The four school counselors at L. Douglas Wilder Middle School considered the available data and School Improvement Plan goals while planning lessons and programs to effectively support our students and narrow achievement gaps. Providing academic support for our 6th, 7th and 8th graders has been a consistent goal within our comprehensive school counseling program. Program Goal #1 (To increase the academic performance of students, the School Counseling Department will reduce the number of students failing a core content course by 20% from the end of Semester 1 to the end of Semester 2) supports this, as we recognize our “non-accredited” status according to the standards established by the Virginia Department of Education.
Throughout the year, we designed our group sessions, individual sessions and classroom lessons to sharpen students’ skills related to test-taking, organization, test anxiety, and studying. By the end of the first semester there were a total of 96 students, across the three grade levels, with at least one failing grade in a core class (Math, Science, Social Studies, English). Sixty-seven (69.7%) of those students were African-American males. With continued individual counseling sessions of each student, coupled with related classroom lessons, the number of students failing drastically decreased by 74.63% by the end of the school year. In sum, fifty African-American males demonstrated marked improvement and achieved passing scores!
Research shows that there is a true educational achievement gap between school-aged African American and White males. The low performance has been linked to a number of factors, including low self-esteem and low expectations from school (Bailey & Paisley, 2004). Our school counselors lead creative lessons and sessions to illuminate the expectations and encourage students to reach their highest potential. We realize the importance of integrating visual and interactive lessons and small group sessions to accommodate all learning styles so the crux of the lesson will be retained and applied. Ms. Kendra Brown’s Test Taking Skills classroom lesson is a clear example of this. The lesson was presented to a total of 246 students (approximately110 were African American males). During the lesson, Ms. Brown reviewed and taught several study tips including memory aids (i.e. flashcards) and understanding test formats (i.e. short answer and multiple choice).
A highlight from her lesson was the integration of current hip hop music and dance into various study skills. For example, in the popular song “Hit the Quan” students learned that the “Q” reminds them to read the whole QUESTION. The “U” reminds them to UNDERLINE important words or phrases. The “A” suggests they ANSWER the question and the “N” encourages them to NOTE evidence from the text to prove their answers. Ms. Brown played the music and allowed students a moment to do the associated dance to the song while highlighting the key words and study tips. The lesson was summarized with an interactive jeopardy game to reinforce skills learned followed by the pre-test. (See attached results/graph).
This method was effective for all students but especially engaging for our male students as evidenced by their high participation level. Studies show the learning styles between males and females are neurologically different. PET scans and MRIs have even indicated the distinctive “hardwiring” differences. Male brains show more areas with spatial-mechanical strengths whereas female brains possess more verbal-emotive processing (Schneider, 2013). Given the tactile and kinesthic needs of males, especially African American males, the engaging lessons with music, dance, and a game proved highly impactful.
The effectiveness of this lesson, in addition to classroom lessons and small group sessions provided from all counselors led to the huge reduction of failures for 50 African American males and bridged that achievement gap. These 50 students not only increased their skills but showed a greater motivation to succeed.
Of the 50 male students who remain at Wilder, the School Counseling Department will continue to monitor them during the 2016-2017 school year ensuring that their skills and motivation remain high. Based on the positive results and gap reduction, we will continue to provide highly creative and interactive academic supports to build motivation and skills so that students will be successful.
Bailey, D. F., & Paisley, P. O. (2004). Developing and Nurturing Excellence in African American Boys. Journal of Counseling & Development, 10-17.
Schneider, A. (2013, February 11). GoodTherapy.org. Retrieved from www.goodtherapy.org: www.goodtherapy.org/bloh/how-boys-learning-styles-differ-0211134