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Blog: Friday, March 16th, 2018

Curators of Learning

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Students, Teachers & Principals as Curators of Learning

I think by now the general public is well aware that K-12 education is in the process of some significant changes around the world. We know that the world our students will live in as adults will be very different than it was for us, and as such we have a moral responsibility to provide them with an education that will prepare them for an exciting, uncertain, but challenging future. What some of you may not know is that British Columbia is leading the way internationally in this work. Most of the other provinces are watching with keen interest the changes we have made to our curriculum, assessment, reporting, and graduation program.

I was recently speaking with a colleague from Ontario about some of the work underway in BC, and the conversation caused me to reflect on the connection between the changes we are making to the ways we report progress, not just for individual students, but also for schools. One of the key moves we have made is to have the core competencies (communication, thinking and personal and social responsibly) be a driver for the curriculum, assessment and reporting. When we made the decision to move away from letter grades, it was not because it was faddish. The primary reason was because we wanted to use the richness of our language to describe how students were learning relative to these very important competencies. Put another way, we do a disservice to student learning when we try to reduce its complexity to a single letter. We must avail ourselves of the richness of our vocabulary and technological tools to allow students to gather evidence of their learning across the disciplines relative to these competencies. It is for this reason that so many of our schools are using tools like FreshGrade, SeeSaw and My Blueprint to expand the various ways that students and teachers demonstrate how students are learning.

One of the really exciting features of this approach is seeing how students develop as curators of their own learning. If you think about the word “curate” and apply it to learning you will quickly see that this is a critical skill for students in their education. Like a curator of a museum, who collects artifacts to interpret heritage, students must take care or oversee the knowledge, skills and dispositions they possess as a learner.  They must understand the message they are trying to communicate, collect artifacts relative to that message, display them in such a way that various audiences can appreciate, and provide thoughtful reflection on their significance. And as they deepen their understanding, they may replace certain artifacts to demonstrate greater appreciation of their skills as learners.  No letter grade can accomplish that.

So the connection that I made after speaking with my colleague, was that a parallel exists between communicating student learning and how we communicate evidence of progress in a school. Schools are very complex places, and in the same way that we are obliged to provide rich descriptions of student learning, we ought to resist the temptation to reduce progress reports on schools to single measures. No set of numbers or letters can tell a school’s story of improvement. The intellectual, physical, social and career development of our children is often comprised of hundreds of stories of learning, of both the adults and children, which cannot possibly be told with a percentage (certainly not with a Fraser Institute Ranking!). In order to appreciate the richness of the diverse and dynamic learning that goes on in our schools we must commit ourselves to telling the full story using the richness of our language and tools at our disposal.

In the same way that we are asking students and teachers to curate student learning, educators must commit to curating school improvement. We must understand the message we are trying to communicate about learning, collect and display evidence, and reflect (and invite reflection) on the significance of that evidence relative to the goals we have to make every student successful. Over the course of the last two weeks you will note that all of our schools have posted their “progress reports,” (found on every website under “Our School” –> “School Plan”) outlining accomplishments they have made in the last year relative to their goals. While you will observe that there are numbers, and graphs showing how they have performed on provincial assessments for example, also take note that there are stories, pictures and videos that describe more fully their efforts. More importantly, you will note, like good curators, school staff have posted reflections on the significance of these artifacts and why they are important.

In the same way that we encourage parents to meaningfully engage with their children about the report cards we have sent home, we invite our colleagues from around the country, and the general public at large to engage with our schools about how they are learning and improving, and realizing the fundamental commitment we have to create a world class innovative and individualized learning experience for each child.

By Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.