Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Resources to Support Learning: An Interview with Teacher Luajean Bryan

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BryanWEB.jpgIn the first installment of our interview with innovative teacher Luajean Bryan, Bryan described the hands-on projects that have driven up enrollments in her advanced math and science classes.  In this second installment, she tells us about her strategies for overcoming the challenges teachers face when attempting do these types of projects, including how she corrals the resources she needs and her thoughts about the "time" dilemma.

Be sure to listen to our highlights from the interview (5 minutes):

Or check out our transcript:

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS:  Have you ever felt that the [student projects] you do distract you from the goals and tests, or does it all reinforce the same work?

BRYAN: It's funny you should ask that, because at first I was reluctant to do projects for that very reason.  I thought, "Oh, it'll interfere.  I won't be able to finish the curriculum.  I won't be able to cover all the standards."  And I have found the opposite to be true.  It complements and deepens the instruction.  It fortifies what I teach in lecture, so much so that [the students] remember it.  Their performances are better than ever, and their interest is spiked.

I think just doing a project for the sake of doing a project would be wrong.  But making sure that it's something that involves what you're doing and complements what you're teaching...then I think it's much worth the while.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS:  Have you encountered any barriers or any challenges to get this work done that you think a lot of teachers might encounter if they try to do similar things?

BRYAN: The only barriers have been...afraid to try something.  I think you're afraid sometimes that you can't do it, or you're afraid that you won't get the support you need, or you're afraid that it won't work for the students.  Or they'll all not take it seriously.

The barriers are sometimes time.  You're afraid you won't be able to fit it in.

Money sometimes is a factor, if it's a project that is expensive.  But then there's always grants.  In the last three years, I've been awarded over $20,000 worth of grants, because I just apply for them.  And if you write your grant for the right purpose and in the right way, I think that there's someone out there that will find your interest as well.

The time factor-people always worry about that.  They think, "I can't do that, I don't have time."  But at this point in my career, I don't think I have time not to do this kind of thing, because it's so enriching to the students.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS:  So you're talking also about your own time outside of your teaching duties.

BRYAN: Right.  It does take some work to prepare a good, well-written project.  And actually, every project I use, I find little ambiguities in it each time.  Maybe there was some question that all the students didn't understand, or they didn't understand one of the pieces of the instructions, and so I tweak it a little bit.

Every time I use a project, it gets easier and easier because the instructions are more clear to the students, and any error or any flaw or anything that fell short, I can improve a little bit.  I think that's the beauty of having computers.  You can save all your work and then just tweak it the next time you use it.  I really love doing that because I get the project to the point of it being a really, really good project.

But it is a love/hate thing.  You love watching the students learn and you love the way they respond to the projects, but you hate having to go and assign a grade to it, because you know sometimes they spent so much time on it.

I think teachers are reluctant to do projects because of the time involved in scoring them.  I have developed scoring rubrics.  I never hand out a project without a scoring rubric with it, so that the students will know exactly what your expectations are and what you're going to score heavily on.  And you will be able to [grade] more easily because you've got this score rubric already set up.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS:  Do you have the sense that teachers in general have the support they need to do this kind of work? 

BRYAN: Not every school has administrators like I have.  I have two administrators in particular, a principal and a vice-principal, who are so gung-ho, and so supportive and encouraging to me.  In fact, I think the assistant principal is the one who encouraged me the most [in developing student projects].  Her encouragement boosted my enthusiasm as well.  And not everybody has that.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS:  So you need both administrators and teachers who have courage.

BRYAN: I think so.  Not afraid to think outside the box.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS:  If you had a single message you wanted to deliver to the public education community, what would that message be?

BRYAN: If I were speaking directly to the teachers themselves, I would tell them to go ahead and commit to working with what you have.  The students that you have at the level you receive them.  When they come to you, go to their level.  And be resourceful for materials, and for funding, and for help from colleagues, mentors, and the community experts.  Don't be afraid to search out other people.  I think that would be it.  Just commit to working with what you have.