The Philomath School District’s expansion of a student-centered approach to learning appears to be producing positive results in the classroom.
AVID — an acronym for “Achievement Via Individual Determination” — is designed to better prepare students for college, career paths and life in general.
“Each building has a site team that’s made up of teachers that help facilitate goal growth and spreading with strategies to our content areas, trying new things with each department,” said Denee Newton, Philomath’s AVID district coordinator. “It’s going really well, it’s exciting.”
The local school district introduced AVID during the 2017-18 academic year at the fifth- and sixth-grade levels. Now in the third grade as well, the focus in the lower grades revolves around the use of binders and note-taking strategies.
Philomath has now progressed into its first year of implementation at the secondary level with elective classes at the seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade levels.
“Implementing AVID strategies provides common language for our teachers and students around evidence-based approaches to learning,” Philomath Superintendent of Schools Melissa Goff said. “In addition, our implementation accelerates our entire learning community’s focus on a student’s transition into a job, training or college the year after graduation.”
Elective teachers include Teresa Nielson in the seventh grade, Newton in the eighth grade and Shelly Brown in the ninth grade.
“It’s an opportunity for students to find a niche and support system that few public schools have the opportunity to offer their students,” Brown said.
Said Nielson, “In AVID, students develop study skills, leadership and time management abilities that will help them to be successful in high school, college and career experiences.”
So far this year, AVID’s freshmen students went on a visit to Oregon State and the seventh- and eighth-graders headed down to the University of Oregon. Newton said there are plans for two more such trips.
“We’ve just really been working on aligning our district goals with AVID strategies, so we’ve been doing professional development on Fridays with staff and strategies are spreading, folks are excited and we’ve seen a lot of evidence of strategies in the classrooms being used,” Newton said.
The AVID system challenges students in new ways.
“The research shows that if we want students to be better learners or if they want to learn, they have to be engaged,” Newton said. “So a lot of the strategies focus on collaboration and higher-level questions, critical thinking and rigor, and there’s a lot of movement-based arrangements in the classroom as far as encouraging student-centered learning rather than teacher-led instruction.”
The elective classes meet twice a week.
“They run tutorials and it’s sort of that Socratic method of resolving points of confusion they have in math or social studies or science and they work them out on a whiteboard with their peers and the tutor guides them and asks questions until they’re able to figure out the issues they’re having and identify their point of confusion,” Newton said.
Each year, the AVID students move up as new elective courses are added. The system builds upon itself and as the freshmen move on, the cycle moves up from there and grows, Newton said.
“The ultimate goal is we start with the elective group but the strategies extend so it becomes every student that’s seeing strategies in their classrooms and developing the same kind of tools and teachers are speaking the same language as far as those practices are concerned in their classrooms,” she said.
Newton came to Philomath from South Albany High, also an AVID school. In fact, she was part-time her first year in Philomath because she had AVID students at SAHS who were in their senior year and were to graduate.
“I was an AVID elective teacher for three years and I was in an AVID school for five and so I saw what it did and how it changed the whole culture of learning and the way kids view the classroom,” she said.
“One of my students today, the last thing she said was ‘I can see how AVID kids become a family,’ which to me is the huge win for all. You break down these social walls that exist and establish these lifelong friendships and mentors that develop this mutual value of just being a learner, a lifelong learner. That’s my favorite part.”
As the AVID district coordinator, Newton works with every building on coaching, planning and data collection. For example, she and an AVID representative, who happens to be a retired South Albany High principal, spent a day recently observing classrooms and then debriefed about what they were seeing, talked about the district’s goals and then determined what the next steps should be for advancing.
The response from participating students has been positive, Newton said. A couple of weeks ago, Newton’s eighth-graders were involved in a Socratic seminar — which is a formal discussion, based on a text, in which the leader asks open-ended questions and within the context of the discussion, students listen closely to the comments of others to think critically for themselves and articulate their own thoughts and responses to the thoughts of others.
Elective students are focused on WICOR — an acronym for “Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization and Reading." WICOR provides a learning model that educators can use to guide students in comprehending concepts and articulating ideas at increasingly complex levels.
In the case of the Socratic seminar, students learn to use a higher level of thinking. They read an article, mark text, answer a few questions and then have to create their own questions.
During the seminar, the students share those questions and have a discussion.
“The idea is they’ll go from what the article is saying and make real-world connections,” Newton said.
Educators took part in AVID training and Philomath in the past year has sent them to places like San Diego and Dallas.
“This next summer, we’re all going to the same location and we’re hoping for a big number of folks that are going who haven’t been trained and some that are going to advance," Newton said.