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ICS Abidjan Begins Its Journey With the CGC

By Janelle Eastridge, Lauren Sandoval, & Janine Stegall
ICS Abidjan Begins Its Journey With the CGC

“Should I use a factual or a conceptual question?” When a seventh-grade student asked this question in her English class, we knew that she was starting to think about ways to approach a problem using a common language. This example illustrates a shift in learning taking place at the International Community School of Abidjan (ICSA) in Côte d’Ivoire.
We began our journey with the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) a year ago. CGC is a growing network of schools that is focused on promoting learning in rich and relevant contexts by way of guided inquiry. The appeal of CGC is that it simplifies what learning is by using common definitions and principles. The lens through which we view learning is that of the three Cs: Conceptual, Competency, and Character learning. Conceptual learning is about exploring big ideas thanks to guided inquiry and making connections in meaningful contexts. Competency learning is about developing essential skills. Character learning encourages students to develop self-knowledge about their values and reflect on them.
Finding our common ground
In February of 2016, we were introduced to CGC at a guided inquiry workshop in Bucharest, Romania. We spent three intense days engaging in conversation with other international educators and practicing strategies that walked us through the CGC guided inquiry cycle. Since then, we have come together as a school to better articulate what we want learning to look like at ICSA.
In August of 2016, Kevin Bartlett, the co-founder of CGC, arrived in Abidjan to guide us in developing a new mission and vision statement. Over the course of three days, students, parents, board members, teachers, and administrators worked together to craft what would become our new mission statement: “Learning and Leading in a Collaborative Culture.”
From mission to action
To put our new mission into action, the administration sought to use us as coaches to guide teachers in Pre-K through 10th-grade classes. Our learning goals for the 2016–2017 academic year include building a common language for learning while breaking down the guided inquiry cycle and practicing strategies in the classroom.
At the beginning of the year we created a timeline to outline the steps that we would take to meet our goals. We have been in contact with other coaches from CGC schools to share ideas and build a rapport. The administration has been supportive by giving us planning time outside of our teaching schedule and meeting with us on a weekly basis. During these weekly meetings, we adopted a learning glossary to define learning at ICSA.
In addition to meeting with teachers one-on-one, we continue to lead sessions with them once a month. We have also communicated our goals with the PTO and the school board in order to expand the conversation about learning to all stakeholders.
Incremental changes
It has been a busy year as the school has also implemented the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP), which has helped us better understand how we need to be preparing students. At certain points in the year, momentum rose and fell, but we stuck with our timeline and kept our learning goals in mind.
We have seen positive changes in our own classrooms as we practice strategies to guide students in exploring new concepts. Guided inquiry learning is a cycle into which students can jump at any point and still feel supported by teachers as they facilitate students’ movement through the process. Students are more engaged, we have noticed, and are making connections among complex topics.
In Lower School, teachers have been collaborating to create social studies units. There has also been an emphasis on accountable talk, an effort to develop safe environments in which ideas can be shared among all learners.
What they’re saying
In Upper School, one of our eighth-grade students, Rylanah, described the shift in learning like this: “I can’t think of a time that we don’t use questions. It has really helped me improve overall because it helps me break down what I need to know and where I need to go. It gives us a structure to make connections within and use things from other classes that we’ve learned.”
Another student, Kevin, came to a realization when he shared with us that, “I used to just answer questions and now I ask the questions.”
The focus has moved from a teacher-centered approach to one that is student-centered. Evidence of reflective learning is seen more often as students collaborate during activities and conversations.
We are excited about the work we have done so far and look forward to continuing our learning story within the CGC framework. We are already beginning to reflect on our recent experiences and to plan our goals for next year. The focus will remain on using the three Cs as a lens for learning. While this year has been about developing a common language among teachers within the guided inquiry cycle, next year we hope to expand on this effort so that we have an even greater impact on learning.

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