An Alternative Way of Looking at Student Success

By Angelique Kwabenah February 27th, 2014 5:00 PM

In many ways, working in an alternative school setting is similar to working in a regular school setting. You have the same elements at play, and many of the same actors: teachers, students and administrators.

However, there are some significant differences. Students who are enrolled in this type of school setting generally have not had much academic or behavioral success in other settings, and are coming into this type of school setting with very little to no motivation and limited or deficient academic skills. Therefore, teaching strategies employed in alternative settings are often more unconventional in order to reach all students.  Based on my experience in this school setting, I want to share a few strategies that have been successful in my classroom.

  1. Creating Mock Websites: One strategy that I use at my school to generate initial interest in instruction and to learn about my students is to have them create a mock-up website of themselves. The criteria includes writing a brief biography, creating a time line, and any other information that they want to share. This is an informal way to assess their writing and vocabulary, while also getting them involved in the instructional program in a manner that they view as relevant to their lives.
  2. Utilizing Current Events :This is another strategy that I employ to help students achieve academic success. In my experience, many students in alternative schools settings are lacking background experiences. Therefore, I subscribe to the New York Times “Upfront” classroom magazine and to Scholastic’s “Choices” magazine. Both of these magazines are high interest with low to moderate readability, focusing on topics that are of interest to teens like bullying, sports, and music. The magazines also provide teachers with online and print resources, which can be modified to meet the needs of any student in a given classroom and are aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
  3. Visiting Museums: Museums provide a wealth of resources for all content areas and grade levels that will interest students in new and engaging ways. One example of an offering at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. is the “ What Happened Here?” activity. During the activity, students look at a series of news clips and pictures and select one to write a mock news article about. Each year I also attend the Teacher Open Houses for the Newseum, The International Spy Museum, and other museums in the area in order to obtain resources that can be easily integrated in an alternative classroom setting.

Alternative Education is not for every teacher, but those of us who teach in these settings have to find a way to reach every student. We choose to teach in this type of school setting because we enjoy the challenge of helping students find success by any means necessary in unconventional settings. By utilizing resources that are real, relevant and related to the life experiences of our students, we are making connections and moving our students toward higher levels of academic success.

Angelique Kwabenah is a Reading Specialist at the Incarcerated Youth Program in Washington, D.C.

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