By: Marcus Guy Crawford, 2017 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow
Ok. I’ll be honest — when I saw that there were 5 full training days at the start of July for this program, I thought “What do they need to teach us that requires 40 hours of my time?” That’s more time than we’d spend actually instructing our students in the individual classrooms. It seemed so extensive and I couldn’t fathom how we’d be able to integrate all of this new information into our classrooms in the way our well-versed New York City, Dept. of Education colleagues would. The jargon, and the rigor with which it was being taught, seemed to separate me from the work I was desperate to do and had felt prepared to do.
But, here I am, halfway through the journey of RYSA R.I.S.E with this incredible body of students, and it’s all proving useful — some of it in small ways, others in more profound, and substantive ways, but I’m using it, it feels accessible and while it’s likely an imperfect product I’m delivering at times, it feels good to be wearing the teacher hat in a formal setting. And to be doing so with only 5 days of training vs. 4+ years (and college debt).
Training in hand, this week Kelsey and I dove in to tackle this large heading — Summative Assessment. Basically, we wanted to set a task that would gauge just how much our students have taken in in these past 3 weeks of class. What concepts have they held on to from our class and what skills are they able to exhibit that the program, at large, is trying to equip them with? This will help guide our second half of the course. So true to form, we put on our super academic hats, our serious faces, and played mad-libs with the kids!
They loved it! Our youngest group, the Smiling Sunbeams, needed lots of scaffolds (another fancy education word, meaning support!) to help them through but they really latched on to certain ideas. Most importantly for us in the storytelling classroom imagination is a concept that the kids definitely know and love. This feels like a huge victory over iPad and game console culture. Our oldest group, the Rising Stars, knew all of the vocabulary that we had taught them, but struggled more with transferrable skills — cooperation, compromise and delegation of roles. This was a great opportunity to defer to our assistant teacher in the class, who spends the entire day with the students and could relate our learning, to those of other teachers in other classrooms. On a second attempt, they soared through the exercise.
Finally — we led the Flying Arrows who had the most interesting response to the exercise. Many of the students in this class, have a very difficult time grasping the English language, while a core group of others are vocal, participatory and typically help Kelsey and I move the class along. Surprisingly, there were no spectators and everyone got involved. Our more able students took on leadership roles and made sure the large task was accomplished, while our true English Language beginners spent time searching through the words, sounding them out, using this exercise as an opportunity to be curious, to discover and to do so without feeling pressure to achieve. It was extraordinary to watch.
RYSA is teaching me so many things, but most importantly for this week, it was great to be equipped with the skills to actually gauge where our students are in their own process of skill-acquisition. It didn’t feel academic. It felt like I was prepared to serve the students, to witness their progress, and to talk about it with a degree of sophistication. We were told in training that we should be seeing the student, and not their trauma. I would take that one step further and acknowledge that this week we saw their growth – bright, budding and wonderful!