RSS having success talking to students in their own language

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
June 2nd, 2011

Talking to kids and teaching them in a language they can understand. It seems like a natural piece of common sense. Right? When it comes to communicating course outlines and expected outcomes in the school system, however, this hasn’t always been the norm. As part of their continuing strategy for success, Rossland Secondary has been working on doing just that. In the last year, the school has rewritten 75% of its course outlines/outcomes in simpler, kid-friendly language.


The results have already been evident and are expected to be realized fully next year as the school completes the translation of the final 25% of its outlines/outcomes.


“At the beginning of the course and at the end of the course, twice a semester, the teachers will actually sit down and review with the kids the learning outcomes and the kids kind of rank themselves as to how well they know that particular outcome,” said RSS principal Terry McDonnell.


This initiative is the next step in a progression building on the first two years of a five year strategy for success.  Coming from a suggestion from RSS art teacher Joost Winckers who was passing along some information he picked up through his Master’s degree, the success plan was built around the three R’s: Relationships, Relevance and Rigor.


This year’s rewriting of the outlines–put forward by Vice Principal Mike Vaness—was designed to challenge teachers to actively review student progress as well as their teaching ability against it.


Each student, with the teacher at the start and end of each semester goes through the new outlines with the teacher and rank themselves from 1 to 4 (‘not meeting expectations’ to ‘exceeding expectations’). Naturally, the expectation is to have many 1’s and 2’s to start the year and many 3’s and 4’s at the completion of the course.


 “At the end of the course if I still had ones and twos, I used that to reflect myself on that part of the course and how well did I do. Did I miss the outcomes? What was going on? It allowed me to reflect the first time through and make improvements for the next class and add or make adjustments to my teaching style or plan,” added McDonnell.”


Moving forward, the plan is to complete the rewrite of all outlines/outcomes next year and then move into the next phase of the success plan again building on the initial three R approach. That next level will ask the question “What practices do you use in your classroom that allows learning disabled students to demonstrate their ability to meet grade appropriate outcomes?”


“We asked ourselves “What is a good relationship with a kid? What does relevance mean to us in our classrooms, and what does rigor mean to us,” explained McDonnell.


Discussing each point during separate staff meetings, teachers and administrators alike explored each point in detail, mind mapping different thoughts and related ideas.


Ideas raised centred around ideas such as developing good, productive relationships with students; properly addressing kids in the halls; talking to them around the school; empowering them by giving them a little power in the classroom; and getting involved in extra-curricular activities outside the classroom with kids.

The drive to make outlines more accessible was based in the principle of Relevance. “For kids to really absorb information, it really helps if it is relevant to them in some way,” explained McDonnell. “If we can find ways to make the material more meaningful, grab their interest or communicate in a way that they have experience with that is what relevance is all about. We can individualize where we can, make connections between subjects, and teach through experiences that make subjects relevant such as lab-based or project learning.”


Thoughts and discussions around Rigor involved stretching students’ thinking,–actively making the work challenging while keeping it consistent.


“We spent last year doing that kind of work, making the connections, discussing what these things mean and you could see the staff members saying, ‘Ah ha! I like that idea! I’m going to try that!’ So it was quite a worthwhile exercise,” explained McDonnell. “In our discussions at Pro-D days and at staff meetings, you can begin to tell that the staff members are thinking in different ways to make that relationship, to get to know that kid and in getting to know the kid. Teachers can start to expand on what they used to do. Now they are taking the kids’ interests into consideration more as they try and make the material relevant for each kid.”

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