Embracing Wrong Answers

“Embracing wrong answers”… it seems completely at odds with our intuition, no? Isn’t school supposed to be about teaching children the right answers? Well, not anymore. More and more educators are realizing the importance and benefits of spending time learning about wrong answers to a lesson’s content. Take a look at the pointers below:

  1. Embracing wrong answers increases students’ confidence and classroom participation. When teachers take the initiative and teach students about the wrong answers, it prevents the learning experience from originating with a student answering a question incorrectly. Instead of exploiting a student’s mistake, the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson needs to be redirected and instead originate from the teacher. Now, this isn’t just some pre-emptive strategy to prevent students from saying wrong answers out loud. Rather, it makes these occasions seem less glaring and prevents students from being afraid to answer questions in class
  2. It is conducive to three-dimensional learning. You are analyzing all sides of the same problem, tackling it from multiple perspectives and seeing the same issue in a different light. It forces you to ask questions instead of passively taking the correct answer for granted.
  3. It reinforces the logic behind why the correct answer really is the correct answer.

Good Teachers Critical for Student Success

The role of a teacher in determining an institution’s academy quality, a student’s personal drive, or a classroom’s collective success is unequivocal. Teachers are arguably the most important factor in shaping a student’s education and school experience.

One study that has been instrumental in proving the correlation between teacher effectiveness and student achievement was conducted by Dr. William Sanders, an American statistician,  who is known for developing the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS). He and his colleagues studied a group of teachers and students over the course of many years and looked at what happened to students whose teachers produced high achievement results versus those whose teachers produced low achievement results. His study revealed that when children in the third grade were assigned to different high-performing teachers for three consecutive years, they scored on average in the 96th percentile on Tennessee’s statewide mathematics assessment at the end of grade five. When the children from the other group with comparable achievement histories were placed with three low-performing teachers in a row, their average score on the same mathematics assessment was in the 44th percentile. Because the study’s children had been assessed beforehand to have comparable skills and intelligence, this led Sanders and his research team to conclude that the identifying variable was the different quality of the teachers. It is hard to argue with a massive 52-point differential!

So what does this have to do with St. Jude’s Academy? Aside from recognizing the importance effective teaching has on our students’ success, St. Jude’s requires all of our teachers to undergo additional professional certification because we are an IB World school. Our educators must become IB certified in order to teach, and this works to ensure that students will receive a high level of effective and attentive teaching. The qualities of effective teachers include:

  • undergoing continuous professional development
  • possessing additional certification
  • holding high expectations for themselves and their students
  • understanding students’ struggles and knowing how to reiterate difficult concepts in a meaningful way
  • being passionate about their lesson material
  • demonstrating genuine concern, interest, and personal investment in their students’ academic success

I leave you with this powerful quote:

“That’s what education should be,” I said, “the art of orientation. Educators should devise the simplest and most effective methods of turning minds around. It shouldn’t be the art of implanting sight in the organ, but should proceed on the understanding that the organ already has the capacity, but is improperly aligned and isn’t facing the right way.” —Plato, The Republic

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Private Schools: Social and Emotional Learning

In March 2016, the World Economic Forum (WEF) produced a detailed report on the important of social and emotional learning (SEL) for twenty-first-century students, which can be read in full here: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_New_Vision_for_Education.pdf

The WEF argues that “social and emotional proficiency will equip students to succeed in the swiftly evolving digital economy”. The report also cites a study that maintains “65% of children entering grade school will ultimately work in jobs that don’t exist today”, which places major importance on developing skillsets that allow children to be adaptable, creative, and excellent interpersonal communicators.

I find this to be directly in line with the philosophy of the “whole child” promoted by certified IB schools like St. Jude’s Academy. It represents the holistic teaching method we apply, which involves supporting group work and collaboration in the classroom, as well as team work during extracurricular activities. We recognize the importance of supporting all aspects of our students’ development, all to the benefit of academic excellence and future personal success.

As cited by the WEF, in the 1960s the Perry Preschool Study embarked on an education study which followed its child participants until the age of 40. The experiment involved a control group of students taught using traditional methods, compared to one other group where the children were taught using an SEL-based curriculum. At the end of the study, they discovered that the students who had been educated by the curriculum that encouraged the development of SEL skills reported higher income earnings than their counterparts and were less likely to have been involved in criminal activities [source: HighScope, “Lifetime Effects: The HighScope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40”, 2005, http://www.highscope.org/content.asp?contentid=219 ] As you can see, promoting SEL skills in the classroom, our “whole child” holistic teaching approach, has beneficial results not just limited to academic and workplace success; encouraging a child’s social and emotional development also leads to the creation of responsible and civic-minded citizens.

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The Importance of Professional Development

When determining which school to enrol your child in, one of the key factors I recommend taking into consideration is an institution’s policy towards professional development (PD). All educators, new and experienced, benefit from continual training throughout their careers, and these benefits are directly translated to student success in the classroom. Ongoing professional development keeps teachers up-to-date on new research on how children learn, emerging technology tools for the classroom, and new curriculum resources. Adapting and acquiring these skills is imperative for teacher and student success in the Digital Age. Professional development also allows educators to remain competitive in their industry and increase their confidence.

At St. Jude’s Academy, teachers are encouraged to undergo professional development, and they participate in weekly meetings with their associates. This cooperative effort facilitates classroom success and ensures that each department remains aligned to promote the school’s mission: to nurture well-rounded, confident world citizens in a secure and inspirational setting that supports students in their social, emotional, and academic growth. I cannot overemphasize how important these weekly meetings have been for our educators’ development. The odd “PD Day” does not provide enough substantial results or development.

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Benefits of University Campus Tours

Beginning in grade seven at St. Jude’s Academy, students embark on campus tours during the year for around four to five local universities, namely: the University of Toronto, Ryerson, Waterloo, and McMaster. This early exposure to university culture encourages students to become aware of their future options, begin thinking about what they would like to do in life, and gain valuable experience vising other cities. Because these campus tours occur during the school year, university classes are in session, thus providing our students with a realistic experience of undergraduate life. They witness the hub of college activity, faculty are on hand to answer questions, and most buildings are open for exploration.

At the University of Toronto Mississauga, our students participate in STEM competitions; at McMaster they witness DNA extractions; Ryerson offers robotics and application creation seminars; and at Waterloo our visiting students engage in chemistry and physics science labs. How cool is that?

It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of attending campus tours in general, but to experience university life at an earlier age is even better. University websites and brochures cannot compete with actual in-person visits, which truly reveal the culture and milieu of the university in question. You learn so much about student life, the food scene and meal plans, dormitory styles, academic resources. . . Campus tours provide a tangible reality to a student’s possibilities and are great for motivating children to begin thinking about their dreams for the future.

Please let me know in the comments, what was your best campus tour experience?

About the MYP from IB

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Program (MYP) is for students aged 11 to 16. The MYP builds on the knowledge and skills imparted in the Primary Years Program (PYP) and prepares students for the rigors of the Diploma Program (DP). But the MYP is not merely a stepping stone between the two. Studies show that MYP students routinely outscore non-MYP students on the IB diploma, as well as surpassing non-IB students on critical academic skills. While schools looking to acquire IB certifications have the option to choose merely one of the four IB programs, enrolling your child in a school that offers all three of the main IB World school programs is highly advisable. Although technically independent, each program tier builds on the knowledge and skills acquired throughout all the years of an IB World education.

The MYP in particular has demonstrated its capacity for instilling in students important non-academic qualities, like global awareness and civic-mindedness. MYP students complete one long-term project, the significance of which resides in the fact that they develop university-style skills: academic research, proposal writing, and individual thinking. With little teacher interference, students develop their own topic and are responsible for not just knowing their subject, but also knowing what they need to know to complete the assignment. Developing the cognizance to identify what they do not know is an important academic competence for developing research skills.

So there you have it! I hope you understand a little more about the MYP and about what I do 🙂 I love being the MYP Coordinator at my school, because I love witnessing the critical transition the students make in their learning and personal growth. Please let me know in the comments: what would your project proposal be about for your long-term project?

The No Homework Movement

In 2012 French president François Hollande vowed to abolish homework as part of his education reforms. Many individual high schools in Germany and the United States are also experimenting with a ban on homework. And St. Jude’s Academy already has a “No Homework” policy in effect. This means that during class after the lesson, students are assigned follow-up questions to reinforce the understanding and learning of the concepts covered in class, which also allows teachers to evaluate which students require additional assistance. Students will not be assigned additional homework unless they did not use their time effectively during class.

So why is the international “No Homework” movement gaining momentum? Because administrators and educators are finally listening to science: studies frequently reveal that there are no academic benefits from homework for children. In fact, assigning homework can actually have negative implications. At best, homework wastes time for the high-achieving student who already understands the concepts being taught in class and is merely being assigned an additional redundant workload. At the worst, it frustrates and demoralizes struggling students who are condemned to spend hours alone at home fighting their way through problems they cannot receive assistance on until the next time they see their teacher. Homework is not productive, nor is it conducive to meaningful learning. Homework has been cited as an “energy zapper”, making children resentful towards learning, demoralized about their progress, and generally more stressed out. It can also burden parents, who are suddenly expected to take on the role of teacher when their children present them with an insurmountable set of math problems.

Abolishing homework frees up more time for children to de-stress and to engage in other noteworthy pursuits, like extracurriculars and sports outside of school. Reducing the length of a lesson and increasing time for in-class work provides students with the opportunity to ask their teachers instead of their parents or paid tutors for help, and effectively reinforces the learning of new concepts.

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