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This week I am at the AVID Summer Institute. For those who are unfamiliar, AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination and was a program developed over 25 years ago to help students become successful for the road to college. Interestingly, in times when there are huge budget cuts, the AVID conference is sold out. As expensive as this program is, it is supported because of its proven success. It is one of the only programs that has documented success in overcoming the achievement gap. Data collected here in California shows that there is no difference in meeting college entry requirements (A-G) between racial groups of those in AVID, a divergence that is quite clear in non-AVID students.

If you are unfamiliar with AVID, you can learn more at AVID Online

Today was an introduction/review of the AVID essentials and an introduction to College Readiness. Many students are not "ready" for college. Although they have passed the required classes and made the appropriate test scores, there is much more to being "college ready".
Although college seems so far away for an 11 year old, 14 is too late to start thinking about college. Students need to start planning and developing those skills long before high school, if they are going to be ready. Besides developing those college-ready skills, students are more likely to stay motivated and focused when they have clear goals to focus on.

Starting Tuesday, I will be in the advanced AVID science strand. Hopefully, I will have a few special activities or strategies to share that are especially effective for science. I have been using AVID strategies for several years and I am quite experienced but there is always something that can be added, improved or revised.

Although not nearly as exciting as Todd Williamson's Marine Academy, hopefully I will have something useful to share.

In our science strand, we focused on the InterActive Notebook (IAN) and helping kids work towards higher level thinking strategies, using Costa's levels of questioning. We also reinforced Cornell notes, reflective writing, and organization. One of the main focal points of AVID is revealing the "hidden curriculum", educational expectations that are never explicitly taught.

For example: How did you learn to take notes?
-No one actually taught me. But, my teachers... in junior high, high school, college... all assumed I knew how to take notes. I developed my own strategies over time that were mostly effective through trial and error. I am tenacious, like a terrier, and kept trying until I was moderately successful. But, not all students have the motivation and endurance to keep at.

How often do we assume students have skills that may be lacking. Note taking, organization, time management, collaboration skills, reflective thinking...

The best part about the AVID Institute is the modeling of best practices. We always do what we say we should do. Because we are experiencing the activity, it gives us the opportunity to see the methodology in detail and reflect on the benefits and steps of implementation.

We have spent quite a bit of time on Problem Based Learning. By having students work together to solve more open-ended projects, students can practice analytical skills, apply content knowledge, and evaluate the quality of their product. Since they often complete the projects using time and resources outside of class, students must coordinate responsibilities, plan and manage time, and communicate clearly with their team. Some of the PBLs we talked about include catapults, water shoes, water rockets, and so forth.

We have been addressing different learning styles as well. I have spent a great deal of time working with learning styles and spend time with all my students helping them with metacognition skills, understanding how they learn and think. A simple and visual tool our instructor uses is a program called True Colors. Its a simple tool and is easy to communicate with the kids and is easy for classroom management and can be observed at a glance. We have chatted about a variety of ways to keep kids motivated by addressing their learning needs, including skits, songs, and other kinesthetic needs.

But most importantly, in addressing the rigor, we are focusing on critical thinking and reflective writing. These are skills are essential in developing students who are college ready. We spent time today analyzing AP test questions and the skills students need to be successful. AP seems a long way for our middle kids, but for a student to be ready to pass the AP test as a junior, they need to be able to analyze, evaluate, and justify and organized response to the questions. These essay questions require skills that take time to develop and refine. To be ready for these tests, students need to develop the skills in the middle grades, so they have time to apply and refine them through out high school.

To often, we focus so much on our current school year and content area, we lose track of the student. We easily forget the continuum of development in content and skills.
Since this post is becoming a long AVID philosophical post, I think it might be easier to make a new post for activities for each main components of WICR (Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, and Reading).

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Comment by Karolee Smiley on July 16, 2009 at 10:01pm
The AVID library is enormous. If you are just interested in your content area, anyone can purchase the AVID Write Path books. There are Write Path books for math, science, history and such. The trouble with a book is that you can't really grasp the nature of how to do something as well by just reading it. If that was the case, we could just pass out books in August and have the kids return in May, fully filled with all our content knowledge. There really needs to be interaction and dialog to accompany any lesson (that old Socratic learning component). There are several labs in the books, but I think its the strategies that are the big things. Its all about adding rigor to what we already do. Think of it as AVIDizing your science class.

If you want AVID Write Path science books, just create an account at AVIDonline.org and stop by the e-store. But its the training, not the book that is really valuable. AVID is now international, so there is probably information available at the County Office of Education.

I will work on sharing some thing from my AVID science strand. The most important aspect is the InterActive Notebook and the logistics, reasoning, and techniques for using it.
Comment by Ellen Loehman on July 16, 2009 at 1:11pm
It's kind of hard to find a comprehensive manual of AVID. I think you must have to belong to get that... But there are hints here and there on websites.

1. Notebook structure. I adopted Interactive Notebooks this past year to work on organization skills and personal accountability. That appears to be a BIG part of AVID. My evaluation: it does help the struggling students and does not harm the good students. It was also a lot of extra work for me.

2. Cornell notes. Thinking back to my high school teaching years, I never taught the students to take notes when I required; I assumed they had learned it somewhere else. Well, I'm that somewhere else now, since language arts teachers appear to be more concerned with fiction and character analysis than getting information from dry and incomplete textbooks. I started out by giving them the essential question and cues. By the end of the year, a lot of them chose that strategy as their preferred book-note-taking assignment.

As for self efficacy.... I am shocked that 8th grade students do not seem to know that they are in charge of their own destinies. Maybe we as a society have taken that away from them, maybe it's just a developmental thing. By fifth grade or so, I knew that my choices affected my future (but I am old....). Middle school seems to make excuses for students' poor choice and give them many outs. I don't agree with that. Students need a chance to make choices and pay the consequences, albeit on a smaller scale than simply dropping out of school because it;s too hard. I think that develops a sense of self efficacy.
Comment by Mary Henton on July 16, 2009 at 12:43pm
Thank you, Ellen, for sharing. Yes...I don't doubt that you could predict the potential for success or dropping out! What does your experience tell you are contributing factors to a student's interest in school and/or feelings of self-efficacy?

One of the reasons we're (NMSA) is pleased to be able to share the Balfanz research is that it provides the deep research that supports experience such as yours. The other thing is that if schools, districts, teachers, principals know the predictors, they also can make concrete, substantive, and effective programmatic changes.

Since I'm not familiar with AVID, would you be willing to provide an example or two, Ellen, of strategies that you have used?

Thank you.
Comment by Karolee Smiley on July 16, 2009 at 1:46am
Gee Ellen, those are the kinds of things that AVID addresses!
Comment by Ellen Loehman on July 15, 2009 at 9:34pm
Thanks, Karolee, for sharing with us. I am familiar with the AVID concept and have used some of the strategies. I'll look forward to more that are specific to science. So PLEASE share!

And to Mary - I taught high school for 14 years. I've been in middle school for 4 years. I'm pretty sure I could predict high school drop outs with 80% certainty. They lack two or more of the following: interest in school, feelings of self-efficacy, background knowledge, study skills, time management skills, home support system, reading for pleasure, a vision of themselves as adults.
Comment by Mary Henton on July 14, 2009 at 11:32am
Thanks, Karolee! I've run across references to AVID, but haven't stopped to learn about the program. I didn't realize that AVID has a high success rate in closing the achievement gap and preparing students for college.

I'm embarrassed to admit that it's only been in the past few years that I've recognized the mutual dependence between drop-out prevention, college readiness and awareness, and middle grades. Obviously, a student who drops out of high school loses the opportunity to matriculate into college with her or his peers. But only in the past few years have I come to understand the importance of college awareness and preparation in the middle grades. This is thanks, in part to the opportunities I've had to interact with and learn from some college access and awareness programs, including Kids2College, Partners4Education, the Lumina Foundation, Ohio College Access Network (OCAN). Two key learnings for me have been--

1. Since Algebra is a gateway subject for college, for a student to be positioned for college admission (let alone success in college), that student must be ready to pursue Algebra by the time she or he leaves 8th grade (at the latest!).
2. College readiness is the benchmark for success in the work world, regardless of whether one attends college or not. In other words, for a high school graduate to be positioned to secure at least a middle class lifestyle in the U.S. (current economic conditions aside!), that student needs to have developed the skills, knowledge, and habits of mind necessary to matriculate and succeed in college.

OK...then back up to middle school. You're absolutely right. We can't wait until high school to prepare kids for college OR to inspire them to college (an entire matter in and of itself--especially for students from communities and families where college has not been an expectation or cultural norm).

And that brings me to some work through the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, and work that NMSA has had the privilege to collaborate in publishing. Robert Balfanz has been studying middle grades students in high poverty communities, looking at the factors for success in spite of the poverty, and also looking at the indicators of potential student achievement and risk (see Putting Middle Grades Students on the Graduation Path). In summary, he's found that a student's middle grades experiences are crucial in not only determining a student's likelihood for success in school, but also in identifying whether a student will be successful (i.e., able to learn and move forward) or not. There are, according to Balfanz, clear indicators by 6th grade, that a student has fallen off the track to graduation:

1. failing grade in math
2. failing grade in English
3. less than 80% attendance rate
4. less than satisfactory mark on behavior in a core academic course

If a student has any one of these, that student has a 10%-20% chance of graduating high school on time.

As might be expected, the earlier a student exhibits off-track indicators, the increased chances of not graduating. The good news is that students are resilient, and actions taken to address the problems do improve a student's likelihood of graduating.

So....it all hangs together! Pay attention to students in the middle grades. Make sure that their education is the highest quality, meets their needs and abilities, and inspires and engages them, so that they not only stay in school, but graduate high school ready and interested to pursue post-secondary education.

By the way, according to a 2003 U.S. Dept. of Labor report, 80% of the fastest-growing jobs in the US require some form of postsecondary education.

For some interesting reading about the importance of educational attainment on individuals, families, communities, and the nation, take a look at the following:

"Demography as Destiny: How America Can Build a Better Future." An October 2006 IssueBrief from Alliance for Excellent Education

"Healthier and Wealthier: Decreasing Health Care Costs by Increasing...." A November 2006 IssueBrief from Alliance for Excellent Education

"Education Pays" from CollegeBoard

Here is a copy of Putting Middle Grades Students on the Path to Graduation: A Policy and Practice BriefPolicy_Brief_Balfanz.pdf

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