Readers will recall that my daughter’s post on shadowing students resulted in over 3 million hits (and numerous requests for reprinting or interviews with reporters from all over the world). My follow-up received half a million.

I called for educators to share other stories or versions of student shadowing. That led to a few Canadian educators sharing a policy in Ontario that is focused on individual student experiences and making “attempts at learning” the focus of action research locally. It is a Ministry-wide initiative entitled the Student Work Study Teacher Initiative (SWSTI) in which funds and other incentives are provided for Student Work Study Teachers (SWST) to conduct such collaborative investigation and discussion with volunteers.

I particularly like that the work focuses on “students of mystery“!

Below is a first-hand report from Shannon Milson, an educator in Brantford Ontario:

In Ontario Canada, the SWSCI is a Ministry of Education, research based, student-centered, collaborative inquiry project intended to study the thinking and learning of students from K-8.

During the initial stages of this project, a focus was placed on studying students performing at Level Two (C) in either literacy or numeracy. More recently, the Student Work Study and classroom teachers study any “student of mystery”– specifically students at any level not progressing as expected.

Through Ministry funding to support this broader initiative, Student Work Study Teachers (SWST) have been hired in every school [district] across Ontario. Collaboration is a cornerstone of this project; therefore, funding for substitute teachers is also provided. The number of SWSTs hired per district is dependent on total number of students. Some districts have one SWST while others have nine. With a focus on target students, each Student Work Study teacher engages in a detailed documentation of observations, conversations and student work products – rich description of that student’s learning. The SWST shares and co-interprets the documentation with the classroom teachers on the fly, as well as during pre-arranged release sessions.

Classroom teachers volunteer to be a Student Work Study host teacher and the interest for this is very high. The SWS teacher observes the target students (usually 2 per class) as agreed upon by the SWST and classroom teacher. The SWST usually observes/documents learning for 50-100 minutes per day for approximately three two-week blocks. The SWST will do this in several classrooms each school year. At the end of the school year the SWS teachers are required to submit their research and findings to the ministry. This involves allowing the documentation to highlight a supposition, providing evidence and pairing it with the expert research in the field.

Below, you can find one of my write-ups drawn from a recent SWST experience:


Shannon Milson blog post completed

The full Student Work Study Collaborative Inquiry requires a significant mind-shift. The focus changes to looking closely at a student’s attempt to learn as opposed to an analysis of teacher instruction or activity. All conversations and possible plans of action stem only from what the students are thinking and doing (and why), not from teacher instruction. It doesn’t matter what has been taught if it hasn’t been learned!

The collegial work thus depends upon an “open to learning stance.” This requires approaching teaching and learning with wonder versus sticking to comfortable assumptions and techniques. When host teachers have understood this shift, such analysis becomes a valued and permanent part of their practice.

In short, the key to improving student success lies, ironically, in reserving judgment on what you are seeing; and acting on the premise that the more we hear and see students try to learn, the more we can improve learning.