GLEAM™ Instruction Mindsets & Planning

October 6, 2021

UnboundEd works with educators at every level of the system to provide grade-level, engaging, affirming, and meaningful — GLEAMinstruction. We’re exploring these topics more deeply over a series of blogs. In the first blog, we shared how our GLEAM focus is not a list of technical skills or attributes; in fact, GLEAM instruction happens when educator mindsets, planning practices, and classroom actions intertwine in service of historically marginalized students. Because teacher mindsets and teacher planning inform day-to-day classroom actions and decisions, we’ll focus in this post on those two aspects of GLEAM.

Mindsets Matter

Before we can envision what it looks like for classroom instruction to exemplify GLEAM or consider whether or not GLEAM instruction is possible, we must ask ourselves, “Do we believe in the students in front of us?” If we do not believe that our students are capable of engaging with complex tasks or texts, then it doesn’t matter what’s included in our curriculum, rubric, or strategies toolbox. Evidence has long pointed out that, in our racialized society, educator bias exists and has an impact on student achievement.

Yes, contemplating instruction that is grade-level, engaging, affirming, and meaningful in the classroom begins with inward interrogation of our beliefs about our students, especially for our Black and Brown students who experience marginalization and whose supposed inferiority is constantly messaged and reinforced in our society. It also means an outward exploration, especially for those of us who are white. We must seek to understand racism and the myriad ways it operates in schools, to understand the forces of exclusion at work in our society. Without this, we may unknowingly perpetuate ingrained beliefs and practices that reinforce racial hierarchies; we may unwittingly play into narratives that expect Black and Brown inferiority.

We also need to know our students: who they are, what they are interested in, all they bring into the classroom. Knowing grade-level expectations is important, and  GLEAM instruction adds recognition of who students are and builds from their funds of knowledge. We welcome students’ full humanity with the intention of building a classroom community. We honor and acknowledge students’ ethnic, racial, and linguistic identities and their current and historical experiences within the context of grade-level work, regardless of whether they reflect the dominant culture. Further, cognitive science has long told us that new learning must be tied to students’ existing preconceptions and schema. The more we know about what students bring with them to the classroom, the more effective we can be as educators.

Planning Produces Progress

Instructional planning is intertwined with our personal learning about our students, our belief systems, and our journeys towards antiracism. Planning should be grounded in high-quality, standards-aligned curriculum materials. High-quality curricula that are well aligned to college- and career-readiness standards have the potential to provide significant opportunities for marginalized students to experience more equitable instruction. We have seen that standards-aligned activities have an impact on student learning, though many assignments do not offer students opportunities to engage in grade-level learning. The key, then, is planning in ways that welcome students’ full humanity, affirm their identities, and engage them authentically with grade-level texts and tasks.

To plan for GLEAM instruction, consider these (and other) questions while utilizing aligned curricular materials:

  • What do my students already know about this topic? 

How can I create space for students to bring their life experiences, identities and cultures, funds of knowledge, and prior learning to the lesson?

  • What is happening in my students’ lives right now? 

How can I draw on my students’ interests and concerns within this grade-level lesson?

  • What are the explicit or implicit messages about my students within this lesson? 

How can I make space for perspectives not included in the curriculum and affirm my students as humans and scholars within this lesson?

  • What is my role as a teacher in this lesson? 

How can I show up as an educator during this lesson to build a community of learners?

When we attend to questions like these, our planning might lead us to adapt aligned materials in a variety of ways. In service of GLEAM we may do things like:

  • Rewrite a geometry problem to involve local events, like a new building being considered in the school community
  • Pose a question about which perspectives are included in the text students are reading, which are excluded, and why
  • Consider how classroom texts and tasks can be used to analyze and illuminate inequities in the world around us
  • Design and implement surveys to uncover student interests, experiences, and prior knowledge
  • Plan for students to make conjectures at the beginning of the lesson to surface their preconceptions about a topic
  • Differentiate instruction to ensure all students have meaningful entry points to grade-level experiences



Tying it All Together

As we have seen, providing GLEAM instruction is about more than a list of technical actions or skills. It requires that we do reflective work to understand our students and the forces at work in the world around them. It requires interrogation and adaptation of instructional materials. And, it requires adaptive shifts in mindsets. When our mindsets and planning work together, we expand the possibilities of GLEAM instruction for our students. In the next blog, we will delve into the teacher actions and student experience that result when teacher mindset and planning are put into the service of instruction that is engaging, affirming, and meaningful.