Teachers try new things to support vulnerable learners

Vulnerable learners were the focus of special initiatives in schools across Nanaimo this year.

Vulnerable learners were the focus of special initiatives in schools across Nanaimo this year.

The district provided schools with a $3,500 grant to pursue special projects that help engage struggling learners.

Each school identified a particular area to focus on, said Shelley Beleznay, the district’s coordinator of literacy, learning and instructional support.

The initiatives were carried out either by a team of teachers in the school or by the whole school and representatives from each school met six times throughout the year to talk about the projects.

Teachers shared their final thoughts on the projects with each other on Tuesday.

Beleznay said vulnerable learners are like the canary in a coal mine – if a particular learning strategy is working for struggling students, it will work really well for the rest of the student population.

But time to pause and think about new learning strategies and look at what other teachers are doing is scarce, she added, and this funding provided teachers with this opportunity.

“Quite often you never meet with other schools,” said Beleznay. “I think the impact is that sense of the possibilities, how much we have in our own district to draw on. We have lots to learn from each other.”

Every school did something different, she said, from examining use of technology in classrooms to guided reading activities and teaching students self-monitoring skills.

Beleznay was involved in Coal Tyee Elementary School’s project, which used laptops, iPods and iPads to help engage learners.

Grade 2 students created a Wiki page, on which they posted slideshow presentations of their activities, clips of students reading their own poems, and pictures of historical landmarks around Nanaimo such as the Frank Ney statue.

“They were able to use the technology as an exciting focal point,” said Beleznay.

The students also used math and word games on the devices.

“It’s fun but it’s also learning,” said Beleznay.

At Georgia Avenue Elementary School, teachers used stories and music to help students learn math.

Principal Shelley Green said Cindy Haack, one of the teachers at the school, delivered math lessons in almost every class in the school using math-related literature and music, as she was writing her thesis on this issue.

Most students struggle to make connections between what they learn in math class and real life, said Green, and reading a story that involves things like counting and inventory allowed teachers to imbed the math lesson in the middle of story time, showing students links between everyday life and math class.

“The kids just ate it up,” she said. “I don’t think they realized they were learning it.”

Schools will continue with these projects again next year, said Beleznay.