literacy

Digital Art Afterschool Studio: An example of a Career Oriented Curriculum

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Why does this matter in real life?

Escalation: A Student Graphics Company is an After-School Program that draws a straight line between learning and career.
Escalation: A Student Graphics Company is an After-School Program that draws a straight line between learning and career.

One of the chief complaints you hear from students is “How can I actually apply what I’m learning to the real world?”  And while there is no helping Algebra in that department, there are a myriad of other subjects that can benefit from a dose of real world interaction.  This is what the Digital Art Afterschool Studio is doing.  It’s taking a cue from larger real world curriculum programs, such as Career Oriented Curriculum and focusing on digital artistry and community involvement.

What is Career Oriented Curriculum and how can it benefit students?

According to District Administration, a website focused on creative solutions for school districts: “A summer job for a 16-year-old typically involves serving coffee, scooping ice cream, or babysitting the neighborhood children. Some students at Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools, however, spent their summer vacation designing a children’s Web site for the city of Miami Beach. An increasing number of students are finding themselves mingling among professionals with internships in local businesses—the culmination of a work-based learning curriculum.”  These real world experiences are invaluable to students as they do two things:

  1. Reality Check Experiences like this show the students the real life application for what they are learning.
  2. On the Job Experience Projects like the digital after school studio create professional connections that go beyond graduation and help move our students forward professionally.

One organization with a stellar track record in this area is the National Academy Foundation (NAF).  Since 1982 they have worked tirelessly with teachers and schools to create and implement career-oriented curriculum.  Schools that work with the NAF will frequently require an internship with a local business before allowing the student to graduate. According to NAF:

“Over 90 percent of NAF students graduate from high school, and four out of five students continue to college or postsecondary education. Of those students, 52 percent earn a bachelor’s degree.”

How do you do it?

Students practice graphic design in a professional context - designing for real businesses.
Students practice graphic design in a professional context – designing for real businesses.

So how are the teachers and students at Overton High School, where the Digital Art Studio program has been in full swing for two years, applying the idea of career oriented curriculum to their specific needs?

According to their proposal “The after-school Digital Arts Studio program … enables students to build professional-level skills, as they develop their artistic portfolios. … The students will be introduced to client-based projects where they are expected to develop a working relationship with the client resulting in a marketable product.”

The program operates similar to a small graphic design studio.  Taking place three times a week for two hours after school, students have the opportunity to really put work into a portfolio, and increase the possibility of scholarships and if a professional internship is tacked on, some AP credit.  Projects are introduced from the needs of real world clients who the students and teachers reach out to.  The projects can be anything from helping a local business create a print add to designing a website for a church event.  This helps create crucial bridges between the school and the community around them, ultimately strengthening both.

This program has had to start small, accommodating only a few students at first.   The principal and instructors consult with local ad agencies to create an interview process for students to simulate a job interview.  The students selected work together to create a marketing campaign to alert the community to their presence and start soliciting clients.  It is their hope that this model will, after a couple years, become self-sustaining.

What is the impact of a Career Oriented Curriculum?

So where are the students that have already passed through this program? Here are just a few of the success stories.

  • Olivia Campbell, a second year participant, was awarded a full scholarship to attend University of Tennessee’s summer program for her Digital Art exhibited in the West Tennessee Regional Art competition last winter.
  • Darion Beasley, King Hobson, and Maurico Farmer (all second year participants) were selected as three of the thirty-three students chosen to be represented in the Frist’s Museum’s exhibition Tennessee’s Top Young Artists.
  • This year’s West Tennessee Regional Art Competition just released their awards and participants currently in the program won Best Graphic Design work, Best Photographic work, and placed in several other categories.
  • One of the program’s participants, Cesar Pita, was just offered a $66,000 scholarship, the Presidential Scholarship, from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, one of the finest art colleges.

And these are just a few stories of success as this program continues to grow.

It’s clear from the work that NAF does and how Overton High School applies it to their own program that career-oriented curriculum puts students at a huge advantage over their peers that do not participate.  By giving students an education grounded in reality, rather than existing in the abstract on the white board, we strengthen their chances of succeeding in the real world.  Forging professional connections early on only increases the chance of future employment and education.  By also giving students a personal stake in how their work is perceived by the community at large we give them the opportunity to push themselves to create something they can be proud of.

Learn More with these Related Links

 

Beyond the Book: Opening Classrooms to Close the Knowledge Gap

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Addressing the Knowledge Gap

Among the many challenges facing us in education one of our most formidable foes is the comprehension gap, across all content areas, between students of low socioeconomic status and those of high socioeconomic status.

English: France in 2000 year (XXI century).
Despite the change in technology and time, many educators still rely on textbooks. Are there better ways of improving student literacy in content areas? English: France in 2000 year (XXI century). Future school. France, paper card. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[T]his neglect of [content] knowledge is a major source of inequity, at the heart of the achievement gap between America’s poor and non-poor”

E.D. Hirsch, The Case for Bringing Content Into The Language Arts Block and for a Knowledge Rich Curriculum Core for All Children American Educator, Spring 2006.

The Importance of Literacy Skills

While there are many factors that attribute to poor performance, one of the chief offenders is a lack of literacy skills.  This is often noted at the college level when students are forced to take non-credit developmental education classes just to catch up to the basics.  This both demoralizes the student as well as extending the amount of time they have to spend in, and thus pay for, college.

Curriculum
Educators also need strong content area literacy skills. (Photo credit: Broken Sword)

By expanding literary sources, however, we expand the sphere of knowledge surrounding the content areas.  Students can gain a broader context of how a given subject fits into the larger narrative of the real world.

“If they want their students to learn complex new concepts in different disciplines, they [content teachers] often have to help their students become better readers…”

Chris Tovani in her text Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?

 

Peer Assistance and Review (PAR): A Teacher Development Project

Teachers need to move beyond textbooks to increase their literary skills so that they can better communicate their subject to students. So how do we get a teacher to step away from the science textbook and into some Sagan or Hawking?  

One of the ways we can work to address the knowledge gap is through the model of Peer Assistance and Review. In order to address inequity, our featured project at The School of the Future has done just that. With a Teacher Development Grant from McCarthey Dressman, The School of the Future helped improve the overall literacy of their teachers and subsequently their students.

Supports for Improved Content Literacy for Educators and Students

  • Collaboratively Created Curriculum
    Teachers in high school met after school and collaborated to develop, create, and implement a curriculum that would enhance their students’ ability to read and write in the content areas (History, Math, Science and Technology) across the 11th and 12th grade.
  • Shared Texts Across Content Areas
    The group worked together to come up with a list of shared texts across content areas.  While history and science have obvious literary sources outside the textbook, with a subject like math the teachers could study the history of math and biographies of mathematicians to give a wider scope to how the content area applies to the real world.
  • Content Literacy Support
    Included was a training program for inexperienced or ineffective teachers to improve their literacy skills across their content area, specifically focusing on grades 11-12 to start.

The Difference: Educator Driven Approach

Literacy Today
Literacy Today (Photo credit: dennyatkinson)

The difference between this program and previous initiatives aimed at teaching reading in the content areas was that previous efforts were top down administrative mandates that focused on ensuring uniformity in how reading, whereas the current effort was focused on expanding the teacher’s actual knowledge base.  Past “one size fits all” approaches to teaching reading in the content areas failed to account for the fact that students read different types of texts in every content area.
The unique aspect to this program is its need for a personal “buy-in” from the teachers.  Not a monetary buy-in, but those teachers who want to get involved will need to be willing to pull up their sleeves and put a little more time on the table.

The Impact: Students Identify and Analyze Printed and Non-Printed Texts

What have the teachers accomplished with this project?

During year one, five teachers (half the 11th/12th grade team) studied professional literature in their content areas to be able to implement a plan for teaching students to independently identify and analyze multiple non-fiction printed texts and non-print texts, at the student’s own instructional level, appropriate for the content of the class. Classroom visits and observations of each other in the form of Lesson Study, analysis of student growth, refinement of practice, creation of videos, continued throughout the year. In year two, participants in year one become “Anchor” teachers and shared best practices with the half of the team that was not previously involved (“Innovator Teachers”). For year three, the 11th/12th grade teacher team will mentor the 9th/10th grade team.

PAR provides teachers with the opportunity to work collaboratively to improve professional development.  But it is not easy; successful implementation of PAR requires commitment, time, resources, cooperation and flexibility from the teachers involved.  In successful PAR projects teachers play a key role in the support, assistance and review of their colleagues.  Everyone has to pull their weight for the program to be successful

Teachers can look to existing program models, such as the California Peer Assistance and Review program to get some idea on how they can best start their own.   Those who have experienced it emphasize that PAR models should only be used as reference tools, not as fixed templates, which could hinder the development and implementation of plans tailored to meet individual schools and students needs and goals.

Learn more about PAR

BOOM! A Writing Program With a Mentoring Focus

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When student publishing and mentoring come together, student engagement and writing skills explode!

A screenshot of the BOOM! Magazine website.
Students at Manuel High are supported by mentors to develop both literacy and life skills at BOOM! Magazine http://www.mhsboom.com/

When students write for an authentic audience, research has shown that they take more pride in their work. Throughout a student’s school life, they are writing stories, book reports, research reports, “What I Did Last Summer,” etc., but it is often for a very small audience, perhaps just the teacher.

This is not to say that this writing is not important in the learning process. However, it becomes a different kind of writing project when you are actually writing for a real audience and writing for a real purpose.

According to Anne Rodier, “Over time we have discovered that our students are just like us: They have to grow into being writers. They have to believe that what they have to say is important enough to bother writing. They have to experience writing for real audiences before they will know that writing can bring power.”  In this blog you will learn about an innovative program called BOOM!

How are mentoring and literacy combined in an after-school program?

BOOM! is an after-school program and literary magazine produced by students at Manual High School in Denver, Colorado for their fellow students and their community. The mission of BOOM! is to develop the writing skills of students in a positive, mentoring environment that equips them for success in high school and beyond.

After School Program Model
Two afternoons a week BOOM! writers work with community volunteers (many whom are professional writers) who tutor them as they write articles and fictional stories. The students sign contracts with their volunteers to ensure their attendance and timely completion of their articles. They also work with professional graphic designers to design the 30-page publication. A few of the article categories include: The Pulse of ManualWhat’s Good in the HoodWe Got Game, and Creative Fiction.

BOOM!’s program and its one-on-one mentoring help kids of all abilities, from extremely talented to barely literate writers.

The program focuses on three key areas which support students in:

  • expressing themselves
  • improving writing abilities
  • gaining confidence and life skills

The program was funded by McCarthey Dressman Educational Foundation and is a collaboration between the school and the Volunteers of America Community-Connect office at Manual with a goal of having students write about their school and their community which culminates in a professional publication.

What is the impact of an after-school literary magazine project?

An infographic highlighting the impact of BOOM!
A snapshot of the challenges faced and impact leveraged with BOOM! Magazine

Over the past three years that BOOM! has been operating, the program has mentored 30 students, produced 11 publications and reached more than 4,000 student and community readers.

BOOM! is not only improving literacy, it is making a difference in students’ lives. Mentors serve as role models and often remain close to the students after they have exited the program. Teachers see the program as another tool in assisting students in becoming writers and successful in school. And, as students see their name in print, it makes them proud and allows them to see themselves as authors and to find writing to be an outlet for their creativity. It is no small surprise that all graduating BOOM! students have been accepted into universities. This makes combining literacy and mentoring an excellent model of a collaborative program between a school and a community organization.

What do the participants say?

Some quotes from BOOM! students, teachers and principal at Manual High School:

  • We don’t have people to help us in the classroom. There’s one teacher and 26 students. But here it’s more like 7 mentors and 10 kids. They help you make sure you are writing the correct way and going outside what you normally can do. I find now I can go more in depth with analysis in class when we read books. My grades have gone up in my English classes and I feel more confident. It’s helped me create better personal essays for college scholarships. Even though you might think BOOM! is about writing, it’s about being able to express yourself and have someone help you along the way to express yourself. – Ronnie
  • I joined BOOM! to get involved and meet new people. I see now that I’m in college how it helped me become a better writer. From all the interviews I did, I feel confident talking with new people, meeting new people and having very professional conversations with them. I feel comfortable writing longer college essays. – Dani
  • BOOM! was the major factor that got Dani to college. She went from a passive student to taking an active interest in her future.  – Manual teacher
  • BOOM! offers students the individual attention and instruction they need. – Manual teacher
  • We have to find a way to get this program to reach more students!  – Manual principal

BOOM! helps students express themselves, improve their writing skills, and take part in a positive community.

To learn more about BOOM! and the strategies highlighted in this project, visit these resources.