Wednesday, March 4, 2015

National Youth-At-Risk Conference 2015

So, back in November or whenever this conference was first mentioned to us teachers, I kind of let it slip past me.  I thought about how informative it would be, but then I thought about leaving for three days: leaving David shortly after returning from a deployment, leaving Zulu for the first time ever(!), writing sub plans, missing the classroom and causing the kids to lose structure.... the cons seemed to outweigh the pros.

But then, shortly before the deadline, I was asked again if I was interested in going and found out all the new teachers in the school were going! And since I'm a big nerd that actually misses sitting in lectures learning stuff (thanks, podcasts, keeping my brain growing!) I decided I should go.

So, here's a rundown of the speakers I saw and some things that I learned! I included links to speeches by most of them so you can feel included. :)

Marcia Tate, Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: 20 Instructional Strategies that Engage the Brain
1. The brain remembers what it writes down.
2. Story telling.
3. Use of mnemonic devices. Brain needs repetition. 
4. Visuals
5. Movement (Attention Span=Age; 5 year olds have roughly a 5 minute attention span... this tops off at 20 minutes for adults.)
6. Role play
7. Visualization
8. Metaphor, analogy, simile
9. Reciprocal teaching/ cooperative learning
10. Music
11. Graphic organizers
12. Drawing
13. Humor
14 Discussion-higher order Questions
15. Games
16. Project based instruction
17. Field trip
18. Manipulatives
19. Technology
20. Work study 

Geoffrey Canada, The Crisis Facing Youth: What Adults and Communities Can Do To Save Our Children
Geoffrey really spoke the truth, regardless of how he thought people would respond.  He said that if you're a teacher and you can't teach, you need to find another job.  He shared that it wouldn't be offensive if he said if you're a hairdresser and can't do hair, you need to find another job... but we have the option of which hairdresser we go to.  We're making our kids go to school regardless of whether or not the teacher is doing a good job.  Kids in poverty are getting some of the worst teachers because the better teachers are sent to the wealthiest districts... but it's the kids in poverty who need the best teachers, because the middle- and high-class kids will likely be fine regardless.

He recited one of the poems he wrote, Don't Blame Me. Here's a TEDTalk by him on our failing schools.

R. Byron Stringer, Toe Tag Monologues
The TOE TAG MONOLOGUES was written for Vision Theatrical Foundation by its Founder R. Byron Stringer. The monologues present real life and death situations that our children face daily, such as; school violence, drug abuse, bullying, drunk driving, gang violence, teen suicide, snitching, human trafficking, domestic violence, self-esteem and the result of making bad personal choices. Kids talk to kids, peer to peer, without the pressure.

Frank Kros, Change Your Language, Change Their Lives: What Adults Can Say Differently Today to Change the Brains of Tomorrow
Frank is a really entertaining speaker and reminds me a lot of Jason Bateman. (Of course I could be alone in making that connection!) Anyway, he was nice enough to send out his presentation if people emailed him for it.... so you can see the information he presented HERE, in addition to a handout on suggested language to use with your students HERE!

Lesley Clack, The Growing Prevalence of Mental Health Issues: How to Engage Parents and Youth
Okay... if I'm being really honest, I cannot apply this to elementary students, and certainly not Kindergarten students. Not sure why I chose this topic. It seemed interesting in the session catalogue, but it was really just a presentation of research findings.  Turns out, children and their parents do agree on their mental well-being, as well as their alcohol/substance abuse and delinquent behavior.  Parents perceive peer relationships better than children do and children perceive family relationships better than parents do. 

Dr. LaMarr D. Shields, "Girlhood" movie presentation and panel discussion with Shanae Watkins
This was one of the most powerful presentations I saw. Watching the movie, you can't help but think "WHAT? These young girls are in juvenile detention for WHAT? HOW can that even happen?" and you almost get nervous thinking about the fact that Shanae is going to be sitting right in front of you in a few moments. (Again, could have just been my personal feeling!) But the more the movie continues, the more you find yourself rooting for her and feeling proud of all she's accomplished since "the incident," as she refers to it.  Honestly, she's so normal and well composed that it's hard to believe the girl in the movie is the same person!

Joanne Billingsly, Making Content Sticky: What to do When Students Don't Get It or Can't Remember It
Joanne is one of those teachers (and we saw many at this conference) that you watch and you think "Do my students get this excited when I'm talking to them? I hope I'm half as entertaining and interesting as she is!" You can see some of her products and samples of what she showed us by clicking here.  She really makes reading a visual activity for her students, with the use of picture pages and "vocabulary in a bag":

Oh - Sentence puzzles were a really cute idea.  You type up an important sentence from your (boring) textbook, changing the font color of key vocabulary to red.  Enlarge the font so that only one or two words fit on a line; print and cut out the sentence puzzle.  Give the puzzle to a group of students to put back together.  They are reading the words and gaining meaning as they put it in order. Even the lower students who don't yet have the content knowledge can help based on sentence structure!

Picture pages have an eye-catching image for each key vocabulary term.  Terms are listed in a small font at the bottom of the page. As students discuss what they see in each picture, they will naturally begin to match the words to the pictures before instructions are even given to do so!

Dr. LaMarr D. Shields, From Civil Rights to Hip-Hop: Using Hip-Hop to Effectively Engage Youth At Promise, Not Youth "At Risk"
Again, a really good presentation but one I'm struggling to connect to my own students. Dr. Shields opened with a powerful skit connecting the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Tupac Amaru Shakur.  The whole session really opened my eyes to how much of a cultural force Hip-Hop is and how students can express themselves through songs and poetry that some people may find offensive.  I'm more open to listening to the words and trying to feel what's behind them instead of instantly changing the station or rolling my eyes at some loud bass pumping from the car beside me.  

Since I don't have a whole lot to share here, I'm going to share a link to Dr. Shield's TEDTalk!

Dr. Traci Jackson, Culture Shock: Electrifying School Climate Without Pulling the Plug!

Naturally we were all excited to support Dr. Jackson as she presented the ways she's transformed our school climate! With the level of support, appreciation and dedication she shows to each of her teachers, it's easy to see why people are so happy to come to work each day. :) Other principals were surprised to hear how she gives us end-of-the-month celebrations, ranging from dance parties in the front parking lot to smoothies to professional massages!  She really embodies the philosophy that when the principal takes care of the teachers, the teachers take care of the kids. 

And of course the trip allowed for staff bonding time!

NYAR 2015: Success.

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