Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Strategy Tuesday! Spotlight on Graig Meyer at Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate



Here’s the fifth of five strategies for this Strategy Tuesday.  We hope you’ve enjoyed learning from the outstanding tutors, mentors and sports coaches who we’ve highlighted today.  To receive additional strategies via e-mail each month, be sure to sign up for our “Superstars Alerts” on the right.

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The strategy below comes from Graig Meyer, the program coordinator at Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate, a program of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

The strategy will help you facilitate a meaningful “straight talk on race” with your student or mentee about the ways race and ethnicity are discussed and approached by book authors, screenwriters, song writers, media editors, and media producers.  It’s important not to rush this discussion.  You’ll likely facilitate it over a series of sessions.

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About Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate 
Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate is the flagship mentoring program of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.  The program relies on the relationship between mentor-advocates and students as the foundation for providing a variety of individualized services. BRMA students benefit from mentoring, advocacy, tutoring, enrichment opportunities, leadership development, and college scholarships. One hundred ten mentor-advocates are serving with Blue Ribbon this school year.

Strategy #5!

Discussing How Race & Ethnic Issues Are Portrayed in Media

Created by: Graig Meyer, Program Coordinator, Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate
(America Learns Network member since 2005)
Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate
Topics: Discussions about Race  
Grade Levels: Sixth – Adult  
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group; Large Group  
Materials: - “Straight Talk” article by Mitali Perkins

- "Black writers in a ghetto of the publishing industry's making" by Bernice McFadden (Washington Post opinion)

- The Seventeen Magazine Project

- Broadway Sees Benefits of Building Black Audience

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Situation: Guided by an editorial by author Mitali Perkins in the School Library Journal, this strategy is designed to help you have a “straight talk on race” with your student around how race and ethnicity are discussed and approached by book authors, screenwriters, song writers, media editors, and media producers. 

Note that while Perkins has a very strong opinion on the issues she addresses, you definitely don't need to share those feelings.  We also don't intend for you student to always experience media with a sharp lens towards how the media treats race and ethnic issues.

The point is to give your student an opportunity to think about these issues.  Consider studying opposing viewpoints as you discuss Perkins' arguments.

Setting Up the Discussion:

Read the editorial with your student and discuss any initial reactions your student has towards it.  (Note that these initial reactions may take up an entire session or more.)

Questions you may want to ask your student include:

  • As you read this piece, did you tend to agree with Perkins' arguments?  What did you agree with?  What didn't seem quite right? 
  • How would you go about proving Perkins right on any of the issues she raises?
  • Is Perkins exaggerating anything in the piece?
  • What would somebody who disagreed with Perkins argue?  How might that person try to prove her wrong?  How would Perkins respond?

Explain to your student that you'd like to review the five questions the editorial author raised in the article in terms of a book or movie that both of you are familiar with.

Ideally, both of you will have read (or will choose to read) one or more of the books the author mentions in the article.  If that's not a possibility, consider selecting a book or movie to analyze in light of the five big questions the author raises in her piece.

Even in the absence of racially diverse characters of the piece you and your student select, you can discuss this absence, the possible or actual intentions of the absence (if any), the meaning of the absence (if any), and the implications of the absence (if any).

Question 1: Are the nonwhite characters too good to be true?

Perkins writes:

Nowadays, though, many are overcompensating for the longtime exclusion of nonwhite characters in books and movies. Many writers and filmmakers are still using race as a tool to shape young audiences’ feelings about their characters. What’s the formula? White characters are equated with bad, and nonwhite ones are equated with good.

With the noblest of intentions, writers sometimes fall into this trap by making it clear that a secondary character is a person of color. These nonwhite friends or acquaintances often serve as literary foils for a white protagonist.

After re-reading this section with your student, consider discussing these questions:

  • Are nonwhite characters in the book/movie we're looking at too good to be true?  What details from the piece make you feel this way?  What about other pieces you've read or watched?
  • Perkins notes that some people believe that only people of a particular racial, cultural or ethnic group should be able to write about that group (e.g., only Jews should be able to write about Jews, and only Indians should be able to write about Indians).  How do you feel about that argument in terms of the piece we're looking at?  How do you feel about that argument in general?
  • Author Bernice L. McFadden wrote in this 2010 Washington Post opinion piece, "Literature about the oppressed written by the oppressor has a long tradition. The trend can be traced all the way to colonialism -- a movement that was not only physical but textual, the evidence of which can be found in the diaries, letters and journals of colonists, settlers and plantation slave owners."

    Let's imagine that people of a new race comes out of nowhere, and that for whatever reason, only white fiction authors put characters of that race in their their books.  It isn't until 50 years after the new race is born that people of that race start writing fiction with their own people as characters.  Are the pieces written by white authors automatically invalid?  What race/culture-related questions should readers be asking themselves as they read the pieces by the white authors?  What about race/culture-related questions to ask as one reads the works by people of that new race?
Question 2: How and why does the author define race?

Some books clearly define the race of characters, others leave it up to the reader's imagination.  Consider these questions:

  • How, if at all, does the author/screenwriter define race?
  • If race is defined, what was the purpose of doing so?  What, if anything, would be lost if the author had not defined race?
  • If race was not defined, were there signs that led the reader/viewer to know the racial or ethnic background of the main characters?
  • Perkins states that the race of characters who are not white is more often labeled than the race of characters who are white.  Do you agree?  If so, what examples can you think of? What would be some reasons for this practice?  Are those reasons acceptable to you?
Question 3: Is the cover art true to the story?

Perkins shows that the cover art of some books misrepresents the main character's race.  McFadden, in her opinion piece, wrote:

Kathryn Stockett and Sue Monk Kidd are living the dream of thousands of authors, myself included. But they are not the first white women to pen stories of the black American South and be lauded for their efforts. In 1928, Julia Peterkin wrote a novel, "Scarlet Sister Mary," for which she received the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Stockett's and Kidd's novels tackle racism and celebrate the power of friendship and acceptance. Both novels were given beautiful covers that did not reveal the race of the characters. Both books were marketed to black and white audiences.

My debut novel, "Sugar," was also published by a Penguin imprint. Set in the 1950s South, the story line deals with racism and celebrates the power of friendship and acceptance. The original cover depicted a beautiful black woman standing behind a screen door. "Sugar" was marketed solely to African American readers. This type of marginalization has come to be known among African American writers as "seg-book-gation."

Questions to discuss together:

  • What is the impact of this practice to individuals who are just browsing books in a store, in a library, or on the web?
  • How important was it for Perkins to change the ending of her story?
  • Does the cover of the book we're looking at together represent the characters appropriately?  Is the cover a result of "seg-book-gation"?
  • Should the characters who are written about the most in a book (or who are shown most in a movie) always be the most prominent ones in a cover/poster?  What if a sub-character in a movie is a bigger star than the lead, and that making the sub-character look like the main character will lead to more ticket sales?
  • Read the New York Times article, Broadway Sees Benefits of Building Black Audience.  Does "seg-book-gation" exist in the theater?  If it does, is that a bad thing?  How do the black theatergoers interviewed in the article seem to feel about some shows being marketed to African Americans?
Question 4: Who are the change agents?

Perkins states that a number of hit movies (e.g., Dances with Wolves and Freedom Writers) portray the white character as coming in to save the day.  Is this also true of books?  Here are some questions to discuss:

  • Who are the change agents in the piece we chose to look at?
  • Let's respond to Perkins' question in this section: "Is it easier for young white readers to connect to a story about poverty or suffering in a nonwhite culture if a white character helps solve the problem?"
  • If Perkins is correct on the whole, what impact does this reality make on individuals?  On society?
  • If you agree with Perkins, how do you think whites became the dominant change agents in books and movies?  Is this changing at all?
Question 5: How is beauty defined?

In many situations, beauty is defined by cultural characteristics (straighter hair, lighter colored skin, etc). According to Perkins, the idea that European features are “more beautiful” is true for people who are a part of a number of cultures.  She also argues that some people take specific actions to look more European (such as skin bleaching and hair straightening).  (Note that that these statements alone are topics that you may want to spend time discussing and researching with your student.)

What messages do we get in the media that determine our view of beauty?  To explore that question, Perkins recommends heading over to Media That Matters and watching the film “A Girl Like Me”. This short film re-examines an experiment done in the 1940's that evaluates children's perception of beauty and good vs. bad people.

You may also want to check out The Seventeen Magazine Project, a blog kept by Jamie Keiles as she followed Seventeen Magazine's tips for living over thirty days.

Watching the film and checking out the blog can inspire a conversation about what beauty is and looks like to your student.  Encourage your student to think about how specific books they read (or movies he has watched) have affected how he has defined beauty and how he looks at himself.

Additional questions to consider:

  • What do you think makes a person beautiful?
  • Who are some people that you think are beautiful?
  • Why do you think they are beautiful?  How did you come to shape your opinion?  How has it changed over time?
  • How is beauty portrayed in the book/movie we selected?
  • What does the media, as a whole, get right about beauty?  What does it get wrong?  
  • If you were the parent of a teenager, what, if any, steps would you take to help your child define beauty for herself?

Strategy Tuesday! Spotlight on Alexandria Murnan at Literacy AmeriCorps Palm Beach County



Here’s the fourth of five strategies for this Strategy Tuesday.

The strategy comes from Alexandria Murnan, an ESL tutor and AmeriCorps member with Literacy AmeriCorps Palm Beach County.

Below, you’ll get some great advice from Alexandria on how to teach adult ESL students to express regret in English.  It may not be the happiest of topics, but it’s a human one that ESL students need to master.

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About Literacy AmeriCorps Palm Beach County 
Literacy AmeriCorps Palm Beach County is a national service program that recruits recent college graduates to provide literacy services to adults, children and youth in our community. This "domestic literacy Peace Corps" contributes over 42,500 hours per year by tutoring and teaching, providing reading enrichment activities for children, participating in community service projects and recruiting community volunteers.

Strategy #4!

Reflecting to Recapture Focus & Positive Energy
(Learning to Turn a Day Around)

Created by: Alexandria Murnan, AmeriCorps member with Literacy AmeriCorps Palm Beach County
(America Learns Network member since 2009)
Topics: Vocabulary Development
Listening & Speaking Skills
Grade Levels: Adult (ESL)  
Arrangements: Large Group  

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Situation: I knew my students were passionate about learning polite phrases for day-to-day conversation.  I decided to teach the appropriate language for interpersonal communication in regards to expressing regret.  They told me how much they enjoyed learning this topic for weeks after I taught it.  They found it practical and it made them feel as if they could express themselves properly during serious conversations.
Step 1: Read the following story aloud as an introduction to the topic:

"Steven's grandmother was recently very sick and in the hospital.  She was 85 years old and had the flu.  Steven's grandmother was sick for about a week in the hospital and was in a lot of pain from a bad cough.  On Sunday, his grandmother passed away.  Steven is very sad about his family's loss.  However, Steven knows that his grandmother had a long and wonderful life.  The family is holding a funeral on Thursday."

After you read the story, go over any words or phrases the students didn't recognize.  Review phrases such as "passed away", "family's loss", and "hold a funeral".

Ask your students to retell the story to you in their own words to ensure their comprehension.  You may wish to write certain components of the story on the board, or hand out copies of the story and read it aloud together so that they can see the words and understand the entire situation.

Step 2: Ask your students what they would say if they were having a conversation with Steven and he told them that his grandmother had passed away.  Make a list together of common things to say when someone tells you bad news.

This could include:

·  "I'm sorry to hear that."

·  "I'm sorry for your loss."

·  "That's a shame."

·  "If there is anything I can do, please let me know."

·  "Please send my condolences to your family."

·  "Your family is in my thoughts and prayers."

Step 3: Recite the following dialogue while the students listen.

Steven: Hello, Michelle.  How are you doing?

Michelle: I'm doing well.  How are you?

Steven: I'm alright.  My grandmother just passed away.

Michelle: Oh. I'm sorry to hear that.  How did she pass?

Steven: She recently had the flu and was sick.  The funeral is on Thursday.

Michelle: Please send my condolences to your family.

Steven: I will.  I'll talk to you later, Michelle.

Michelle: Alright.  See you soon, Steven.  I am so sorry for your loss.

Next, pass out copies of the dialogue to the students.  Read it aloud again and ask the students to follow along.  Ask the students to work in partners to recite the dialogue.  After, ask a few sets of partners to come up and recite it in front of the class.

Step 4: Discuss other bad news that people may bring up in conversation.  Make a list with the students.

This could include:

·  Someone gets fired from a job.

·  Someone gets hurt.

·  Someone breaks up with a significant other.

·  Someone is sick.

Discuss which phrases are appropriate for certain bad news.  For example, it is most appropriate to tell someone to send your condolences when someone has died, and not when someone has received a bad grade on a math test.   However, some of the phrases are appropriate in many regretful situations.

Step 5: Extension Activity:

If you want to give your students further practice with expressing regret to others, you could divide your class into small groups and instruct each group to create their own dialogues.  Give each group of students a sorrowful situation, such as those listed in Step 4, and ask them to work together to write and perform a conversation based on that situation.  Walk around to each group and help them think of ideas and check their writing.  At the end of each group's performance, ask the rest of the class comprehension questions about what happened in the conversation to make sure everyone pays attention!

Strategy Tuesday! Spotlight on Danica Ancell at Long Beach BLAST!



Here’s the third of five strategies for this Strategy Tuesday.

The strategy comes from Danica Ancell, a thoughtful service learning student and mentor with Long Beach BLAST in Long Beach, CA.

Below, you’ll learn how Danica created a strategy at the beginning of the school year to begin learning about her students.  Her “mandala” strategy gives tutors and mentors a huge amount of information that can be used to make future sessions relevant and meaningful to students.

About Long Beach BLAST
Since 2000, Long Beach BLAST has placed approximately 4,000 service learning college student mentors with K -12 students at risk of academic failure. Some service learners provide one-on-one tutoring and homework assistance. Others offer rich lessons in technology, science, and the arts. The service learners function as role models, opening the doors to the possibility of higher education and careers.

Strategy #3!

Dream Mandalas
(Learning How Students See Themselves and Their Futures)

Created by: Danica Ancell, service learning student and mentor with Long Beach BLAST 
(America Learns Network member since 2003)
Topics: Getting to Know Your Student  
Grade Levels: Fourth – Eighth  
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group; Large Group  
Materials: - Magazines
- Card stock or poster board
- Glue
- Scissors

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Situation: Using a Dream Mandala can be a GREAT way to get some students to identify where they are and where they would like to be in life. 

The mandala creation process not only gets your students thinking about their futures, but also gives you information that you can use to frame your sessions around your student's goals, motivating your student to really get on board with the time you spend together.

Step 1: Give each student a piece of card stock or poster board, and instruct them to draw a large circle on it.

They will need to bisect the circle as well...into two even pieces (with pen NOT scissorsimage

Step 2: Explain to the students that they can flip through the magazines and find pictures that represent who they are today.  They will glue/tape those to one side of the mandala.

If your students cannot find pictures that resonate with them, they can draw their own pictures, find art online, or use words.  They definitely should not post pictures that really do not resonate with how they feel about their present.

Step 3: Your students will then look for or create their own pictures/words for the other side of the mandala.  These images or words will represent who they want to be in the future.

Be sure to define what the “future” means for your students.  Does that mean next year? In five years?  In 20 years?

Remind your students that they don’t only have to focus on professions.  They can focus on the roles they want to play in their families and on personal characteristics (e.g., “honest,” “caring,” “understanding”).
Step 4: As the mentor, you can work on your own mandala or you can help your students look for images and words.

As you notice their selections, take the opportunity to ask questions that allow you to learn more about each student, such as:

  • What led you to choose that picture to represent your present / your future?
  • How are you working to make what you hope for your future happen?
  • What steps do you need to take to make what you want for your future to happen?  (If your student doesn't know the steps he should follow, you’ll find a number of strategies here (for America Learns Network members only) to help you create a game plan with your student and to check in on his progress regularly.)

Obviously, do not not criticize your students’ present or dreams.  If anything comes up that concerns you, connect with your supervisor or program coordinator.

Step 5: Use what you learn from this exercise to shape your future sessions so that you can make them relevant to your students. 

Your students will love hearing the following at the beginning of a mentoring session: “I learned so much about each of you when we made our mandalas.  A number of you are planning to become doctors or scientists, so during today’s session, we’re going to focus on some important information that you’ll need in order to reach your goals.”

You might also bring out the mandalas every few months and ask your students if they want to change anything.  Perhaps some of what they noted for the future can be shifted to the present, or perhaps they have completely new thoughts for their futures.  Let your students know that it’s perfectly okay to change how they see themselves in the future.

Strategy Tuesday! Spotlight on Sara Smith at Girls Inc. of Alameda County



Here’s the second of five strategies for this Strategy Tuesday.

The strategy comes from Sara Smith, an awesome AmeriCorps member with Girls Inc. of Alameda County in San Leandro, CA.

Below, you’ll learn how Sara taught her students how to turn around days that aren’t going so well.  Please let us know how you use or adapt this strategy for the children you’re working with!

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About Girls Inc. of Alameda County
The organization is dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.  In 2007, Girls Inc. of Alameda County served 7,000 girls and their families through year-round academic, enrichment and skills building programs, as well as counseling services. The purpose of these programs – specifically designed for girls ages 5-18 – is to expand girls’ capacity for confident and responsible adulthood, economic independence, and personal fulfillment.

We’re fortunate to work with the organization’s AmeriCorps program, which is made up of the following components:

AmeriCorps members deliver a dynamic and structured after-school literacy program for girls in grades kindergarten through third.  The members also provide one-on-one and small group assistance to students during the school day.

AmeriCorps members deliver an afterschool enrichment program that has been designed to increase 4th and 5th grade girls' levels of engagement with their families, physical fitness skills, literacy skills, and self-esteem.

Super Stars: 
AmeriCorps members deliver a dynamic and structured after-school literacy program for a co-ed group of kindergarten, first and second graders.  The members also provide one-on-one and small group assistance to students during the school day.

Strategy #2!

Reflecting to Recapture Focus & Positive Energy
(Learning to Turn a Day Around)

Created by: Sara Smith, AmeriCorps member with Girls Inc. of Alameda County 
(America Learns Network member since 2010)
Topics: Behavior  
Grade Levels: Fourth – Sixth  
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group; Large Group  

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My group was have a rough day with their behavior management.  One girl was sent home, and another was removed from the group for the day.  There were lots of conflicts and they were having trouble following directions.

The most frustrating part was it was the day we had planned a special cooking project in celebration of the three really good days they had previously.  I was feeling discouraged that we might not be able to do the cooking project because the group wasn't earning it.

Step 1:

I gave them one last chance to show me they were ready by taking some time out for reflection. 

Each girl was given her journal and asked to write about something positive she did that day.  It could be before school, during school, or so far in the after-school program. 

Step 2:

Then, they were asked to write about how it made them feel to do something positive.

Step 3:

Next, we took about five minutes to quietly reflect on that feeling and try to mentally return to that place in our minds, despite what else might have happened during the day.

Step 4:

We talked about how reaching a certain consequence doesn't mean you should feel bad about yourself and that you can still turn your day around.

By the time we were done, the girls' attitudes were completely different and they were clearly ready for the activity.  Several girls stated that they felt like a weight had been lifted off their shoulders.  We completed the cooking project, and they did a fabulous job.  They really enjoyed the project, and we ended our lesson on a very positive note.

Welcome to the First Ever Strategy Tuesday!



You survived Black Friday.  You conquered Cyber Monday. 

It’s now time for the first ever STRATEGY TUESDAY.

Yes, we’re starting a new post-Thanksgiving tradition here at America Learns.  From today forward, on the first Tuesday following Thanksgiving, we’ll be sharing five of the best strategies that have been contributed by superstars at the amazing education and human development organizations that we have an opportunity to serve.

The line-up for today is below.  The strategies will be posted throughout the day.

  1. One-on-One Game Debrief – Check this out below!
    By Shannon Burns, a coach and AmeriCorps member serving at America SCORES Bay Area through Coach Across America

  2. Reflecting to Recapture Focus & Positive Energy (Learning to Turn a Day Around)
    By Sara Smith, a tutor and AmeriCorps member with Girls Inc. of Alameda County

  3. Dream Mandala (Identifying One’s Present and Envisioning One’s Future)
    By Danica Ancell, a service learning student and mentor with Long Beach BLAST

  4. Learning to Express Regret
    By Alexandria Murnan, an ESL tutor and AmeriCorps member with Literacy AmeriCorps Palm Beach County

  5. Discussing How Race & Ethnic Issues are Portrayed in Media
    By Graig Meyer, the program coordinator of Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate

Strategy #1!

One-on-One Game Debrief

Created by: Shannon Burns, Coach & AmeriCorps Member at America SCORES Bay Area through Coach Across America
(America Learns Network member since 2009)
Topics: Giving Feedback
Engagement & Motivation
Grade Levels: Third - Fifth  
Arrangements: Small Group; Large Group  

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Because the children are quick to disperse after games, I wanted to make sure I was giving each girl feedback on how they played: their strengths and improvements as well as areas of growth that we would focus on in the future. 

By taking time over the weekend to do a quick write-up for each girl and then meeting with each one briefly on Monday to go over what I wrote, they see that I am paying attention to them and care how they are performing and learning.  Having documentation of how they've improved throughout the season also helps me cater practice to meet their needs.

Step 1:

Take some time after each game to jot down some notes for each player.

Make sure to highlight some things they did well or that you noticed improvement in, along with a couple things you see they could continue to work on.  Also think about about how each player affected the overall team’s performance and attitude/energy.

Step 2:

During the first practice after a game, have a brief meeting with each player to go over what you noticed. 

My players are thrilled to see that I pay attention to their individual performance.  By mentioning the positive things I recognized first, any improvements I suggest are more aptly received than they sometimes are out on the field.

Step 3:

Date the notes you jot down about your athletes, and keep track of them. 

This way, you can mark their progress and continue to see where the team as a whole could use the most growth.  This can help you plan out future practices or coaching strategies during the games.

Step 4:

Take advantage of this one-on-one time by allowing each child to give you any feedback, as well. 

They may have valuable insight into the game or the team dynamic that you didn't catch, so ask questions like:

  • What did you do well last game? 
  • Based on last game, what do you want to improve at? 
  • What did the team as a whole do well?  Were you able to contribute to that effort?  How?
  • How does the team as a whole need to get better?  How can you help the team get better?

As you talk, be sure to ask each athlete if they can share specific examples to back up their observations (and jog your memory!). 

This is a great way to get to build stronger relationships with each athlete.  Your athletes will really appreciate knowing that you’re watching and care about their progress, that they are being heard, and that the have a say in what they are learning.