YAB Project Management Boot Camp

YAB bootcamp

   Credit: Lindsay Adamski

If you want an inside look on how I develop my material and roll out new workshops, here is a case study. Last Sunday several members of NYFC YAB, accompanied by Lindsay Adamski (a.k.a., ladamski), joined me at AlleyNYC for a four-hour project management bootcamp. (Yes, you read that right: four hours on a Sunday. It was their suggestion. They are intense, these folks.) The aim was to finish the work that we started at the retreat back in August on the YAB Project Management Manual, which like their constitution, is co-authored by YAB and me. My model for this was the OCFS Handbook for Youth in Foster Care, which incorporates the voices of young people in care in every chapter. I especially liked how the handbook defines terms using the words of youth in foster care.

YAB does a terrific job of referring to a printed copy of their constitution during their meetings, and the manual is definitely supposed to act as a guide for every step of the project management process: brainstorming, project selection, planning, execution, and ending (termination, completion, and administration). Each section has handy tools and tips for success. We’re also making it available in digital format, however, because the manual is intended as a living document that they can edit over the years by modifying, clarifying, and elaborating on the existing material (e.g., working out their own ground rules and processes for each of these stages). There are exercises sprinkled throughout, so it also served as a workbook at the retreat and at the Alley bootcamp.

Full disclosure: the first project management workshop was a little rough. In a strict sense I wasn’t disappointed, though, because as with any new workshop, I was prepared for some kinks. (It’s always tough to time new activities.) Furthermore, it was the last workshop on the final day of the retreat, the youth were kind of restless and burnt out from all the work and running around we’d already done, and the creepy cabin we used as a classroom (the “dead animal room”) was not conducive to thoughtful dialogue. I’d assumed that we would finish the chapter on brainstorming rather quickly, but it took us an hour to get through the material. Nothing was too trivial for debate, and in my effort to write down everyone’s opinions, we lagged behind schedule.

It was clear that I had to recalibrate my approach (in business parlance, “pivoting” after “failure”!) for the follow-up session. This was a team effort. Lindsay got feedback from YAB about what they thought could be improved for next time, and the two of us met to discuss some tactics. Here are the ideas we all came up with: Continue reading


If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, you know that I have an interest in community centers that cater to the educational and developmental needs of the city’s youth. Yesterday I learned about yet another one. The New York Times recently had an article on how the children of Mexican immigrants in New York City have significantly lower educational outcomes than the general student population. Problems of lagging grades and test scores and high drop-out rates begin in primary and secondary school but persist in college.

Mexicans currently represent the highest percentage of 16- to 19-year-old youth not graduated and not in school in the City: 47%, as compared to 22% for Puerto Ricans, 18% for African-Americans, and 7% for whites. Furthermore, students frequently drop out after enrolling in high school: while 95% are in school at age 14, just 25% are still in school at ages 18 to 19. That’s a drop of 70%.

Those figures are provided by MASA-MexED, an organization set up to serve the educational needs of students of Mexican descent in New York. They provide educational support at all levels: offering a range of services from an early childhood playgroup to tutoring, mentoring, test prep, and college counseling. In addition to special classes in art and science, they also run peripheral programs such as ESL classes for students and parents alike, and an outreach effort for the 2010 census.

Teaching students how to ask questions

One way of letting my students know that I had high expectations of them was by requiring them to send in two discussion questions based on their reading assignments the day before class. I was a bit hesitant to implement this policy because it forces students to get their reading done almost a day earlier (so that I could review their questions and plan my class around their discussion questions), and of course it adds to their workload. But as both an undergrad and a grad student I found this exercise very worthwhile because it forced me to be an active reader. It required that I not only take notes, but formulate thoughtful questions based on whatever I was reading. Continue reading

How to teach “student success” skills

Toward the end of my last post I scrambled on top of a soap box on the topic of college readiness and education, but I want to return to Darla Cooper’s report to address the three elements she identifies as boosting the educational success rates of students emerging from foster care. They are:

1) “basic skills” coursework (remedial classes in the three Rs);

2) “student success” courses (classes that build student skills in things like test-taking, note-taking, and time management), and

3) “career pathway” programs that allow students to advance in a specific occupation or industry via a series of connected courses and training opportunities. (6-7)

I am particularly interested in instruction in basic skills and student success. As i mention in my post on teaching students how to write, I think that many of these skills are the sort of things that should not be taught in isolation, but rather in context. Continue reading

Teaching figurative language

As a high school student I remember learning to recognize figurative language in poetry by memorizing a long list of figures of speech—an exercise I repeated years later in graduate school but with all the terms in Spanish. It’s a tedious process that pays off when you finally have all the definitions memorized, not only because it can heighten your experience of literature, but also because you will inevitably realize the great extent to which figurative language permeates our everyday speech. Getting there, however, is not much fun.

I want to take a different approach to teaching figurative language by making students more active in the learning process. The strategy is simple: instead of working off a handout or textbook that lists figures of speech with accompanying definitions and examples, my handout will omit the definitions entirely. Students will be asked to craft their own definitions for various figures of speech by examining the examples given (with the pertinent words/phrases highlighted), hazarding a tentative definition, and then sharing and refining their guesses in class discussion.

Here is what I’ve selected for the term simile: Continue reading

Teaching students to write

At NYU there is an expository writing course called Writing the Essay, which all university undergraduates must take in their first year. I’ve listened to many an undergrad complain about the course, and not coincidentally, I can’t think of a single TA in my acquaintance who hasn’t had to reteach these students the basic skills of writing an essay: how to open an essay; what a thesis sentence is and how to formulate one; how to introduce quotations and other sorts of evidence in body paragraphs; how to conclude an essay, etc.. With an already tight semester, there is no way to go about teaching all this without making students feel like they are going through writing boot camp.

So what goes wrong during the semester when students are supposedly learning how to “write the essay”? Continue reading