• by Juanita C. García, MA • IDRA Newsletter • August 2001
The Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) has developed a process to transform the way schools teach linguistically diverse learners. IDRA is helping several schools carry out this process through a project called FLAIR (Focusing on Language and Academic Instructional Renewal).
FLAIR puts the student at the center of the curriculum. It values the heritage and the capacities that all students bring with them to the academic experience. In the Vygotskian way, the teacher provides the class with a scaffold to build meaning and attain academic gain.
FLAIR empowers classroom teachers. Teachers are recognized for the tremendous capacities that they have acquired through years of experience. It also builds on their leadership capacities. In a learner-centered approach, teachers and their learning processes are paramount. What is to be learned is identified by the learners as knowledge and skills they need for themselves, their work, or the world around them. Learning is transformative (Mackeracher, 1996). Therefore, teachers in the project are considered facilitators of knowledge and change agents, capable of creating quality environments for their students and their families.
With FLAIR, IDRA provides a process for redesigning, adapting and re-energizing reading programs that is more responsive to the characteristics of diverse learners. The project promotes:
- student data-based decision-making using state and local standards for mastering on-level reading comprehension objectives;
- integration of literacy skills in content-area teaching;
- continuous vertical and horizontal communication among teachers in the school;
- empowerment of teachers by equipping them with the necessary knowledge and resources to make better classroom and instructional decisions;
- creation of a “family” environment where everyone feels responsible for student success;
- reflection and action as two critical instructional practices of successful reading programs; and
- ways for assessing program effectiveness.
All students become successful readers!
FLAIR capitalizes on the campus leaders, mobilizing the principal, teachers, librarians and support staff as a force to tailor-make a reading program that is research-based resulting in better achievement for all students.
How the Transformation Occurs
FLAIR is a three-year process that involves in-depth technical assistance from IDRA. FLAIR capitalizes on instructional leadership, commitment, creativity, inspiration, and innovation. It is a comprehensive process that allows school success to occur at a healthy pace. Look to the community of Mora, New Mexico, for a good example of FLAIR implementation.
Nestled in the valley of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico, Mora is a rural, remote community where time seems to stand still. The tiny, predominately Hispanic community stands at the northern entrance to the beautiful Mora Valley. For a number of years, residents have faced economic decline and the reality of losing their way of life or culture. The community is now challenged with revitalizing and improving community life and creating school reform. Their educational plan for student success involves developing and implementing a meaningful curriculum (Bauer, 2000). Mora staff have completed their second year of the FLAIR process.
Through focus group interviews, participating teachers revealed the impact of the project for students and teachers. In reviewing these interviews about the project’s impact, certain qualities and themes emerged from the data indicating student and teacher success. The following are a few insights using the language of the participants and highlighting examples drawn from the individuals.
Learning Can Be Fun
Children do what is fun; but if they are never shown that learning and reading to learn can be fun, then they will never have the opportunity to enrich their lives with reading and life-long learning.
One teacher commented: “Project FLAIR introduced us to new teaching strategies. These are new to the students and [provide] a different way of learning for them. It makes learning fun.”
Another teacher said, “I have more creative activities where my students are engaged, and just doing these fun activities gets my students to share their ideas and their knowledge.”
All of our motivation comes from within ourselves, and we choose to do what is most satisfying to us at the time. To have fun is a basic need all living creatures have. It is a catalyst that makes anything we do better and worth doing again and again. With this knowledge teachers should be able to restructure their teaching so that many more students will choose to work and learn because they find it satisfying to do so (Glasser, 1998).
Changes In Teachers
For adults to become fully engaged in learning, they must be willing and able to channel their motives into the change process. For these reasons, teachers need a learning environment that supports them and does not threaten them. Both A.W. Combs and J.R. Kidd report that this is facilitated when relationships between the facilitator and learners are built on trust (Mackeracher, 1996).
One teacher presented her reflections about her change process in a poem:
I have been teaching for 19 years,
A lot of times teachers are afraid
Or they do not want to try new things.
You know, you are stuck in your own routine,
Your same style and feel kind of like,
Why are they trying to tell me
To do things different?
It has worked for me this long,
Why do I have to change now?
But when I try some of these strategies
I realize that this a good thing,
And I have to make the time for this to
For this to work successfully.
Another stated: “I think that when we started we were not too sure what FLAIR really was and we did not feel comfortable even doing the strategies in the classroom. Then as Year 2 started, you kind of start trying them a little more, and we have grown as a group together. Now we know what we are doing. This has caused growth within ourselves.”
These statements serve to point out the beliefs and attitudes many teachers have taken on as part of their models of reality. Our values and attitudes constantly affect what we are willing to learn and how we are willing to learn it (Mackeracher, 1996). If the affective component is positive, then we tend to move toward something. If it is negative, we tend to move away. Changing the way we teach and the way we have been doing things is difficult, but when teachers are faced with low student achievement, then we must change because there are no excuses for student failure.
Project FLAIR helps people in the school community work together to transform every classroom into a powerful learning environment, where students and teachers are encouraged to think creatively, explore their interests and achieve at high levels. In turn, it uses the school’s philosophy and process to create its own vision and work collaboratively to reach its goal. Through best practices, FLAIR facilitators provide top notch workshops, follow-up support, modeling of high cognitive literature based lessons, and de-briefings and reflections.
One teacher stated, “The presenters that we have presenting project FLAIR have made this project what it is and made us what we are, feel comfortable about it, because they have been really good coming in here and teaching us.”
Another teacher commented, “I think this project has succeeded and we are positive because of them [the facilitators], because of what they have done.”
Another added: “It has put some spark into some of the staff. The teachers that have taken the professional development are engaged learners. It has been a lot of fun.”
Through the South Central Collaborative for Equity, IDRA has been able to assist Mora with training, support and information for academic dual language development with project FLAIR. The South Central Collaborative for Equity is the equity assistance center that serves schools and education agencies in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas in the areas of race, gender and national origin. Mora’s staff want to preserve the area’s culture and provide a challenging curriculum to empower students with a healthy sense of who they are and where they come from (Bauer, 2000).
The effort in Mora is still in progress. The FLAIR taskforce is working on coaching and mentoring new teachers for the project. IDRA facilitators are assisting in curriculum development, staff training and identification of appropriate materials for the school’s dual language model.
The staff are determined to equip students to perform well academically and to guide students to understand their reality first as a means to connect to the broader global community.
Bauer, H. “Do We Lose Ourselves When We Lose Our Language? Why Care About Language Recapture,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, December 2000).
Glasser, W. The Quality School: Managing Students without Coercion (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers Inc., 1998).
Mackeracher, D. Making Sense of Adult Learning (Toronto, Canada: Culture Concepts Inc., 1996).
Scott, B. “Fulfilling a Commitment to Small, Rural and Remote Districts,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2000).
Juanita C. García, MA, is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2001, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 2001 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]