"All Aboard?": A Student Mentoring Program

by Raymond J. Dagenais, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Aurora, IL. USA

Providing the encouragement and support learners need in order to become active participants in their own learning is the goal of a recently established initiative at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA). The learners that are spoken of are teachers. Checking to see if all are "onboard" is the point of this news note.

Charter legislation in 1985 charged IMSA to "stimulate further excellence for all Illinois schools in mathematics and science." In response to this charge, the Summer 'AD'Ventures in Mathematics, Science, and Technology (S'AD'V) program was created. The experience was designed to break the mold and offer teachers the encouragement and support necessary to be able to experiment with integrated curricula, student-centered teaching and learning approaches, and alternative assessment methods in a relatively risk-free environment. The program brings together 7-8 grade and 9-10 grade students for a two week summer experience designed and facilitated by a staff of S'AD'V teachers.

The successful track record of this program, as evidenced by applicants numbers which far exceed the program's ability to meet the demand, has raised the issue of how to "scale up" the experience to satisfy the demand and, as a result, how to increase the number of teachers who could be successful S'AD'V teachers. In order to capture the character and essence of the role that a successful S'AD'V teacher plays in the program, veteran faculty members were asked to identify those attributes that a successful S'AD'V teacher possessed. Brainstorming built a listing of more than twenty attributes.

Clustering this pool of attributes and matching them against IMSA's seventeen Standards of Significant Learning produced a set of relevant standards, related focus topics, and performance criteria. The relevant Standards of Significant Learning, the related focus topics and the performance criteria outline the expected outcomes for eight novice S'AD'V teachers who will be working with veteran S'AD'V teachers. They also define the assessment component to be used for providing feedback in this professional development experience.

The focus topics identified by the veteran S'AD'V teachers aligned with five of IMSA's Standards for Significant Learning. The following standards were chosen to be the Relevant Standards of Significant Learning addressed in this initiative.

As a result of their involvement in this initiative, participants will demonstrate capacities to:

1. develop automaticity in skills, concepts, and processes that support and enable complex thought;

2. identify unexamined cultural, historical, and personal assumptions and misconceptions that impede and skew inquiry;

3. recognize, pursue, and explain substantive connections within and among areas of knowledge;

4. write and speak with power, economy and elegance; and,

5. identify, understand, and accept the rights and responsibilities of belonging to a diverse community.

The focus topics are the synthesized attributes which emerged from the brainstorming sessions. Each of these topics are explicitly related to the numerically matched Relevant Standards of Significant Learning and implicitly related to the other Standards. The focus topics are:

F-1 Constructivist learning theory

F-2 Cognitive flexibility

F-3 Teaching/learning strategies

F-4 Communication skills (written)

F-5 Teamwork habits of the mind

Performance criteria which are correlated to each focus topic outline evidence of the capacities being demonstrated by the novice S'AD'V teachers. These performance criteria are:

For the participants, these capacities are characterized by:

C-1 evidence of the understanding that the establishment of meaning resides with the learner, not the teacher;

C-2 evidence indicating cognitive flexibility and continual learning;

C-3 evidence of integrative approaches in the design of teaching and learning activities;

C-4 evidence of the ability to communicate effectively; and

C-5 evidence of the ability to function as a team player.

Rubrics have been written which permit a determination of the degree to which each performance criterion has been achieved. The evidence that will be reviewed will be produced by the novice S'AD'V teachers over the course of time they will be working with veteran S'AD'V mentor teachers. Each novice participant will create a Learning Experience Design (LED), a teaching and learning activity derived from the LED, and a written one page narrative. The Learning Experience Design will provide explicit evidence regarding criterion C-1. The teaching and learning activity will provide evidence regarding criteria C-2 and C-3. The written narrative will provide evidence regarding criteria C-4 and C-5.

These products will be collected, stored in a participant folder, and subsequently reviewed by a team of assessment specialists at the end of the experience. As a result of this professional development, performance assessment will provide valuable feedback to novice participants, to veteran teachers, and to program designers. The confidence and comfort level generated by the novice participants as a result of knowing how well the identified capacities have been evidenced will be a signal that all are indeed "onboard" and ready to conduct the journey themselves.

Further information regarding the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy's Professional Development Initiative Assessment Component can be obtained by writing to Dr. Raymond J. Dagenais, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, 1550 W Sullivan Road, Aurora, IL 60506-1000.