Kelso teachers use tech, interactive notebooks to engage students post-COVID

Students in Koko Musgrove’s classroom clapped their hands and repeated their teacher’s daily mantra during a regular school day Wednesday at Butler Acres Elementary School.

Musgrove doesn’t just use chants and affirmations for her class in fourth grade. Signs around her classroom encourage students to be independent: “It’s better to fail at something than succeed at nothing” and Musgrove’s main motto “Find out for yourself”.

“We want them to be advocates for themselves,” Musgrove said. “It’s a growth mindset.”

Your students engage in classroom debates on topics such as whether they’d rather have a dinosaur or dragon as a pet, whether they’d rather be on the bench of a winning team or be the star of a losing team.

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“You can explain their mindset, and there’s no wrong answer,” said Lacey DeWeert, associate director of teaching and learning at Kelso School District.

They also write original thoughts on assignments and draw diagrams in their interactive notebooks, Musgrove said. Your fourth graders will have independent time to read a book of their choice and also analyze its characters and vocabulary using the notebooks.

Musgrove said she wants students to feel they have decision-making authority over their education, which is partly due to a curriculum guide called Advancement Via Individual Determination. The school district had several teachers adopt the strategies even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s not that I’ve changed my teaching, but we now have specific terms that describe what strategies are being used,” Musgrove said. “It really revitalized me.”

AVID is by no means a new program — it began in a California high school in the 1980s — but the program has become more enticing for several Kelso School District schools, particularly in the wake of the pandemic.

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As a non-profit organization, AVID says on its website that the goal is for students to think creatively, collaborate with their peers, use research-backed note-taking strategies, and engage in civic discourse at an early age.

The program is optional for schools, but the schools that have implemented it are seeing great progress in their students, DeWeert said. Interactive notebooks have also helped students engage with what they’re learning on a more abstract level, she said.

District leaders across southwest Washington said the pandemic has impacted regular in-person learning. Students in remote and hybrid environments are finding it difficult to connect with their teachers and classmates, Musgrove said.

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Pupils in Kelso and Longview have also recently reportedly tested at lower levels than they did before the pandemic on standardized tests.

The AVID program is helping to address some of this stagnation in academic growth. DeWeert said the district wants students to eventually earn their diploma and see what they can do after school, including commerce and higher education. It starts early, she says.

“We want them to see their other options, and we’re not just telling them they need to go to college,” she said. “We want them to be both college and career ready.”

Sydney Brown is a news reporter for The Daily News, covering educational and environmental issues in Cowlitz County.

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