kitchen table math, the sequel: middle school advisory

Friday, March 20, 2009

middle school advisory

Seeing as how CT has apparently mandated advisories in middle school, it's time to post this article by Daniel Deitte (pdf file):
When I was first hired as a middle school sixth grade teacher, I was thrilled. This was a position I had coveted for over four years....Soon after I started, however, I realized that one piece was missing; we did not have a strong advisory program. Yes, we had a structured advisory period for 29 minutes at the end of every day, but there was very little focus to our advisory. Something needed to be done about the lack of interest and focus during that time.


As I spoke about this with several of my colleagues, something else became very apparent to me …none of us had a clear picture of what was supposed to happen in a true advisory program.
Good reason to institute an advisory program and pay teachers a stipend to advise!

The worst part about running the advisory I described above was that I found myself dreading the last 29 minutes of each day. Inevitably, I had students who did not want to participate in S.Q.U.I.R.T [Super Quiet Uninterrupted Reading Time], or who never had any homework to do. Additionally, somewhere, early in my first year of teaching, I had decided that my advisory time would be a quiet time with the students needing permission to speak.
"A quiet time with the students needing permission to speak" is not an advisory.

In order to achieve this, I found myself yelling and constantly getting frustrated with the students.
Definitely not an advisory.

My first plan of action in making my change was to do some heavy research over the summer. I did not have a clear understanding of what an advisor’s role was. The Internet provided me with resources that would help me move toward this goal.
Taxpayers, take note.

We are paying certified teachers to assume roles that have not been defined by their superiors or the school board and for which they have no training. No one in this woman's school knows what an advisor or an advisory is and yet they've got advisors and advisories up the ying-yang because the middle school model includes advisories.

I found this definition to be the following: “An organizational structure in which one small group of students identifies with and belongs to one educator, who nurtures, advocates for, and shepherds through school the individual in that group” (Cole, 1992, p. 5).
Bingo. That is what takes place inside an actual advisory group headed by a teacher in a private or parochial school. One educator nurtures, advocates for, and shepherds through school the individuals in that group.

Furthermore, I found that, “Advisories should help students develop meaningful interpersonal relationships” (Dale, 1995, p. 3). Lastly, “Activities should be provided … that lead to the development of positive attitudes, values, and emotional control” (Connors, 1990, p. 165).

That's not an advisory.

An advisory (called a mentor group at Hogwarts) is focused on school first, relationships and attitudes second & then primarily as they relate to school. The mentor follows the kids' grades and steps in if grades start to slip. Since Hogwarts is a Catholic school, charity activities take place inside the mentor group, too, but the focus is academics and the kids' progress in their studies.

It bears repeating that the mentor advocates for the student. If the student is having a problem with another teacher, the advisor straightens things out. When we toured Rye Country Day, the student showing us around actually called the person heading advisory "your mom at school." Those were her words.

These definitions clicked immediately with me. It was that affective domain that seemed to need the most work with middle school students. It did not take me long to realize that my focus for advisory would be character education, teamwork, and community building.
Not an advisory.

Not worth the stipend taxpayers are shelling out.

As I delved deeper into my research, I found that out of 9,000 letters sent from middle school students to their U.S. Representatives, “Over 15% were concerned about their home and school environments” (Hoversten, Doda, & Lounsbury, 1991, p. 9). The question I formulated from all of my research, which would be the root of my year-long inquiry, was, “Will the development of character education, in the sixth grade advisory, create a strong sense of community, nurture teamwork, and help develop a sense of pride between each student and his/her fellow advisees?” This became my focus for the 2000-2001 school year.
The advisory is not a research project.

[M]y next task was to figure out how I would go about facilitating the implementation of character education into this advisory. I knew I did not want it to be in a lecture format. The last thing I wanted was to conduct lectures, and then to require them to take notes. My feelings were that I would quickly lose the kids if I tried this type of structure. Then I found a book written by Tom Jackson that discussed the importance of “Active Learning.”
Saw that one coming a mile away.

“Active Learning has people participate in their own learning process by involving them in some type of activity where they physically become a part of the lesson” (Jackson, 1995, p. 2). I knew I had what I wanted; I would use Active Learning to foster character, teamwork, and community building. I remember feeling the excitement building inside of me after having found a place to begin.

Character Education Provides Focus for Advisory by Danielle Deitte (pdf file)

There's plenty more where that comes from, none of it having to do with academics or responsible adults advocating for the students in their charge.

bonus points: Advocacy for Children by Siegfried Engelmann


SteveH said...

From the middle school model site on "Advice about Middle School Advisories":

"Last fall, before parent conferences, Stern asked her advisees to fill out a form designed to gather information about how students felt about school and how they thought their parents would respond to the upcoming advisory conference. 'Included on that form was the question What would you like me to discuss with your parents that you feel is difficult for you to address?' said Stern."

Absolutely astounding!

Redkudu said...

Our high school's "advisory" occurs once every six weeks. We are grouped with students according to alphabet, so I have a classroom full of students I do not know or teach, whom I only see once every 6 weeks, and whose grades I do not have access to. We are given "lessons" which we can conduct or not as we choose.

By the time we had our second advisory, I found out my students did not like me because I hadn't brought them any food. It is customary, apparently, to load them up with donuts and other snacks, or even tacos and pizza. I, naturally, have to pay for it all. I apologized to them sincerely and told them that I would not ever be able to fund that type of thing, but that I would do my best to address any questions or concerns they had.

The Thanksgiving advisory lesson we were given was about the minorities whose stories have been left out of Thanksgiving. Students were to go around the room and talk about how their culture has been left out of our American Thanksgiving tradition, and then do some little art project over it.

I threw that one out and taught them Sudoku instead. At the next meeting, we did Mad Libs together. (Most of them had never encountered either one.) For the next meeting, they've requested word puzzles like Scrabble and Boggle. We are now having a great time - they get a chance for play, which they have precious little of here, and they love to work as a group on the puzzles and etc. It isn't a perfect solution, but it's inexpensive for me, it's organized for them, and it's entertaining for us all for the 25 minutes we have together.

palisadesk said...

Not worth the stipend taxpayers are shelling out.

Are teachers paid extra for advisories in your district?

They aren't in mine, because the advisory activities occur during instructional time.

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