FSD Logo

FSD Logo

Thursday, 29 March 2018

A Critical Thinking Tug-of-War

Written by Shain Chisholm, Instructional Coach

During a recent Social Studies class, students were discussing current events centered around Syrian, Haitian, Turkish and Nigerian refugees seeking asylum in Canada.  In light of the current political debate around the immigration process, the students were invited to think critically at some of the pros and cons of our current immigration system.

To become more informed on the Canadian immigration, the students read articles and watched
videos that dealt with economic, safety, political and health concerns related to immigrants coming to

To help students think critically about immigration, they engaged in an thinking routine called “Tug-of-War”.  As they read the articles and watched the videos, they individually recorded on sticky notes whenever they encountered a fact, example or argument they deemed to be either negative (created a pull in the negative direction) or positive (created a pull in the positive direction) according to the pre-established criteria:


  • Strengthen Canada economically
  • Provide refuge for the persecuted
  • Maintain Canadian health and safety
  • Reunite immigrant families


Once they had completed their sticky notes, they met with their group mates to decide where to place their sticky notes. The concept of leverage came into play as the students were asked to place the stronger arguments (having more pull) closer to the ends of the rope and the weaker arguments closer to the middle.  (see Tug-of-War posters above) It was interesting to observe the animated discussions as students debated where arguments should be placed along the rope.
In debriefing the lesson, the students liked the fact that they were ALL engaged in an important discussion in their groups as opposed to a whole class discussion where not all students get to share their viewpoint. They also shared that simply having more arguments on one side of an issue did not necessarily mean that particular perspective was more viable.  It was the weight of arguments that was a more important consideration

From a teacher viewpoint, the principles of critical thinking contained in the Tug-of-War routine are easily transferable to other subjects and grades.  Even more valuable was the recognition by the students that the kind of critical thinking in Tug-of-War could also be a very helpful tool when faced with important decisions both in school and beyond.  

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Getting Critical About CTS Competencies

A High School’s CTS Program Story: 
Our First Steps in The Journey Towards Understanding and Assessing the Basic Competencies

Written by Shanda Dupras, Instructional Coach at FSD38

“Did you bring your pencil to class? Did you speak during a class discussion? Did you arrive late…again?”

An amalgamation of high school teachers from numerous CTS pathways (Welding, Construction, Communication Technology, Business, Mechanics, Robotics) decided that the way that they were embedding and assessing the basic competencies in their learning spaces could not be farther away from the real world.  Pencil preparedness, lack of speaking in class and arriving late were the foundation of their evaluation of the competencies. The teachers knew that the basic competencies were larger than what they had been assessing and teaching through ‘day marks.’  Students could not articulate, nor did they understand that the competencies were more extensive than arriving with an H2 pencil sharpened …  

These teachers wanted to rebuild the culture in their classes through developing basic competencies…they wanted a common understanding amongst themselves and their students.  Once the competencies were intentional embedded, how would the depth of student learning and engagement improve? AND so the conversations and questions began. What common language would be shared and what would an authentic platform for assessment look like? They wanted the competencies to be visible and an integral part of their classes.  A shift had to happen.

Competencies as we know, are the Combinations of knowledge, skills and attitudes that students develop and apply for successful learning, living and working.” (Gov.Alberta)   In the CTS world, the basic competencies are placed into three categories; Fundamental, Personal Management and Teamwork Skills.

The first steps in this journey started similar to a child in a baby walker from the 70’s.  Discussions in numerous PLC meetings seemed to mirror babble and often at the end of every gathering, teachers felt as though they had been crashing into walls. It was all part of the process. It was messy…until it became clear. They needed student voice to be a part of the conversation.  Using a Thinking Routine, ‘Chalk Talk,’ teachers wrote down their own ideas, understanding and attitudes towards each competency. They needed to think critically about each competency and how they wanted them to live in their learning spaces.

Next into the ‘walkers’ were the high school students. The teachers designed the same ‘Chalk Talk’ and students from all CTS classes participated by writing their understandings of each competency.  Staff and student voices were then combined into one spreadsheet. 

Teachers then threw their walkers aside, and started running.

This is just the start of this journey…Part One in the series. Teachers and students collaboratively, are presently designing visible infographics for each learning space that capture the basic competencies. Branding them. Authenticating them. Fundamental Skills now has a title of “The Communicator & Problem Solver.” Personal Management has now been humanized into “Self-Director & Professional” and finally Teamwork is now encompassed in the title of “Collaborator.” Along with these titles, specific criteria have been co-created and are used to guide the conversation, and language in all classes. An in-depth assessment rubric is currently being created so students are able to self-assess and have authentic conversations with their teachers about their personal skills, abilities and attitudes
…the competencies - they need to be successful in their future endeavours.

Part Two...coming soon.