Language Laws in Quebec’s Schools…time for a critical overhaul.

Student Ordered Out of English School
from the Montreal Gazette.

Nina Wozniak and son Kyle look over pertinent papers, including Kyle's Alberta birth certificate, in their N.D.G. home yesterday.

Nina Wozniak and son Kyle look over pertinent papers, including Kyle's Alberta birth certificate, in their N.D.G. home yesterday. Photograph by: DAVE SIDAWAY, THE GAZETTE, The Gazette. Click for Source.

Imagine knowing you have to send your child to school in a language that isn’t his mother tongue. Despite the fact that such a school is available. Despite the fact that part of the boy’s family, albeit extended, can legally attend the school. Despite the fact that he had difficulties in his French school but “is thriving” in his new English school.

Seems to me it may be time to take a look at Quebec’s language laws when it comes to schooling.

I believe that there are around 350 English public elementary and high schools in Quebec and each year we close more English schools. It’s obvious that the French language in Quebec holds strong now, the reason for the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) in the first place.

We need to look beyond questions of language and focus on questions that bring us to the heart of learning. Our provincial curriculum places the learner at the centre of the educational process. How does this practice reflect that? How can we believe in a state-run education system that exists within a structure whose values do not jive?

Whoa. Disconnect.

Do you have similar disconnects in your education systems?

The Curious Case of Ped Days in Quebec

Minister for Education Michelle Courchesne flips through the new English history book while visiting École Père Marquette. Photograph by : DAVE SIDAWAY, THE GAZETTE  (click image for source)

Minister for Education Michelle Courchesne flips through the new English history book while visiting École Père Marquette. Photograph by : DAVE SIDAWAY, THE GAZETTE (click image for source)

Apparently Quebec teachers have it made. We have 20 pedagogical (PED) days throughout the school year. Quebec public school teachers work 200 days, 180 of which are teaching days spent with kids.

School’s out, and parents wonder: Why so often?
Quebec teachers have more than those in any other province; say they’re essential
BRENDA BRANSWELL, The Gazette Published: Wednesday, September 24

Reader response to the article (and these are some of the…nicer…ones):

…I understand that teachers need a few days to learn new material and teaching techniques but do they really need so many of them when they have 2 weeks off in December and 1 week at March break? I know of one school that has 4 ped days in November…. 4 days!! Whats that all about? Cut out the field trips, movie watching and general time wasting in school and teach the kids instead. As ZORA wrote, if we had an excellent public education system then okay, but out kids aren’t doing as well as kids in other provinces.

…I’m a teacher and all I’d like to say is that we may have 20 ped days, more than any other province, however, every other province has a set of province-wide standards and curriculum. Québec has no such curriculum. Our curriculm is teacher-created. On ped days, teachers meet with other teachers and not only decide but also create what they will teach next. Parents should inform themselves before criticising their child’s teacher. Parents should also be reminded that school is NOT a daycare. I am so insulted by all these comments for all the care I put into teaching my students. Thank goodness we are rewarded everyday from our students, because adults often seem to forget just how much we do for their children.

Yup, we sure have it made.

Oh, by the way…were you aware of the reform? Or, as it is has started to be called by the Education Minister Michelle Courchesne, Pedagogical Renewal?

This year is the first year that English schools in Quebec have received teaching materials in English for the new courses that are mandated under Pedagogical Renewal in Quebec. Last year our grade 8 (Cycle 1, year 2) teachers received the History and Citizenship student course books in May. For real.

Quebec delivers Grade 10 textbooks
History, Math. Courchesne promises she’ll do even better for English students in September ’09
BRENDA BRANSWELL , The Gazette Published: Friday, August 29, 2008

If you read the article above you will notice that not all of the materials have been made available and that no teacher guides have been made available. The Honourable Minister Courchesne is happy that 2 math texts and one science text have been made. The texts are meant to cover the curriculum up until January – assuming that everyone teaches the same parts of the curriculum at the same time of the year. The other high school in our district teaches their courses intensively over one semester – not very helpful for them. She neglected to mention that there are 3 math courses offered in Sec. IV (aka grade 10, now known as Cycle 2, year 2) In fact, some Sec. III courses (aka grade 9, Cycle 2, year 1), which were taught for the first time last year still do not have teaching materials available in English to support these courses.

Imagine teaching without curriculum.

This could be a very good thing. If one wanted to design curriculum for their students, if the courses being taught were not subjected to standardized testing in the form of 2-3 week long Evaluation Situations (ES) at the end of the school year.

It could also be a good thing if each teacher were teaching one course at one grade level. Personally I teach English, Math, History (to be replaced by Economics in January), Ethics and Religious Culture (formerly SIS, Student in Society) at two grade levels.

Last month the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) wrote an open letter to Michelle Courchesne regarding text books for English schools in Quebec.

On October 1, 2008, the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) sent an open letter to the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sport, Michelle Courchesne, regarding QPAT's ongoing concerns about the lack of English textbooks.

On October 1, 2008, the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) sent an open letter to the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sport, Michelle Courchesne, regarding QPAT's ongoing concerns about the lack of English textbooks.

I am not alone in feeling that we are unprepared to teach our students. I am a constructivist teacher. I create learning materials based on the individual learning contexts in which I work each year. The learning contexts are a combination of student interests, abilities, and styles and course curriculum. All elements of the learning context, or environment, are essential to ensure that learning takes place.

Without curricular support, my task becomes quite enormous.

So, about those PED days… Even with 20 PED days scattered throughout the year (4 of which occur after the end of the student’s school year in June, 3 others are often used up for snow days – we do live in Quebec!) I scramble to design learning evaluation situations (LESs aka formative assessment), problems, worksheets, projects, learning how to report out to parents (we assess with a 5 point rubric, but must convert to % to report out to parents…no comment…), creating rubrics, writing IEPs, combing through 3 different grade levels worth of text books to find material that is suitable for the new Math course I teach… oh, and then the regular day-to-day lesson planning, correcting, communication with students and parents, collaboration with other teachers…

Yeah, we’ve got it made.

History, Oh History…

At the bottom of this post is a link to a series of question and study sheets, including some sample essay questions, for the Secondary 4 History of Quebec and Canada course in the province of Quebec. I’ve only uploaded the questions and study sheets for module 4 so far. The rest should be up soon – 2 wee things called report cards and final classes are taking up some time this week :).

I love teaching this course, though I absolutely abhor the end of year exam that is attached to it. It is a high stakes exam – without it you just can not graduate from high school in Quebec.

The course and the exam are supposed to change with the education reforms in Quebec, though now that teachers and parents are calling for a moratorium on the reform who knows when that might happen.

For now, students (and teachers and parents) still need to suffer through the injustice of the course and its exam, with the convoluted questions that can drive even the most knowledgeable history student crazy. The course has a bad reputation because of the testing. Unfortunately this dulls the short, though vibrant, history of Quebec and Canada for our students.

Computer Literacy for Students with Special Needs: Dewey + Vygotsky

How can we create a positive future for students with ‘mild to moderate cognitive delays‘ in Quebec’s public secondary schools?At present, Quebec’s education system is in the process of major reforms. At the secondary level that translates into the creation of 3 learning paths for qualification to post-secondary programs:

  1. General Education Path
  2. Applied General Education Path
  3. Work-Oriented Training Path.

The first 2 paths culminate with a Secondary School Diploma (SSD), while the third path offers 2 options:

  1. TCST – Training Certificate for a Semiskilled Trade
  2. PWTC – Pre-Work Training Certificate

The students I work with, identified with mild to moderate cognitive delays, have generally not been expected to graduate from high school. The creation of the different learning paths at the secondary level may now offer a much more positive option for these students.

The question remains, how can we best ensure the success of these students within this framework?

I believe that by teaching all students computer literacy, how to use computer technology to enhance their learning, we are introducing them to valuable tools that will assist them in creating meaning from the raw material of the world around them. For students with special needs, in this case with mild to moderate cognitive impairments, facility with computer technology becomes even more valuable when we take into consideration the difficulties these students have with communication on a variety of levels and the possibilities that technology can offer them to overcome some of these difficulties.

I believe that in order to design effective programming we need to look at both the individual and society. In his comparison of Dewey and Vygotsky, Glassman (2002) identified similar questions they both pursued in their work including how we can understand human activity in order to promote and guide learning. The men differed, he argued, in the way in which they viewed the process of human activity. For Dewey he saw the point of entry as human inquiry – essentially we ask a question and search for the tools we need to solve it. For Vygotsky it is the social context that drives inquiry – social history and tools determine what we ask questions about.

If we look at learning from a systems theory perspective, we understand that every part of a system affects every other part. The individual can effect change on society and vice versa.

When I consider my question from within a systems theory framework, I come to the conclusion that BOTH Dewey’s and Vygotsky’s views must be taken into account simultaneously in order for authentic, meaningful learning to occur.

This paper will review the literature pertaining to the use of technology to enhance learning for students with mild to moderate cognitive impairments in light of both Dewey’s and Vygotsky’s views on learning, as each place emphasis on different aspects of a learning system, so as to better consider the whole system.

Some Articles I am reading…

Atkinson, T., & Atkinson, R. (2007). Creating learning communities for students with special needs. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42(5), 305-309.

Day, S. L. (2002). Real kids, real risks: Effective instruction of students at risk of failure. NASSP Bulletin, 86(632):19-32.

Downing, J. A. (2006). Media centers and special education: Introduction to the special issue. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42(2), 67-77.

Hardré, P. (2004). Starting from the end: Designing instruction for technol-
ogy skills. AACE Journal, 12(3), 315-330.

Kingsley, K. V. (2007). Empower diverse learners with educational technology and digital media. Intervention in School and Clinic, 43(1), 52-56.

Li-Tsang, C. W. P., Lee, M. Y. F., Yeung, S. S. S., Siu, A. M. H., & Lam, C. S. (2007). A 6-month follow-up of the effects of an information and communication technology (ICT) training programme on people with intellectual disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 28(6), 559-566.

Liu, Y., Cornish, A., and Clegg, J. (2007). Ict and special educational needs: Using meta-synthesis for bridging the multifaceted divide. pages 18-25.

Looney, M.A. (2005, September). Giving students a 21st century education. Technology Horizons in Education Journal, 33(2), 58.

Mabry, L. and Snow, J. Z. (2006). Laptops for high-risk students: Empowerment and personalization in a standards-based learning environment. Studies In Educational Evaluation, 32(4):289-316.

Pierson, J. M. (1999) Transforming engagement in literacy instruction: the role of student genuine interest and ability. Annals of Dyslexia v. 49 p. 307-29

Popkewitz, T. S. (1998). Dewey, Vygotsky, and the social administration of the individual: Constructivist pedagogy as systems of ideas in historical spaces. American Educational Research Journal, 35(4), 535-570.

Prawat, R. S. (1999). Cognitive theory at the crossroads: Head fitting, head splitting, or somewhere in between? Human development, 42(2):59-77.

Prawat, R. S. (2002). Dewey and vygotsky viewed through the rearview mirror-and dimly at that. Educational Researcher, 31(5):16-20.

Waxman, H. C. and Padron, Y. N. (1995). Improving the quality of classroom instruction for students at risk of failure in urban schools. Peabody Journal of Education, 70(2):44-65.

Williams, P. (2005). Using information and communication technology with special educational needs students: The views of frontline professionals. Aslib Proceedings, 57(6), 539-553. Retrieved March 9, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 961001831).

Peter Williams, Hamid R. Jamali, David Nicholas. (2006). Using ICT with people with special education needs: what the literature tells us. Aslib Proceedings, 58(4), 330-345. Retrieved March 9, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1091223451).

Wissick, C. A. (1996). Multimedia: Enhancing instruction for students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 29(5), 494-503.

Should school boards be abolished?

[cross posted at LeaderTalk]

Over the past few years I’ve been hearing people talk about the idea of abolishing school boards in Quebec.

This past week it was in the news again:

Dumont ready to bring down Quebec gov’t over school boards

ADQ Leader Mario Dumont said Tuesday he’s willing to force a confidence vote over the future of Quebec school boards.

The Action Démocratique du Québec is tabling a motion for a confidence vote in the national assembly over the Liberal government’s refusal to abolish school boards.

If the Parti Québécois supports the motion it would be enough to topple Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal minority government, which would force elections in December. ..

…Dumont said the continued existence of school boards is a fundamental issue in Quebec.

School board elections held last weekend failed to draw more than 20 per cent of registered voters — proof it’s time to review their mandate, the ADQ leader said.

The Parti Quebecois did not end up supporting the motion (no one wanted early elections) but I am sure this is not the last we hear of this.

I’m wondering what you think about the idea of getting rid of school boards. The idea behind it is so that money can go directly to schools instead of being spent on the boards’ bureaucratic machines. (Uh oh…did I just give away my bias? ;) )

Some things I imagine…

Imagine if money that was used on school board consultant salaries, for example, was used to support teachers as they consult with each other within their own school communities and across different school communities?

Imagine if some of that money could be used to hire external consultants that a school community could choose based on the specific needs of each school.

Imagine if external consultants had to compete for the privilege of working in a school community – imagine the quality of consulting that would result.

Imagine if teachers were forced to create things like policy about their own practice.

Oh…the places we could go!