If you know me, you know my husband and I are shopping for a new home. Wanting to downsize (I want a tiny house, he wants no yard, so we’ve compromised on looking for a condo), we’re slowly filtering through our belongings. We’re pulling items out of closets that we forgot we even had: placing in boxes the linens not used in years, the sweaters we no longer wear, and the camping gear we’re not even sure why we purchased in the first place.
Perhaps the hardest part of this downsizing escapade, is that we sometimes run into those items we should get rid of but struggle to part with. Those items that served a purpose in their time but no longer are of use. Items like:
Again, if you know me, you also know I love a good extended metaphor. As I see it, downsizing our course content is much like downsizing a home. Fourth quarter, and on into the summer months, we often find ourselves with a bit of extra time to focus on what’s next—and with no fifth quarter on the horizon, this often means making adjustments for the school year to come.
In our classrooms, just as in our homes, there are items that are easy to donate or toss:
However, also like with our homes, there are items that are hard to part with, although maybe we should:
To get inspired to downsize our home, my husband and I (along with much of the US), have been watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondō on Netflix. Having read her first book a few years ago--The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—this new Netflix series has served as a reminder of many of Marie Kondō’s key ideas. Ideas that, of course, work great in homes, but that also can be used to help create even more magic in our classrooms.
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.”
| 5 |
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.
| 6 |
Organize by category.
| 7 |
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.
Brian Durgin, ELL teacher at both Friedell and Kellogg, says...
I focus student learning around the prioritized learnings.
How has this changed student learning?
I am only assessing the highest priority skills that students need. I can target formative assessments and give students multiple opportunities.
Scott Lyke, Social Studies teacher at Mayo, says...
[I’ve] no penalty for work turned in late since timeliness is a behavior and not an indicator of learning.
How has this changed student learning?
More emphasis is on learning—students know that if life gets in the way of schoolwork for a while they're not locked into a lower grade than they can achieve.
Courtney Peterson, English teacher at Century, says...
[I’m] implementing proficiency-based grading using rubric.
How has this changed student learning?
On a piece of writing, students get more specific feedback about their proficiency on various aspects of [their] writing, not just one lump score.
Stefanie Whitney, Avid teacher & Instructional Coach at Willow Creek, says...
[I use] student goal-setting and self-reflection/assessment on prioritized learnings.
How has this changed student learning?
Students set goals on prioritized learnings and know exactly how they are being assessed. They understand they will have multiple opportunities for mastery. My feedback is more focused and I am able to add on to their own self-reflection.
Kelly Stroeing, a Sixth Grade Language Arts teacher at Friedell, says...
I've worked to focus more on learning and giving meaningful feedback to help students improve as writers. Students receive scores of 3, 2, or 1 on skills (not assignments), with the idea that they can continue to work on these skills and provide evidence of mastery as they reach it. It's not a one and done: everything can be redone or practiced further.
How has this changed student learning?
We've shifted the conversation from "How do I get my grade to an A?" to "How can I build my skills to be proficient in __?" It's a work in progress, but I feel students are putting in more effort and taking more ownership of their work. The grade is truly skill-based and not behavior-based.
As you walk down the path toward Grading for Learning, I encourage you to connect with teachers at your site that might already be implementing some of the practices. We can learn together.
That has certainly been true for me. I've been a teacher for 25 years and I love the profession. But at different points in my career, I have felt intense stress and exhaustion from the demands of the job. It usually hasn't been the heavy workload that gets to me. Rather, it's the emotional labor of the work that I have found to be particularly draining. We all have students coming to our classrooms with high levels of stress, trauma, and mental health needs. These issues affect our ability to teach our content material.
I finally realized what might seem obvious. I could only control myself- my reactions- the way I perceived these challenges and the way I managed my stress. And, so I turned to a practice that I thought might provide some relief- mindfulness. Not only did it make a difference in how I handled stress in the classroom, it helped me slow down and rediscover my happiness in being a teacher. Mindfulness is not a panacea, but it can be an incredibly useful tool for teachers.
Here is the classic definition of mindfulness from Jon Kabat Zinn: "Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." He also says, "The real practice is living your life as if it really mattered-moment to moment."
Here is a video that I think sums up mindfulness in a fun, perfect way:
We all feel stress, and it can get the best of us in the classroom. Learning how to notice strong emotions, pause before reacting, and calming down our own nervous systems can be hugely beneficial to teachers. You don't need any special cushions, bells, or clothes to learn mindfulness. All that is required is an open mind and a little time every day. Teachers deserve rest, relaxation, and renewal, and mindfulness might just be the tool to help.
Here are a few tips and resources for beginning to learn about, and experiment with, mindfulness:
Start with 1-2 minutes a day of mindfulness practice. Or focus on taking 5 deep breaths when you're feeling stressed.
Don't go it alone.
There are a ton of resources out there. We all need guidance and support when learning a new skill. You are not alone.
- Use an app like 10% Happier, Headspace, or Insight Timer (free).
Take a class. If you have an interested group at your school, contact me and I can come on a PD day or for an after-school session(s).
- Take an online class like Mindfulness Fundamentals through Mindful Schools. (Contact me for a discount on Mindful Schools classes.)
- Sarah Rudell Beach, a former high-school teacher in Apple Valley and my mentor in the year-long Mindful Schools program, also offers online classes on mindfulness. She has classes for beginners, teachers, mothers, and stress reduction.
Read books on the topic. Here are a few titles that I recommend specifically for secondary teachers who are interested in mindfulness.
- Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom by Patricia A. Jennings
- Happy Teachers Change the World: A Guide for Cultivating Mindfulness in Education by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.
Instant gratification is the enemy.
Mindfulness practice is not Candy Crush or Instagram. You're not going to have a huge hit of dopamine every time you practice or become instantly calm. So, take the long view and be patient with yourself. Over time you'll notice a difference.
Bring your mindfulness practice into your daily life.
Formal mindfulness practice (where you sit and pay attention to the breath) is the practice, the training, the bicep curl for real life. The idea is for this training to transfer to your daily life and kick in when you need it. So, the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, your brain can remember to take a deep breath instead of going into a state of road rage (as depicted in the video above).
Last spring, I found myself speaking to a group of 343 high school students about mindfulness at the SE MN Student Government Conference at Century High School. I had been presenting on mindfulness quite a bit at that point, but this gig was slightly terrifying to me. Not only was it a huge group, but they were all high-achieving teenagers. They had invited me, but I was worried about the message resonating with them. They were the best audience I had have ever had. Not only were they responsive to the concepts and practice of mindfulness, they were hungry for it.
At the end of the session during the Q and A, one student pointedly asked me, "Why aren't we all learning this?!" I didn't really have a good or satisfying answer for that question, but I told him I was working on it.
What I am confident about is that the first step in bringing mindfulness to our students is for teachers to bring mindfulness to their own lives and the way they teach and relate to students. As Thich Nhat Hanh says in the title of his book, "Happy teachers change the world."
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
In his book Creating Cultures of Thinking Ron Richhart, a senior researcher from Harvard’s Project Zero, shares some of the common characteristics that people share when thinking about cultures of thinking they have experienced. Some of these are:
- There was a shared vision and common goal that was both challenging and attainable.
- Everyone’s input was valued, creating a sense of respect.
- There was a constant questioning and probing of ideas by everyone in the group, not just the leader.
- There was open communication and active listening going on. You felt heard.
- There was time given to think, respond, and develop ideas.
- It was safe to take risks and make mistakes.
- The learning was connected to our lives and had value and meaning.
I asked some teachers from Rochester Public Schools for their tips on creating cultures of thinking in their classrooms.
The 10-minute essay
from Phil Olson, teacher at Century High School
- With a prompt for students to use in response to a reading. Sometimes the prompt is specific (e.g. “Explain the symbolic significance of . . . .”) and, other times, it’s more open (e.g. What features of the reading for today seem most important and why?).
- As a way to tease out nuanced features of a debatable topic, as in the following: “Okay our discussion has landed on an important, complex, divisive issue. Let’s explore with a brief essay.”
These essays can be used as a formative assessment or as a springboard into a discussion or other activity. I like this approach because many kids think better when they write, even informally.
from Seth Luedtke, teacher at John Marshall High School
Let the Students Write the Questions
from Amy Monson, teacher at Mayo High School
from Tom Passe, teacher at Century High School
- Government = What should be the role of government in society?
- Economics = What is economics or what isn’t economics?
Analysis of Writing
from Courtney Peterson, teacher at Century High School
Here's an example my students did with literary analysis paragraphs they had written for “The Scarlet Ibis.”
Use of Riddles
from Ross Bergerson, teacher at John Marshall High School
Establish a Learning Environment
from Jake Johnson, teacher at John Marshall High School
In this post, I wanted to take some time to address one of the most common questions I am asked in regards to Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching: “What’s the deal with these call and response protocols?”
I have good news friends…you aren’t the only ones asking that question! There is so much wonderful literature out there that addresses the call and response conundrum.
Why does everything come back to call and response?
Why is it so important?
Culture plays its role, too. Many of our marginalized and underserved students come from indigenous cultures based in deeply rooted oral traditions. Storytelling, songs, rhymes, and poems were how information was passed on through generations. Furthermore, when we consider the historical context in which populations of marginalized people were denied access to the written word, we can recognize that oral expressiveness was imperative for survival.
For more on the neurological science behind call and response, here are some awesome resources.
How do I get past my discomfort using call and response?
I feel corny and inauthentic!
Another thing to consider is that call and response is just one type of attention signal. Culturally Responsive attention signals, such as call and response, use rhythm or have some sort of cultural relevance. Students have an opportunity to respond and have buy in. The most important thing that makes an attention signal culturally responsive, is when it is used with intentionality. If you are just doing a call and response for the heck of it, without a reason or a purpose, then it isn’t really culturally responsive. The other way an attention signal is culturally responsive is when the teacher uses all kinds of signals-traditional and responsive-to help students practice situational appropriateness. In other words-students need to know how to respond to traditional signals to be successful in school culture. But, when a teacher is only using traditional signals, he or she isn’t being responsive to the cultural behaviors a student brings to the classroom. Similarly, if the teacher is only ever using responsive signals, he or she isn’t being culturally responsive because they aren’t helping students learn to respond in traditional or situationally appropriate ways.
According to Dr. Hollie, there are three reasons why we use attention signals.
- To clarify directions already given or to give further direct instruction.
- To transition during the lesson.
- To bring the activity or lesson to a close.
Using a call and response or any attention signal when students aren’t talking is not useful and will most certainly feel awkward. I’ve found that thinking of these three reasons has allowed me to feel less pressure when planning for call and response. If I don’t need to pull a group who is talking back to attention to clarify, transition, or close, I just don’t use it!
Finally, if you still feel goofy, have the students make them up! And let them lead them! Use this as an opportunity to give your students some more voice and choice during the lesson.
I feel like call and response conflicts with my ENVoY training.
For example, I was raised Catholic, so when I hear a chime, my brain is wired to respond in a certain way. I was conditioned to pay close attention to people’s facial expressions because my parents are very quiet people, so it was easy for me, as a student, to recognize the classic, non-verbal, “teacher face”. Both examples are rooted in various rings of culture.
We just need to remember that not all of our students’ experiences are the same as our own, so we can’t assume they will know what our different attention signals mean. We need to remember to take the time to intentionally teach our verbal and non-verbal attention signals. We also need to remember that we should be using a variety of attention signals-traditional and culturally responsive-so our students can be comfortable with situational appropriateness.
Can I still be culturally responsive and not use call and response?
When I got to high school, it was still a very diverse setting but there were other white students. There were advanced classes where education and learning was actually the focus and the classroom was full of students who were there to learn. I thrived in this environment, learning from my teachers and peers who all had a variety of cultural backgrounds that brought in many different perspectives.
For those without my experience, maybe it is best to think about a school lunchroom. The lunchroom in a diverse school is a fascinating place. While in the classroom you will walk in and students of different cultural backgrounds are learning and working together, in most lunchrooms students tend to be pretty segregated. The black students sit with other black students, Hmong students with other Hmong students and white students with white students. There are always a few exceptions, but for the most part this is what a lunchroom looks like in my experience.
Once I became a teacher, and was no longer a student who was part of this segregated-by-choice system, I began asking “why?”. Why do we choose this? Why can’t we create the atmosphere--the one so many college pamphlets show when trying to demonstrate their diversity--where all students are friends who are able to cross the barrier of race to all eat lunch together. Personally, I have always thrived in diverse setting and can see the importance of the different perspectives but have also struggled with the idea that when given the choice we tend to gravitate towards people with similar skin tones and backgrounds when in social setting.
Before coming to John Marshall this year I taught at Fridley High School in Fridley, MN where I was first introduced to Dr. Hollie and his CLRT strategies. It was the first year I was teaching at Fridley, which was very similar to the cultural makeup of John Marshall. I had been teaching for three years when I was introduced to CLRT, and I can honestly say there had not been a college course, a teacher training, or a professional development day that had affected my teacher and classroom culture the way this training did.
Dr. Hollie was about to outline the “why” behind the lunchroom conundrum. He explained why my peers in middle school where not interested in the content nor how my teachers were presenting it. He went through our differences, the different rings of culture, how we communicate with one another, and how much we lose when we do not understand the cultures that those around us have grown up in. As a student in north Minneapolis, I was very aware of other cultures. I was invited to and attended many events, family gatherings, and birthday parties that were very different from my own home culture. Even when writing this, I feel it ridiculous that it took this long to truly understand my educational experience as a student and now as a teacher.
Using CLRT strategies is so important, especially when working with students with other cultural backgrounds than our own. Creating a space where all students feel you understand, at least a small part of their home culture and that you want them to be able to express themselves in this way, builds a bridge that impacts the relationships you have with your classes as well as individual students in your classes. As a student who identifies with white culture yet grew up in a diverse school setting, it would have been really beneficial to have had teachers use CLRT strategies in my classes because other students would not have always had to code switch into the mainstream traditional teaching strategies that have been typically used in the United States over the last 200 years. The students as a whole would have been more engaged and I would have been able to focus on my education--even in middle school.
I have only been teaching in the Rochester Public Schools the last four months and in that time I have talked with teachers in my building who are aware I do quite a bit with CLRT and have said, “I understand why this is important but I just do not feel comfortable, or just do not understand how to even start using some of the strategies.” First, I want to say, I get it. I too was once uncomfortable with the idea of using ‘call and response’ because it felt like it did not fit my personality. However, I would say now that I do not go a class period without using it. Now, I love ‘call and response’. Starting is the hardest part, but once you do you will not go back.
Below, I have outlined a few of the strategies I use on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
This is the easiest strategy to use; yet, I think it can be a really intimidating. I did not feel comfortable with this one right away, so I found a way to engage the class in the process that made it feel more natural. I asked students to help create the ‘call and response’. he first one that one of my classes decided to use was “When I say Holla, you say Back!” It was fun because they came up with it and it was specific for that class.
As I have become more comfortable with ‘call and response’, I started to come up with them on the spot and students come up with them as well. Together, we might have different ones that relate to the unit we are studying, others that students know are more serious, and some others that are more fun. It is a full-class engagement tool to use!
I use ‘silent appointments’ a lot when I am trying to get students to have conversations with people whom they do not tend to gravitate to in the classroom. Students must use eye contact to choose a partner. I tell them they have to make an appointment with someone on the other side of the room. They all look down at the floor and when I say, “One, two, three: look up!” They then have some time to make eye contact with someone. Once they have a partner, they put their hand over their heart. If they are still looking after 20 seconds I tell them to put their hand in the air so they last ones can find each other. It works really well!
This is a strategy I use when I want students to get a lot of different perspectives from their peers. They must answer a prompt or begin a compare contrast assignment task independently (that’s the “1”). Then, they move into a group of three to share and elaborate on ideas (that’s the “3”). After a set amount of time, I finally have them move into a group of six to discuss (that’s the “6”) For added learning, I also usually have a full-class Venn Diagram or an example on the board that groups can take turns filling out as they are working in or finishing up their six-person conversations. At the end, we discuss the topic as a whole group.
I am still a CLRT work in progress. The reading strategies still feel foreign and forced when I use them which is why I do not have many listed above. I am still working through them in my classroom. Honestly, I have failed many times when using these in my own class, but part of it is owning the failures. Students are more willing to be real and understanding with you if you do the same with them--that has been proven time and again in my own classroom.
It really is fun to shake things up, try a new strategy, and sometimes even fail. I enjoy this work and feel it is really important, especially in districts with a growing diverse population like here in the Rochester Public Schools.
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When our community members identified traits that they wanted to see in graduates one of the top characteristics was that students are ethical contributors. It is impossible to go to any of our high schools in the month of December and not notice the focus on contributing to others. Each of our high schools engages in fundraising for the following organizations in our community: Christmas Anonymous, Santa Anonymous, Bear Creek Services, Brighter Tomorrows, Dorothy Day Hospitality House, and the Women’s Shelter of Rochester. You will find students and teachers selling homemade baked goods, students paying money to stop the annoying passing music, and events like 'Breakfast with Santa' and a joint Drumline Showcase. While the competition is fierce among the three high schools, the goal is the same: contributing to the larger community. I am so proud that this is a focus for our students and staff.
Critical thinking was another characteristic our community wanted to see in our graduates. Here are ways I saw students demonstrating critical thinking skills in their classrooms.
In every classroom I observed students were asked to effectively communicate with their peers as part of their learning process. Some highlights included:
Many of the classrooms asked students to collaborate with one another as a part of their learning process. Employers agree with the RPS community about this being an essential skill for our graduates. I saw collaboration happening in the following contexts:
Another one of our hopes for our RPS graduates is that they are resilient learners. I saw evidence of this resiliency in classes in the following ways:
And then I had an AHA! moment: perhaps learning styles are not completely bogus, but more likely, we haven’t looked at them through a cultural lens.
- She comes to school every day talking a mile a minute about everything from the latest episode of her favorite show to who was sitting next to whom at lunch yesterday. She is bubbly and bright and loves school.
- First hour she walks into a classroom where there are opportunities for her to verbalize her thinking and to work in small groups and talk with her friends about her ideas.
- Second hour, she heads to a different classroom where she is expected to sit quietly and work independently.
When it comes to students like Fazia, how often do we ask ourselves why a particular student is a verbal learner?
- What does her home culture value about orality and verbal expressiveness?
- What does her gender group or age group value about it?
- What experiences has this student had that have informed her approach to learning and being in the world?
As I wandered into the rabbit hole of research on this topic, I found so many articles and studies. (If you want to have a few cups of coffee and talk about it all, give me a call! This stuff is my jam!) But, then I came back to the foundations of the work we are doing with Dr. Hollie. He explains, “Notably, the teacher has to know what is cultural and what is not. Fortunately, research provides ample data…about the commonly accepted cultural behaviors of many underserved students” (103). The chart below helps illustrate those particular behaviors.**
Yet, we don’t stop there. This work recognizes the importance of teaching all students in all styles so they can practice modes of learning that may not be as comfortable for them, but that they will need to be successful in both the classroom and the world beyond the classroom walls. The power of this work lies in our intentionality and the moments when we see our students as bearers of cultures that may not be validated in traditional school culture. When we come up against those moments of struggles and can say to our students, “I see you and I honor you, and I care about you enough to give you the tools you need to be successful.”
And so, as we continue on our CLR journey, we continue to ask ourselves the following questions:
- Is this behavior cultural or not?
- What experiences have my students had that inform their learning styles?
- Similarly, how do my own cultural experiences impact the way I view my students and their learning styles?
- How can I validate and affirm my students’ learning styles and am I providing opportunities for them to practice other learning styles so they can build up their cultural dexterity?
If you have any questions or want to talk more about how culture impacts students’ learning, give me call or email me!
** I want to acknowledge that culture is much more fluid than this particular chart shows, and there is a mountain of research on various ways to consider this fluidity, but for our purposes here, it is helpful to consider cultural behavior in this simplified way.
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