This year the Cariboo-Chilcotin school district selected Lac La Hache, a small rural school consisting of 22 students, as a priority for receiving SET-BC Tier 2 classroom-based support. From the very start of the service, teachers have been seeing significant improvements in their students’ writing and levels of engagement.
The school team brought with them great momentum and lessons learned from participating in the SET-BC new service delivery model pilot project in 2014-2015. During planning meetings, the team clarified their goals as being a strong focus on Universal Design for Learning while building a bigger toolbox of literacy instructional strategies. Professional development around Adrienne Gear’s “Writing Power” were identified as keys to success. To support their goals, SET-BC loaned a set of five iPads with Clicker Apps and two laptops with the Clicker 6 program to the team and provided training and various forms of support (face-to-face and online implementation support as well as an invitation to the live webinar with Adrienne Gear) to help them build specific technology-supported strategies.
Cindy, the administrator and one of only two teachers in the school, observes that, “They are a really neat group of kids to work with”. Highlighting the diverse needs of the group she says, “We have students that are way below grade level, way above grade level, and we have a disproportionate number of vulnerable students. Universal Design for Learning isn’t just ‘how’ you teach a K-7 classroom, it’s ‘why’ you do it”. In her school, teaching to the middle is not an option because, as she notes, “unlike in bigger schools, you don’t have a core group of kids to ‘get it’ and help move everyone else forward.”
The technology was introduced to the class in mid-October and significant changes were immediately apparent in the students who found writing most challenging. In the past, when faced with a writing assignment, some students engaged in breaking pencils, head banging on desks, or throwing things in the classroom to avoid the task.
It is now a different scenario – individuals who struggled are now experiencing success. Cindy, reflecting on the transformation, notes, “Before, you were lucky if students used their pencil to write their name. Now, with the help of the Clicker word banks, students can create at least 10 sentences with minimal support.” For example, one student completed a report on using the app “Shadow Puppet”. This app allows for voice input and a background soundtrack – the student used this feature to play Beethoven’s music. According to Cindy, “he really spent time thinking about his ideas and articulating them, rather than getting caught up on the painful mechanics of printing.”
Many other students really needed help with vocabulary and spelling. They would limit their ideas focusing on vocabulary they knew how to spell. While the team assumed the technology would be most helpful to younger students, it turned out that the older students often needed those supports more than the primary students.
The group as a whole is enjoying creating a wide range of Clicker activities. Isabella, MacQuarrie, the district SET-BC District Partner and District Learning Support Coordinator, has been instrumental in sharing her deep knowledge of educational technologies and experiences during the SET-BC three-tiered model pilot year. She explains, “We have developed a broad range of applications which we preload onto iPads, and then model, plan and co-teach the use of those applications from a pedagogical perspective.”
The biggest change since the introduction of technology-based tools has been the level of engagement and student-centered creativity. There have been really positive results coming from students who normally struggle. The students are now asking how they can share their work with their parents and even how to create their own word banks for their writing. Cindy remarks, “They are creating something for an audience, not for a mark.” The influence of Adrienne Gear’s work in the various classroom writing activities is also very evident. “Before we started, both [intermediate students and primary students] didn’t enjoy writing at all and displayed minimal effort in all their work. Now I notice they are keener about their writing. Even [when writing with] pen and paper. They are understanding their stories better as well as understanding that their words convey meaning and the meaning is their own ideas. They want that meaning to be clear to the reader.”
We are very excited that technology has opened new pathways to literacy development in Lac La Hache – We will definitely be following their student work on the school’s YouTube channel!