By Matthew Tungate
Denise Rambo, an 8th-grade reading and English teacher at Trigg County Middle School, sees herself as a “brain coach.”
Last summer she attended a Laying the Foundation (LTF) training that introduced her to lessons that make up a “wonderful ‘playbook’ for enriching, engaging and challenging exercises that give the students’ brains a great workout, and the students actually enjoy carrying out ‘the plays,’” she said.
Rambo said the lessons take her students to a new level of academic expectation by challenging them to use critical-thinking skills.
“Laying the Foundation was the best educational training I have attended in my 20 years as an educator,” Rambo said. “I do believe this training made me a better teacher. It inspired me and renewed my desire to inspire students to use the intelligence that is within each of them to touch the world and make it a better place.”
Rambo and more than 700 other teachers received training the last two years to increase the rigor in their grades 6-11 mathematics, science and English classes to better prepare students for Advanced Placement (AP) courses. That number will double again this summer as more teachers are trained in LTF.
Kentucky’s Unified College and Career Readiness Plan calls for an increase in accelerated learning opportunities for students – and calls for an increase in the number of schools with teachers trained in LTF. During the trainings, teachers learn to implement grade-appropriate skills-based lessons.
LTF is one of the AdvanceKentucky initiatives, according to AdvanceKentucky Executive Director Joanne Lang. AdvanceKentucky works with schools across the state to increase the number of high school students taking and passing AP courses.
“Clearly, long-term, building the pipeline of pre-AP courses and training pre-AP teachers is part and parcel of everything we do,” Lang said.
Schools that are part of AdvanceKentucky receive five free LTF registrations, but districts have sent up to 70 teachers, she said. However, schools don’t have to be part of AdvanceKentucky to send teachers, Lang said.
This year the training will be divided into two week-long sessions to accommodate the demand, she said.
“For teachers who attend, they want more,” Lang said. “They want to come back and they tell their colleagues back at home, ‘You need to attend this training.’”
Lessons are a big draw
That’s because teachers receive training in the lessons they receive, and they receive online access to the lessons and resources so they can be used all year long.
Ordinarily an 8th-grade Algebra I teacher who doesn’t teach calculus or pre-calculus may not see his or her role in preparing students for the rigor of AP, Lang said. That’s not the case with the LTF lessons.
“You can see in the materials what comes before they get to 8th-grade Algebra I and what follows after in a skills progression that would prepare a student for Pre-Calculus, for example,” she said. “It’s a beautiful skills progression that provides an answer of, ‘So what? I need more rigor. Well, how does this fit? What are the connections? Why do I need to do this?’”
Teresa Russell, a 9th- and 12th-grade English teacher at Trigg County High School, said LTF has made her more direct in her teaching.
“It truly is about skills and applying the ability, not just reading Romeo and Juliet for the sake of reading it. For instance, before the LTF training, I might simply talk through the arguments that the Friar used with Romeo to not kill himself in Act 3, Scene 3, but now I discuss the types of persuasion and have the students look for those items using a lesson from the resource book,” Russell said. “It’s quality learning – it’s teaching students to think for themselves so they can apply the skills.”
Bobbi Jo Taylor, who teaches Algebra 2, Pre-College Algebra and Pre-AP (Honors) Algebra 2 at Carroll County High School, said the techniques and training she learned last summer have allowed her to delve into more rigorous instructional practices and present a new and modern enriched curriculum by using the lessons online.
The LTF lessons are in a ready-to-go format with connections for the material, answer keys and teacher resources, among other things.
“My pre-AP classes collaborated with each other on a linear systems LTF lesson recently – they were required to not only complete the problems but dig deep in to the material through explanation in an extended response,” she said. “I have amped the rigor in my pre-AP classes as Laying the Foundation pushes not only mastery-level learning, but application and problem-solving skills as well. Students are better prepared to persevere through tough problems.”
Rambo said that while the lessons are beneficial, training is essential.
“Working the lessons myself at the Summer Training Institute allowed me to experience the thinking process required for each lesson modeled. I enjoyed working through the lessons. I know enthusiasm for the quality of the lesson will encourage my students,” she said.
Russell said that her LTF pre-AP training has spilled over into her other classes.
“There are things that are so important to the success of any student in looking to higher education. I don’t know that I had truly prepared my students before attending the training,” she said. “You leave the training so excited about getting to your classroom and using the lessons. It was great that the year was set, for I could use one of the sample syllabi that was provided in the resource book. Also, having access to the various levels online was a great help in introducing the ideas to the students. I found that I could use a middle school version with them before advancing them to the high school level of the concepts.”
There are many such benefits to receiving LTF training, Lang said. Administrators are noticing, too.
She recently heard an administrator say, “You can now tell when you’re walking into a pre-AP classroom whether or not that teacher has been trained in Laying the Foundation.”
“LTF is so ingrained in AdvanceKentucky,” Lang said. “Yes, it can stand alone … but this is clearly one of those integrated elements that address both short-term and long-term strategies for success – not just immediate results but sustainable results for decades and generations to come.”
MORE INFO …
Joanne Lang, email@example.com, (859) 264-3236