School’s out for summer, right? Vacation time, umbrellas by the pool, studies and lessons far-flung from student and teacher consciousness, right? NOPE! Quite the opposite, actually, at AISD’s annual Curriculum Writers Cadre! Teachers, instructional coaches, and curriculum specialists gather annually to develop and vet curricula, exemplar lessons and assessments for the nearly 85,000 students served by the Austin Independent School District. Developing curriculum is a complex process–there are many factors to consider when crafting quality learning experiences for each of our students. To ensure that curriculum writers have access to the best and most current resources, organizers of the Curriculum Writers Cadre have created four on-site professional development/advocacy strands to continuously inform curricular creation: Assessment, Differentiation, Instructional Strategies and Whole Child, Every Child. Specialists from each strand present to groups of curriculum writers, who then use that lens while writing and vetting new lessons and assessments.
The AISD Social and Emotional Learning team is privileged to partner with Cultural Proficiency and Inclusiveness, Coordinated School Health, and the Creative Learning Initiative to create the Whole Child, Every Child strand. The theory: Students learn best when all facets of each young person–mind and body, culture and creativity, intelligence and emotions–are equally engaged in academic environments. The goal: To ensure that every single student in the Austin Independent School District receives high-quality academic instruction presented in relevant, active, culturally-sensitive and emotionally healthy ways.
SEL made an engaging presentation with Coordinated School Health, emphasizing the value of movement-based “Brain Breaks” to get the blood flowing while practicing academic vocabulary and concepts. For the SEL aspect, we incorporated the Committee for Children‘s ARR strategy (Anticipate-Reinforce-Reflect) to take advantage of any moment during an academic class, Brain Break or otherwise, to reinforce and practice social and emotional skills like turn-taking, active listening, and empathy. CWC writers found standing partners and touched opposite elbows and knees while sharing the answers to questions, engaging both halves of the brain while practicing concept recall. They played modified rock-paper-scissor type games involving quick mental math to exercise the logical frontal cortex, all while managing emotions that arise from learning new skills and winning or losing. The more brain we can engage in our students, the more our students will engage with learning!
The Cultural Proficiency and Inclusiveness presentation modeled activities designed to give every student academic choice and opportunities to share their perspective on a topic, either aloud or written. CWC participants read different passages from the book Teaching with Vision: Culturally Responsive Teaching in Standards-Based Classrooms (Christine E. Sleeter and Catherine Cornbleth) and “jigsawed” their impressions and reactions on a piece of paper divided into four sections, so that each reader received information and brain power from others in their group. We then did an interactive gallery walk, where thoughtful questions on posters prompted group members to discuss their answers and share them on post-it notes left on the poster for the next group. Such strategies encourage equal participation from all members of a class, and invite each student to share their unique perspective based on their own life experiences, cultural background, multiple identities and learning style. Ensuring that every single student learns in a safe, inclusive, respectful, and culturally-aware environment is the ultimate goal of Cultural Proficiency and Inclusion!
The Creative Learning Initiative ties it all together, bringing visual art, music, movement- and drama-based strategies to reinforce learning and provide multiple ways of practicing, sharing and applying academic concepts. For example, activities such as “Machine” and “Build a Phrase” lend themselves to teaching about cycles and systems. In “Machine,” students choose and physically act out different components of a system, like a business, body system, or actual machine. They then must act out how the different parts would go together, and brainstorm what would happen if parts malfunctioned, disappeared, or changed speed! In “Build a Phrase,” students create and agree upon movements that represent different parts of a cycle, and then perform the result. Our group represented the water cycle, and the modern dance that emerged thrilled us all! These and other creative learning strategies (Hot Seat! Town Hall!) help CWC writers include unique and exciting activities that reinforce academic goals.
The “old school” idea of public education–students sitting in desk-rows, listening to the teacher lecture for 45 minutes–is changing quickly as more and more research shows that students learn best when their bodies, intellects, emotions and experiences are engaged in the classroom. The Whole Child, Every Child strand at AISD’s Curriculum Writers Cadre has provided myriad whole-child options to incorporate into the district’s curricula, keeping AISD on the leading edge of education design. It may be summer vacation, but we are #AISDproud and #SELsmart, year-’round!