Now growing in BC school districts: Inquiry-based professional learning

How UBC Education researchers are cultivating self-regulated learning (SRL) with BC communities

February 20, 2014

Dr. Deborah Butler and Dr. Nancy Perry are working hard to change the landscape of education in British Columbia’s schools. And they’re not alone. Around the province, researchers, school districts, teachers, and government are coming together to reimagine a successful education system. Through applied research, they’ve discovered what it takes to equip our youth with the 21st century learning skills they’ll need to thrive in a rapidly evolving society. And they’re ready to deliver their innovative professional learning model within school communities.

“Self-regulation predicts early success in school more powerfully than IQ scores.”

Dr. Nancy Perry, Educational & Counselling Psychology, and Special Education

Dr. Perry,whose 5-year-old niece began kindergarten last fall, knows that language and number skills are only part of the big picture when it comes to classroom success. Even more than early literacy skills, Dr. Perry says, “Predictors of school success are children’s ability to pay attention, follow directions, resist distractions, work well with others, cope with challenges, and adapt to complex environments.”  These things are associated with self-regulation, and with positive outcomes for children’s overall wellbeing throughout their lives. “Recent research indicates performing well on tasks that require self-regulation predicts early success in school even more powerfully than IQ scores.”

Connecting research, teaching, and learning

Dr. Butler, Dr. Perry, and their colleagues from SRL Canada shared their research widely during a June 2013 event at UBC. More than 230 teachers, educational researchers, and leaders from around British Columbia gathered for a day of dialogue that served to set an agenda for understanding and applying self-regulated learning (SRL) in BC through research, teaching practice, and public policy.

Demonstrating what SRL can look like in a classroom setting, Dr. David Whitebread of Cambridge University shared a video of school children working together to assemble a jigsaw puzzle. Speaking and gesturing to one another, the children also murmured to themselves. Testing pieces for the right fit, they crafted stories to narrate their actions and thought processes. When pieces didn’t fit together as they should, the youngsters tried different approaches. These earnest efforts revealed an intrinsic logic at work, as the children guided their interactions through the processes of self-regulation, supported but unimpeded by adults.

This example evokes the types of enriching interactions BC educators strive to nurture in their classrooms. Dr. Whitebread observed that BC's education system is already promoting the development of adaptive lifelong learning skills, over strict emphasis on curricular outcomes and standardized assessments.

Supporting SRL in Delta School District

For Dr. Butler and Dr. Perry, the next step toward promoting and supporting SRL practices in BC schools is piloting the SRL Inquiry Hub in collaboration with Delta School District. This innovation in program delivery will establish and support an SRL-focused learning community in the district, while providing a lasting resource for teaching and learning practice in Delta.

“We're positioning UBC to be a resource to teachers' inquiry in a very dynamic way that's authentic to them, and creating lasting learning communities in school districts.”

Dr. Deobrah Butler, Educational & Counselling Psychology, and Special Education

“British Columbia is really a leader in inquiry-oriented approaches to teacher professional learning,” says Dr. Butler, explaining the rationale behind the SRL Inquiry Hub. “Helping teachers take up ideas in a sustained way over time, and really work in a problem-solving, iterative cycle” is a successful alternative to day-long professional development workshops, according to research. The SRL Inquiry Hub launches this summer with a three-day workshop, followed by learning team meetings across the school year. This approach facilitates ongoing inquiry into personal practice, through a supportive collegial network. The inquiry hub continues until Spring 2015 when participants will share their learning with their district colleagues in a culminating event.

"We're positioning UBC to be a resource to teachers' inquiry in a very dynamic way that's authentic to them," Dr. Butler says, "By drawing together resources right in the school districts, we can help create lasting learning communities." The SRL Inquiry Hub aims to build capacity for school districts to actively engage in SRL-oriented practices — and ultimately, to improve the quality of life for our youth in the long term.

Story by Jenny van Enckevort.

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