This summer was my third AVID institute, not counting the weekend seminar I did a couple years ago. I’ve done the Math 1 strand (twice), and the AVID for elective teachers once. I was supposed to be scheduled for the Tutorology session, but long story short I’m NOT going to be one of the AVID elective teachers this coming school year. So I can finally do the Math 2 strand. Yay!
Besides all the quality bonding/team-building time with my colleagues, I walked away from summer institute this year with summaries on these 3 big essential questions:
1. How do I convince my reluctant colleagues to jump into the AVID cool-aid?
The people I know who are less than bought in on AVID all have one common thread amongst them: they dislike how AVID is very ‘my way or the highway’ in terms of the entire system, structure, pedagogy, and philosophy. And I see how that perception can come about. There’s an AVID book – er, books, I should say – that read like a sports play book. The highly structured binder checks, Cornell notes and interactive notebook, Socratic Seminar, Philosophical Chairs, etc….it can seem very paint-by-numbers and there’s a good contingent who don’t like that.
A lot of the strategies, and even the general philosophy, of AVID are not actually….well, AVID. AVID kind of claims these things, renames them, and stamps it with their brand. And if people don’t like that, well, me too. Any teacher knows that organization of both materials and thoughts are important for success. Socratic Seminar is a version of fishbowl discussion. Philosophical Chairs is basically 4 Corners. And Cornell notes came from Cornell.
However, I’ve never once got the impression that any AVID person, nor the organization as a whole, have claimed these strategies because they want to also claim the credit for coming up with them. What AVID does is compiles the practices research says improves learning, synthesizes then chunks it, and scaffolds it for teacher professional development. Yeah, schools pay for the AVID accreditation process as well as for the resources and services AVID provides – and it’s rather expensive and sometimes convoluted. But the expense of a product and the convolution of a company rarely hinders people from purchasing, say, $200 running shoes.
AVID highly encourages people to take these strategies and make them your own. They have an outline, description, and samples of each strategy that is incorporated into an AVID elective or subject matter class. But in no way is one limited to following these step-by-painstaking-step. The AVID handbook for each subject/strand changes from year-to-year. More is added. Things that were not clear are made clearer. The complicated becomes streamlined. The AVID site plan is a living, breathing document for a living, breathing process. These characteristics about AVID have helped me to become a more empowered teacher.
To summarize, a) you may already be AVIDed, since these ideas are not new. You just don’t realize it! And b) AVID is less of a defined box and more of a growing, living flexible blob.
2. What was the most challenging thing to implement?
This question was asked of me by a Math 1 person when I was asked to go and present what I learned from Math 2 and in my practice of AVID strategies. Surprisingly, I didn’t know any of the following until I verbalized it in front of a table full of AVID newbies. I’m grateful to the person who asked this question.
Nothing about AVID was challenging to implement. Gosh, I sound so conceited. Let me explain.
First, I again repeat that none of the strategies in the AVID handbooks are new. I learned the basics of all these things during my credentialing program, or at other trainings, or just through experience. Organization is a taught and practiced skill, not just something to nag a student about. Note-taking and note-revising is another skill that will serve students throughout their lives, whether in college or outside of it. Being culturally and linguistically relevant helps close the achievement gap between under-resourced students and their more fortunate peers. I didn’t just drink the cool-aid, I was born in it. I live in it. It’s my water.
Second, I have a lot of interest in refining my teaching practice. I’m invested in it. In the trenches, I see the lightbulbs go off. My current students tell me about the brand new world I helped open for them – math is accessible to them now. It’s not as confusing, not as anxiety inducing. Hey! A few of them even like it now. My past students come back and tell me how they have used every skill I taught them, and how well these skills have served them.
Implementing AVID strategies – any new strategy, for that matter – is difficult, time-consuming, slow, hit-or-miss, trial-and-error. It is also enjoyable. So I don’t find it challenging, even if it can be a challenge.
3. Is it possible for a non-advanced/non-accelerated class to also be rigorous?
I’m not sure that a lot of people, including my principal, understand this. I thought it was just him, but after doing some link research for another post, I realized that he probably isn’t the only one. Great Schools considers only advanced courses as rigorous. Many parents push for their students to be in the accelerated math pathway at my site. I suppose the people who DO think it is possible for a non-advanced/non-accelerated class to be rigorous is actually in the minority.
Anyway, when we were going through Costa’s Levels of Thinking, it totally hit me much harder than ever before. Higher order thinking does not necessarily equate with higher level math knowledge. In the Math 2 strand, I met a teacher who teaches a higher level math than I do, but at the same time struggled enough with the math part so as to constantly need guidance through solving the problems in each lesson demonstration – lessons that came from a lower level math than the one she taught.
Another example: An 8th grade student might not have any idea of how to find f‘(4) of a given function, but in essence this is still kind of a ‘plug-and-chug’ problem. In contrast, consider this volcano problem. The content standard is from 7th grade, or thereabouts. The threshold is at a low enough point that anyone can find a place to start. But it definitely NOT only level 1 thinking on Costa’s scale.
In the end, I suppose it comes down to how a school site defines rigor. Clearly, my principal defines rigor to be higher math knowledge. I would respectfully disagree.
4. Never ever leave a street parking spot without checking to make sure whether it is metered or not.
Unless you want a $50 parking ticket. ‘Nuff said.
What has your experience with AVID been like?