Teachers and students smiling in classroom.

GLEAM™ in the Classroom

UnboundEd works with educators at every level of the system to provide students with instruction that we have come to call GLEAMTMgrade-level, engaging, affirming, and meaningful. In the first blog of our ongoing series, we shared how the teacher actions and student experiences that exemplify GLEAM instruction result from educator mindsets and planning practices focused on and intertwined with the elements of GLEAM in service of historically marginalized students. We focused on the critical teacher mindsets and planning practices that inform day-to-day classroom actions and decisions in the second blog. In this third installment, we focus on what GLEAM looks like in the classroom. 

When educators engage in the sorts of reflection and planning activities described in the previous blog, we hypothesize that students will: 

  • Experience a collaborative, student-centered learning partnership with the teacher in which the teacher provides both cognitively challenging grade-level work and the supports required to struggle productively with that work.
  • Feel that their cultural funds of knowledge and identities, along with their linguistic and academic identities, are affirmed in the course of instruction.
  • Engage in learning experiences that emphasize higher-order thinking, are rooted in grade-level work, and offer just-in-time supports as needed.
  • Display confidence and pride in who they are — critiquing content, challenging inequity, and pairing their learning with their lived experiences to claim their rightful space in the world.

Let’s explore these indicators of GLEAM a bit more. 

Classroom Environment and Routines

In the last blog, we introduced a question for educators to consider when planning: “How can I show up as an educator during this lesson to build a community of learners?” Indeed, a major feature of GLEAM instruction is that students experience learning each day as part of a welcoming, affirming community. GLEAM instruction means that students have genuine relationships with their teachers, echoing what Zaretta Hammond has termed “learning partnerships,” which involve “building trust with students across differences so that the teacher is able to create a social-emotional partnership for deeper learning.” Students and teachers partner in an equitable, humanistic relationship. 

GLEAM instruction also means students experience instruction in ways that challenge dominant cultural narratives and affirm their identities. As Hammond also lays out, the dominant culture in the United States is characterized by high levels of individualism, and also with an emphasis on written traditions. With GLEAM instruction, these cultural archetypes are more balanced in the classroom with students experiencing individual, as well as collective learning experiences; they also engage in activities that prioritize both written and oral modes of expression. For example, students may write answers to math problems individually for part of a class period, while also engaging in an active and oral reciprocal teaching activity for another part. Students may be graded on an individual essay on one day, and earn credit for team performance in a debate the next. Further, GLEAM instruction means that students’ home lives and languages are also welcomed and affirmed; academic instruction is connected to and congruent with culture at home. Students may be invited to bring objects from home to analyze mathematically; families may be invited to school to share their expertise. In this way, students are offered access to learn the college- and career-readiness skills defined by the dominant culture, while also having their cultures and identities affirmed. 

Higher-Order Thinking

Cognitively demanding tasks anchor GLEAM instruction. Students are given opportunities to read and write about complex texts and to solve multistep problems in mathematics. Here are some thoughts on what this looks like (and doesn’t look like) in practice:

What it looks like

What it doesn’t look like

✅ Providing grade-level texts and tasks for all students 

❌ Reserving grade-level texts and tasks for only some students

✅ Scaffolding complex texts by chunking and offering multiple opportunities to comprehend

❌ Replacing opportunities to read complex texts with read alouds or below-grade-level texts

✅ Offering opportunities for students to explain their thinking and engage in discourse

❌ Offering only repetitive, low-level tasks that students must complete silently and independently

✅ Giving students opportunities to understand and explain math concepts

❌ Focusing mathematics instruction on repeating procedures without conceptual understanding

Offering students equitable opportunities to engage with learning activities that are aligned to grade-level expectations is a critical part of providing GLEAM instruction. 

Connecting To Reality

Finally, in a GLEAM classroom, students are also given opportunities to connect their learning to meaningful social challenges and inequities. As Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings wrote in “Yes, But How Do We Do It,” “I am not talking about teachers pushing their own agendas to the detriment of student learning. Rather, the task here is to help students use the various skills they learn to better understand and critique their social position and context.” And so it is with GLEAM. Students learn to answer text-dependent questions, and apply this to interrogate grade-appropriate complex texts about issues facing their local community and the world. Students learn to model with equations and statistics, and then apply these skills to understand, analyze, and critique the forces that pollute, discriminate, or perpetuate injustice in our world. 

Bringing It All To Life 

We’ve now explored the mindsets, planning practices, and classroom actions that embody the idea of GLEAM instruction. We believe that instruction characterized in the ways we have described holds the promise of disrupting racism in K-12 schools. In contrast to instruction that is narrowly focused on low-level skills acquisition, in the absence of connection and community, GLEAM instruction can rehumanize teaching and learning to unlock the potential of all students, especially those from systemically and historically marginalized communities. Consider taking these actions to help bring GLEAM instruction to life in your school or classroom:

  • Maintain high levels of cognitive challenge for all students. Give all students a chance to grapple with grade-level texts and tasks, with supports as necessary. 
  • Build trusting relationships with students. Learn what they’re interested in and care about, while demonstrating sincere investment in their success. 
  • Get to know your families and community. Invite parents and caregivers to school, to share the ideas, issues, and skills they are passionate about. 
  • Develop your own critical consciousness. Investigate inequities at the local, national, and global levels, and consider the role they could play in the course of instruction. 

In the Classroom

We further hypothesize that holding these mindsets and planning in this manner deeply influences teacher actions in the classroom, fostering educators’ ability and opportunities to: 

  • Respect their students and create the conditions for collaborative, student-centered learning partnerships with all students.
  • Affirm, while also building on, students’ cultural funds of knowledge.
  • Utilize formative assessments to ensure multiple, meaningful entry points into the learning.
  • Emphasize grade-level, higher-order thinking skills, including discussion, problem-solving, and problem-posing, with just-in-time supports as needed.
  • Involve connection and application to the real world, in ways that connect to students’ lived experiences, embody antiracism, and challenge inequity.
  • Include a balance of individual and communal learning opportunities in which they prioritize group, rather than individual growth and success.

As a result, student experiences embody GLEAMTM. We believe, given these conditions,  students will: 

  • Experience a collaborative, student-centered learning partnership with the teacher - in which the teacher provides both cognitively challenging work and the supports required to struggle productively with that work.
  • Feel that their cultural funds of knowledge are affirmed in the course of instruction.
  • Have entry points to grade-level content that they see as meaningful.
  • Engage in learning experiences that emphasize higher-order thinking, are rooted in grade-level work, and offer just-in-time supports as needed.
  • Display confidence and pride in who they are, critiquing content, challenging inequity, and pairing their learning with their lived experiences to claim their rightful space in the world.
  • Engage in communal sense-making experiences that prioritize collaboration and group success.

We at UnboundEd are grateful to be your partners on this collective journey toward providing students grade-level, engaging, affirming, and meaningful instruction.

This is a three-blog series.

Blog 1: What is GLEAM™?  Blog 2: GLEAM™ Mindsets & Planning