Student population: 416; Grades: K–8; Principal: Shari Elms
Pleasantville Public School is located in Richmond Hill, just north of the City of Toronto. The school was opened in 1960 and has undergone two extensive additions, in 1990 and 1994. It serves a growing community that is becoming more and more diverse.
EQAO considered schools that:
Through extensive examination of EQAO data, report card data and teacher observation data, the staff was able to identify a challenge of practice in the area of student perseverance with open-ended problems. The students had a fairly high level of achievement, but were unable to take risks to challenge their understanding in more complex mathematical problems. The staff undertook this challenge of practice to move students from good to better.
Once the challenge of practice was established at Pleasantville PS, staff came together on a regular basis to challenge their thinking and learn more about a growth mindset. Subsets of staff were formed, and each subset met to determine their own specific vision and goal. Staff learned alongside students and became more responsive to the needs of their students.
When I think about our math success in our work, I think of both bringing collaborative inquiry into our learning opportunities, as well as our focus on the instructional core. As a school, through collaborative inquiry, I think our staff has engaged in deeper understanding of concepts that were important to them—and that really was driven by our Challenge of Practice. Our Challenge of Practice identified that our kids were having difficulty with persevering through complex problems, and so our collaborative inquiry really helped us go through the process of identifying what our students struggled with and then creating an atmosphere in our school where learning together and deepening our understanding to address their needs became the key focus. We came together as a group, each of our small groups, and created a vision and a goal that was specific to that need, and then we actually came together. We engaged in learning, and then we engaged our students in that new learning. When we got into the classroom through our 4 Cs, we really saw some of our hard work come to fruition. Our kids were embracing the growth mindset that we had created for them and with them, and when it came to working through problems together, we saw that kids were far more engaged in building off each other’s ideas and making their thinking visible, and as teachers we started to realize that we—our role of prompting kids and asking them questions—was far more powerful then rescuing them and giving them those answers, and so together, we really started to see the impact of our work and the change in our practice, and a lot of that I believe has to do with us as a staff coming together, creating a culture of learning together, of inquiry, of trust, and through that, I believe that we’ve continued to make an impact on student learning and really helped them develop the skills they need, the practice they need, and the confidence they need to persevere through challenging and complex problems. So I believe as a school together, our collaborative inquiry work—as well as our work in the instructional core—has really helped us not only increase the level of the skills and knowledge of our teachers but the level of the student engagement in the task itself and the level of the work our classroom (Sic.), and I believe together, we will continue to do that very important work.
Staff began to develop theories of action around research they conducted. Well thought out professional development and a comfort level of allowing others into their classroom allowed staff to work together on these theories of action. Professional feedback was used to adjust teaching methods and to help staff to be “critical friends” to further improve student learning.
Speaker—Ruth Walker-Rosewood (Teacher)
So at Pleasantville, we have been focusing on the comprehensive math program, and we came to that through our looking at the data (Sic.) and then moving on to making it part of our Challenge of Practice. The area that we noticed students were struggling the most was in their resiliency and their ability to be able to persevere through a difficult program, or a difficult problem. We have had our teachers then from there we looked at our teacher’s needs and we saw that teacher’s need focused around the instructional core, being able to commit to a three part lesson, being able to break that down in terms of understanding the consolidation piece, and then actually making up their math community and being able to focus in on what were their student needs. Things such as wait time, allowing students to struggle over a period of time. As students are working on problems, being willing to be able to let them struggle with that problem. Asking good questions to allow the students to work through their own strategies and then move toward a more efficient strategy. This has taken us to using our PA Days and using our staff meeting (Sic.) to help teachers with the theory, creating theories of action, helping us then to see through the professional works of people like Carol DeWitt, Marian Small, Jo Boaler, to be able to start going deeper into—what does that mean? How do I change my practice? And then, in turn, bring that into the classroom. So we used our Professional Learning Communities—our PLCs—as a time to allow teachers to then go in and practice. How do I use wait time to be able to allow student response? How do I allow all students to be involved? By using strategies like—rich strategies like Think, Pair, Share. How do I allow students to be able to show what they know before we go in and try to create mini lessons to be able to then move toward the more efficient part of that? For our teachers that has been a great challenge, but it has also required us, lots of times, to go back and say, “This worked. This didn’t work. Let’s be reflective as we go into the next part.” Of being able to say, “Okay, what is our questioning techniques like (Sic.), and how are we using the five talk moves to be able to, again, support student learning and achievement?” Using those types of strategies and hearing each other by doing the 4 Cs, we’re able to give each other feedback about what we might want to try next with students, and that has helped us, not only to grow professionally, but it’s helped us to change our practice, as we respond to the student’s needs, as we’re seeing our students work in the classroom and be able to move towards that. The three part lesson—the biggest part that I think most of has learned—is how to bring that consolidation piece in. Using the rich problems and then being able to actually create a differentiated situation with parallel or open questions—and allowing to see different students work in different areas—has lead us to then how we bring that consolidation piece together.
A critical piece in the development of the plan to move students forward was learning with the student lens in mind. Most professional development was conducted with staff and students. Questions that were asked during staff discussions were also posed to students, to understand their ideas and perspectives.
Speaker—Helen Edward-Tsivaras (Teacher)
I think the Challenge of Practice at Pleasantville, in terms of our math journey, is that it indicated that students are limited in perseverance. So, the way we first approached that was looking at the growth mindset. The growth mindset, we asked ourselves as a staff, “What is a mathematician?” We took that same question and asked our students. That was really important because we have to know our learners, and in order to do that, we have to help them grow as a mathematician (Sic.). The second thing that we did was co-create norms as a staff, and we’re able to select norms that were best-fitted to our classroom needs, and again, we asked our students to co-create norms. So, that pattern of whatever we do in PLCs and staff meetings and PDs, we transition that same work that we do as a staff first into our classroom, which is really important. Just like working on word problems: we’ve done that as a staff, and we’ve found challenges. We’ve found different strategies and how we can possibly help students. And looking through the lens of a student is really important, because it’s an ongoing process, and it helps us identify with our challenges and strengths and helps us really connect to their learning patterns.
School Profile and Results