In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating teachers from École Secondaire Catholique Franco-Cité in Ottawa and their project: “Teaching Self-Regulation Strategies in Math, Science and French to Gifted Students in Grades 7 to 10.”
There is no one portrait of a gifted student. Like typical students, some may develop good learning habits early on, while others may progress well without much effort. After students transition into the Intermediate and Secondary years, the gifted students who did well previously can sometimes struggle with the curriculum in later grades.
The Rationale for Change
École secondaire catholique Franco-Cité in Ottawa is a Grade 7-12 French Immersion school in the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (Centre-East French Catholic School Board) . In 2013, when teachers running the Gifted Education program at the school noticed a rapid decrease in engagement in many of the gifted students in Grade 7, they knew they needed to make changes.
Gifted Education is part of Special Education and, like lower achieving learners, gifted learners require accommodations and need to be given proper guidance and resources to meet their potential. Knowing that low results in higher achieving students can lead to a complete disengagement from school, the teachers at Franco-Cité began to look for additional teaching practices that focused upon student-centred learning.
“We wanted to offer these gifted kids something new,” says Marc Côté, a former guidance counselor at the school. “Something more than just a spot in the gifted program with other gifted kids going through the regular curriculum.”
Côté and the gifted program teachers did some research and discovered that the application of self-regulated learning strategies, which have been proven to be very successful with lower achieving students, could also work well with gifted students.
To build their own understanding and to put self-regulated learning strategies to the test, the team developed their Ontario Teacher Learning and Leadership Project (TLLP): “Teaching Self-Regulation Strategies in Math, Science and French to Gifted Students in Grades 7 to 10.”
Côté and several teachers including Sylvie Rocan, Alex Bernard, Amélie Oulette, Boniface Basambombo, Francine Landry and Angélique Gossé, set out to test strategies in the classroom and create a website detailing successful strategies for other French Immersion teachers to use in their own classrooms to support increasing student engagement.
What is Self-Regulation?
Self-regulation can be defined as the ability to stay calmly focused and alert, which often involves – but cannot be reduced to – self-control. Self-regulation nurtures the ability to cope with greater and greater challenges because it involves arousal states, emotions, behavior, and thinking skills. (Stuart Shanker)
- sets own individual goals and monitors progress towards achieving them;
- seeks clarification or assistance when needed;
- assesses and reflects critically on own strengths, needs, and interests;
- identifies learning opportunities, choices, and strategies to meet personal needs and achieve goals;
- perseveres and makes an effort when responding to challenges.
The Project: Applying Self-Regulation Practices to Learning
The team at Franco-Cité set to work, learning as much as they could about self-regulated learning. They invited experts in the field of self-regulation to train staff and help define the best strategies for use in the classroom. Once those strategies were established, the teachers integrated them into their lesson plans and began to pilot specific strategies to teach self-regulation to their students.
Examples of Strategies used:
- Goal Setting:
Teachers encouraged students to set their own learning goals.
“The student will feel more engaged if he or she establishes his or her own goals and if they feel they are actively involved in the process of their own learning,” says Secondary teacher Sylvie Rocan. “It is easier for a student to recognize the purpose of a learning objective when they are given the opportunity to orient their experiences based on their own interests and needs.”
Rocan also encouraged her students to set self-regulatory goals (such as time management) in a monthly survey.
- Using Exemplars to Move up Levels:
Students do not always understand what they need to do to meet the success criteria. Often, they need concrete examples of those expectations.
To help students understand the difference between acceptable and exceptional work, some of the teachers at Franco-Cité used curriculum exemplars to illustrate the levels. To make this an active lesson, teachers:
- Provided quality work for students as a model (levels 3 and 4).
- Facilitated a discussion group to determine why the work was of good quality.
- Presented the work of all performance levels (1, 2, 3, 4).
- Placed the work on the wall in a continuum from lowest to highest.
- Asked students to describe what was different from one level to the other.
- Invited students to self-assess their work based upon the exemplars, and note the changes.
- Using Descriptive Feedback:
Teachers provided descriptive feedback throughout the learning process and students were able to make the necessary adjustments to improve their work prior to a summative assessment. Descriptive feedback is clear, detailed and concise so the student easily understands what they have done right, what they need to improve or work on, and in some cases, what they need to know for next time.
For example, Intermediate teacher Alex Bernard incorporated Google apps and provided his students with feedback, both synchronously and asynchronously, to improve their work before they handed it in.
For a full list of different strategies and how to apply them in Math, Science and French, visit the website the teachers created. The website is in French, however, using Google Translate will allow any user to explore the resources in English.
At the end of the school year, the results were dramatic. The students were focused, more engaged and in control of their own learning.
“The kids were starting to see the difference between urgent and non-urgent things, and the difference between important and non-important things,” says Alex Bernard. “I saw them prioritizing better and putting effort and focus on things that would improve their performance.”
Sylvie Rocan noticed a palpable change in her classroom. “The self-regulatory strategies were transforming the learning environment by making it much more animated and energy filled,” she says. “The students interacted more with their peers and were more active. The courses were much more dynamic.”
The students got more involved and changed from passive information receivers to active participants in their own learning.
“It is also very exciting to see the transformation of the classroom into a dynamic learning environment,” says Rocan. “It is as if the students and I are now collaborators working together towards the common goal of enhancing their learning experience, and I am learning along with them.”
Outcomes for the Teachers
The teachers documented their learning and developed a website for other French Immersion teachers to use in their own classrooms. The team also noted the following benefits:
- A better use of differentiated instruction;
- New classroom routines that encourage critical thinking and lessen teacher talk;
- Learning from research and exploring new teaching strategies;
- A new proficiency in the use of Google apps;
- Providing authentic opportunities for students to work together on projects and celebrating a collaborative learning environment;
- Opportunities to encourage kids to take chances and make mistakes without judgement.
“I think it comes down to this,” says Bernard. “We can teach a subject, or teach how to learn through a subject. There's a big difference. One will be useful in a few aspects of life while the other is transferable and applicable regardless of the challenge faced. That is the most rewarding outcome for me. Knowing that the kids will be a little bit more self-reliant after our work together really makes me feel good as a teacher.”
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