Note from Eric Kalenze, Director of Education Solutions:

This week’s post is provided by guest blogger Dr. Karen Ruth-Jarmon. Dr. Ruth-Jarmon co-teaches science to middle schoolers at Best Academy, a dual-campus charter school in Minneapolis, MN, that is part of the Harvest Network of Schools. Dr. Ruth-Jarmon works at Best Academy East, a school providing culturally responsive and ELL education to East African scholars and their families. She and her Best Academy teammates have been learning about and implementing REACH research and resources across the campus’s middle grades since the beginning of this school year.

By Dr. Karen Ruth-Jarmon

During the summer of 2016, I had the opportunity to attend a class led by Search Institute about their REACH student motivation research. I was excited for the information and instructional resources but, as I was new to the Harvest Network of Schools, I wasn’t sure how the students would receive it.

As the school year started, it became apparent that time was a precious commodity for our teachers. I could tell right away that implementing REACH Activities and Techniques was going to be a challenge, in light of everything else the school had planned for students. Additionally, as all of my students are of East African descent, I was a little unsure about how they might react to the personal questions included in some of the Anchor Activities.

To take on these initial concerns, our team decided the best way forward would be to divide the REACH work up to make it more manageable and impactful. To free all team members from having to create another lesson, I took on the responsibility of providing PowerPoint presentations teachers could use, either ‘as-is’ or as foundations to be modified based on their and their scholars’ specific needs. The REACH Anchor Activity resources made the creation of these slide presentations fairly simple, and the included activities were easy to set up.

That, it turned out, was the easy part.

Although I felt like I had everything good to go, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men…

As I began working with my scholars on these Anchor Activities, I got some quick answers to those feelings of uncertainty I mentioned earlier. And clearly, I learned that simply working through the Anchor Activities as written wasn’t the best idea.

In the ‘Relationships’ Anchor Activities, for example, the kids didn’t like talking about what they felt were very personal questions. Though I hadn’t interpreted the questions that way, the scholars’ reactions were so clear and real that I decided I’d best take a different tack. I felt confident about planning customizations, though, as we’d learned in our workshops with Search Institute that REACH learning is far more about translating research insights into our practices than it is about delivering the Anchor Activities to the letter.

So instead of going straight through the Anchor Activities, I used movies to teach the REACH concepts and to get discussions about relationships moving. I also added audio and pictures to the PowerPoint presentations and looked for other ways to make REACH learning feel less like ‘just another class’ to my scholars, all to very encouraging results.

The movie idea, for example, worked wonderfully. We watched Life of a King, which stars Cuba Gooding, Jr., and is about chess clubs for young people in inner-city Washington, DC. It required a little editing, but it was ultimately a powerful way to engage scholars with REACH concepts like Relationships and Effort. (For the future, I suspect that Remember the Titans and Zootopia would also work well.)  It took two weeks of watching in small chunks to get through the entire movie, but I watched my scholars start looking forward to REACH time every day. In fact, they learned the names of the movie’s characters and got very emotional during certain scenes.

And viewing the REACH concepts through the movie (as opposed to through themselves, which they’d resisted), they readily saw things like the differences between growth and fixed mindsets, from REACH’s ‘Effort’ content. Also, in terms of the ‘Relationships’ category’s Developmental Relationships Framework, students could easily identify which characters actually cared for others and who didn’t, and who would ultimately benefit others’ positive growth.

As a class, presenting REACH ideas through a lens like Life of a King allowed us to go even deeper in discussions about redemption, sacrifice, and predators/prey. It was a wonderful experience for all of us, and no one felt as if they were in class!

If you are looking for ways to get your students more interested in REACH activities and concepts without feeling like it’s one more thing for you to do, look for ways to make it fun for both you and your students. Give students something to talk about and to interact around, even if it means modifying the activities in the Guidebook to meet your unique needs. You might have more fun than you expected!

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