Each month, Meghan Trombly, Strong Women, Strong Girls’ Director of Process Improvement and Knowledge, is blogging about the current research and emerging trends that are informing our work. Check in each month to learn what we’re reading about relationshipsrole models, or skills.

What’s your New Year’s resolution?  Soon enough, we’ll be fielding endless queries about the changes we intend to make at the drop of the ball.  Will your resolution be about building a new skill?  Skill building isn’t just one of Strong Women, Strong Girls’ New Year’s resolutions, it is also one of our three core program elements. By providing girls and young women with a safe space to practice skills, they are more prepared to utilize these skills when the opportunity, or challenge, presents itself in their lives. This quarter, Strong Women, Strong Girls is mulling over research related to literacy and civic engagement skills.
“What Works to Improve Student Literacy Achievement? An Examination of Instructional Practices in a Balanced Literacy Approach” reveals that specific literacy practices lead to a positive influence on reading comprehension scores:

  • Higher-level meaning & questioning: Teachers ask questions that support students in applying the text to a broader context and drawing out their own meaning.
  • Writing instruction: Including writing and conversations about writing efforts.
  • Accountable talk: Students are encouraged to actively participate in reading by drawing conclusions, providing evidence from the text for their conclusion and supporting/challenging other students’ assertions.

Strong Women, Strong Girls does not explicitly measure the literacy rates of girls before and after participation in our program.  Still, literacy-based activities are two of the main components of a Strong Women, Strong Girls lesson. As a result, we hold ourselves to the highest possible standards in implementing these literacy-based activities. In light of this research, Strong Women, Strong Girls is providing mentors with training and written resources on the importance of these practices, as well as ways in which to implement them.
Another major component of the Strong Women, Strong Girls curriculum that provides girls with skill building opportunities is service projects.  Starting in January, girls will:

  1. Identify a challenge in their community;
  2. Implement one of Strong Women, Strong Girls’ service project modules to address the issue and;
  3. Present a reflection their efforts.

To ensure the greatest impact of these service projects, Strong Women, Strong Girls is making note of two recent pieces:  “K-12 Service Learning Standards for Quality Practice” and “High-Quality Instruction that Transforms.”  These studies show that high-quality service learning capitalizes on the following concepts:

  • Less is more: Focusing in-depth on one topic that is meaningful
  • Higher-level thinking: Making connections to life, drawing conclusions, and encouraging inquiry
  • Active engagement: Encouraging students to take ownership over learning and building partnerships
  • Reflection: Providing opportunities for applying lessons learned to broader context and drawing larger conclusions

Strong Women, Strong Girls’ standard service project modules naturally incorporate these best practices. However, based on our past evaluations and observations, there is potential to better capitalize on the concept of higher-level thinking and reflection. As we gear up for service projects, Strong Women, Strong Girls is educating mentors on the importance of these best practices. We are providing mentors with strategies for implementation. To do this, we are incorporating them into our standard Service Projects 101 workshop . We are also providing more advanced workshops that build on these concepts.
How are you incorporating higher-level thinking and reflection into your daily life?  In what ways are you making connections and drawing conclusions?  How can Strong Women, Strong Girls encourage greater reflection in our literacy and service project efforts?
Literacy-Based Components of Strong Women, Strong Girls
Each week, mentors use Shared and Guided Reading to engage girls in reading the biography of a strong woman.  The biographies provide girls with role models and diverse pathways to success.  Ultimately, the biographies expand girls’ belief of what is possible.  Additionally, each lesson closes with journaling.  Mentors respond to each girl’s entry.  Writing in personal journals allows girls to reflect on the skill practiced that week.  The journals also foster dialogue and strong relationships between the college women and the girls.
Service Project Component of Strong Women, Strong Girls
During the second half of Strong Women, Strong Girls, the girls put the skills they practiced in the fall into action by completing a service project. First, the girls and their mentors participate in an asset-mapping activity to help them identify the community challenge on which their project will focus. Then, they choose from one of SWSG’s service project modules to address the challenge identified. Past service projects have addressed health, environmental, and literacy issues through creative solutions, including creating newspapers, painting murals, producing a play, and raising money.  This process engages the girls as decision-makers and leaders. The service project culminates with a community-wide presentation. By educating other youth and community members about a local issue, the girls create a ripple effect. The community witnesses the power of youth making a positive difference. Community members are provided with a vehicle to become more civically engaged themselves.  The presentation also provides yet another leadership opportunity for the girls, bolstering their confidence in their ability to make positive social change.