Q&A with NGL Mentor Brandon Taylor

Brandon Taylor is a seventh grade U.S. History teacher at Glasgow Middle School in Fairfax County, Virginia. Brandon used NGL as part of his Flexible Instruction Time (FIT), a 30-minute class at the end of each school day for learners to work on enrichment activities. Recently, I sat down with Brandon to learn more about his experience with NGL.

IO: Tell me about your teaching and educational background.

Brandon: This is my thirteenth year in education. My wife is active duty military, so I tend to just follow her from base to base, and thankfully there are opportunities available everywhere. I’ve taught in Colorado, England, and now here in the D.C. area. I’ve taught from sixth grade up to tenth grade, some Civics, but mostly U.S. History.

IO: I know that Glasgow Middle School gave teachers the opportunity to shadow a student for a day. Did you participate in that?

Brandon: No, but I’ve been interested in it, and I was part of a feedback committee. It was really eye-opening for the teachers who did it. They talked about how exhausting it is to be a middle schooler, to go from class to class, and how the students have no control. I think NGL gives the students an opportunity to put the learning back in their hands as opposed to just bouncing from class to class.

IO: How would you describe NGL and quests to an interested teacher?

Brandon: I would describe it to another co-worker as an opportunity for students to self-grow, and to self-learn about different strengths or about areas they’d like to improve for themselves. I like how it’s interactive, so it’s not something that would come off as classwork, but they get a chance to do the activities on their own, to have dialogue with their mentors, get feedback on what’s working well for them or what areas they can work on. It’s really nice that NGL drives the kids to drive themselves as opposed to a teacher-centered learning environment.

IO: Explain how you’ve used NGL in your classroom.

Brandon: I’ve used it for my FIT (Flexible Instruction Time) class the last half hour of the day where students come for an enrichment activity. We have a lot of freedom as educators to see what we can do to best help them: not just with their test scores, but as people, as learners. So I used NGL fairly regularly and the kids got to choose their own quests. I had dialogues with them, at least every week, to check in. It helped me talk to them as students, which we rarely get a chance to do as much nowadays.

IO: How has using NGL during your Flexible Instruction Time been helpful or positive for you, for your students?

Brandon: Putting the ownership back on the students allows the teacher to really talk to individual kids. I personally kept a little book where I wrote down their progress and even the topics they were currently researching. It’s nice to try something a little bit different. The students still grow and learn different skills that they can use in their classes, it just comes from a different source.

IO: Can you tell me about a specific success a student had or something memorable a student did while working on a quest?

Brandon: I do remember one student specifically was interviewing other kids about colleges and different careers they were looking at. He didn’t just do the typical yes/no questions that sometimes students try to get away with. He really wanted to know what his classmates were doing. I think that helped form his opinion on what he was thinking about for college. Granted, seventh grade is a little early to be thinking that far ahead, but the earlier they can hone in their thoughts on what they want to do, I think, the better. A number of them did the quests that are geared toward careers. One girl specifically wants to be a writer, and she wasn’t sure that was a career that you could get paid to do if she didn’t want to necessarily write a novel. I said sure, there’s articles, and news and publicists; there are lots of ways to go into writing. So, she really got her eyes opened to the realities of working on her writing skills for a career. Those two jump out at me.

IO: Is there anything surprising that you learned from using NGL?

Brandon: It was a great opportunity to help me grow as a teacher, too: to work on my ability to try and be more personable to the students. When I only have the kids in FIT class, I don’t get a lot of time to get to know them as much as I would like. I think that’s a big part of teaching -- just being able to connect to the kids, to get to know them as people --so NGL helped me to build those relationships.

IO: Are there elements of NGL that you see yourself applying to other aspects of your teaching, or other classes?

Brandon: I think the nature of teaching is evaluative, but ultimately our job is to scaffold and to support students and to bring instruction to them in a way that’s meaningful, engaging, and lifts them up. I think using NGL made me more aware of that goal. I think using different options and resources, and differentiating for the kids, is the heart of what we try to do.