School Reform

posted Mar 12, 2013, 8:40 PM by Dawn Gernhardt

Students in my first semester clinical practice had the benefit of two teachers to give support, instruction, help, and differentiation. There were 42 students in our 5th period class—too many students, for them and for us. There were so many desks that it was hard to move them around and spread out for group work. And, the class was so easily distracted that there were classroom management issues that a veteran teacher couldn’t even handle. In part, I think it’s harder when there are so many students crammed into a small space.

I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like to teach one hour classes and meet with every period, every day. My last teaching experience included a block schedule where we met with classes every other day for two hours at a time. For students who moved through classes in block or everyday schedule, there is likely a lack of consistency between teachers’ styles, lack of connection between material learned between classes, lack of understanding of the amount of homework assigned per class per night (by teachers), a lack of time to move around, exercise, and take a break, and it’s probably overwhelming and tiring.

I think my students would say the biggest change they would like to see in high school is time and choice. Imagine if high school was more like college, with more choice of classes, self-direction, a focus on workplace and technology (more online courses and focus), only having to attend classes once or twice a week, being able to choose times and dates that work for them and their family’s schedules, having more independent time, and being able to complete internships in work environments. They wouldn’t have to miss classes due to their sports or miss sports due to their classes. If they are ill, it’s easy to make up the work, and more.

I found experiences that match my own when reading Are they Thinking or Shuffling?  The article focused on Miguel, but it could have been many students I know who are shuffling between classes and the school year. I’ve seen teachers (and likely I’ve been this teacher, too, as I mirror others and try to find my way) who “fight fires of distraction,” then “call on students who raise their hands to volunteer their correct answers.” After giving other students “time to copy the correct answers” it’s clear that students in this kind of environment are being taught to “hunt and copy, complete worksheets, and perform at the teacher’s call.” I am also struck by “how hard teachers work to keep students on target to complete tasks”…including myself. Often, students’ participation is reduced to “listening, memorizing, and following directions.” (pg. 5)

I love the suggestions to “let go of coverage; stick to big ideas and power standards; let go of busywork in favor of tasks that promote understanding; let go of knowing everything; focus on drawing students out; let go of tallying points; focus on gathering data that documents understanding.” (p. 6) I plan to focus on answering the following questions when I design activities and assessments, “what will students be thinking about while they experience this task?” and “how will this task show me that students understand?” and I’ll consider the big ideas of “identity, perspective, creativity, voice, conflict, symbolism, conventions, literature as a mirror, and writing as a record of human experience.”(p. 6)

When reading Students and Teachers Talk about School Reform and Student Engagement, I agreed that there should not be “one size fits all students or teachers" and to overcome that we’d need to “create a more individualized and flexible learning experience." If “education is more closely tailored to students’ individual interests, abilities, lifestyles, and learning styles” they’ll be more engaged.

To do this, teachers need to "tailor courses of study for students" and "customize their teaching to the individual.” If "students create their own education" (like that do at Evergreen College," and schools “offered more courses, gave students greater course choice (like college), “offered multiple ways to assess student progress,” and “developed less rigid time frames for graduation and advancement,”” students could progress at their own pace, including the option of when to start their school day.”

I would like to work with corporations, non-profits, and other groups to create "real-world experience and interships" that will simulate or solve “real world issues and create “critical thinking and creative problem solving.” Students who have "hands-on, interdisciplinary, project-based, and interactive” education will likely be engaged. I need to find "guest speakers, offer travel groups for domestic and international travel, incorporate technology ." If at all possible, we need to “connect students to nature and community” and find "adult mentors to motivate and guide students."

An innovative change or teaching practice I could implement in response to what students say they need and want would be to plan from what they will do instead of what I will do. When I write my step-by-step instructions I think about it more from what I need to do. I’ll start with the student side of things, instead of the teacher side. I will also practice using creative design with my lesson planning accounting for multiple representations of knowledge. And letting students crawl, stumble and fall on their own instead of rushing in to rescue.

I would like to give students alternative assessments that focus on skills and personality so that they can better understand how to work with other people (such as DiSC/Myers Briggs/interpersonal communication, etc.), I would like to have students help me plan out the units based on their interests. I would like to assign students to groups based on their interests where they teach each other or the class (like Jigsaw, but with choice and interest). Students would need to understand the education standards (let them in the back door). I would act like a guidance counselor for each student.

My son’s school sent home boxes for donations of coins. I asked my son if he wanted to fill up the box with change. He said it was a scam. I asked him why and he said that he didn’t want the money to go to Olive Garden (the sponsor). We discussed the sponsorship and then I told him we could research the charity’s status on an unbiased third-party website. We looked up the charity and it had terrible reviews. My son is on his classroom and school student counsel. After he learned that the charity was not very reputable, he couldn’t wait to share it with the other students and the advisory teacher. I also helped him search for an alternate charity he would want to support instead. It was his idea to email his teacher and start this dialog. He said, “I can’t wait to go to school tomorrow. Can you believe I actually want to go to school?” I want my classroom to be like this for my students.

Source: Hoffer, W. Thinking, Not Shuffling, chapter 10, p. 140-151.

Source: Budig, G. and Heaps, A. (September 2012). Students and Teachers Talk About School Reform and Student Engagement , CollegeBoard Advocacy & Policy Center, Special Supplement to Kappan.