Centre for the Collaborative Classroom: Learn. Care. Respect.

Meet Emily Cremidis, an Education Consultant for the Centre for the Collaborative Classroom.

The Centre for the Collaborative Classroom (CCC) empowers teachers to create classrooms where students learn from, care for, and respect one another. CCC do this by providing a curriculum that integrates social and emotional learning into reading and writing instruction; rather than just helping students to be ‘career’ and ‘college ready’, their curriculum is helping students to be ‘adult life ready’. A phrase quoted by their vice president, Peter Brunn, in this video that introduces the curriculum: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8aZLeG6mZ8

Combining Academic and Social and Emotional Learning

In the picture, Emily is standing in front of a display she has made for the Alameda School District in California. The district is currently deciding which English curriculum they want to implement in all their schools and there are currently around 6 or 7 different companies advertising their curriculums at the district office.

Out of all the curriculums on offer the Centre for the Collaborative Classroom (CCC) curriculum stands out because of its emphasis on social and emotional learning and because of its accessible format. Emily was an Elementary School Principal for 6 years before becoming a consultant for CCC, so she understands teachers and because of this she has color-coded the different areas of the Alameda curriculum priorities and put labels throughout the CCC curriculum, so teachers can easily judge how the curriculum will meet their and their students’ needs.

Accessible Materials

In fact, all of the materials made by CCC are designed to be easily accessible. In this picture from their ‘Best Practices in Writing Instruction, Institute Handbook’ you can see that there are QR codes along the side of the page. These QR codes can be easily scanned by teachers and link to videos that demonstrate the point that is being explained in the text. This is particularly useful when the text is explaining a new process, because, if a teacher is able to see this in action, then they are more likely to understand and be able to deliver it themselves.

Wanting to Write

You will also see in the page from the textbook that the CCC curriculum prioritises helping children to ‘want’ to read and write before being ‘able’ to read and write. The curriculum explains that ‘All growth and learning in the art and craft of writing depend on a solid foundation of abundant, uninhibited writing’.

For the first unit of writing instruction, the students are encouraged to write free of concerns and without trying to make it ‘good’ by writing complete, correct pieces. I was lucky enough to meet some teachers who were at this stage of writing with their classes at Benito Juarez Elementary in Richmond, CA. The teachers were really excited by the positive effect that free-writing had been having on their students. One teacher couldn’t believe how much writing her students were producing compared to their previous writing lessons. (On a side note, I think this school may have the most beautiful views, I have ever seen from a classroom)

Free-Writing

I had seen the positive effects of free-writing before, during my time working for The Hackney Pirates. The students were encouraged to write in the style of ‘Captain Splurge’ a pirate who doesn’t worry about the rules, before they flipped to the style of the ‘Refined Admiral’, a pirate who did care about improving and perfecting things. It was marvellous to witness the children in ‘Captain Splurge’ style as they would write and write and enjoy the process. They then had something to work with and were more willing to work on refining it because they were proud of what they had ‘splurged’.

After reflecting on the positive results of free-writing that have been documented by CCC and during my time at Hackney Pirates, I began to consider how little time we have for this in the English classroom, particularly at secondary school. During my time teaching, it always seemed that there was always a lesson to be taught and a process to be learnt rather than a love of writing for itself. Developing an interest in writing for its own merits fits in with the work of some of the other organisations I have visited, such as ‘The Freedom Writers’, who advocate journal writing.

A Slow to Fast Approach

Jackie Jacobs, one of the program managers at CCC, explained that this is a ‘slow-to-fast’ approach. The free-writing and emphasis on SEL skills can appear to be taking away time from academics to begin with, but in the long run students will be able to learn writing concepts quicker and will be more engaged and ready to learn.

Inspiration to Write

CCC also acknowledges that writing does need inspiration and this is why they have ‘read alouds’ - opportunities for the class to come together and listen to the teacher read something that will inspire their creativity, develop their understanding of an SEL skill and develop their reading skills.

The curriculum has lots of opportunities for the students to write about their reading and I particularly enjoy the modelling that shows students how they can connect what they have read to their own lives.

After reading the story ‘Wizzil’ by William Steig, the handbook gives an example of how a teacher could connect this to their lives:

‘You might say:

“I want to write about how DeWitt’s generosity reminds me of a time when someone has been generous to me. I’ll write: In Wizzil by William Steig, DeWitt saves Wizzil even though she’s a mean witch, and she responds to his kindness by becoming happy and loving. Notice that I include the name and author of the book in the first sentence.

Now I want to compare the book to my own life. I’ll write: I too have been transformed by other people’s kindness. Now I want to give an example. I’ll write: For instance, last week I came home from work feeling tired and grouchy. I growled at my husband when he asked me how my day was. Instead of growling back, my husband offered to make dinner. He set the table and did the dishes too!

I want to include a final sentence that wraps up the piece. I’ll write: My husband’s kindness washed away my bad feelings just like DeWitt’s kindness helped wash away Wizzil’s witchiness.’

At every stage of the curriculum, the teacher is encouraged to model their own learning too. What is great about this excerpt is that the teacher is modelling their own social and emotional learning, whilst also modelling how to structure a paragraph. As a result, the students understand their teacher better, the writing process better and have the chance to understand themselves better.

Reflecting Student’s Lives

When books are being used to connect with the students’ lives, CCC have acknowledged that it is extremely important that the chosen books do in fact reflect the students’ lives. Other organisations I have visited have also discussed the importance of a diverse range of stimuli, but what was interesting about CCC was they had developed a tool to measure exactly how diverse their curriculum is.

I met, Jennie McDonald, who is the Publisher Relations and Rights Director at CCC and who has led on the research into the diversity of their curriculum. Her passion for this area of work is described in her very interesting blog here: https://www.collaborativeclassroom.org/blog/2015/11/03/diversity-in-childrens-books-check-your-blind-spot

As we discussed the importance of diversity in the books chosen for a curriculum she raised many interesting points, such as looking beyond simply seeing diverse characters in fiction and to look at the roles of diverse characters in fiction and non-fiction books. Many non-fiction books may have a distinct lack of diversity in the range of professional people pictured in scientific roles or other important roles. This is not intentional and often reflects society, but showing these books in the classroom can perpetuate stereotypes and be damaging for the students observing this.

Tools to Help

Ensuring that the books used in a curriculum are diverse can be a hard job, but the tool designed and used by CCC helps to break this down by asking questions about the characters, settings and plot. I certainly found this very useful and it would be good for all teachers to consider these questions when deciding which books they will be reading with their students across the year.

Jennie has kindly agreed that I can share it here: https://docs.google.com/a/story-project.co.uk/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdm6fHwUB3kdFZPeOkax9L4kz2_Sa9_WQRTVJk1GofALXpKZg/viewform

Toolbox

When considering diversity, another interesting topic that came up when talking to Megan Green, a Regional Director at CCC, was how different types of learners may develop SEL skills in different ways. An interesting approach that Megan had implemented previously was a toolbox developed by DoveTail Publishing that uses tools as metaphors for SEL skills. For example, a spirit level is used to talk about how friendships need to be equally weighted, as when they are one-sided they can cause problems, like an unequal surface creates problems for the spirit level. This appeals to more practical learners, who can envision the work they are doing with their internal tools to regulate themselves: https://dovetaillearning.org/toolbox/the-12-tools/

Megan Green also explained that CCC offers after-school programmes that connect SEL to maths and science learning as well as English learning.

Fitting the Diverse need of Schools

In fact, CCC has a range of different programmes to fit the different needs of schools. Peter Brunn, the Vice President of Organizational Learning and Communications at CCC explained that as well as working through the English Curriculum, CCC also has a programme called ‘Caring School Communities’ that builds classroom and schoolwide community while developing students’ social and emotional (SEL) skills and competencies.

This is achieved through class meetings, a cross-age buddies program, homeside activities, and schoolwide community-building activities that help students develop respect for each other and take ownership for their learning and behaviour.

Dedication to SEL

The Diversity of programmes on offer, the accessibility of the programmes, the staff’s interest in my research and their willingness to discuss and share details of other programmes working to improve provision of SEL, all demonstrate that CCC is dedicated to SEL beyond selling a curriculum. They are a non-profit organisation, who truly believe in the importance of SEL and are cleverly finding ways to make SEL accessible to all teachers and students.

WestEd, a big Educational Research company, is also currently undertaking some very detailed research into CCC and the impact it is having, so I am looking forward to reading that soon.

I am extremely grateful to all the staff at CCC who have really given me hope for the combination of SEL and academics, as well as a lot to think about in the run up to writing my report.

I want to especially thank Emily Cremedis, who not only inspired me with her work and passion for SEL, but also welcomed me into her home and was an amazing host and guide during my time in the Bay Area.

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