John Fraser Secondary School, in Mississauga, serves 1400 students in Grades 9–12. The school is host to a regional English as a second language program that serves students who come from 40 different language backgrounds. The English language learner population has increased over the past number of years, and support is provided through positive relationships with settlement workers, who assist students and their families. Strategic timetabling, culturally diverse materials, technology and a variety of clubs are just a few of the other supports these students receive. There is strong engagement from the parent community, especially in the area of mathematics. Parents take education seriously, and many families move into the area because of John Fraser’s tradition of excellence. The staff work hard to create a welcoming environment where students are included in all activities and encouraged to take leadership roles wherever possible.
John Fraser demonstrates continued success on both the academic and the applied versions of the Grade 9 Assessment of Mathematics. Examining the EQAO data over time in conjunction with board and school data, the school team identifies strengths and weaknesses and develops a school improvement plan to build on the school’s strong success rates. Data are infused throughout the school culture, as teachers believe that data inform, direct and improve instructional practice. The school has been involved in four action research projects in mathematics and has used its own action research modelled on EQAO’s Student Questionnaire to develop an attitudinal survey to collect data on how the students view their ability to do mathematics and how it is relevant in their lives. Examining the data gathered, the educators develop a spreadsheet and identify areas where students are struggling. This survey is conducted three times a year to monitor students’ attitudes, track changes and target students experiencing challenges. Teachers review the results to review their daily practice and make any necessary modifications.
Ongoing collaboration with feeder schools contributes to John Fraser’s success. Staff regularly meet with the Grade 8 teachers to examine Grade 6 EQAO results and other school data, and discuss the needs of each student to ensure that students will be appropriately placed in Grade 9. They also collaborate with the feeder school counsellors in “Red Flag Transition Meetings” to complete transition profiles for students at risk.
Grade 9 students are closely monitored to ensure their transition to high school is successful. Teachers use the Ontario Numeracy Resource Package three-part lesson plans based on the Grade 8 curriculum expectations to collect data for each student. They create a data wall in order to note any gaps and track the progress of each student. Teachers offer extra help through an after-school program. In it, they focus their interventions by targeting specific skills identified by diagnostic tests.
The Student Success Centre is available to all students needing assistance to catch up, work on study habits, or rescue or recover credits. Diagnostic tests are administered so teachers can design individual programs to target gaps in understanding and review key concepts. The centre has an open-door policy and students move in and out as necessary, with about 100 receiving assistance each semester. More focused intervention is available for high-risk students, as teachers meet once a month to review their progress and modify interventions as necessary.
The Grade 9 mathematics teachers collaborate daily to plan and deliver lessons that are meaningful to students. The team is focused on the creation of rich, collaborative tasks focused on the development of critical thinking skills. They assign open-response questions and parallel tasks aligned with learning goals and success criteria to involve students and encourage them to share ideas and determine solutions. Word walls containing mathematical language are created from these discussions. Working collaboratively, students are more engaged, asking questions and talking to each other about the learning goals and success criteria. Students develop more confidence as they discover different ways to approach a task, and they become less afraid to make mistakes as they learn there is more than one right answer to a problem. This student collaboration allows teachers to design their instruction around student thinking, which makes mathematics more relevant and interesting.
“ We bring mathematics alive by having students participate in activities using manipulatives that allow them to make geometry and algebra more visual so they can move from the concrete to the abstract. Students can choose their own tools to measure and collect data enhancing their learning experience.”
— Judy Mendaglio, Curriculum Head, Mathematics
The teachers believe that if students have the opportunity to think and solve problems together, they will, and that through this collaboration they will demonstrate their ability to transfer their learning to new activities and problems. Students working in groups are more engaged, which gives teachers the opportunity to observe, listen and assess the students and give feedback and differentiated instruction where necessary.
Judy Mendaglio, Curriculum Head, Mathematics, states: “We bring mathematics alive by having students participate in activities using manipulatives that allow them to make geometry and algebra more visual so they can move from the concrete to the abstract. Students can choose their own tools to measure and collect data enhancing their learning experience.”
Students appreciate the support and assistance provided by the teachers. A Grade 11 student states: “The teachers allow us to work in groups so we can talk about the problem and learn from each other. I did not always like mathematics but continued to take it in Grade 10, transferring from applied to academic. It is challenging, but with the help and support of my teachers, I have confidence in my ability to be successful.”
Another successful strategy at John Fraser is Project Complete. Teachers examine the mid-term reporting data and determine which students are not experiencing success. A week is dedicated to working with individual students to provide intensive support and the opportunity to complete assignments. New data are added to the data wall, as teachers track and monitor the progress of their students.
The administrative team is very supportive and hands-on. They ensure that teachers have the resources necessary to improve their daily practice continually. Principal Mary Nanavati is proud of the teachers and their commitment to the success of students. She states: “At John Fraser Secondary School, we are fortunate to have teachers who value data, using it to learn and set high expectations for themselves and their students. Teachers effectively use data and are willing to think outside the box, taking risks to ensure students have every opportunity to achieve success.”
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2014 School Recipient