El mundo de Sra. Brown

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Middle School Service Fair

Service learning fair 1

On Thursday, November 13th, Allendale Columbia Middle School hosted its first service fair showcasing five service organizations from the greater Rochester area.  Representatives from Foodlink, RAPA (Rochester Association of Performing Arts), the Center for Environmental Initiatives, Rochester Greenovation and GRASP (Greece Residents Assisting Stray Pets) spoke to students about their organization’s outreach in Monroe County.

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Each organization brought in evidence of their work, from Dexter, a stray Basset/Daschund mix who had been fostered by GRASP to an upcycled fork crafted into an octopus necklace by an artist at Rochester Greenovation.  Kimie Romeo, who works with the Center for Environmental Initiatives, spoke eloquently to students about their role as stewards of the Great Lakes, our world’s largest source of potable water.  RAPA Director, Allan Cuseo, talked about how theater can change people’s lives and Jared Longmore outlined the Foodlink’s recent grassroots outreach in urban neighborhoods.

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Students then broke out into advisory groups to discuss the potential of service learning.  They thought that service learning at the middle school level would inspire awareness, compassion and gratitude in students.  They expressed interest in becoming more aware of who they could help in their community.

They also talked about how they could convert their personal hobbies and passions into service work.  A student interested in sharks expressed interest in working with organizations that aimed to protect coral reefs.  Another student passionate about swimming thought she might offer a water safety course to youth who don’t have the opportunity to swim very often.

Students were eager to tackle a wide variety of difficult issues with their potential service.  Some worried about saving rain forests or helping victims of natural disaster.  Some were interested in working with people with health issues or special needs.  Others were preoccupied by world violence, illiteracy or access to vaccines.

At the end of the session, each student set a personal service goal.  Some goals were small, others very ambitious.  “I would like to get a better understanding of the needs in my community,” said one student.  “I would like to be out there helping,” wrote another.

 

 


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Homework Required. Studying Encouraged?

At the close of our first quarter, my students spent some time reflecting on their performance and setting measurable goals for their future Spanish learning.

Before they completed their written reflections, we discussed the difference between class participation and class preparation. In my experience, my students usually have more difficulty defining class preparation. This makes sense because most middle schoolers are just beginning to develop an independent awareness of how they learn.

My students identified homework and studying as the two main elements of class preparation. When I asked them to compare and contrast these two aspects of preparation, one student raised his hand. “Well,” he said, “Homework is required. Studying is only encouraged.”  The majority of students also felt that studying was more difficult than completing homework.

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It was clear that students recognized studying as important, however they seemed to have difficulty with how to define and execute a self-directed academic task.  In their experience, the teacher usually defines and checks homework.  Studying was more nebulous.

As we talked further, however, it was clear that students had innovative, individualized ideas about what it meant to study.  Some liked to study in a quiet, dark room while others preferred bright, busy spaces.  Some students turned the target concepts into a song or taught them to a younger sibling or pet.  Other students used drawings and photographs to create visual markers of their conceptual understanding.

Over the weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about our class discussion.  The more I thought, the more I realized that “Studying required, homework encouraged,” might be a more effective instructional mantra in my classroom.  What if I gave the students a suggested homework activity, but I encouraged them to work with the target concepts in a way that made sense to them?  What if I asked students how they wanted to show they understood the concepts we were working with and had them design their own homework and review activities?  It seems that these challenges will help them develop critical academic self-awareness in a way that my prescriptive homework cannot.  I can’t wait to see what they come up with.