Featured Community Jan 31

Write about it Wednesdays: connecting with high school freshmen

For students just beginning high school, they are managing many new experiences all at once. Not only a new school, new classmates, and new teachers, but typically a new level of responsibility related to preparation for their futures. 

Sophia Yargo, an English teacher at Struthers High School in Ohio, works exclusively with 9th graders—so she is well-versed in the trepidation of students who are at the start of their high school journey.

“I think it’s really important as a 9th-grade teacher to know that this is a time of huge adjustment,” shared Yargo. “It’s important to consider what my students are feeling right now, how I can make them feel more confident, and to be able to help them learn. Having a platform to establish relationships with them in a meaningful way helps them feel heard and impacts how I shape instruction.”

The platform that works for Yargo is Along, the teacher-student connection builder. “Some students come from backgrounds where no one is really listening to them at home,” said Yargo. “Along helps create this rapport between teacher and student that can be really beautiful in the sense that students feel more valued as human beings and then they’re more interested in what you’re teaching. Along gives them a space to share their thoughts and feelings in a non-threatening way.”

Try this 1-2-3 strategy

Yargo has worked out a strategy to get her students in the routine of using Along. She connects individually with more than 100 of her English students each week using these steps:

  1. Explain what Along is and why it’s being used in class. “I told students that I would be sharing different questions that will help us get to know each other at the beginning of the year, that will help me know more about your ideas and experiences,” said Yargo. “And then, that I would be asking more questions that will relate to what we are learning in class to connect to what we are learning at the moment.”
  2. Students answer an Along question as a bellringer. Yargo also shared directly with students how she would be implementing Along in the classroom. She told them that when she asked an Along question, her expectation would be that it’s a “do now” task for students as she is taking attendance.
  3. Designate a specific day of the week to use Along. For Yargo, she’s also chosen a date and a fun title to keep students excited about answering Along questions: Write About It Wednesdays. “Every Wednesday when they come in, I project an Along question on the board,” she explained. “They know to log in and respond to the prompt with a written answer.” 

Bringing together themes from English class

Yargo reviews her students’ answers and will often lead a full class discussion around the responses, though doesn’t call them out as individuals.

For example, the class recently read the story “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” by Neil Gaiman, which is about a young boy hearing a mysterious bedtime story. The piece has many similarities to the popular movie “Coraline.” “On Along that week, I asked them to share about a favorite childhood movie that tied to the story,” said Yargo. “It also related back to our themes around mood and suspense.”

As the year progresses, Yargo says that she continues to take the insights she learns from her students on Along to develop ideas to use during her class lessons. “As a teacher, I want to impart the love of reading to my students. It can be a challenge sometimes, but hopefully connecting to a story will stay with them the rest of their lives,” she explained. “Literature has such a unique power in education to teach really valuable lessons to develop empathy.”

We’d love to hear how you’re using Along at your school! Reach out to us at media@gradientlearning.org to tell us more.

Keep reading Next

Related Articles