Last summer, the MMFS Parents Association generously supported my participation in an AVID Summer Institute in Seattle. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a college- and career-readiness program that focuses on growing students’ writing, critical thinking, teamwork, organization, and reading skills. AVID also helps students grow their executive functioning skills—a topic that has received increased attention at the upper school in recent years.
Central to AVID’s philosophy is the WICOR framework (Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization, Reading) which can be used across all academic disciplines. AVID isn’t a specific set of textbooks or lesson plans; rather, it is an approach that centers the WICOR skills in every participating classroom so that AVID teachers can leverage the same tools and language to enhance and reinforce student learning. The program is currently being used to support over 12,000 students in New York State and over 2 million nationwide.
The three-day workshop was an exciting opportunity for me to experience AVID’s techniques for promoting inquiry, equity, reflection, and rigor in secondary math classes. Additionally, the training included two sessions that demonstrate how AVID reaches across the disciplines and impacts multiple contexts of student learning. Given that I also teach music and psychology, I was eager to explore how the principles of AVID could be applied in different settings. During these sessions, I worked with small groups of teachers from across the country on how AVID might look in our community and how our students might engage with the system.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my work at the upper school is that I teach all four grades across different disciplines. This has enabled me to know our students in different ways and at different points in their development. As I have grown to know our students these past five years, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the number of our students who struggle with foundational academic and executive functioning skills like note-taking, organizing paperwork, and maintaining a planner/appointment calendar. These skills have already been targeted for improvement by our incredible SLPs through Sarah Ward’s teachings. The AVID Summer Institute taught me several complementary techniques to help my students grow in these areas. Here are some examples of the strategies I’m incorporating this year to help my students strengthen their Executive Functioning skills:
- Find more opportunities for movement and kinesthetic reinforcement of key concepts
- Use Sarah Ward’s approach to frame students’ note-taking process and tools:
- Get Ready (what do you need to take notes?)
- Do (use a structured format)
- Done (study)
- Get Done (retrieval)
- Incorporate more pictures in lecture slides and use less text
- Use Google Slides to create scaffolded notes that port easily into students’ digital notebooks
- Use Do Nows (entrance tickets) that have students summarize what they learned last class
- Have students create a personal Google Site that serves as a virtual workspace for their class materials
- Take 2 minutes periodically to allow students to process, highlight notes, ask questions of each other
- End the week with an exit ticket where students write “I can now do…”
- Use structured literacy techniques and phonics work to help students learn discipline vocabulary
- Reinforce that students are part of a math family
- Encourage rough draft thinking and sustain a mistake-friendly classroom
- Encourage parents to review their student’s notebook; have students teach parents from it
- During lesson planning, ask myself: How does the content propel the student towards a personal goal they have set for themselves?
- Use Costa’s Habits of Mind and related sentence starters for writing assignments in math
- Use ELA strategies like 3Pi in math
Finally, I’ve adopted a strategy that has inspired a new AVID colleague’s math students for over 10 years. All of the classrooms in which I teach have an “I can’t do it…YET!” plush yeti as a resilience aide. I believe that we never outgrow our trust in and affection for stuffies. They help regulate our mood, remind us of feelings of safety and warmth, and bring a smile to our face—all beneficial when tackling challenging, anxiety-inducing math problems. I’ve been pleased to find that my students of all ages often hug, talk to, and pass Stanley (Drag Race name: Aurora Borealis) around as they work on problems, ask questions, and engage in group work. Since Stanley has joined my classrooms, I’ve noticed that student work is less rushed, more centered, and more focused. Some may think that using stuffies with high school students infantilizes them. I can only say that, for my students, the power of stuffies is real.