Top Young Adult Books for Women's Studies
About ten years ago I picked up a book called "Half the Sky". Within the first chapter I read this quote: "More than 100 million women are missing..." at any given time. This is because of trafficking, gendercide, domestic violence, etc. This quote, and this book, really struck me. I mentioned it, and the PBS documentary that goes along with it, to a few of my high school advisory students. They were interested, largely because many of the issues resonated with them personally. These students led project-based learning experiences on some of the issues and shared their final products with the school community.
One of my coworkers was particularly inspired by their projects and suggested that we start a school-wide book club on women's issues. The interest, participation, and engagement was astounding, from students of all genders and backgrounds. Over the past ten years, since this book club got its start, we have read dozens of books centering around women - women's history, women's oppression, stories of achievement, books with powerful and inspiring female characters, and more.
Girls around the world are faced with extraordinary challenges on a daily basis simply because of their gender. Have your students read these books because they are relevant, real, relatable, teach empathy, and they're interesting. We also all suddenly have a lot of time on our hands with school closures. I connect these books with self-directed project-based and problem-based learning experiences, which is perfect for distance learning when we need our teens to be able to work independently.
Head to TPT to get your hands on these TpT resources - Women's Issues Community Action Project and Women's Studies PBL Project. You can also check out my free Start a PBL Project Cheat to help students design and lead projects on women's studies.
There so many great young adult books, and many books that celebrate and study women. I chose these specific books to add to this list because they are student favorites. Read all books yourself before reading them with kids. Consider your student population, their age and maturity level, backgrounds, etc. Not all books are appropriate for all students. Use discretion.
1. Sold, by Patricia McCormick
I love to read this book with my students because one of the themes it explores is the power of "education". This book is about a young Nepali girl who is sold to a brothel in India. It is an amazing story of perseverance. This book is not a true story but is based on the very real issue of human trafficking.
2. I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erik L. Sanchez
Many adolescents can relate to this book. Although the storyline - a young teenage girl tracking down secrets about the life of her sister who abruptly passes away - is a little out there, but the themes throughout the book are relatable, the focus being on the unreachable expectations of and pressures on girls.
3. Renting Lacy, by Cindy Coloma and Linda Tuhiwai Smith
This was a breakthrough book for my students. This book is based on a true story (true stories), and takes place in the United States. Sex trafficking is a global issue.
4. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, by T Kira Madden
This is another student favorite. Many of students understand the writer's situation and feelings precisely because they have experienced them first hand. They are part of the "tribe". The book is so well written, however, that even those that do not belong to the "fatherless tribe" take something profound away from this reading experience.
5. Girls Like Us, by Rachel Lloyd
This book is a memoir, a true account of the author's escape from the commercial sex industry as a child. She later founded GEMS - Girls Education and Mentoring Service - to help other young survivors in New York City. More student-directed PBL projects have come out of this book than any of the other books we have read as a group.
6. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
This is such a powerful book about race, police brutality, self-concept, voice confidence, loyalty to family and friendship, and justice, all challenges teens face everyday. All teens should read this book, but I have it on a women's studies reading list because the main character is female. Her gender identity plays an important role in the story.
7. Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld
Uglies is a book series that takes place in a dystopian future. The book chronicles Shay's required surgical transformation from "ugly" child to "stunning" adult. This book evokes dialogue about self-confidence and body image, among other things.
8. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
Go Ask Alice was written in 1971 and is still relevant today. I first learned of this book from a student and it continues to be a favorite book club read. That is why I included it on this list. The story centers around a girl who develops a drug addiction at age 15 and runs away from home. Although it is classified as a young adult book, there is strong language as well as graphic details of abuse. Read it before reading with students.
9. Refugee, by Alan Gratz
Refugee is not even remotely centered around women's studies. The book focuses on three separate refugee stories that ultimately interconnect in some way. The three main characters are teenagers, one of which is female. Her story, although fictional, blew me away. So, this book is included on this list simply because of this character and her strength, determination, and grit.
10. A Walk Across the Sun, by Corban Addison
Another book about trafficking! I realize there are many of these on this list, but of all of the women's topics that we read about, my students are the most interested in trafficking.
11. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak is a powerful book about an unfortunately relatable issue; sexual abuse and rape. The main character, Melinda, is raped at a party. Throughout the course of the book she gradually comes to grips with what happened to her. She speaks out and finds her voice. This is an especially important book for young people to read, of all gender identities, in the thick of the "me to" movement.
12. I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced,
by Delphine Minoui and Nujood Ali
Nujood is married off by her father at age ten to a man in his 30's. This book is her TRUE story of child marriage, abuse, and her escape to freedom.
The following books are not young adult books and may be too much for your student population. Each of these books was added to this list because they highlight the bravery, determination, and resiliency of female characters. And my students love them.
"Half the Sky" is what started this journey for me and my students. This book is not really one that students want to read through from front to back. It's not a story; it's journalism. While I read the other books with my students I pull quotes, statistics, and personal stories from Half the Sky.
1. I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai
This memoir is the inspiring story of a young girl from Pakistan who strongly and vocally advocates for girls' education. In doing so she and her family become targets of the Taliban.
2. Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
This book is not specifically about women's issues, but the book focuses on several female characters, all faced with a variety of female-centric conundrums from friendship loyalties to motherhood to female reproductive health. READ this book before reading it with students. You may not find it appropriate for your audience.
3. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
This is the story of a girl who is abandoned by her family and is left to fend for and educate herself. It's interesting for students to follow along through the various stages of her life.
4. Educated, by Tara Westover
This is an incredible true story of a girl's struggle in a violent home and the choices and sacrifices she makes to escape the abuse.
5. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
This novel takes place in a dystopian future. In this patriarchal society, women are forced into a variety of roles. The book focuses on the perspectives of these different women and the choices they make to either accept their fate or gain their independence, and at what stakes.
6. The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah
I LOVE this book. I read this book with a few of my students, and the sentiment is shared. The story about a small family that move to Alaska to start over. The father, who suffers from PTSD, is violent toward his teen daughter and wife. This is a powerful story about love, parenthood, loyalty, friendship, survival and so much more.
7. Everything Here is Beautiful, by Mira T. Lee
This is one of my favorite books right now. Everything Here is Beautiful is interesting book about mental health, several stories written from different perspectives. The main characters are sisters, one with bipolar. This topic highly resonates with my student population, but I believe it resonates with most. We have all been impacted by mental illness either directly or indirectly. Mental health is an important topic in and of itself, but I added this book to a list of books on women's studies because of its focus on sisterhood, motherhood, and women's health.
8. 1000 White Women,
I was floored when I learned that this book was based on actual historical events. 1000 white women is a really interesting book about volunteers for the "Brides for Indians" program started by the U.S. government in the 1870's. Aside from that mind-blowing foundation of the story, the side stories and pictures painted of a woman's worth and their role in 1800's America is fascinating.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
Normally I would write a post on the importance of advisory culture at the beginning of the school year when students are getting to know you and each other and settle in. I highly recommend revisiting this post in the fall for that reason. However, around this time, classroom moral can tend to take a dive. Students are exhausted, the winter keeps dragging on, state testing is on the horizon, seniors are anxious about what the future holds, and so on. I understand these feelings, as I feel many of them myself. This is the time to reflect, reset, and kickstart spring with a renewed attitude. I have found that this is best accomplished by starting at the source: classroom culture.
When your advisory (or any learning group for that matter) is strong, a positive attitude, motivation, productivity, inspiration, and engagement tend to follow. By "strong advisory" I mean a group that trusts one another, is inspired by each other, work well together and are enthusiastic about doing so, and support each other through the tough moments. There is a kinship, a camaraderie that is so unique to this specific group of individuals.
So, if you're feeling a lull in your advisory, classroom, homeschool co-op, or any other learning group, start by building the group back up. I wouldn't say that I am the best educator out there, but I can say that I have always had a strong advisory/class culture, and that is the result of making this extraordinary bond a priority.
Check out some of the activities that I have done with my advisory and other learning groups to improve advisory culture.
How to Build a Strong Advisory Community
Create advisory goals as a group. Examples:
Create advisory rules and/or expectations together. It may seem counterproductive to have students weigh in when it comes to class rules. Their rule would be “the rules are there are no rules!”, right? Surprisingly, this is not how students respond when you tell them they will participate in creating and implementing their own group rules. The class rules or “expectations” if you prefer, will in part reflect their advisory goals. For example, if one of the advisory goals is to cultivate a safe and productive learning environment, one rule might be to respect everyone’s space and physical boundaries at all times. Allowing students the opportunity to set the rules gives them voice and accountability. Doing this at the beginning of the year then sets the precedent that their voices are heard and respected by you. If it is mid-year, come back to these goals. Use them as a reminder or modify them as a group.
Advisory Group Challenge:
A favorite thing to do with my students at the beginning of each year (and periodically after that when we need a little pick-me-up) is to take them out of the building to do something together, preferably something challenging. I usually take my students to climb a fire tower, hike to a breathtaking view or lookout, or hit up a city skyscraper, taking the stairs to the top. Each of these activities are both physically and mentally challenging, especially if those participating have a fear of heights. Therefore, it is a great accomplishment for students to achieve together.
I have found that these experiences foster group mentality. Each individual makes it their personal goal to get everyone to the top. They support each other, and the results, whether that be the accomplishment or the view, are well worth it. Of course there are some logistical obstacles to consider, and this isn't an option for everyone. If this type of experience isn't possible for your group, use the basic concept to create a similar bonding experience - 1) non-competitive, 2) challenging but not impossible, 3) there is a common/group goal in mind.
Advisory Theme Project:
Ask students during the first week of school to complete mini-projects (independently or in pairs) under a specific theme, and have them present to the other advisories at the end of the week.
Theme ideas: make a short documentary, upcycling projects, family traditions, cooking, create a game, hobbies, try something new. The options are endless. This activity gets students on the same page, working toward the same goal. They feel united by a common objective.
Check out all my project-based learning resources in my TpT store. Students choose their own project sub-topic under a specific theme.
Brand Your Advisory:
I usually have my advisory come up with an advisory name at the beginning of the school year. I have a small group, so we usually sit in a circle on the first day, or within the first few days of school and talk one out. Ideas are thrown out, we vote, a name is established. A name is fun, but useless in the long-run if it is never used. If you're feeling a lull later in the year, propose the following add-ons:
There is no better way to build a strong group culture than giving. There are a variety of ways you could do this. I have found these experiences to be most successful when I give the students voice, when they are passionate about the issue or purpose, and when the experience involves the entire group. All it takes is a little class discussion to spark some service-learning ideas. Many of our group service learning projects have been inspired by current events. We watch Vice News episodes together and go from there. Check out my Vice News episode worksheets and extension activities to get students inspired. You can also head to my Community Action Projects, which provides all of the guiding materials and templates for student-directed service learning experiences.
Plan and Host School Events:
Hosting school events and activities really bring students together. It is something that they can take pride in executing as a team. My students have planned some of the following school-wide activities.
Student-Led Advisory Fundraisers:
Every year my students choose to plan several fundraisers with the intention of raising money to add to the class budget. The money we raise almost always goes towards field trips. They could also donate the money to a charity. The process of planning and executing an event is such a great way to build a strong community within your advisory.
Large Group Project:
Unlike the theme project that is done independently or in small groups, this is a project done as entire advisory group. It takes quite a bit of coordination on your part but is worth the time and energy spent. Each student of the advisory plays a role in the bigger picture. My students have done all of the examples below. There are so many more options! Talk with your group.
Advisory Book Club:
Discuss book interests, take a vote, and settle on STUDENT-CHOSEN books to read for an advisory book club. Read together in class or have them read on their own time and meet back as a group for book discussion.
A “family” meal is when the advisory cooks and shares a meal together. It’s a very informal way of sitting down, enjoying food together and having some casual conversation. It breaks away from the academic rigors of the day and gives us time to just enjoy each other’s company. It also teaches some pretty basic life skills that some students haven’t yet mastered, such as contributing to the clean-up process or setting the table.
Sparks and Community Experts:
Invite community members into your class periodically to speak. It can be on anything. It could be related to a current event you’re discussing in class. It could be related to one of the life skills seminars you are giving. It might just be an interesting speaker that you think your students might like. It could be ANYONE. Examples:
Phew! That was a lot. The experiential school where I have been my entire teaching career highly values and encourages relationship building. My learning space was to be safe, trusting, inspiring, exciting, supportive, encouraging and so on and so on. If you are sensing apathy, discouragement, behavioral issues, conflicts between students, etc., start to remedy the situation by building that classroom community back up. Hopefully there is something here in this post that you can start with! Good luck!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on TpT, Pinterest, and Instagram for more on experiential education.
I love the quote below, for one, because Amy Poehler said it. I also like to use it as the goal for my advisory: to create a space for my students where they are "challenged and inspired".
Project-Based Learning End Products to Demonstrate Learning
I have seen students produce some pretty outstanding projects in my 11 years as a project-based educator, but those projects typically came from experienced project-based learners. There is a learning curve with PBL, and it requires breaking some pretty strong habits that have formed from prior training in more traditional learning environments.
The biggest challenge for me has been getting students to think more creatively and authentically about how they will demonstrate learning and share new skills and knowledge with a relevant audience. Based on habit and ease, students naturally gravitate toward poster boards and slideshow presentations - even veteran project-based learners.
Students also default to poster boards and slideshows because they know they'll have to present their project at some point. These tools are practical ways to present information, but may rob students of deep, meaningful learning. Limiting end products to poster boards and presentation slideshows also takes choice away from students, which is essential in project-based learning. There are many avenues for student choice in project-based learning, and one of those is choice in end product. There are plenty of options to choose from. It's just a matter of getting students in the habit of thinking outside of the box. Scroll down for a list of 100 alternatives to poster boards!
Check out these previous posts for details on the general framework of PBL if you haven't seen them already: What is Project-Based Learning Anyway? and Key Components of Project-Based Learning. My next post will be on authentic presentations, which goes hand-in-hand with innovative final products. I will get into community experts and PBL assessments as we move into July. Stay-tuned!
Note: Summer is a great time to start looking into project-based learning if you're interested in starting it with students in the fall. I will continue to post throughout the summer on PBL, so check back frequently. You can also head to my TpT store where most of my resources are project-based.
Poster Board Alternatives
1) Create a magazine
2) Write trivia (Kahoot is a great online trivia game program)
3) Make an interactive exhibit
4) Make a board game
5) Engineer a moving model (ex: demonstrating synaptic transmission)
6) Write a song on a project topic
7) Write a poetry book
8) Create a photo journal
9) Make a scrapbook
10) Write and illustrate a comic
11) Paint a mural
12) Create a gallery (ex: photography, paintings, drawings, sculptures)
13) Hand-make a craft/artifact
14) Design a lesson plan
15) Make a video tutorial
16) Start a Vlog
17) Write a blog
18) Make a website
19) Produce a podcast
20) Write a screen play
21) Create a storyboard
22) Choreograph an interpretive dance
23) Organize a debate
24) Work with local legislators to write a bill
25) Make a calendar
26) Organize a mock trial
27) Make a 3D model
28) Make a documentary
29) Write a newsletter
30) Write a news article
31) Write a lab report
32) Artistically perform (dance, song, etc.)
33) Craft Showcase (Ex: handmade bags, scarves, DIY projects, wood working)
34) Make a video promotion
35) Put together a career portfolio (resume, work experience, reference letters, evidence pages)
36) Create a piece of artwork that illustrates the project topic
37) Slideshow (works well for volunteer experiences, field trips, school travel, etc.)
38) Make a quiz
39) Write a book (biography, short story, novel, etc.)
40) Create an awareness campaign poster for an issue important to you
41) Create a Facebook page (works well for characters in books, business page, or group)
42) Create a spreadsheet portfolio (appropriate for event planning for example)
43) Make charts and graphs (to illustrate survey results for example)
44) Design a t-shirt (school shirt, shirt that raises awareness on an issue, etc.)
45) Make a "Bloom Ball" (check out this fun example and bloom ball template)
46) Create a map
47) Make a puzzle
48) Design an escape room (Lock Paper Scissors Co. has a "how to" guide at the bottom of this webpage. This website offers kits for purchase, but you don't need to, and wouldn't want to in purchase one in this ase, because CREATING one is the final product for the student project.)
49) Design a travel brochure
50) Make a business card (Ex: for a character in a book, for a business, for volunteering, etc.)
51) Make a flier
52) Write a journal or diary (on a personal experience such as a health plan)
53) Write an instruction manual
54) Create a theme poster
55) Make a blueprint (floor plan for the setting in a book, one's dream school, interior design) - Google Sketchup is a great, free program for this.
56) Write a petition
57) Write a persuasive speech
58) Write a business plan
59) Record an interview and publish it using the free Storycorps app
60) Create an online portfolio (for showcasing creative and/or professional work, or student could create a portfolio page for a person they are studying - Crevado is a free efolio maker)
61) Create a billboard style advertisement
62) Write and illustrate a children's book
63) Make a concept map
64) Write and perform a monologue
65) Make a simulation (digital, written or performance)
66) Make an animation
67) Create a timeline
68) Make a diorama
69) Make a diagram
70) Write an informative speech
71) Make a fortune teller (I had a student that created over 100 fortune tellers with information on teen pregnancy. A fortune teller is a kids game made out of paper. She decided rather than put numbers inside, which is normally what you do, each triangle would have statistics on teen pregnancy. She randomly placed them all over the city, in bathrooms, on the city bus, etc. It was a great way to raise awareness). Click here to learn how to make a fortune teller.
72) Make a graphic organizer
73) Make a postcard
74) Compile a book of interviews
75) Organize and host a game show
76) Produce a news segment
77) Put together a time capsule
78) Make a collage
79) Put together learning stations
80) Design a set and give "visitors" a "tour" (would be good for a book project)
82) Organize an event in the community
83) Create a professional quality infographic
84) Make a music video
85) Put together a handbook
87) Learning activity
88) Child-friendly translation of a convoluted concept
89) Design and make a usable product - Ex: If the topic is on natural disasters, the student might design and build a life-saving device.
90) Write a jingle
91) Make a puzzle
92) Design an art installation
93) Create a brand
94) Write a proposal
95) Host a school event
96) Organize a speaker series
97) A "_____ week/month" program/schedule (Ex: three week meal plan or theme book club schedule)
98) Host a fundraiser event
99) Create a Pinterest profile and add boards and pins directly related to your topic. Could do the same for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Create a page that IS NOT personal. You might create a Facebook page for a character in a book or an Instagram page for healthy recipes, for example.
100) Write an editorial
Thanks for stopping by! Feel free to share your stories of project-based learning successes. I'd love to hear about some final products your students have used that weren't listed here! My eyes and ears are always open for new and exciting ideas. Thanks for reading!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest & Instagram, for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
Multicultural Awareness in the Classroom: how to Celebrate Student's Cultural Diversity
Happy apple picking season! Well, the end of it anyway. Apple picking in September and October is a long time Minnesota tradition. It is probably a tradition in the Midwest in general and maybe a few other places that grow apples. Apple picking with the family in Minnesota however, doesn't just mean heading to an orchard and picking apples. It means an entire afternoon of kid rides, face painting, corn mazes, climbing haystacks, taking haunted hayrides, picking out pumpkins for carving jack-o-lanterns, sipping hot apple cider and snacking on brats, fresh apple donuts, and caramel apples. It's shooting rotten apples with a giant sling shot. Yes, this happens, and if you don't know about this, check out Arie's season of the Bachelor! And the celebration isn't over when you leave the parking lot. You then go home and bake loads of apple inspired treats because you have too many apples to just eat!
The sights, the sounds, the smells - mmmmm, apples and cinnamon. This experience reminds me of fall, family, who I am and where I come from. Fall just isn't fall in my world without apple picking. It's not that apple picking is that great. It's the same year after year. But that's the beauty of it. It's a fond tradition that I share with my family, and have since I was a child. I am now passing that tradition on in my own little family. It's a deeply rooted part of my heritage. Yes, getting lost in a corn maze, the same time and place every year, is part of who I am, and I love it!
But, OK. This is an education blog. Yes, yes. So what's my point? This has been an unusually rainy and cold fall for Minnesota. There was a point where I thought maybe we wouldn't be able to apple-pick this year, and I felt devastated even imagining that. This experience has come to play such an important role in my life. Not just apple-picking, but traditions like this in general. I think having and creating traditions is so meaningful. It's an important part of one's self-concept, and knowing who we are and where we come from. There is massive effort on the part of my coworkers and I to help our students have these same feelings of nostalgia, belonging and pride in who they are and where they come from. I've noticed with my students that the learning activities they most enjoy and look forward to year after year are those that have to do with culture and tradition.
I do a heritage project with my students every year, where they focus on a piece of their heritage and culture. They learn about themselves and their family history. They pinpoint family traditions and discover how those traditions came to be. They essentially learn about their family background and then have the opportunity to brag about it in an annual heritage festival, putting their exhibits on display for the community. This project is something the students look forward to each year. If you're interested in trying this with your students, check out this resource to get it going - Project-Based Learning: Heritage.
It's an interesting project to do even when you suspect your students may not have many family traditions to draw from, and those that do may not be fond of their family traditions. I suspect that with my own students, yet they STILL always find something about who they are that they are proud of and want to share.
You could also expose your students to traditions in school. Start them in your classroom. I have two co-workers that are especially great at that. One of them, Val, started an annual tradition called "Feast" every year around Thanksgiving, where each advisory cooks something together, and then the school sits down and shares a meal. Val also brings her own family traditions into her classroom, such as making lefsa with her students. It's a bonding experience for everyone. Another coworker of mine, Tom, is also great at this. He brings his apple cider maker into his advisory in the fall to give students a little dose of that Minnesota apple-picking experience without ever leaving the building.
All of these activities may not hit any of the standards, but they help tremendously in building a strong community within your school and strong personal self-concepts within your students. Children can't think about biology for example, until their basic needs are met. Their learning environment needs to be a place of safety, trust, kinship and belonging. Having school or classroom traditions helps to build on those needs. Check out this free resource for more ideas on creating bonding experiences by implementing school traditions.
What are your favorite family traditions? What are some traditions you have as a school or in your class that the students look forward to?
Happy fall folks!
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Here we are, at the start of another school year! You are bracing for new students with excitement and a little anxiety I'm sure, if you're anything like me. You are unsure of new student personalities, backgrounds, and how the class dynamic will play out as you proceed through the year. You refreshed over the summer, and are now returning to school this year with great ideas for new lessons, classroom management techniques, and exciting learning activities for your bio class.
All of that is fantastic, as most of you probably spend the bulk of your day with subject students. I on the other hand, having worked the entirety of my career at a project-based/community school, spent the bulk of my time with my advisory students. I was more of a facilitator of learning and a life coach than I was a life-science teacher (although I taught subject seminars as well). Thus, I can now say with confidence that I'm an experienced advisor. I spent almost a decade observing colleagues (some of the best advisors out there) run their advisories and interact with their students. I have experienced a lot of trial and error. I tried many things that I was sure would be a hit that in the end were epic failures. I modified and tried again with a different approach, or I scrapped the idea entirely and tried something new.
I understand that I am biased, given my work experience and philosophy, but I believe to my core that having a strong advisory community is just as important, if not more, than having an awesome lesson planned for your evolution unit. Now hear me out...
Let's start with the basics. An advisory in theory is a place where individualized learning takes place. Each student is recognized as a unique individual. It's a space where students feel supported, valued, freed from judgement, comfortable speaking their minds and sharing their ideas. It is a place where they learn valuable life skills and career skills, build self-esteem and form a positive self-concept. It's an opportunity to implement social-emotional learning experiences.
Students should see an advisory as a safe space to realize their interests, ideas, and potential. A place where they have voice and choice. For some it is a home away from home. Or in some cases the home they never had to begin with. What a strong advisory system does is encompass the most important aspects of not only education, but life.
As educators, we know that certain needs have to be met before human beings can focus on anything else, especially grades and test scores in your subject classes. We get frustrated by the lack of engagement, effort, motivation, productivity. If that's what you're finding with a lot of your students, look below the surface. They may not be getting all of their basic needs met. Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs illustrates those requirements, which includes physiological (food, shelter, etc.), safety (protection and freedom from fear), love and belongingness (friendship, intimacy, trust, affection, etc.), esteem (dignity, independence, etc.), and self-actualization needs.
A great advisor strives to meet these needs for each individual student. If your advisory is a "homeroom", where students simply check in, scroll on their phones, and possibly chat with a friend for 30 minutes before continuing on to their other classes, I urge you to change that. I know it is an extra task, that may need extra prep time when first implementing. If you feel as if a strong advisory program is lacking in your school, discuss with your colleagues and principal. Seek training and additional prep time for an advisory. It is so worth it for kids and teachers in the long run. Student academic success and mental and emotional health depend on it.
As you solidify plans for the coming year, check out some of the great advisory resources below. Some provide training, some give awesome activity ideas, others highlight the research found on the importance of an effective advisory. Utilize some or all of the resources I've offered here if you are someone who wants to establish an advisory community, someone who wants a major advisory face-lift, or you just want to add to your already impressive advisory repertoire.
All Things Advisory
When I was working, my title was teacher AND advisor. Because it was a project-based school, I "advised" the same 20 students most of the day over the course of their entire secondary school career. When I first started teaching I was completely in over my head. My undergraduate degree was in ecology and my teaching training focused heavily on life-science education, not individualized learning in a project-based atmosphere. I assumed I could walk in the door, talk to kids about what I was passionate about - science - and they would follow suit. I was arrogant and was quickly thrown into reality.
I worked with at-risk teenagers, most of which did not have all of their basic needs met outside of school. They needed me, their advisory community, food, shelter, love, support, more than they needed to know about the structure of DNA. I knew that I had to change things up. So I did. I put everything I had into my advisory and those kids. My advisory students are bonded for life, close, tight-knit. When your advisory is strong, you find that even the most unlikely pair of students become friends over time. They are bonded by experiences, conflict and reconciliation, common goals and shared passions.
Thus, the first resource I'm putting out there is a list of activities I have used over the years to establish a strong and positive advisory culture. It is one thing to know the importance of building a strong advisory, it is another to implement strategies to achieve that goal. This resource gives practical lessons and activities to use to bolster your advisory community. It is a free download that can be found on my TpT page. Click here to get to the download.
Advisory Information Jackpot
Edutopia has a "topics" page with articles on every educational topic you could imagine. Their "advisory" topic is particularly strong. Articles posted under the "advisory" topic vary from social-emotional learning, to building relationships, to tips for reaching out to parents. You can search whatever topic you'd like. If you're trying to incorporate life skills seminars into your advisory schedule for example, search "life skills" on the site's search engine and go from there. I did this and naturally took interest in an article called Teaching for Life Success: Why Resourcefulness Matters by Marilyn Price Mitchell. I like Edutopia in general because they put a spotlight on innovative practices. Edutopia partners with Lucas Education Research, which conducts research alongside universities and world class educators. Together they identify what works, and through the topics website, share that with us. Find this resource by clicking here.
Books to Build a Community of Learners
This resource is a blog post written by a teacher who is suggesting that advisors (or any teacher really) use reading to foster a positive culture in the classroom. I love resources that come directly from teachers and their experiences. I don't need all of my information to come from child psychologists. They may know behaviors, but teachers are on the front lines. Have they tried it? Did it work for their students?! Fantastic, let's try it too! I watched my colleagues for years work their advisory magic. They were the best resources I could ask for. This specific resource is aimed at elementary students, but the idea would work across all age groups. The post provides lists of books under community building themes such as teaching kindness. I work with teenagers, so her books wouldn't apply to my advisory. But I have read many of the books she mentions to my own young children, such as Spaghetti in a Hotdog Bun. So cute. Many of the books cited on this post can be found on Storyline Online as well, which is an audio/visual version of the book, read by celebrities. It's easily accessible, the video animation is fun. The downside is that there aren't words displayed. If the purpose is teaching children how to read, Storyline Online is not a great resource. But in this case, if the purpose is to teach lessons on compassion, listening, kindness, etc, it could be a helpful website. The blogger does not offer before or after reading activity or discussion ideas. It would make this resources even better. I would recommend doing before or after reading activities and/or discussion, if that isn't obvious.
If you are working with older students, consider using this basic concept with more age appropriate and content appropriate books. Older students are obviously at different developmental stages than 3rd graders. High school students for example could read books that focus on building empathy, self-esteem, developing a good moral compass. Some great books for teenagers that might be effective in building a strong advisory community include "The Hate U Give", "Of Mice and Men", "Speak", "A Long Way Gone", "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas", "Wonder", and "The Absolutely Trued Diary of a Part-Time Indian".
There are so many skills and abilities that we hope our students acquire before they enter the big bad world of adulthood, other than knowing the difference between Mendelian and non-Mendelian genetics. I am not trying to underplay the importance of understanding heredity. The hope is that most adults have a basic understanding of inheritance. However, an artist will rarely find herself in a situation where she needs to whip out a punnet square. Other skills like resourcefulness would come in handy at a dinner party, when said artist is trying to figure out the chances of her offspring's ability to curl his tongue. The capability of managing one's time, dealing with conflict in an appropriate and effective way, controlling impulses, acting with integrity, I would argue are just as important, if not more important, than learning how to do a punnett square. Anyone can learn how to do that by doing a quick Google search.
I would also argue that social emotional skills are among the top most important competencies to possess to survive adulthood. Strong advisories should take a leading role in fostering these social-emotional skills. This resource provided here is awebinar from Edweb called 7 Mindsets, also the name of the organization that is paving the way for social-emotional learning. The webinar is free and it's awesome. The idea is that students, or anyone really, can navigate this tricky world we live in by embracing these 7 mindsets. It feels a bit cheesy, a little self-helpish, but when it comes to your students, those skills are necessary for happy, healthy lives in the present and the future. I keep these 7 mindsets in the forefront of my mind when planning any advisory activity.
For example, one of the mindsets is "live to give". I take this mindset into account when planning service learning opportunities for my advisory students. The image below is prominently displayed on my desktop as a reminder of the significance the 7 Mindsets in not only my student's lives, but mine as well. If you have an hour, watch the webinar using the link above. If you don't, just check out the list of mindsets below. There are a variety of awesome advisory webinars on the Edweb site.
Get to Know Your Students
Getting to know your students on a deeper level is a multifaceted endeavor. It takes more than a few icebreakers and a "hello" each morning to understand their strengths, weaknesses, challenges at home, interests, responsibilities, fears, all things that play a major role in academic performance and mental health. Teachers (including me) tend to get frustrated when students are unmotivated, aren't producing, aren't paying attention in class. There are a variety of reasons this may be so. When you know your students, you can better tackle the issue occurring in the classroom. I have always struggled with sleepy students. They aren't tired because they're "bad" or "troubled". They're tired because they're in school all day, work after school to help pay their family's rent, come home and power through projects so they can graduate on time, fall asleep at 2 am, wake up at 6 am to repeat the process all over again. Of course they're tired. Knowing your students well as independent people isn't just important to manage classroom challenges. For some students, you may be all they have. You may be one of few adult positive role-models in their lives, that is a strong leader, a compassionate person that advocates for them, believes in them, and cares about their future. Knowing your students well also helps guide future instruction. If you know that a lot of your students are interested in music, you can provide relevant learning activities, such as assigning a music project, asking a music producer to come in and speak to your students about his or her career, or arrange a service learning project that would result in instrument donations to low-income students. I have found that every student I have ever encountered is extraordinary in their own way (alright maybe there are a couple there that I had to do some really deep digging - like the one that stole my computer, or another that stole my keys). I was physically threatened by only one student in my 9 years in education, and I still to this day care for this student. My students have taught me so much about myself, about life. It is me who is the lucky one for having known them. The hardest part about leaving my job to stay home with my children was leaving my students. I knew them. I cared for them. We spent years building trust and a mutual respect for one another. Even if you aren't buying what I'm selling, ultimately, what is the HARM in getting to know your students? Nothing bad can come of it. So, with that, there are a lot of ways to learn about who they are. There may be a fortuitous, unplanned bonding moment between you and a student. You might get to know them simply through casual conversation. Make time for each student. Shoot-the-shit! With some students it will happen organically. They will be the first ones to come into class that day, talking your ear off before you've even finished your coffee. Others will be more challenging. They may be more reluctant to share their lives with you for a variety of reason. You may not be approachable. No offense. Some people aren't. Evaluate and reflect on your approach. Be firm with your expectations, but understanding of extenuating circumstances. They may be introverts. They may have a history of negative experiences with authority figures. You will have to work extra hard at those students, but they probably need that companionship the most. Make it a priority. One way to get the ball rolling is by asking students to do a variety of surveys. My school required that these be done during orientation at the beginning of the school year. These activities will not activate an instant bond. What they do is provide a foundation to then branch out from. I looked for a website that had all of the great ones right in one spot, but I came up short. So here is a list of some of the surveys we used with our students to set the relationship building in motion:
Interest Survey - this is exactly what is sounds like. It's a survey of questions that you give to your students that gives you an idea of their interests. This can be used to propel student projects or learning activities. I like the one created by Scholastic. Click here to get to the page. If you would rather create your own survey, do it! It would probably be more effective, as you know the demographic you are working with. If you would rather create your own, check out these tips from Edutopia.
Multiple Intelligences Survey - Howard Gardner's theory on multiple intelligences is the idea that everyone possesses different "intelligences", and therefore learn, understand, retain, and operate differently. Knowing each student's "intelligences" is a great tool for better understanding their needs and motivators. This link is a pretty good one. It's brief, which kids appreciate. Results are shown using a bar chart and percentages. Some online multiple intelligence assessments show results on a color wheel, which might be better for more visual learners. Check out the variety of multiple intelligence assessments online and choose one that works well for you.
Learning Styles- speaking of "visual learners", there are also quick assessments that determine how student's best learn. They likely already know the answer to this. You can probably just ask them. But they may not. It could be fun and informative for both of you to get the final results. Whatever the final results may be, this is a great thing to know about your advisees, as you can then better accommodate for their learning needs. You can plan learning activities that fit learning styles. This learning style survey is good. It's simple, straight to the point, and again, brief. I discovered that I'm an auditory learner (vs. visual and tactile) by taking this survey, which is utterly shocking. Try it yourself! It's kind of fun.
Myers Briggs - last one on the list! We made it. Tactile learners probably didn't make it this far in the post! The result of the survey is a 4 letter code that represents a unique personality type. The code includes extrovert vs. introvert, sensing vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving. I won't get into the details of each here, you can learn this from the survey website if you don't already know. Knowing a student's personality type is essential for understanding their actions. An introvert can't be trained not to be an introvert. Right? Maybe that's incorrect. I spent most of my life wishing I was an extrovert. As I've aged I have learned to accept it and even embrace it. The introvert in me absolutely guides many of my decisions. If you find from this test that a student is an introvert, use that knowledge to your advantage. Knowing these things can eliminate frustrations and misunderstandings by both students and instructors. Check this one out. It's a pretty comprehensive website on all things Myers Briggs. One downside is that it's a little long and the language a bit convoluted. Be prepared to answer students questions and offer assistance. Take a look at my results in the image below. Nailed it.
Alright, I suppose it's time to bring this novel of a post to a close. The INFJ in me likes to exhaust topics! I hope some of the material here is helpful this year. I wish everyone a fantastic school year ahead! Cheers!
For those of you that are seasoned advisors, please share your thoughts, wisdom, and resources. What do you do to build and maintain a strong advisory community?
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To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.