High-Achieving Black Students from Colorado Receive More than $2 Million in Sachs Foundation Scholarships Over the Past Year
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., May 19, 2022 — The Sachs Foundation, an organization that has provided college scholarships to Black Coloradans since 1931, announced today that it has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to talented Black students in the Centennial State over the past year. Sachs Foundation scholars are pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees from universities and colleges in Colorado as well as top institutions from coast to coast, including Yale, Stanford, MIT, Harvard and Cornell and prestigious historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) like Howard University.
The foundation awarded 52 scholarships over the past year to exceptional Black students from all around Colorado, including Aurora, Castle Rock, Colorado Springs, Commerce City, Denver, Fountain, Gypsum, Lafayette, Lakewood, Lamar and Woodland Park. The students who received Sachs Foundation support this year are not only accomplished in academics but have already made a positive impact in their communities through their achievements in the arts, athletics and volunteer activities. More than half of the students are the first generation in their family to attend college.
To celebrate the students’ excellence this year, the foundation sponsored a brunch for the 2022 Sachs Foundation Scholarship Program students and guests at the Penrose House in Colorado Springs. The guest speaker was Clint Smith, a journalist, educator, New York Times best-selling author, popular YouTube host, award-winning poet and staff writer at The Atlantic.
Pikes Peak resident Henry Sachs created the foundation during the Great Depression, awarding the first Sachs Foundation scholarship to Dolphus Stroud, whose family’s friendship with Sachs gave him vivid insight into the toll discrimination takes on Black Coloradans’ educational and economic prospects. Since that time, the Sachs Foundation has provided financial and/or mentoring support to more than 3,000 talented Black students from Colorado. Over the years, Sachs Foundation scholarship recipients have achieved personal success and enriched their communities through distinguished careers in many professions, including the arts, medicine, science, engineering and public service.
“Society has changed since Henry Sachs’ time, but as statistics confirm year after year, Black Coloradans still face significant obstacles to academic and professional achievement, so our mission remains as relevant as ever,” said Ben Ralston, President, Sachs Foundation. “This year’s scholarship recipients are incredibly brilliant in the academic sense but also committed to their communities and eager to help others. We’re honored to provide them with the support they need to pursue their dreams.”
Last year, the Sachs Foundation celebrated 90 years of providing opportunities to Black students. The foundation makes applications available annually between January 1 and March 15 to Black residents of Colorado. Eligible students and their families are encouraged to apply. Scholarships are based on academic merit, financial need and character. Learn more at www.sachsfoundation.org.
About the Sachs Foundation
Founded by Pikes Peak resident Henry Sachs in 1931, the Sachs Foundation provides scholarship programs designed to help Black Coloradans overcome discrimination and reach their full academic potential. Over the decades, the Foundation has helped thousands of talented Black students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees at universities throughout the United States, dispersing millions in funding through its unique education equity approach. Learn more about the Sachs Foundation, student success stories and how to apply for scholarship grants at www.sachsfoundation.org.
I’ll never forget the wide-eyed look and broad smile on a fourth-grader’s face when I asked him if he was willing to read in a different way. He had a reading disability, and I had just taken him to the school library and told him to choose any chapter books that he was interested in reading, not just the “baby books”—his words—that he could independently decode. His picks were available and downloaded within minutes from Bookshare, an Office of Special Education Programs–funded organization that provides a vast library of free accessible ebooks for students with print disabilities who qualify.
This intersection of choice, self-determination, and technology was powerful—it started an entire new chapter of self-confidence and independence for this student.
Students with reading disabilities can interact with texts in a variety of ways. They can decode, they can listen to an in-person read-aloud, or they can listen to human audio text or digital text, also called text-to-speech (TTS). Using TTS allows for equity and access. If struggling readers are limited to text they can decode, how can they enjoy the richness of written language, participate in class discussions, learn academic content, and develop a love for reading? Text-to-speech opens up new worlds for them.
Research demonstrates that using text-to-speech tools increases engagement and allows students to access grade-level content and material, as well as websites and books of interest. Interaction with curricular content can help students improve their vocabulary, comprehension, reading accuracy, and fluency. Perhaps most importantly, the use of TTS improves students’ positive feelings about reading and school.
Assistive Technology Tools and Digital Text Build Capacity
Students and teachers need a variety of tools in their toolboxes. Bookshare delivers with its extensive repository, reading tools, and ability to provide textbooks and honor text requests, giving students vast digital resources for both personal and academic use.
Learning Ally, a fee-based organization that sometimes takes requests, provides books with human audio, which is sometimes preferred for pleasure reading. Human audio text may or may not have simultaneous text highlighting to support tracking and does not have a mechanism to interact directly with text.
Many factors affect tool choice and use. A student reading a novel might use an assistive technology (AT) tool that can highlight and annotate digital text, instead of relying on a phone app that reads a menu or email, for example.
Settings where students learn and work, such as large classrooms, small groups, or the kitchen table, also impact tool choice and use. Staff, family, and student buy-in, as well as access to and ability to use AT tools, remain key factors in effective implementation. Keep in mind that students, environments, tasks, and technology change. Ideally, exploring AT tools and services should be an ongoing, problem-solving process throughout students’ academic careers.
To assist students, teachers need to ask, “What is the goal of the activity? And is the student learning to read, or reading to learn?” Remediation and accommodation can coexist, and they can be balanced and beneficial in educational settings. Remediation assists the student in overcoming academic challenges and developing mastery, while accommodations such as AT include alterations of the environment, curriculum format, or equipment that empower an individual with a disability to gain access to content and/or complete assigned tasks. Using AT is not cheating; rather, assistive technology can change the academic trajectory of students with reading and writing challenges.
Teacher, Parent, and Student Teamwork Is Key
It’s not enough to know what AT tools can do. We need to teach students how to use the tools, how they can improve their work, how to advocate for tool access, and how to choose the right tool for the task and environment. We need to make time for students to explore the tools in-depth and collect data on how the tools aid engagement and performance.
Furthermore, teachers need support in learning the tools, integrating the tools, and troubleshooting problems in real-time. “Show and tell” alone doesn’t cut it—ongoing student and teacher coaching with clear expectations for tool use, understanding of how and when to access support, and outcome measures are key. And when teachers collaborate and communicate across content areas to ensure tools are successfully embedded across the curriculum, students succeed.
Parent education is also critical. Parents need to know when their child will be better served decoding text, reading digital text, or listening to audio text. They need to understand AT use and how to support their children at home and across educational settings so they can meaningfully participate and advocate within educational teams.
In many districts and households, lack of knowledge and limited budgets can negatively impact access to and provision of quality AT services. The individual and societal costs of illiteracy are immense. Bottom line: The literature supports the premise that students with learning differences who use AT transition more successfully to high school, show improved quality of work, gain positive perceptions of themselves as learners, and experience positive post-school outcomes. Such intersection of choice, self-determination, and technology can be powerful. How can we afford not to provide a valuable resource like assistive technology tools?
In high school, reflection essays, analysis papers, and literature reviews for English and other courses supplement more traditional summaries and narratives. Regardless of the focus, we’re familiar with the complicated writing process, which requires brainstorming, organizing, and translating ideas into words while using correct mechanics (punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, etc.). At the same time, writing a coherent and well-developed piece requires valuable working memory. Unfortunately, subtle working memory issues may increase these complex writing challenges.
Writing demands working memory capacity, retention time, and processing depth. For example, gaps in remembering and understanding information slow the process of manipulating and translating information. As a result, students may prematurely discard information they need. How can we engage students in maximizing their working memory functioning throughout the writing process?
Consider the following strategies: increasing capacity through note-taking, deepening processing with discussion and summarization, and extending retention time with review and revisions.
Setting Up a Writing Task to Account for Working Memory
Analyzing the writing task: Analyzing the assignment and identifying discrete steps creates a structure in working memory, easing the mental organization process. While doing this with your class, ask students for examples of relevant information. For example, if they are analyzing the Napoleonic Era, ask them to provide two decisions Napoleon made that led to his defeat. Examples provide students with brain priming and enable you to assess retention and comprehension. In this way, task analysis serves as a confirmation of students’ understanding of directions and their content knowledge.
Consider the following strategies: intermittent low-stakes testing to support remembering and understanding, student-generated teach-backs for knowledge review and rehearsal, student partnerships for reading directions, and use of step-by-step checklists.
Prewriting: Now that students have created a mental organization framework, they can begin writing. A structured approach is essential when considering the extensive working memory demands. For example, creating an organizer provides a review of information, thus increasing the depth of working memory processing. This way, information is more efficiently organized for easy long-term memory storage. Thus, rather than taxing working memory capacity, information can be accessed more easily from long-term memory as needed.
Start by activating prior knowledge with a 5- to 10-minute brainstorm. Then create an overall structure of subtopics, main ideas, and their logical connections, using outlines, mind maps, graphic organizers, or note cards.
Leave time between creating the organizer and revising it to allow for mental organization of the information and increased objectivity. During the revision, have students use notes to identify possible gaps. Be sure to recognize the need for processing time to facilitate decision-making. Avoid fatigue by establishing a work session of an hour at most, such as 45 minutes of focused work, a 5-minute break for processing, and a 10-minute review.
Planning: Executive functions such as attention, inhibition, and emotional regulation impact working memory functioning. Therefore, planning is a proactive step that can help students overcome future obstacles. Partner students to expand the writing process checklist they created during task analysis.
For example, have students enter work session appointments with alerts into a digital calendar. Have them enter interim due dates with a specific action step for receiving feedback. Finally, a growth step would be to include step-specific time estimates to encourage the development of accurate planning.
Translating ideas into words: Translating ideas into words requires self-regulation. Decisions regarding word choice, spelling, and grammar require persistence. Therefore, avoiding internal distractions impacts working memory’s ability to manipulate and organize information.
Have students consider the following strategies:
- Cover everything in the organizer except the section guiding their current writing.
- Lessen cognitive and physical demands with speech-to-text.
- Write without editing by turning off spell or grammar check features.
- Establish a cueing system to mark words or areas of uncertainty. Try highlighting or italicizing word choice to review, or adding a question mark to indicate uncertainty of ideas.
Editing: Allow at least an hour between writing and editing to let students focus on their actual wording versus what they think they wrote. Time also offsets the emotional attachment to their words. Finally, lessen the chances of students feeling overwhelmed by limiting editing to one or two specific areas. Their editing checklist might focus on writing mechanics, specialized vocabulary, or places they flagged as unclear during writing. Either partner students or consider using text-to-speech to ensure accurate reading of their draft.
Reflecting: Reflection provides a review of the student’s writing process. Emphasizing their goals and gains moves them from working memory to long-term memory.
To reinforce growth, ask students to identify a gain. Then establish a goal by focusing on a feedback suggestion. For example, perhaps they struggled to hold information in their working memory while writing an English essay. Ask them to identify a strategy, technology, or resource that would support their ability to decide what information to include in a future organizer.
When working memory is functioning effectively and efficiently, the complex demands of writing become steps in a workable process rather than obstacles of frustration.
Every year many people visit museums, parks, and historic sites while on vacation, and there are many reasons why: family traditions, capturing that perfect picture, or because their parents made them go. Among these people are some who hope to learn something.
That was true of me during a recent visit I made to a historic site. I stopped by the visitor center and asked the ranger on duty how I might best spend my few hours, and she told me I had several options: I could attend a ranger talk, download the free self-guided tour app, buy a guidebook, or wander and read any of the interpretive panels I came across. Whatever I chose, she said that I’d come away with the same information, so it was just a question of what I thought was best for me.
Free Choice Puts Learners in Control
What I experienced is known as free-choice learning, an educational approach used at museums, zoos, and national parks. Essentially, visitors encounter multiple curated invitations that take a wide variety of forms, leaving the choice up to them. No matter their choice, the information is the same even if the method varies.
The appeal of this approach is obvious. It provides the learners with choice, a powerful engagement tool for promoting learning when other factors like grades or attendance aren’t as motivating. It’s also self-scaffolding, a strategy that supports students who may be emerging bilinguals, those who have trouble reading complex texts, or those who prefer to learn as part of a group opportunity. Students choose the approach that works best for them. Learners who may prefer information to be presented in a specific way can all have what they want. One student might find animations of a volcano erupting more informative, while another might prefer detailed readings, but they both get what they prefer.
This same strategy can work inside your classroom if you follow a basic four-part structure.
1. Provide a common foundation. Before you allow learners to explore on their own, it’s important to ensure that they share a common understanding. Orienting them to foundational vocabulary or reviewing key concepts will help them make sense of what they find on their own or what you have prepared for them.
Start with a unifying experience—a short reading or an illustrative video. This will help introduce them to the topic, reinforce essential details, and help build vocabulary, and at the same time it will give you an opportunity to formatively check their understanding. What’s more, this is a good opportunity for skill development, such as reading comprehension or writing a summary before self-direction begins. Providing a framing question for them to keep in mind as they explore on their own helps guide the experience.
2. Curate invitations. Following your foundational activity, share your collection of learning invitations with students. Invitations can take many forms: a Google Doc, a simple website, or a collection of stations distributed throughout the classroom. Whatever form they take, remember the following:
- Only include resources that are developmentally appropriate for the majority of your students—keep encyclopedia entries out of early readers’ hands. Instead, consider early reader books or Newsela articles where you can control the difficulty.
- Include a variety of multimodal resources. Texts, videos, audio, manipulatives, and even peer discussion stations are all good possibilities.
- Try to limit the scope of your invitations. You’ll want to provide some choice, but do so without overwhelming your students with too many options. What an appropriate number looks like depends on grade level, so use your own knowledge of your students when planning. It might take an attempt or two to dial it in, so starting with less is always advisable.
- Make sure that your resources are accessible to a wide range of abilities and learning levels. This allows students who may struggle with specific learning invitations to eventually find ones that are more appropriate for them.
3. Give students an equal voice. As students begin to make their way through the collection of resources you’ve created for them, you may notice that some students are hungry for more. This is a great opportunity to empower them to find their own additions to your carefully curated collection.
This is good because it not only provides automatic extensions for high-performing learners but also helps you to refine and improve your plans for future classes. Students may find resources that are more appropriate for them or find things that you just missed due to time constraints. Allowing them to have a role in finding things that could benefit them or their peers is a great way of including aspects of personalized learning in your free-choice lessons.
You can encourage this by allowing them to search the internet or connect them with sites that do a good job of combining multimedia with academic content, like National Geographic Kids or PBS Kids.
4. Choose your goals with care. Free-choice learning can definitely be used in every grade level and every content area, but not all learning goals are appropriate for this kind of approach. If the standards that you’re focusing on aren’t open-ended or don’t lend themselves to an inquiry process, you may want to consider saving free-choice learning for a different unit or instructional sequence.
When the sweeping fifth wave of coronavirus forced school activities to move online in Hong Kong early this year, career activities were no exception. While the suspension of face-to-face classes cut a lot of the social ties of students, the Careers and Life Planning (CLP) Team, of which I serve as the head, and the Alumni Association (AA) of our school harnessed technology to build connections between alumni and current students in an online internship program. A plus is that in the program we can transcend geographical barriers and involve overseas alumni, such as those in the United States and the UK.
Structure of the Online Mentorship Program
This experience is essential for students, so we made participation in the program compulsory for all Form 4 students (Grade 10 in the U.S. system). The mentorship program consisted of a kickoff event, which all participants were required to attend; virtual meet-ups between mentors and mentees; online alumni sharing sessions; and job shadowing and internship opportunities.
Recruiting mentors. Invitations went out by email to alumni who had graduated within the last 10 years to serve as mentors. The Alumni Association mobilized its network to recruit mentors from different generations of the alumni community and also extended the invitation to past mentors.
After getting 40 mentors onboard—around one-fourth of the number of student participants—we held a briefing session online to explain the details of the program to mentors, providing them with an opportunity to mingle virtually with each other, and to shed light on the characteristics of Generation Z.
Matching mentors with mentees. The matching exercise was next. To maximize interactions between the alumni and the students, the organizing committee determined that the ideal mentor-mentee ratio was one to four or five. They also decided that career interest would be a factor in group allocation. The CLP Team sent a Google Form to the students and gathered information about their preferences for job sectors and professions, including accounting, banking, engineering, marketing, law, and medicine. The same question was in the Google Form that the Alumni Association sent to mentors to ensure that the information on that form was aligned with the information collected in the mentee survey.
After months of preparation, it was time for the kickoff event. The key to success with an online mentorship experience is the participants’ high level of involvement. To this end, we started the event with a Kahoot activity. The organizing committee had preassigned mentors and mentees to groups based on career interest. Each group worked as a team in their own breakout rooms and competed with other teams by answering a series of questions from organizing committee members as quickly and accurately as possible.
Questions ranged from history, mathematics, and cryptocurrency to knowledge about the school. The groups had 30 seconds to discuss and answer each question in the breakout rooms. Through this ice-breaking activity, mentors and mentees got to know more about each other.
To further develop group dynamics, in the breakout rooms mentors shared with mentees one successful experience and one unsuccessful experience, while mentees took turns sharing a life goal with the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) strategy they had learned in the school’s career and guidance lessons. This activity ensured that there would be an authentic need for communication between participants.
Mentors shared how they had overcome adversity so that mentees could understand the importance of resilience in the face of challenges in life. Instead of lecturing mentees about the so-called golden rules of success, mentors needed to listen to mentees about their future aspirations and bridge the communication gap between the two worlds.
This was followed by an informative session about the expectations that students needed to meet in the mentorship program and the career exploration opportunities that were available in the program.
The event ended by opening the breakout rooms again, and each mentor had to come up with a date for the next virtual meet-up session with mentees. Each group had to submit a group photo of this session to the organizing committee as proof of their willingness to sustain the communication.
Online alumni sharing sessions. After the kickoff, to promote further exchanges between mentors and mentees, each mentor indicated in a Google Form which of the nine online sharing sessions they could help out with as either a mentor or a facilitator. The brainstorming activity of the briefing session for mentors had generated the topics of the nine sessions, which spanned different career fields and aspects of career planning—for example, banking, law, medicine, coding, humanities, and CV preparation. Each mentee was required to attend at least one sharing session.
Key to success. Like it or not, technology-driven career activities are increasingly becoming the new normal, and in the near future, more of these events will be conducted virtually. The success of online sessions hinges on interactions among the participants. Mentors should avoid lecturing participants and instead strike a delicate balance between information dissemination and interactivities. Organizers should make every effort to create meaningful exchange opportunities. This is particularly important in the online mentorship program, which attempts to knock down communication barriers and help build lasting relationships.
With careful design and planning, online events of this kind provide a viable alternative to in-person events. The school community comes together, and mentors and mentees can participate in the mentorship program from the comfort of their home or office.
While half the states in the U.S. plan to ban or restrict abortion care if and when the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, California is positioning itself to be an abortion sanctuary and preparing to welcome patients from around the country.
The state’s Democratic Legislature is considering 13 bills that would: reduce the costs of abortion, make abortions easier to access, and protect people in the state who have an abortion, or who help provide one, from law enforcement action. The governor is pledging $125 million in state funds to back these efforts.
“The goal is to really enshrine and ensure that California is a reproductive freedom state for all,” said Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland.
On the 46th anniversary of Roe, in 2019, Wicks became the first woman to tell her own abortion story on the floor of the California Assembly.
“I was 26 years old, in between jobs and in between homes,” she said in the 2019 speech. “Staying on a friend’s couch, unemployed and facing an unplanned pregnancy was a vulnerable time in my life.”
Wicks went on to work for Barack Obama for six years, then later won her seat in California’s Legislature. She’s now 44 and has two young daughters.
“For me, having an abortion was an empowering decision, one that I have never regretted,” she said.
Her personal reproductive health needs have continued to influence her work. One day last September, she was preparing lunch at her kitchen counter, chopping lettuce, carrots and avocado, when she felt a sudden wave of severe cramping in her abdomen. Then she started bleeding — a lot. She rushed to her doctor.
“Turns out, I was pregnant and having a miscarriage. And [my doctor] said, ‘We need to do an emergency abortion procedure, a D and C,'” Wicks said, referring to the medical procedure that is used for both abortion and miscarriage.
This was all happening right after Texas banned abortions after 6 weeks and allowed members of the public to sue physicians who performed them. Wicks asked her doctor if she would have been able to get the procedure she’d just received if she lived in Texas.
The doctor told her, legally, it was permitted because the pregnancy wasn’t viable. But in reality, the chilling effect of the law was making doctors too scared to perform these procedures.
Wicks asked herself what she would have done: Stay home and deal with the potential health implications? Get in a car and drive 10 hours to find care?
“I mean, I was doubled over in pain,” Wicks said. “And so that compels me to make sure, as a legislator, that I’m doing everything I can to bring voice to the situation.”
If Roe is overturned, California could see a 3,000% increase in the number of people coming here from out of state for an abortion, from roughly 46,000 to 1.4 million, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute. Wicks is one of several lawmakers working with reproductive health groups on the package of 13 bills aimed at expanding services in anticipation of this spike.
One bill that’s already been signed into law will eliminate co-pays for abortion. Other bills would set aside state money to help people who are traveling from out of state with lodging, travel and child care costs, and to help clinics expand abortion services by adding appointment slots and training more staff.
Several bills are focused on legal protections. The Texas law, SB 8, allows members of the public to sue anyone who helps a person get an abortion, including medical staff or Uber drivers who drive patients to an appointment.
California plans to refuse to help with any such lawsuit by not complying with subpoenas from other states and declining to turn over any health data requested by other states. The bill Wicks authored would ensure no one in California can be prosecuted or incarcerated for ending a pregnancy or experiencing a pregnancy loss.
Health clinics also are shoring up their security, said Lisa Matsubara, general counsel and vice president of policy for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, which worked on several of the bills. In addition to more patients coming from out of state, California is expecting more protestors from out of state.
“We’re definitely worried about the change in focus for anti-abortion activists, as they have effectively eliminated access in many states, to then turn their focus to states where abortion is still going to be accessible,” Matsubara said.
Some protestors already have traveled to California. The trucker convoy came to the Bay Area in late April: A stream of semis and pickups sporting American flags parked outside Buffy Wicks’ house to protest her work on legislation supporting abortion care.
“This is a direct assault on humanity,” one protestor shouted through a bullhorn.
Wicks’ neighbors did not welcome the convoy. One woman with long neon-yellow nails gave them the double finger. Other people pelted the trucks with eggs, chanting, “Go home, go home, go home.” Nearly 80% of Californians believe Roe v. Wade should not be overturned.
Buffy Wicks watched the protestors from her window. She says she’s not intimidated and won’t slow down. In fact, she and her colleagues are looking for ways to speed up the work of making California an abortion sanctuary for all.
“It’s out of necessity that we’re preparing for this, not necessarily out of desire,” she said. “We want to make sure that we are a place where people can come in their biggest moments of need and get the care that they need.”
PISA, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, measures 15-year-olds’ ability to use their reading, mathematics, and science knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges. Its league table of results suggests which of the 90 participating countries have been able to improve their education system and student performance.
But when we look back at people throughout history who have made a significant impact on society, it’s not their school reading, math, or science test results that measure their success.
One well known winner of the Nobel Prize for physics was told by his teacher at school that he would ‘never amount to anything.’ For Albert Einstein, it was his fascination with the invisible forces that deflected a compass needle and a book on science that ignited his lifelong fascination with the world around him. But how do we strike a balance between the core curriculum and the invaluable importance of developing a child’s hard and soft skills, their curiosity, and their creativity?
The OECD has started working to refine its assessments to measure competences beyond the core literacies of reading, mathematics, and science. Future PISA tests will include measures of creative thinking (PISA 2022). The OECD’s ‘Survey of Social and Emotional Skills’ report states that education is no longer just about academic success but rather helping students develop the social and emotional skills necessary to navigate the adult world with empathy, confidence, and a strong character. It’s also about respecting other cultures and religions–something that can be lacking in our schools and wider society.
But does this go far enough?
Renowned psychologist and child development theorist Jean Piaget made a very emotive statement when he said, “Our real problem is–what is the goal of education? Are we forming children that are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try developing creative and innovative minds, capable of discovery from the preschool age on, throughout life?” Every year, the K-12 curriculum is amended and refined while assessments dig deeper into each child’s absorption of the facts that have been delivered. But what Piaget would encourage is that education moves towards opening children’s enquiring minds to explore, evaluate, and discover the world they live in.
I’m not suggesting that school children shouldn’t learn the core basic skills, but wouldn’t their academic, social, and emotional skills be stronger and better entwined if they could learn outside the restraints and restrictions of the modern classroom? This is something most teachers would agree with, but don’t have the power to change government and societal expectations.
Building skills beyond academic success
I wasn’t a great student at school. The classes didn’t excite or interest me. I couldn’t picture how the things we were learning were going to impact my life. It was these constraints of today’s education system that ignited my interest in THINK Global School’s (TGS) way of learning. I was lucky enough that my parents were the first to hear about the school and saw the potential; it clearly appeared to be a better, holistic, and more interesting way of learning that they hoped would inspire me.
Maxim Sindall is a former student of Think Global School. In April 2021, Sindall set up AlturaNFT, an API and Web3 infrastructure crypto-currency software business that makes it easier for third-party applications and video game developers to utilize the power of blockchain. Sindall knows that blockchain backed digital assets will play a significant role in the future as gamers push to have more ownership of their digital assets, and plans to be at the forefront of this transition.
Access to diverse books positively impacts children as readers and as people. Having access to diverse texts helps children expand their vocabularies, deepens their understanding of language, provides opportunities for problem-solving, provides critical affirming experiences to students’ lives, and presents opportunities for students to learn about people with different lived experiences.
Students of all races, genders, religions, languages, abilities, interests, and beliefs should have opportunities to have affirmative literary experiences, where they see themselves reflected in the books they’re reading. These opportunities still do not exist today for many children.
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center publishes research on books depicting characters from diverse backgrounds. The research showed that books included very low representation of primary characters for many backgrounds and experiences. According to this data, many students are more likely to encounter a book with a primary character who is an animal or other nonhuman character (29.2 percent of total books) than a book including a primary character who is Black/African (11.9 percent of total books), Asian/Asian American (8.7 percent of total books), Latinx (5.3 percent of total books), a person with a disability (3.4 percent of total books), or LGBTQIAP (3.1 percent of total books).
Students need access to texts that reflect experiences diverse in race, ethnicity, gender, and language. Such access increases motivation, which is likely to have a positive impact on reading comprehension.
Scholar Rudine Bishop Sims astutely notes, “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”
When children are able to access books that pique their curiosity through diverse texts, it also leads to volume of reading, builds students to read more complex texts on the same or similar topics, and introduces new vocabulary—all markers of improving reading comprehension.
As an English and reading teacher, I sometimes struggled to provide texts that affirmed my students’ lives and communities. My last district was conservative-leaning, and I was often weighing political tension against my own highly knowledgeable, expert, teacher judgment. However, since I built relationships with parents and earned their trust, I was able to teach a variety of books in my middle school including “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers and “The Afterlife” by Gary Soto.
Miah Daughtery is the literacy director of content advocacy and design at NWEA, where she spends her days figuring out how to get kids more excited about reading and writing. Before joining NWEA, she was a reading and English teacher, a district literacy specialist, the state literacy coordinator for the Tennessee Department of Education, the director of literacy for Achieve, and the executive director of professional learning for Odell Education. She earned her BA in English at the University of Michigan, her MEd in reading at Wayne State University, and her EdD in public policy and educational administration from Vanderbilt’s Peabody School of Education.
Recently, a co-worker of mine shared a story from when he was in high school. During one chemistry class his teacher happened to light a small fire within a dish and began stirring in different compounds. First the fire turned green, then purple, and then finally blue. The students, who normally struggled to engage with the coursework, were completely enthralled. They began asking questions, forming hypotheses, and started investigating the subject themselves. A fire had been lit in that classroom – both literally and metaphorically.
Stories like these remind educators about the power of student engagement. Teaching, in many ways, is like building a fire. You simply gather the kindling (tools and strategies), create a spark (curiosity), and then add some logs to the fire (content). Still, many of us can have trouble striking that match. All too often, our students’ attitudes can feel dampened by apathy or outside distractions.
Building the blaze
So, how do we create the circumstances for a roaring fire of student interest? I believe we start by tapping into their innate desire to learn. Curiosity is how we discover and ultimately navigate the world around us. By coaxing that curiosity to life, we can also kindle student engagement.
Here are a few strategies to get you started:
The Mystery Box: Start your class with having the students ask yes/no questions to figure out what is in a box or include objects in the box that loosely connect to the content and have students draw the connection.
Zoom Out: Take a photo or screenshot of something that students will be learning about. Zoom in on that image and throughout the lesson, zoom out until you reveal the object. With each Zoom out, have students guess what the object is.
Jamie MacPherson is a Learning Solution Specialist at Van Andel Institute for Education, an educational nonprofit dedicated to building classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive. If you found these strategies helpful, be sure to check out Van Andel Institute for Education’s free webinar on engaging students in the classroom.