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Reflections on My Journey Destreaming Grade 9

Brad Dixon, Destreaming Coach, Minor Head of Science, Guelph CVI, UGDSB
Twitter: @TeachingMrDixon

The first semester of destreaming grade 9 science has now come to a close. If you were someone like me who was involved in math as well, you might be 3 semesters deep at this point. Regardless, semester change is always a great time to reflect on what has happened. If you are destreaming, a lot has likely happened.

This year I've had the privilege of being a leader in my school, working to iron out the kinks in the destreaming process in both math and science. This has given me the opportunity to work with many teachers, and also the time to reflect on what the wins and losses are so far.

For those of you deep in the destreaming weeds right now, I have compiled some of my reflections, lessons learned, and some advice that hopefully can help some of you.

Focus On Relationships
This semester I focussed heavily on the relationships in my classroom and building an environment where students are engaged and doing math. This was a big win. I know we hear this all the time in education, but setting that culture is a huge deal. I have read and am embracing the book Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics by Peter Liljedahl. This book has helped my practice immensely and I can't recommend it enough for any math or science teacher.

One thing I keep reminding myself about is that a Thinking Classroom is not a set of tasks that make students think, it is a culture where students learn to think about tasks. I think we can all mull that over a bit.

Know that it takes time to form these relationships and create a classroom culture where students are willing to take risks and think. In my class we take about the first week of class to do non-curricular tasks focusing on getting to know each other and set the expectations of risk-taking, thinking and group work. If you haven’t done this before there are tonnes of examples of “first week of SNC1W” plans online.

As we return to school after the two week break, I have been reminded that we need to continue to focus on those relationships. We have not been together for 2 weeks so taking some time to reinforce those expectations is important. This reminder is sometimes needed throughout a normal semester. A few times I have taken a couple of minutes out of a class to talk about and remind students of the expectations. We all need a reminder sometimes, especially those 14 year old brains we work with!

Don't Do It Alone
I have tried and watched people try to teach alone. It typically does not work. I think this is true for every day teaching, and very true for destreaming grade 9.

I realize not all teams work well together and the team you were given might not be the best fit for you. Find your team. It might be in your building, it might be at another school in your board, it might be a friend at another board, or it might be online. Find your team. Personally, I have found lots of great educators through Twitter, but to each their own.

This Is a Process
When I first jumped into destreaming I thought I could do it all. I think that was true when I started teaching as well!

In June 2020 when all the math teachers were freaking out, I had a conversation with a colleague. He told me "in my 20 years as a teacher, this is going to be the biggest shift in education I have ever seen." I think he was right. So, how would I be able to do this on the first try and by myself?

Destreaming grade 9 is a monumental philosophical and pedagogical shift that requires lots of time and effort. There are some new curriculum expectations and some merging of expectations between the previous applied and academic courses (the Ministry put together a great resource outlining the curriculum changes). This requires time and effort to work through these changes and implement them effectively. In my opinion there are bigger challenges for those of us who have been teaching streamed courses our entire career; how do we address the needs of diverse learners in our classrooms.

That cannot all happen in the first try. This leads me to my next reflection and piece of advice, make a plan.

Make a Plan
Since this is a process, and we all think like scientists, then let’s make a plan. This plan is going to be a three, five, or more year plan. Get your team involved, get everyone on the same page. Plan your work, work your plan.

I work best with semester goals, it is a natural break and reflection point in our school year. Break it down into small chunks. Maybe the first semester is just writing down what you did. The second semester can be reflecting on what worked and what did not work, so it can be refined over the summer or in semester 3.

As a team, decide on your bigger goals. Think about instructional practices, assessment practices, and integration with grade 10 for when these students get there. These are all bigger things that need to be included in your plan, and revisited multiple times.

What Do I Focus on First?
Do we focus on instruction, assessment, lab skills, or just getting through the day first? This is a complex question, I'm not sure I have the right answer, but I'll attempt to let you know where I have landed on it.

First and foremost, survival. As I said earlier, this is difficult. If that means, semester 1 is simply focused on getting a lesson planned and executed each day, so be it.

In my opinion, next comes instruction. In my experience with destreaming, we need to meet the learners where they are. We also have a huge range of abilities that we are not used to as high school teachers. Meet them where they're at, and adapt your instructional strategies appropriately. For me personally and other teachers at my school, the Thinking Classroom has paid dividends as an instructional practice in both math and science.

Although I put assessment second on the list, it does not mean it is more or less important. Coming up with and executing appropriate and equitable assessments is incredibly important. This is where I am at in my practice. Starting in February, I will be digging into and exploring more alternative assessment practices.

Don't Compare Journeys
Everyone has a different journey. Everyone has a different set of students and circumstances surrounding their progress. Don't compare what you did to what someone else did.
Be wary of things posted online. Some people have circumstances that allow more time, or have a bigger team, or just give up more of their personal time to advance their practice. Some people just share the wins and not the losses. Some people might just have a different plan. Don't compare yourself, learn what you can from those posts and keep moving.

In my world, if I made a plan and am making progress on that plan, then I’m winning!

You're the Expert Now
Realize that you are one of a few people who have now successfully made it through a semester of destreaming science. You may not feel like it, but you are a leader, an expert, the one who made it through! Share your experiences, positive and negative. Think about yourself in September; would you not have loved to have a fellow teacher be able to at least tell you one thing that was good about destreaming? Be that spark for someone who is just starting that journey.

Keep Moving Forward
You're almost there! You've got this! One last push!

Whatever motivates you, harness that energy. Keep moving forward, even if it is two steps forward one step back.
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