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** Sponsored Post **

 Disclosure of Material Connection: All blog posts in this category are  “sponsored posts.” The company who sponsored it compensated us via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to edit and post it. 

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“Mister, why do we have to do this? I’d honestly rather work on math right now. Or anything else.”

This was advisory class (also known as “guidance”). I was a certified high school math teacher, but like so many of my peers, I also taught advisory. In advisory, teachers met with students to develop their social skills and help them explore college and career options. The class sounds practical, particularly because I taught in New York City alternative high schools serving at-risk students.

 Oddly enough, New York City’s academic policy mentions advisory only once, in a footnote:

“There are no standards in ‘guidance’ or ‘advisory’; such courses may only bear credit if they are taught by appropriate subject certified teachers…”

This might explain why advisory was so often treated as an afterthought in New York City public schools. We weren’t provided thoughtful or engaging curriculum and yet, every student took advisory multiple times in a year to accumulate elective credits and meet graduation requirements. I rarely felt underprepared teaching math, but unfortunately it was advisory that helped me perfect the art of improvising.

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After a few years of teaching, I realized the academic skills we were expected to teach were not enough to ensure students were prepared to be productive participants in society.  Over time, my students’ social emotional development became as important to me as the academic skills designated by the state.  When my administrators decided to add an advisory class, I jumped on the chance to plan its curriculum.  Despite my best efforts to create meaningful social emotional learning experiences, the class was often treated by both staff and students as an afterthought, with the skills not transferring to other classes or “real life.”  I found a solution to this when I tried a new classroom model: self-paced blended learning.  A self-paced classroom is able to provide personalized instruction via blended learning, with the right balance of autonomy and support to develop both cognitive and non-cognitive skills.  The students in my pilot program outperformed their peers on credit accumulation every trimester, but the real success was the social emotional growth I observed.    

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines Social Emotional Learning as, "the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”1  There are five SEL competencies, which I was able to address in the self-paced class.

Self-paced instruction is “any kind of instruction that proceeds based on learner response.”  We used a self-paced design as a pilot to support a variety of struggling learners.  We selected a group and scheduled them for a three hour block of class.  Within this block, we offered thirteen different blended learning classes.  The students chose which courses to focus on. I became a true learning facilitator, supporting all subjects, but responsible for one.   The advantage of the self-paced, blended learning model is that it allows for the integration of SEL skills as part of the structures of the academic class instead of a separate initiative.  


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My Classroom's Needs

As a Reading Specialist in a charter high school in Brooklyn, NY, I don’t fit the traditional teacher mold. I don’t teach full classes of students; I work with students in small groups or individual sessions in an office tucked away on our mezzanine. I provide struggling readers with individualized interventions to help them make sense of the complex texts they are receiving in their core classes.

When I began, I realized it was difficult and time-consuming to track over 20 students on a completely individual basis and still be available for intervention sessions and content teacher support. After I compiled data from diagnostic assessments and created individual goals, I realized I didn’t have a solid way to track their progress. Due to my nontraditional role as an educator, I didn’t fit into the grading system that other teachers used. My administrators were looking for concrete data that I did not have.  

Personally, I’m horrible with computers and technology. Never had a knack for it unless you count logging in to email and Googling what vegetables my dog is allowed to eat. Finding a digital way to track data was imperative since I couldn’t create my own system. Initially, I took two full days to set up a spreadsheet with rubrics and mastery levels I determined. That project was inefficient and unhelpful as it still required me to determine mastery levels and calculate student achievement individually. All teachers know there simply isn’t time for that. In attempting to compile data on my own without a grading system, I was losing time with students and my priorities shifted from Reading Specialist to Data Analyst.

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