Michipicoten High School, in scenic Wawa, has a stabilizing influence in a community stressed by economic challenges. The tone at Michipicoten is that of an extended family, and the caring staff members have a history of producing positive attitudinal, attendance and behavioural changes in students. Teachers track students’ progress and achievement and use the resulting information when planning for curriculum implementation, thus ensuring that no child slips through the cracks.
Staff members review the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) results, Item Information Reports and student responses to EQAO questionnaires along with their classroom assessment data when creating the school improvement plan. Before the transition to high school, staff review the junior-division EQAO assessment cohort results from feeder schools. With students entering from three different school boards, these data are essential for appropriate student placement. Assessment meetings are held each fall, and students are tracked through a school-wide organization system that includes colour-coded assignment sheets, success criteria and achievement charts. With this careful monitoring, teachers ensure that students do not fall behind or miss an assignment.
Through the analysis of student responses on EQAO’s Item Information Reports, staff members noted that many students were close to achieving a higher score code and being successful on the OSSLT. Accordingly, the staff members chose to focus on the students’ ability to complete the short-writing questions competently. Using modelling, graphic organizers, anchor charts and direct instruction, the teachers introduced a consistent formula for paragraph writing across the curriculum. Realizing that some students needed basic literacy skills, they developed a similar process for teaching a standardized approach to the sentence: CCCAPS (Capitalization, Complete, Comma, Avoidance of run-on, Punctuation and Spelling).
Teachers used EQAO resources by modelling and integrating sample questions and anchors from previous years’ assessments during English classes. The students participated in the moderated marking of sample anchors and quickly grasped the expectations required to bring their work up to the next code on the scoring rubric for each of the components of the OSSLT. This strategy resulted in a noticeable improvement in student writing.
The writing assignments were then expanded so that students were prepared for long-writing questions. Course exams were created using the OSSLT’s format and included test questions from sample OSSLTs. The students are now confident in their abilities and are excited about writing the OSSLT.
Principal Petar Kusic states: “We pride ourselves here at Michipicoten for having developed a caring, challenging and safe environment in which students can excel. Through our ‘Team Viking’ approach, we have used EQAO data to help improve our literacy skills. All the staff focuses on literacy content and improvement. Our professional learning community sessions have helped create similar expectations across the curriculum, and all the teachers speak the same language. Co-teaching, team teaching and cross-curricular activities connect numeracy and literacy. All of our students have benefited through this positive staff and student teamwork model.”
“We pride ourselves here at Michipicoten for having developed a caring, challenging and safe environment in which students can excel. Through our ‘Team Viking’ approach, we have used EQAO data to help improve our literacy skills. All the staff focuses on literacy content and improvement.”
— Petar Kusic, Principal
There is time built into all classes to promote reading, and encouraging reading for pleasure is a priority at Michipicoten. A reading corner in the library is stocked with graphic novels, sports magazines and hot beverages. This area has become such a success that the English program now makes use of graphic novels in class.
Grade 9 students are given a diagnostic assessment based on the skills measured by the OSSLT. A similar test is given to students at the beginning of Grade 10. Staff members take part in moderated marking and then group the students by area of need. Students at risk are helped by the student support teacher and, if required, scheduled for the literacy course the following year. All students are taught how to use the technology necessary for accommodation.
The Algoma District School Board provides release time, secondary team support and professional training. Staff members are very supportive of literacy initiatives and embed them in their courses. Technology has been used to bridge long distances so that representatives can attend board workshops. The entire school staff takes part in after-school workshops held online.
Parents have great respect for the school and credit it with preparing students for the OSSLT and for academic success. Parents see the school as open and welcoming, and the teachers as supportive, not only to students, but to the community as a whole. Parents also feel that their children are comfortable reaching out when help is needed.
Students at Michipicoten commend their teachers for their commitment. Teachers are always available to give help and descriptive feedback on assignments. They are proactive at finding students at risk and moving them forward. They understand that home and social situations can be difficult and are therefore flexible about assignments, since some students spend over two hours a day on buses and many have part-time jobs. Extra help with specific literacy skills, organization and study habits help prepare students for post-secondary endeavours. A nutritious breakfast and snack program run by the co-op program helps keep everyone energized throughout the day.
According to a Grade 12 student, “Teachers are always there for us and find time to help us. Early and late buses are available for students who want to be involved in extracurricular activities. Teachers do everything they possibly can to make sure we succeed.”
Through consistent organization and language, and the use of effective teaching techniques, the staff members at Michipicoten maximize class time. Diagnostic tests based on the OSSLT and moderated marking allow students to be grouped by area of need for further direct instruction. The positive, caring attitude of the staff creates an environment in which students are engaged in learning, comfortable asking for help and confident about their ability to succeed.
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2014 School Recipient