A series of questions inspired the direction of this blog and the contents that appear here, as well as this class project in general:
- How do you make room for student choice in the curriculum when the tradition is for administrators to make decisions about instruction, or when there is already a number of identified and sometimes non-aligned priorities, such as teaching skills versus content, preparing for standardized tests versus finishing novels, increasing literacy skills versus bringing up math scores, etc.?
- How do Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO) providers maintain student voice if a grant funder has a specific set of directives they are asking recipients to uphold?
- How do educators and learning institutions of any sort honor both students’ academic needs, and their recreational ones?
- What can ELOs and schools learn from one another?
These questions speak to my background teaching and presenting in both formal, school settings and in community sites and conferences. My intentions with this blog and page are to be a resource to those trying to include and increase student voice and choice in schools and ELO sites – using my newspaper club and history teaching digital media and multimedia storytelling as a galaxy of micro-case studies that demonstrate points of intersection for content that works in both types of settings. In particular I want to share strategies and worksheets that have helped me guide learners in identifying and/or working from their own interests, strengths, needs and preferences.
Of course in a world of slippery federal money and imperfect funding formulas, plus one in which there is the existence of Advanced Course Networks, charter schools, and magnet schools, just to name a few examples, public schools aren’t the only ones being asked to provide core content instruction or “meet standards.” In fact, sometimes districts are competing with those very entities! As someone that has worked in career readiness programming, at organizations providing summer and after school offerings, and inside the classroom as a high school-level English Language Arts Instructor and Art Teacher, I know that it is helpful to have an easy location for checking and aligning standards and quickly finding strategies for expanding literacy, writing, and STEAM. That is why this page includes snapshots of and links to the documents describing Common Core and National Council of English Teachers standards, along with Grade Span Expectations for art instruction outlined by RI Department of Education. In addition, on each sub-page, I included “hints” for ways to match or find points of intersection with ELA, STEM, and art instruction.
What if you are not beholden to state or national standards? Or what if your primary goal was increasing student-centered instruction and student choice in a nontraditional classroom or ELO program and that’s the piece you’re trying to support, collect data on, evaluate, and make growth in? In addition to links to the standards, below are samples and resources for other ways to motivate and inspire students to reflect on and describe their growth, to introduce peer or teacher feedback, and/or to calibrate student-centered work with standards, GSEs or “21st Century Skills” in case it comes up.
ELA Hint: Asking students to build a portfolio of writing is a good idea, but to what end, for what purpose, or to show to what audience? Blogs, podcasts, instructional manuals and newspapers or newsletters are all examples of tools that can be used to house, display, archive and share work produced and assembled by a student. A video “trailer” that introduces a topic that a student will be covering, a “from the editor” write-up, or a behind the scenes interview with the producer is also a great way to synthesize and utilize multiple formats to wrap up, compare, reflect on, and summarize a project. An example of visual and annotated instructions on how to upload content to a blog and the video planning sheet I frequently rely on are included as models and available graphic organizers. Directly below the SCL hints, for a different approach, is an example of the template created for the newspaper club run in February and March – and adapted with Student-Centered Learning strategies learned during the semester, as I was concurrently enrolled in the diversity seminar and running the club in an organization located in the Southside neighborhood of Providence.
STEM Hint: Sometimes you’re teaching a class that meets daily for 70-150 minutes, and sometimes you see a group once a week (or less). Introducing and offering opportunities to practice vocabulary and key terms is certainly going to be easier when you see a group more frequently, but seeing them infrequently doesn’t mean that you keep the terms to yourself. The photo at the top shows a series of vocabulary words that I started writing – and keeping – on the dry erase board in the room where I co-taught a class on poetry, songwriting, digital editing and multimedia storytelling. Given the multifaceted nature of the class and the breadth of content we were trying to cover, an organized approach to vocabulary became yet another lesson that would take away the time students needed to practice the technology and tools we were teaching them – in a two week period! As the days progressed, and as my co-teacher and I slipped in industry terms, we made sure to log them on the board in a key terms box. Then, as the last days of class approached, and students were tasked with writing and submitting biographies and project descriptions, we could through full-group instruction, one-on-one conferencing, and in small groups name the techniques they were writing about and reflecting on, point and show them the spelling, and help them with applying it immediately through their narratives. The same can be done in a traditional or ELO STEM setting, where the work of calculating or inputting data might seem to be more necessary than teaching vocabulary, but where a reflection process may provide one more chance.
Art Hint: Below for a visual example, and related or connected to the STEM hint, if an educator chooses, is a snapshot of a white board showing my agenda from the last day of class, summer 2017, during the program where I was co-teaching the four different skill-sets to a new group every two weeks. I’d like to talk about the prompts I provided to guide students in writing their bios; I should have provided students with this template as an option during the February-March class I led, but I’m glad to have a space, here, now, to store and retrieve it. Leaving room to learn about, show and share samples and actively engage students in playing with and practicing new skills and new mediums are three important philosophies the organization and I share, for instance, while learning the names of techniques, tools and materials, though an important part of being an artist – or scientist – isn’t always ranked as high. After all, teaching students how to envision themselves alongside people they admire or how to envision the tools that will define success in the future is also important work. Supporting this notion are the questions that ask students to describe “topics” they covered or addressed while they were producing their final products, and those probing them to describe their “medium [,] equipment” or technique; in none of those instances do you necessarily require knowing key terms, nor does a student need them when responding to the prompt to articulate “takeaways[,] lessons” and an “overview of class,” On the whiteboard, however, a word bank or key terms box serves as a visible placeholder for both students and teachers, and as a reminder about how accessible it really is to attempt to learn, use and/or or insert key terms or concepts (aligned with standards), into the guiding questions that support students producing a more content-effusive narrative or reflection.
SCL Hint: The four tenets of Student-Centered Learning, “Anytime Anywhere Learning, Competency-based Learning, Personalized Learning, and Student-Owned Learning” all contain key details that apply to this blog, these resources, and this project. They include, but are not limited to the following practices: 1) “helping learners identify their own interests, strengths, needs and preferences (e.g., interest inventories, checklists, reflection exercises)”; 2) using “learner inventories / profiles”‘; 3) connecting students to “Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELOs) [and] ‘[s]ummer melt’ learning opportunities”; and 4) “creating learning progressions” and “evidence of learning in multiple ways.” While most of the hints above address 2-4, a worksheet exemplifying ways to implement strategy number one is provided below: the instructional notes on teaching critiquing. Like the language of “helping learners identify their own…needs and preferences…” my co-instructor last summer and I felt that our “young artists,” who had work that would be critiqued, should be supported with articulating “what they need help with, what they’re unsure of, and/or what kinds of tips or feedback they [were] hoping to receive.” In the workplace, especially in the white-collar world, laborers often have time for at least one revision, but they may only have five minutes – no more, no less – for a question and answer session or feedback meeting after pitching a product or idea. In such a circumstance, said worker needs to be ready to describe exactly what they are struggling with and/or where their skillset is developing versus mastered. Though managers, friends and family can help, it’s ultimately up to a learner to be able to monitor, shift, and describe their learning style, strengths, and areas that require attention from people more proficient; our instructional notes on critiquing were drafted in a way to reflect student authors sharing ownership of the activities, and exposure to the 21st Century work world.