Walk the halls of almost any school within Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools and you may hear some unfamiliar sounds coming from classrooms. No, it is not the beginner band classes where notes are sometimes unrecognizable. The sounds are the languages being spoken.
You will hear the familiar English. And most will recognize at least the occasional word coming from core-French classrooms or French immersion schools. There will also be languages you may be less familiar with, like Ukrainian from Saskatchewan’s only Ukrainian bilingual school, Bishop Filevich, or Cree from the thriving Cree bilingual school, St. Frances.
Outside of formal learning you are likely to hear conversations taking place in a variety of other languages. Classrooms are naturally a reflection of the larger community. Saskatchewan has more people immigrating from a wider range of countries. The world has come to the classroom, and it has brought a diversity like we have not seen before.
A decade ago, Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) served a few hundred students who were new to Canada and learning English. Scott Gay, superintendent of learning at Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, said that has grown to about 2,500 students who are currently learning English as an additional language. “It presents challenges to us as a school division, but over the years, we’ve grown quite adept at welcoming new Canadians and teaching English as an additional language.
“You can’t just put a non-English speaking student in the classroom and expect them to keep pace with the rest of the class,” said Gay. “The same can be said for students in a variety of other scenarios. Each student is different and may require a different approach to how they are being taught.”
Gay said that the division has been able to adapt some things learned from teaching English language learners—like flexible, personalized lesson plans or working in smaller groups—and apply them in other settings.
Years ago, educators tried to achieve equality—teach every student the same thing the same way. The concept of equity is more prominent now. We want all students to achieve at the same high level, and that means different approaches to learning. It also means being responsive to change and being able to adjust quickly.
Technology in the classroom has helped educators be more flexible and responsive. Asthma-attack-inducing plumes of chalk dust from blackboards have given way to Smartboards (internet-connected whiteboards) that have literally brought the world to the classroom. With few exceptions, the textbook being the primary source of information and method to impart knowledge to students is going by way of the dodo.
Technology is a tool of the trade; much more is needed to make personalization of learning a reality. Gay pointed out that it’s the dedicated work of educators—teachers, counsellors, educational assistants and others—who use all the various sources and tools at their disposal to develop, execute, and adapt learning plans that lead to student success.
Online learning is playing an increasingly prominent role how education is being received and delivered. Cyber School—Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools’ online and distance education tool—is a viable option for more and more students. Reasons to take online courses vary. Some may need a convenient way to pick up an extra high school credit. Some may find it easier to learn at their own pace. It may fit a busy schedule better for others. Whatever the reason, the ability to adapt learning through Cyber School is an increasingly popular option. And with more international students using the locally-developed and -operated tool, it is another way the world is coming to the classroom
As our communities and classrooms continue to adjust, so too will the way we teach and the tools used.