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In this episode, we are starting a conversation all about destreaming education in Ontario. We are going to talk about some of the current issues with streaming practices, as well as some potential solutions or approaches for September’s destreaming.

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Show Notes

This week, we wanted to return to this conversation about destreaming education that we started while sharing our thoughts about virtual schools in Ontario. As such, we have chosen to come back to this topic so that we can share our thoughts about this process in an entire episode. We feel very strongly about the topic, and think it’s important to talk about why destreaming education needs to happen.

Here in Ontario, destreaming education will begin with Grade 9 math this coming September. Currently, there are three different streams for grade 9 students: Essential, Applied and Academic. Essential programming will not be affected in the current destreaming plan.

The “Academic” pathway leads to university opportunities, as well as college, trades or workplace. Applied pathway narrows that down by eliminating the university opportunity at a fairly young age. A student can upgrade courses in order to be able to take University level courses in Grade 11, however it isn’t very simple or easy for students to make that switch.

It is even tougher for essential learners, who would have to take upgrade courses to take applied, followed by upgrade to academic courses in order to have opportunities to pursue university education.

To top it off, streaming in education is a racist practice that reinforces an education system that was set up for white colonial learners to be successful. As such, it disproportionately affects our racialized students. It also disproportionately affects students that come from lower incomes families. Streaming has been a practice that only benefits a certain population of students – which is why it’s time to blow this wide open!

Our Observations of Streaming in Education

English Language Learners

As a teacher of English Language Learners (ELLs), or the more accurate expression Multilingual Learners (MLLs), streaming is a common practice that is super frustrating. A lot of ELL students, particularly those that are early on their language journey, tend to get streamed into applied programming because of their language levels. Just because someone is new to a country or the English language, it doesn’t mean that these students don’t have the intelligence or cognitive ability to be successful in academic or university pathway programming.

What it does mean is that they are going to require language support and differentiation in order to be successful. Differentiation should already be happening to support all learners, though, so this shouldn’t be that different, or difficult, to implement.

It is disheartening as an ESL teacher to encourage your students to reach their goals, and to work hard to follow their dreams when it very quickly becomes difficult or impossible because of streaming. For this reason, destreaming education is a welcome change.

How We Approach Teaching

Terms like “differentiation” and “Universal Design for Learning” (UDL) are thrown around quite a bit in education. But perhaps these terms are not well understood, and these concepts are not being implemented in classrooms as widely as we believe.

Often times, we as teachers walk into an “Academic” classroom knowing that our students are in that stream, and are likely heading into university courses, so we tend to gear our teaching approaches to reflect that pathway: lectures, traditional approaches, etc.

Whereas, when teaching an Applied course, teachers tend to favour more practical or hands-on activities. Who’s to say that “Academic” students won’t benefit from that activity as well? It’s important that we don’t underestimate how powerful these strategies can be for all of our students.

Streaming, especially in schools that offer pre-IB and IB streams, tends to create a divide among the school community. Those who are not in pre-IB or IB are lumped into a group that are often made to feel like they aren’t good enough. This additional layer of streaming complicates the situation that already exists, and makes it more difficult for our students.

Possible Solutions & Arguments for Destreaming Education

We need to give every student the opportunity to pursue whatever pathway they would like – every student has the right to attempt academic and university level courses. As we begin the process of destreaming education, we need to focus on how we can leverage changes that have started, and how we can continue to develop to make this process work.

Covid & It’s Affect on Education

Covid and the resulting challenges and changes in education have really given us a chance to reflect on our teaching practices, and to find different ways to engage our students in their learning. Currently, we don’t have the benefit of a physical classroom to gather and teach/learn, so teachers have really had to rethink their approaches. This is the perfect time to try something new, and to find what works for the students in our classes.

Another thing Covid has done in education, is that it has forced us to meet our students where they are at – a practice that we should continue long after this pandemic is done. It is necessary to figure out what our students know before we can forget ahead with new content. Otherwise, it is really unlikely that any of the new material will make much sense, and many of our students will struggle.

Destreaming Education: A Team Approach

Destreaming education is a great opportunity to sit down and collaborate with other educators, and to break down curriculum and how you can approach it differently. It’s also the perfect time to connect with the special education teachers and ESL teachers about strategies that typically work to support these learners in the classroom. Making content accessible to students with IEPs or students learning English, is a great way to ensure content is accessible for ALL students.

Make Content More Accessible

One simple tip: show students how to turn on closed captions in YouTube. As a teacher, when uploading videos, set up auto translations of closed captions so that students can then translate that into their own language.

The biggest challenge is to figure out what works best for your students. For example, offering video is great, but think of how to make it even more accessible! Adding chapters to YouTube videos is a great way to link additional material. Having it available as written text for students to opt to read, is also a great solution for those that don’t thrive with video learning.

Need to generate text from a video? Open a Google Doc, click on Voice Notes, and let the tech do the work for you! You’ll have to go back and insert punctuation and correct any errors, but it’s a great way to get a quick text from a video.

Another option? When giving feedback, using Mote for voice comments is a great way to allow students to hear your voice. Next step? Enable transcipts of voice comments and Mote will autogenerate a transcript of what you have said! Students can then quickly read and listen to it, or even take the transcript and translate it to their first language!

Get to know your students!

By learning about your students, their interests, and their lived experiences, teachers can really engage their students and help them to connect with their curriculum. Many things that seem so obvious to people that were born and raised in North America, may not seem so obvious to newcomers. By leveraging the knowledge that they bring with them, we can better understand what they know, and how we can support their learning.

The best part? This could work for any course or content area!

Have High Expectations for All Students

It is so important that we, as educators, have high expectations for all of our students. Don’t look up previous years’ marks right away, give students a chance to show you what they know before you make any quick judgments. We have no idea what may have happened in previous years that may have affected their grades or their ability to succeed. Students sometimes need a fresh start in a course, much like we do as teachers.

Some of our “Applied” and “Essential” learners are also made to feel that they just aren’t smart enough. While unintentional, the way that we approach and/or teach these students, and the way that their peers interact with them, have a huge affect on their confidence and self esteem.

If you go into a classroom, and you believe that every single one of your students has the potential to be successful, and give them a chance to succeed, you’d be amazed at the results! Students are far more willing to engage and take risks.

As we head into destreaming education, starting with math this September, try to go into it with this mindset that all students can be successful. Have high expectations for all of your students, regardless of previous years’ grades. And stay away from previous marks for the first month!

Instead, get to know your students, gather diagnostic evidence, and give each and every student a chance to experience success.

Teacher Connection

It may seem unimportant, but students need to feel connected to their teacher. They need to know that their teacher cares about them. If a student feels connected to their teacher, it is more likely that they will be successful. That personal connection could be the make or break it factor for some of our struggling students.

Alternatively, if we act in such a way to make our students feel like they don’t belong in our classroom, course or school, our students will not be motivated to try, and it could have a big impact on their learning and future success.

Moving Forward

Racialized students are tired of fighting to fit into a system that isn’t working; they’re tired of advocating for themselves; they’re tired of pushing to make people know that they belong. The system doesn’t work – and it’s time that we change education to fit all of our students.

Destreaming education is a necessary step to address the current inequities that exist in our education system. Our fear? That there won’t be the time or training necessary to make this change meaningful.

The process of destreaming education is going to be challenging, and we need to rely on service side educators and one another to make it work. Consider getting your ESL or Special Education AQs (Additional Qualification) – these courses offer amazing strategies that will benefit all of your students. Don’t want to teach it afterwards? Request to remove it from your list of teachable subjects.

Shifting the Mindsets of Admin

Destreaming education will require a shift in how we are teaching and planning for our classes. The traditional, formal lesson plan that is still required for a TPA (Teacher Performance Appraisal) is no longer helpful when we are embracing new methods, such as Blended Learning, PBL, etc. How can we prepare admin for what they are going to see in the classroom? And how can we change the formal requirements/expectation of detailed lesson plans, which typically aren’t used in real life?!

The Modern Classrooms Podcast recently had a Q&A Episode, where teachers were calling in and asking questions to this effect. Administrators need to open their minds to what effective teaching looks like, and to focus less on what the teacher is doing in front of the class, and to look more at what the students are doing.

Resources to Access for Destreaming Education

Toronto District School Board

Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has been destreamed for a little while now, and have compiled and shared a variety of resources that are super helpful.

One of the resources is a Destreaming Choice Board. It includes a 3 part blog series by Jason To all about destreaming education, the why, and ways to start rethinking. Check out these blog posts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

OnEdMentors Podcast

They released a podcast episode dedicated to Grade 9 Destreaming. Be sure to check that out too!

Additional Resources

Here are a list of additional resources that you may find helpful as we destream education here in Ontario:

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