Community Collaboration Engages Students, Grows Skillsets, & Fosters Humanity
However, if doesn’t spark joy, set it aside. Consider making three piles or lists for those items that no longer spark joy in you and your students:
This, at least for me, is the hardest part of tidying up. It may help to keep in mind what Marie Kondō notes in her first book: “when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”
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Finish discarding before moving on.
Likewise, in our classrooms, we have to get rid of—or least commit to revamping—those items that no longer fit our students. Only then, once we see what remains, do we know what new format or structure might work best for the year to come. Only then, do we see if we have any gaps in our instruction.
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Organize by category.
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Designate a spot for everything.
This step reminds me of what I did about ten years ago when I revamped the American Literature course I was teaching. After having purged a few novels and some grammar units that were no longer sparking joy in my students, I rearranged. Because I figuratively laid everything out on the table, I was able to then see that my remaining content, texts, lessons, etc. fit into six themes. Embracing that fact, I rearranged from teaching American Literature chronologically, as I had always done in the past, to teaching it thematically. But it also meant I had some holes to fill: I was suddenly able to weave in a new book group unit and adjust how I taught grammar by embedding into our reading and writing tasks. It was a lot of work, but, ultimately, it lead to more effective learning in the years that followed.
As my husband and I are experiencing firsthand with our home, the act of downsizing can feel overwhelming while in the process of discarding. However, we look forward to placing all our remaining items back in the best order (ideally, in our perfect-for-us condo in downtown Rochester).
As Marie Kondō states, “the space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming...not for the person we were in the past.” This is true for our classrooms, too: we need to make them a place where students can grow into who they will become in this ever-changing world...not for the students we taught in the past.
I was able to experience all the joy one experiences when walking into a neighborhood bodega with several food stamp bills stuffed inside my torn blue jeans. And although everyone in my neighborhood, an area roughly few miles long but supporting over 80,000 people, were in similar situations as my family, I still found it embarrassing using food stamps. I remember the feeling of shame and humiliation course through my body as I readied myself for the monetary transaction. Truth be told, I hated that our family needed help. Yet, like anyone living in poverty can tell you, the worst part is asking for it.
Several years ago I had the pleasure of speaking to a parent volunteer, Donna Greason. She had told me that if there were ever any student needs, she would be happy to help. I informed her that our school actually had a resource room for students who had clothing or food needs. The only issue was that it was only accessible by walking through a teacher’s personal office and, to top it off, a key was needed. Not many students knew about the room and those who did were required to ask a staff member to open it.
Basically, if I thought using food stamps was embarrassing, I could only imagine how it must feel to be a high school adolescent having to find an adult to open a room so I may pick out food for my family while inadvertently being gawked at by the same person who opened the room up for me. But like many of us are very well aware, space is limited in just about all of our school buildings. And, as is often spoken in my household, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”
Yet, when I brought Mrs. Greason to the 7’ x 7’ Support Our Spartans Resource Room, S.O.S. Room, she had other thoughts. She too had financial difficulties growing up and started questioning whether our school could provide a more appealing space. Being the only school social worker for over 1,700 students, honestly, the S.O.S. Room was not particularly on my radar…at all. It had been established well before I ever stepped foot into the building and was a group effort, mostly stocked by the generosity of other Mayo High School staff members.
Her idea was to move out of the space we were currently in and be more centrally located. The other portion of her idea was to be more selective in terms of the items we were taking in, and lastly, “make it look like Target.”
Growing up surrounded by poverty, many of my classmates would still manage to come to school with new Jordan sneakers, Guess Jeans, and Hilfiger sweatshirts, although they too were living in the same poverty stricken neighborhood as I was. So, it was difficult for me to imagine students embracing walking into a resource room to grab a pair of pants and walk out with little shame. And yet, it was so much the opposite of everything most of us were brought up to believe that it might actually work!
With support from our administration, we were provided a larger room right across from the lunchroom. The room is left open, unlocked, and largely unstaffed throughout the entire school day. Meaning, students can simply walk in and out of the room at their leisure. No more hiding in a small space, no more needing to ask for an adult to unlock the room, and no permission needed. Although we have no prior data to compare how many items are coming and going, I can gladly say we estimate it to be about a thousand items every month. We count empty clothing hangers to provide us with a base number of how many clothing items are taken from the room. The difficult part of keeping track of everything is that we offer more than just clothing: we also have school supplies, hygiene products, college readiness information, shoes, water bottles, books, and--to top it off--we also have a food pantry room for our weekly backpack program.
Within a year of implanting the new strategy, our room was so successful that we expanded into the hallway. Many of our school supplies are now located outside of our room and regularly stocked. Three clothing racks are also located in the hallway where students can grab a winter coat when needed. This model has opened the room up not only to those who are impoverished, but to any and all of our 1,700 students here at Mayo High School. It has really helped me reframe my initial position of what a student in need looks like. Because regardless of how much money your parents have, if you rip your jeans in gym class during 2nd hour, straight down the crack, you’re now in need – true story.
The initial planning took more than simply receiving a centralized location. In order to make the room look the part, it was going to take money. We enlisted the help of several Mayo students who were able to write grants for our room and generated about $2,000. The money was used to purchase shelving, clothing rods, hangers, etc.. Recruiting Mayo students to write grants took the burden off of my shoulders and provided students with an opportunity to give back to their community as well as provided them with a life learning experience and an additional item to add to their resume.
The next step was finding students who could be in charge of the daily maintenance and upkeep of the room. This was accomplished by soliciting the help of two student aides per semester. Simply put, there is no way any one person is going to be able to perform their job and effectively maintain a room of this nature. The last piece of the puzzle was to create a club that would be responsible for all of the behind the scenes operations involving the room.
Most people don’t know the S.O.S. Room is actually run by a student club. They meet every Tuesday morning for 40 minutes to discuss current and future needs, donations, monthly newsletters, and social media pertaining to the S.O.S. Room. The last several meetings, however, have not been about our room but were spent discussing ways of establishing a resource room in every school across our district. They are willing to write grants, organize food drives, and donate clothing resources in order to help any school get up and running, or anything else that a school might find beneficial to establishing their own resource room.
There are many myths surrounding a resource room that I would like debunked. The most important one in my opinion is that we need to secure the room behind a locked door. If I were to provide one bit of advice, it would be to make it easily accessible to any and all students. Throughout the past several years I can easily recount only three instances where students disrespected the work put into the room. When weighed against the thousands of times students have appropriately utilized the room...there is no contest.
Some of my tips would include:
- Get students involved. Why? Because if you believe doing everything alone will have an impact, you’re probably right. But if you embrace the student aspect it will not only have an impact, it will become a part of the school’s culture.
- Remember, neither Rome nor the S.O.S. Room was built in a day. It takes time and patience to get everything in order.
- You’re not in it alone. I have found our community and student body to be very responsive when asking for donations.
Outside of those three suggestions, any of the S.O.S. club members will be happy to do whatever it takes to help out another school because they all share the same common belief that all students can be more successful academically when their basic needs are met.
It is with this in mind that I write today. Recently, I was schooled on the term “codeswitching” and I want to share my new understanding as it relates to what Dr. Sharroky Hollie calls, VABBing.
First of all, for any of you readers who may not be familiar with the term VABBing, it is: “the validation and affirmation of indigenous (home) culture and language for the purpose of building and bridging the student to success in the culture of academia and in mainstream society” (Hollie 13).
When I first learned about VABBing, I could easily get my head around the validation and affirmation part, but I struggled with the notion of building and bridging. The idea that I should try to teach students to fit into the mainstream went against so much that I believed in. However, the more I read and the more I practiced VABBing, the more I realized building and bridging isn’t at all about forcing students to assimilate. It’s about giving our students the tools they need to be culturally dexterous. It’s about honoring and loving our students for who they are, first and foremost, while giving them the tools they need to navigate a complex, and often inequitable, human system. It’s about opening up the playing field so they can draw on their strengths while practicing the skills necessary for success beyond the classroom walls. I thought that this was what it meant to “codeswitch.”
It was with this understanding that I went forth into the world fielding questions about situational appropriateness and codeswitching, mistakenly assuming they meant the same thing. I had read Dr. Hollie’s book, studied the binder, wrestled with my own ideas about building and bridging, but never did I realize that I was misusing the term codeswitching. Today, I wanted to share a document that Dr. Hollie recently shared with me that clarifies the difference between VABBing and codeswitching:
Once again, I reiterate that this work is not easy. It takes time and openness to make change. It is my hope that all of us can feel supported as reflective practitioners as we walk along this road together.
When I look back at why this shift occurred, I realize it was because as a K-12 student I wasn’t as interested in the learning and understanding of what I did, as I was with getting good grades (I was a passive learner), having teachers and classmates like me (the 'relator' in me) and being labeled as a "good student" and friend. Now, don’t get me wrong: I did learn a lot during my K-12 years of education and I had a lot of great teachers, I just didn’t always strive to know or better understand the “why” behind what I was learning. I simply wasn’t motivated to do so.
As an adult learner and as an educator, I realize that none of my former teachers were trying to make me a passive learner, I just wasn’t motivated to be as active in my learning as I could have been.
I believe that as educators we want our students to do well in school but also be motivated and active in their learning. What follows are some things to consider as we try to motivate our students to become active learners rather than passive learners, moving them beyond traditional carrot and stick motivators.
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Adjusting for 21st-Century Learners
If you want a quick idea of what Pink is talks about in Drive, then watching his TED Talk: “The Puzzle of Motivation” is a great starting point:
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The Impact Homework (Doesn't) Have
One of the things teachers tend to struggle with is the homework we give and the reason we give it. According to Hattie, homework has an effect size of .29 (very low). We have had students who could do the homework and were motivated to get them all right (i.e. get a good grade) but then struggled when asked to explain why certain rules/procedures worked and why it didn’t. When asked to solve a problem another way, students usually groan and ask, "Why?". We have also had students who did the homework but didn’t really understand the material, as well as students who just didn’t do the homework at all. So clearly, just assigning homework was not a motivator for most students in class and tying it to grades make it even worse.
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Three Key Motivational Elements: Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose
Making our classes relevant, interesting, and challenging to our students will help with their motivation. As Daniel Pink refers in his book Drive, if we make tasks in our classrooms fit into one or more of the three key categories--Autonomy, Mastery, or Purpose--our students will move from being compliant (grade driven) to engaged (seeing the value).
I know from my own experience that when I switched from being all about grades and more about the why and how, what I was learning became important. I became a totally different student. I also remember far more about what I was doing rather than just knowing I had learned it once upon a time. I know it isn’t always an easy transition: when we find things that work and that we are comfortable with, change can be hard. But, in knowing our students face different opportunities than we may have faced, it's time to try things a little differently.
As I was listening to her speak, one of the things that was on my mind was the immense pressure and joy that come from working in education. When I returned to Minnesota I spent some time looking into what she has to say about being an educator. I found a speech online that she delivered at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in 2017. In this speech she talks about the power that we, as educators, have to affect the outcomes for our students as well as the power that we have to affect outcomes for ourselves.
A few questions you may want to consider as you are watching:
- How does this challenge my thinking?
- What has been reaffirmed for me?
- What will I do moving forward?
I am cutting my writing of this blog short in order to allow time to watch the video. Think of it as a treat to yourself. It just may be exactly what you need.
I believe every student is growing in some area of life and below are ten ways to categorize individual growth. People are often seeking how to prioritize their lives and this is also a strategic plan to keep things in the proper perspective.
Feel free to connect with Taylor via email.
- Remember that big research paper in 9th grade? I hated every second, but I sure can decipher bias now...
- In Speech I learned how to use subscription databases like a beast. In college, ERIC was easy for me because Nieland showed me how to use it in 10th grade.
- Mr. Johnsrud had us create a mini-website as an end-of-semester project--that has really helped me with all the blogging and design work I do now.
- I would have died in college had it not been for those Process Papers you and Parker made us do. Those forced me to edit...to really focus on the details of my writing.
This conversation has stuck with me. It reminded me of when I was in college: finding that I could write stronger papers than some of my peers, I took an hour or so one night to jot a note to a few of my past middle and high school teachers who had helped me build those skills. I still remember, to a small degree (it was over two decades ago), what I said to them in those letter--what it was I thanked each of them for.
It got me wondering. Do these same writing skills, strategies, and modalities that impacted me as a writer in the late 90's still resonate with today's students and recent grads?
To no one's surprise, I let the nerd in me take over. I created a survey. It was a simple Google Form that I shared on social media. Then, some fellow English teacher friends shared it, too. Less than a week later, I had responses from 31 Rochester Public Schools (RPS) recent graduates.
The results? Insight upon insight. Despite the small sample size, these 31 2011-2018 graduates provided more perceptive statements than can be squeezed into one blog post. (Hence, this is the first part of a three-part series.)
For now, here's some raw data and overarching themes.
Just the Facts
Trends Noted in the Graduates' Comments
As a staff at CTECH we are still working hard to establish, develop, and communicate who and what we are to students, colleagues, parents, and the community. After working with Mr. Perna and reflecting upon our primary goals, it became clear that our curriculum and our instruction focus on three main areas:
- Purpose -- we strive every day to ensure that students leave our learning spaces with purpose. If they complete a course at CTECH and leave knowing that they want to continue to pursue that career pathway we have succeeded. If they complete the same course and leave with an understanding that the specific career pathway is not for them, we have also succeeded because both students now leave us with purpose. Too many students move into a career or enter courses at the post-secondary level without purpose and they end up spending time, energy, and money to find out that they want to do something different.
- Professional Skills -- Each of our courses emphasizes the importance of learning, practicing, and perfecting the skills of timeliness, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and other commonly referred to "soft skills." We prefer to call them Professional Skills as regardless of the career or college pathway a student takes, these skills will serve them well.
- Competitive Advantage -- The job market changes almost constantly and our students will at one point or another find themselves up against a pool of qualified applicants for a job, scholarship, etc. We believe that by emphasizing both Professional Skills and industry-recognized certifications our students will leave CTECH with a competitive advantage. Nursing students who complete their Certified Nursing Assistant assessment can seek employment as a CNA on their journey toward Nursing School, Med School, or any other Health Sciences career. This certification and experience will give them a competitive advantage over those just entering the field. Automotive students can now earn Entry-level ASA certifications and Culinary students can earn ServSafe Food Handler and/or Food Manager certifications. Both of these provide a coveted competitive advantage.
I talk at length about these three areas of focus each time I lead a tour of our facility and programs and over the course of this year it has become very clear to me the connection between our focus and RPS Graduate Profile. Specifically, I see direct correlation to the following domains:
Success Ready Individual
We encounter so many unfamiliar things all of the time and need background knowledge to navigate our world. Yet, many of our students lack the background knowledge they need to navigate their learning. How do we provide this for them?
As an EL teacher, I always struggled with balancing providing students background knowledge when there was so many other things I needed to teach (decoding, comprehension, writing organization, and so much more!). How do I tap into my students’ prior knowledge and provide them with the information they need, and still have time to teach it all? I could teach background knowledge all day, but then my students would lack other essential skills. How should one balance it all?
How important is background knowledge really
Framework for Building ELs’ Background Knowledg
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Do non-ELs have background knowledge on the topic?
ELs should have a comparable amount of knowledge of a topic as their non-EL peers. This provides equity amongst all students.
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Does the background provide information in place of what the author is going to provide in the text?
If students are going to gather the information in an upcoming text, then don’t spoil it! It is still crucial that we provide students support and scaffolding as they access this information.
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Is the background knowledge about big issues that will help ELs make sense of the text?
Teachers don’t have to provide students everything about a topic. Rather, provide them information that is critical to comprehending the information.
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Is the background knowledge you’d like to provide concise?
There isn’t a need to take up an entire hour or class period on background information. Take just enough time to provide the critical information and move on.
The figure below is also a great reference to refer to when you are unsure about which background knowledge to teach. Keep it in your lesson plan book!
What are some quick strategies I can use to teach background knowledge?
- Brief video clips to share with students. These clips can be a great conversation starter so you can quickly discover what students are questioning or what they already know about the topic.
Visuals that clearly relate to your content or objective.
- Select visuals that will resonate with students and may connect to their interests or personal backgrounds.
- Also select visuals that give students plenty of opportunities to practice language that connects to your content or objective.
- Virtual field trips allow students to go to amazing locations without leaving your classroom.
Quick Write – What Comes to Mind?
- This Quick Write strategy activates students’ prior knowledge and provides the teacher with information regarding what students already know, or don’t know, about a topic.
- Prior to the lesson, ask or display the question, What comes to mind when I say…? Or show students a picture and ask, What comes to mind when you look at this picture? Students complete a quick write (5 minutes or fewer) about their thoughts and turn it in. (You may want to tell students that this isn’t for a grade, just to see what they already know.)
- Provide students a blank sheet of paper or a visual that relates to the content or topic.
- Students go around the table writing down words, phrases, or sentences that they think of in reference to the question, visual, or topic. Students can even draw their ideas.
Back to Rugby: an example.
Please reach out if you are interested in exploring more ideas for building background knowledge for your ELs.
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