Our Blog

My Secrets for Innovating Classroom Practice - Part 1

An outline of the steps I took to transform my practice so that it is now aligned with expectations for 21st Century Fluencies.
11 January 2013
0
Author: Heidi Siwak
35 votes
+
Vote up!

Looking back, I would have to say my transformation was mandated. It began with the provincial overhaul of education during which teachers were obliged to abandon old practices and develop new ones based on “highly effective practices”  (TLCP, flexible groups, accountable talk, and student feedback). 

File 4713

Photo courtesy of Heidi Siwak

This was followed by my introduction to The Thinking Matrix and a light bulb moment where I realized that my job wasn’t to teach students how to write stories, articles, or persuasive letters, but to provide opportunities for students to think deeply, ask questions and use the tools of communication to express their thoughts in writing in ways meaningful to them and to engage in creative problem solving.

...I realized that my job wasn’t to teach students how to write stories, articles, or persuasive letters, but to provide opportunities for students to think deeply, ask questions and use the tools of communication to express their thoughts in writing in ways meaningful to them and to engage in creative problem solving.

With my focus now on providing experiences where learners have the opportunity to think deeply, things began to change.

Tied to this was my discovery of the power of social media. The work we did with the App project and Hannah’s Suitcase was highly experimental. As an educator, I discovered that social media allowed us to approach learning in new ways. We connected with a diverse global community. I now had quick and easy access to cutting-edge research and practices that I could implement immediately. My students could suddenly engage with expertise in any field and we found ourselves with an audience for our work. We began to make strategic use of social media to access exceptional learning opportunities that have impact on the world outside the classroom.

My professional learning focused on project-based learning, inquiry, design-thinking, Web 2.0 tools, critical thinking, solution-based and game-based learning, skills for collaboration and rethinking the use of classroom space.

What I didn’t do was wait for permission. I used my professional judgment as an educator and my personal desire for growth to develop innovative practices.

Based on what happens in the classroom on a particular day, the direction for the next day is determined. My students and I co-create the learning.

If I were to identify the single biggest change in my practice, I would have to say that when we begin an inquiry, we have no idea where we were headed or what final demonstrations of learning will look like. So much depends on what we learn along the way. My students engage in meaningful work that hasn’t been done previously, which makes it interesting for everyone. I would describe my work as responsive teaching.  

Based on what happens in the classroom on a particular day, the direction for the next day is determined. My students and I co-create the learning.

Winning the Ken Spencer Award, the Mindshare Learning Video Challenge Award, and receiving recognition from the Globe and Mail as well as coverage in other media has certainly made what we do easier. Dundas Central Elementary has become known for its innovative work and our administration has become more responsive, accepting and most of all encouraging when we wish to try something new.

Please note that Part 2 of Heidi's blog post will be shared in the near future.