Okanagan-Skaha: Through a Different Lens


‘Through a Different Lens’ is a BC Okanagan-Skaha school district-wide initiative to improve learning for those students most at risk. Educators are collaborating to investigate  flexible instructional and assessment strategies without compromising standards.  Through the process, they are finding that everyone benefits.

In 2011, a team of teachers led by Judith King and Naryn Searcy in BC’s Okanagan-Skaha school district came together and formed a professional inquiry research group. They called their initiative the ‘Through a Different Lens’ Project. This group of teachers sought to change their teaching methods in order to improve student engagement and achievement.  They had a special focus on students who were considered “at risk”. The three areas the group explored included:

  • building and fostering learning communities in the classroom
  • changing teaching methods to engage students in the classroom
  • offering alternative assessment options while keeping standards high

The teachers involved in the initiative noted the following:

  • Representing information in different ways and being flexible in the way that students were able to demonstrate their learning helped teachers reveal their students’ passions and identify their learning strengths.
  • Connecting with students and fostering caring relationships with their students, especially those at risk, helped them feel acknowledged, safe and valued.
  • Being flexible and creative in adapting curriculum by making changes to deadlines and allowing for tests or assignments to be rewritten reduced the anxiety around those assessment activities and encouraged students to work towards improvement.
  • Being purposeful when providing support whether it be scaffolding for students who required more structure to creating open-ended tasks or thoughtfully pairing or grouping students for group work helped to support students who needed additional help.

After 2 years of this inquiry research, the results were very positive and dramatic for both students and teachers alike. Teachers in this inquiry group found there were improvements for students in many areas:

  • course or grade completion increased
  • academic engagement improved
  • academic confidence grew
  • social engagement expanded
  • knowledge about themselves as learners increased

Teachers in this project really valued the monthly meetings that allowed them to connect, share and collaborate on teaching strategies. Teachers reported they felt supported in their own learning community and they brought the resulting increase in confidence back to their own classrooms.

To read about the efforts and experiences of the Okanagan-Skaha school district teachers, visit their blog at http://differentlensblog.blogspot.ca/

This video highlights the “Through a Different Lens Project” initiative.  Teachers involved in the project highlight how the initiative has changed how they teach and how the positive results they see in their students encourages them to continue to expand and try new strategies.

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