Creating Success in the Urban Classroom
Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Julia Liapidova
"How did I get an 'A'? Mr. Raja cared," said Greg Williams, a student from Grant Union High School in urban Sacramento, Calif. "No one in my family has graduated from high school or college. It was expected that I would sell drugs. My first class in Sacramento was like a jungle, (but) Mr. Raja built a relationship and showed me that I’m not ever alone. He made sure I understood the material in class. There were consequences if I didn't."
At his Saturday morning session, algebra teacher and ASCD author Kadhir Rajagopal—accompanied by four former students, including Williams—outlined how his instructional model has helped teenagers who were struggling academically overcome a history of failure in math. Rajagopal explained that his relational, culturally responsive approach—CREATE—evolved out of techniques that he successfully used to help his special education high school algebra class outperform peers on California state algebra exams. He used what are now the six tenets of CREATE to build sincere relationships, establish a common language that made algebra problems easy to understand, and reverse the mentality that "to be smart and black or brown is not cool."
Rajagopal discussed the need for urban educators to take "tenacious accountability" for in-class student learning. He strongly recommended that teachers develop an in-class reward system and keep lecture time to a minimum. When lecture is critical, he finds great value in asking his students personal questions. His goal is to transform each instructional delivery into a "30-way dialogue."
To motivate his students, he rewards success with a scoreboard. Each class is worth a certain amount of points, and to earn them, each student must answer 20 questions on the concepts learned that day in class. He encouraged session attendees to abandon their chairs upon their return to the classroom and recommended individually monitoring each student's progress as he completes these questions—these become the student's exit price for leaving that day.
He regarded homework as unnecessary practice with too many variables that a teacher cannot control. Rajagopal told teachers in attendance that the most significant takeaway from his presentation was the importance of compelling students to master content in class each day.
Rajagopal further outlines the CREATE model in his 2011 book Create Success! Unlocking the Potential of Urban Students.