ontario’s obsession with Michael Fullan is misplaced and he needs to move on. However, from what I have seen, Fullan is still the hero of the Ontario education scene and he can do no wrong. The solution to the problem of low scores in Ontario is just to train teachers harder in the inquiry-based system. You can get a good sense of this in this recent interview with Dr Mary Reid of OISE http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1041393219874/

True enough, no one will listen to the critics as we have been marginalized and to speak out against Fullan and the dominant ideology in Ontario is a huge risk to your career in education. As Greg Ashman writes,

There are a few prominent Canadian voices on Twitter but, as far as I can tell, they hold no positions of authority in Canadian education and will be easily marginalised as eccentric, old-fashioned conservatives.

I have felt this way for awhile and as an administrator here in Ottawa, I knew that to publically speak out about the inquiry obsession would have been very unwise from a career perspective. Now as a retired educator I can speak out, but it is not likely that what I write will have any impact.

The trend will continue to be to emphasise inquiry over explicit teaching and results will continue to go down. Senior administrators and ministry officials will continue to drink to constructivist kool-aid because there is little critical thinking going on and school boards demand conformity from their educators and conformity to some really bad thinking is actually the way to guarantee an advancing career for an administrator.

How many years will this silliness continue? How long will we put the blame on teachers who just don’t get inquiry? How long with Ontario’s math curriculum be directed by people who do not need to face its consequences in the classroom?

Thank-you Greg Ashman for your clear perspective on math in Ontario. We can only hope that someone here is listening!

Poor Math Scores – Should We Really Blame the Teacher?

I am listening to a rebroadcast of a CBC Ottawa interview on the Ontario Math curriculum with Mary Reid from OISE. This is one of a series of interviews and articles seeking to understand why students, especially in elementary school, are doing so poorly in math. You can hear the full interview here.

The interview was really nothing new until around the 5-minute mark when Mary Reid makes the classic argument that I always find misses the mark. At this point, Dr Reid dismisses any problem with EQAO and squarely puts the blame on teachers and their training for low math scores in Ontario.

Teachers, she says are not ready for inquiry-based learning. Teachers have high anxiety and low content knowledge when it comes to the inquiry approach. Professional development takes a ‘one size fits all approach’ whatever that means. So, because of the teacher’s high anxiety levels, we are failing at the inquiry-based approach.

These ‘highly anxious’ math teachers then pass this anxiety on to their students.

Then the argument takes on a bizarre note – research shows, according to Dr Reid that it really is the female teachers who are to blame. Female teachers especially pass on this anxiety to their female students, not the male students. This is what the ‘research’ shows. How do you even test for that?

We have been doing inquiry-based math in Ontario for a long time. Over the years, math results in grade 3 and 6 EQAO tests have steadily gone down. During this same period of time, teachers have been continually blamed for not being strong and skilled enough to effectively teach math.

The human factor always comes out – if you are really skilled and somehow ‘get’ the inquiry approach, your kids will do well. If not, your kids will do poorly. I only thank my lucky stars that I never had to teach math in such a poisoned atmosphere. How do elementary teachers do this when they are continually blamed by OISE professors and senior administrators for failing their students?

Why do we not look at the tests? Why do we not examine the curriculum or the inquiry approach?

As long as we see our teachers as lacking something we will continue to have problems when it comes to the math curriculum. It is now time to stop this fruitless blaming and look critically at EQAO and the curriculum.

We certainly need to look at how we assess learning in our schools. Today in the Globe and Mail, Sir Ken Robinson was interviewed and came much closer to a true assessment of our current system.

We need to recognize that children have a huge range of natural abilities and they all have them differently. Our education systems are designed to focus on a small band of those. If you have a narrow conception of ability, you end up with a very big conception of disability.

Sir Ken Robinson, Globe & Mail, September 8, 2017

The sooner we take a really creative approach to how we do education in Ontario the sooner we will be able to liberate our teachers and students to learn, live and grow in our schools. We really need to learn to stop blaming our frontline educators and move on to something much better.

 

Take It Back – Where Are We With Explicit Teaching?

It’s worth considering why we are in this situation. Why do bad ideas persist and even flourish in the field of education when they would have been superseded in medicine or engineering?

Greg Ashman Take It Back

I just read Greg Ashman’s latest post – Take It Back, he writes some great material that flies in the face of current education orthodoxy, so I find him refreshing and I like how he challenges the education status quo.

Tomorrow, teachers and students across the province of Ontario will be returning to class again entering the world of the 4C’s, 6C’s, Play-Based Learning, Deeper Learning and Inquiry-based Instruction.

These are all wonderful ideas but they all skirt around the true nature of teaching. Ministry officials, politicians and senior administrators all love these ideas, but I am not entirely sure why. It seems to me that if you want to be part of the established flow, you must uncritically accept all these ideas. To stand up in a meeting of principals and say that you question any of these ideas is a great way to put your career aspirations on a back burner.

That is of course until the ideas get called into question in the forum of public opinion. Right now in Ontario, there are several good articles out there that attack the way math has been taught in schools for the past decade. The Inquiry approach is not leading to better math scores no matter how much the math deck chairs are rearranged. Take a look at When will Ontario break the cycle that is failing its math students? by Anna Stokke, a professor of mathematics at the University of Winnipeg.

To be honest, in my years as an administrator, I never saw a huge amount of inquiry-based teaching in the classroom. I always worked with really talented teachers who had seen many of these education fads come and go. I did see many educators on Twitter and at school board meetings talk about the revolutionary impact of inquiry-based learning and I witnessed the 6C dogma of Michael Fullan being proclaimed everywhere in our school board. I don’t really believe that these ideas ever had a huge impact on good teaching, but to say so publically was never a good idea.

Greg Ashman makes the point in his post that educators now need to ‘take back’ education from those who have swung too far away from explicit teaching in all areas of the curriculum.

Instead, we need to fix this. This one is on us. We are the ones who want to be treated as professionals and so it is time to take control of our profession.

Sadly, you won’t see many educators write like Greg Ashman, it is simply too dangerous. To go against the orthodoxy is somehow seen as disloyal, it certainly doesn’t make you a team player.

This is a big problem. How do we question ideas that in reality make little sense and that have little hard research to back them up? How do we act when we see the education emperor really has no clothes?

I would start by questioning more and reading more – don’t get too caught up in someone else’s education orthodoxy.

Teacher Team inquiries

Stephen Katz emphasizes that the adult learning that takes place in a school should
be directly connected to student need – “Given that we have evidence to suggest X
is the most urgent student learning need, what does that suggest is the most urgent
teacher learning need? And from there, what is the most urgent leader learning
need?” (Leaders in Educational Thought, 2013). Student learning is the catalyst for
educator learning and “forms the essential material” of professional inquiry (Capacity
Building Series – Collaborative Teacher Inquiry).
Capacity Building Series :  Dynamic Learning

Our triad teams – three schools – St. Daniel, St. Gregory and St. Monica are starting on our second round of inquiries.  My goal this term is to do a better job of documenting the work that the triads do.  Each group was given a half day last week to review the inquiry from the first term and come up with a new inquiry for the second half of the year.


The videos here are my attempt to capture some of the learning that is happening within the groups.  I am hoping to record the work of some of the groups as the term progresses.

Triad teams working together
Triad teams working together

“If we teach social skills to a target group then will we see an increase in self-regulation and positive social interactions outside of the classroom, within the target group (s).”

special education inquiry

What is most important to the teachers and principals of the triad schools is that we are in charge of the learning.  When teachers are able to create their own inquiries, they are the ones setting the agenda, they are the ones who develop the ideas for inquiry.  As principals, our job is to facilitate this learning process and make sure that a good record is kept of the results of these inquiries. These inquiries and the findings of the teachers then become the basis for our school improvement plan.

“If we use a graphic organizer to introduce descriptive writing, then the students will be able to write short descriptive paragraphs related to various different areas of the curriculum.”

grade 1-2 inquiry – term two 

Reflect / Discern  Analysis / Assess

How does this change our teaching practice?   What have we learned and discovered? Where to next?  Now what?

It taught us to take our time and move at the students’ pace. It also made us allow time for reflection on new concepts before moving on to something else.  Allows for time to consolidate student learning in more depth than the standard 3 part math lessons.  Looking at the “proof” and “reflection” sections really shows which students are ready to move on and which are not. We are also taking the time to produce quality work with the students rather than simply quantity to get  through the curriculum.

taken from ‘evidence of learning document’ created by grade 4,5,6 teachers’ math inquiry

Over time, we have been able to reach some conclusions:

  • teachers who set their own learning goals are much more motivated to learn
  • teachers are able to clearly indicate inquiry goals and key learnings based on these inquiries
  • over time, a much wider variety of evidence is being used to document learning
  • communication tools like Google Drive and Google+ are indispensable tools that drive deeper collaboration
  • as principals, we have a much better understanding of what learning is going on in our schools

This is an important process to document, as a firm believer in this process I will devote more time this term to keeping a good, visual record here on this blog of the work that will be going on.

It will be an exciting journey!

Research shows that teachers working together to support children’s
learning is an effective means of teacher professional development.7,8,9
Professional learning communities (PLCs) facilitate knowledge sharing
and collaboration – often with experts in the area – to support teacher
professional learning.10 Features of effective PLCs include job-embedded
learning, group meetings held during the workweek and use of technology.11
What Works?  Research into practice Research monograph #46
students working on math journals - part of the grade 4-5-6 math inquiry
students working on math journals – part of the grade 4-5-6 math inquiry
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