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Flexible Yet Consistent: Creating a Skills-Based Curriculum at Voyages South

For students who have struggled in traditional educational environments, a conventional curriculum can present unique challenges. Students are often at different stages in their learning and may need additional support to master key skills necessary for success after graduation. Voyages South Preparatory High School, a school serving overage, under-credited students in Queens, has taken a unique approach with the creation of teaching tools they call Guided Learning Booklets and Survival Guides.

In Guided Learning Booklets, teachers provide students with all the readings and activities for a unit collected in a single packet. This forces teachers to plan and craft their lessons carefully beforehand, gives students who have often struggled with attendance a document they can refer to day in and day out, and makes curricular work more visible across the school.

But there is a danger of materials such as these becoming just a series of low-level worksheets. Principal Chris Losurdo wanted to make sure this did not happen. Enter the Voyages South Survival Guide. Through their participation in the Transfer School Common Core Institute (TSCCI), an initiative led by the NYC Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness, Mr. Losurdo and a team of four teachers from different departments worked with coaches from Eskolta to create a guide for teachers consisting of a set high-quality curricular activities.

Central to the Survival Guide is a checklist or rubric, like the one at right on the skill of Determining Importance, that provides clear language and criteria for assessing a core student skill. Along with each checklist, the Survival Guide includes a collection of simple curricular activities that align to the skill, like the Say-Mean-Matter chart (at right, below). Each Survival Guide activity includes five important features:

  1. A lesson and skill objective
  2. Clear directions for the student
  3. Optional sentence starters for use in independent work
  4. Clarity of expectations
  5. An optional metacognitive question

The Voyages South team found that by offering a set of activities with common language for all teachers, they could build instructors’ comfort teaching these new skills, which in turn led to deeper student confidence and engagement. As one teacher shared, “The consistency this year has led to a new comfort level in this cohort of students. It has raised expectations of what they are expected to do in all classes.”

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