Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion (IBA) runs after school and summer learning programs for English language learning students through academics and the arts. The summer program for rising second and third graders at the Blackstone Innovation School is targeted towards literacy skill development and preventing summer learning loss. It is a project based curriculum where students explore the question: What is community? In five weeks through field trips, art projects, writing and speaking projects, and meeting new people, they complete a hands-on exploration of the community in the South End.

How do you show your students the connections between program activities and real world problem solving?

The whole curriculum is based around field trips into the community on Wednesdays. In the lead up to the Wednesday field trip, the students do some text based research. For example, if we’re going to go to the fire station, then they’re going to learn about the fire station through reading activities and creating questions to ask. Then we go and they can ask their questions! They use writing, reading, speaking, listening skills that are very important for English language learners to process what they’ve learned. We also do art projects which help them process.

How do staff best facilitate reflection? Do you have an example of a way that an adult might model reflection for students?

The whole idea of out-of-school time is this opportunity to address the things that don’t get addressed in school, to hone in on skills that we don’t always have time for during the school day. Try to make what you’re doing meaningful and authentic, and nudge students to explore their own thought process. During an activity we try to ask open ended, probing questions like, “Why do you think that is? What other questions could you ask? What makes you think that?” We also model thinking out loud for students, which is really important to give elementary students the vocabulary to reflect and think critically. Because they’re English language learners, having sentence frames around the room for reflections after an activity is important because it gives them structure. For example, “I learned ____. I am still wondering ___ because ___.”  Adults can model other skills through reflection, too, such as perseverance as a personal reflection during the activity. “I’m finding this really hard. Some of the strategies that I can use are to ask a friend, to ask a teacher, or to try it again.” We find it really helpful to model reflection as a way to nurture perseverance in the kids. We also support their critical thinking during art activities like drawing or sculpture by encouraging them to ask, “Is this my best work? Can I make it better? What can I do? Does my friend have feedback for me?” We try to encourage them to lean on each other for support without adult intervention. When they do need us and they ask us a question, we try to ask them a question back to get them thinking.

How do you ensure program activities are appropriately challenging for the students you’re working with?

Going out into the community with students gives them real world, hands on experiences that make their learning more authentic. They can see how things that they see in books connect to the real world, and it’s not arbitrary. All of our activities connect to the field trips that we take so that kids can see our line of thinking, and it makes it more enjoyable. For example, math activities might connect to geometry and art, so can we find shapes in the park? How big are they? Which is the smallest? Which is the largest? That is all helpful vocabulary for English language learners. Everything is scaffolded so we want to make it challenging but we don’t want kids to get overwhelmed. We need to give them opportunities to digest and process what they’ve learned in different ways.