Monday, August 17, 2015

Life as a high school student

From the Washington Post:

Key Takeaway #1
Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.
If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately change the following three things:
  • mandatory stretch halfway through the class
  • put a Nerf basketball hoop on the back of my door and encourage kids to play in the first and final minutes of class
  • build in a hands-on, move-around activity into every single class day. Yes, we would sacrifice some content to do this – that’s fine. I was so tired by the end of the day, I wasn’t absorbing most of the content, so I am not sure my previous method of making kids sit through hour-long, sit-down discussions of the texts was all that effective.
Key Takeaway #2
High school students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90 percent of their classes.
If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately:
  • Offer brief, blitzkrieg-like mini-lessons with engaging, assessment-for-learning-type activities following directly on their heels (e.g. a ten-minute lecture on Whitman’s life and poetry, followed by small-group work in which teams scour new poems of his for the very themes and notions expressed in the lecture, and then share out or perform some of them to the whole group while everyone takes notes on the findings.)
  • set an egg timer every time I get up to talk and all eyes are on me. When the timer goes off, I am done. End of story. I can go on and on. I love to hear myself talk. I often cannot shut up. This is not really conducive to my students’ learning, however much I might enjoy it.
  • Ask every class to start with students’ Essential Questions or just general questions born of confusion from the previous night’s reading or the previous class’s discussion. I would ask them to come in to class and write them all on the board, and then, as a group, ask them to choose which one we start with and which ones need to be addressed. This is my biggest regret right now – not starting every class this way. I am imagining all the misunderstandings, the engagement, the enthusiasm, the collaborative skills, and the autonomy we missed out on because I didn’t begin every class with fifteen or twenty minutes of this.
Key takeaway #3
You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.
If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately:
  • Dig deep into my personal experience as a parent where I found wells of patience and love I never knew I have, and call upon them more often when dealing with students who have questions. Questions are an invitation to know a student better and create a bond with that student. We can open the door wider or shut if forever, and we may not even realize we have shut it.
  • I would make my personal goal of “no sarcasm” public and ask the students to hold me accountable for it. I could drop money into a jar for each slip and use it to treat the kids to pizza at the end of the year. In this way, I have both helped create a closer bond with them and shared a very real and personal example of goal-setting for them to use a model in their own thinking about goals.
  • I would structure every test or formal activity like the IB exams do – a five-minute reading period in which students can ask all their questions but no one can write until the reading period is finished. This is a simple solution I probably should have tried years ago that would head off a lot (thought, admittedly, not all) of the frustration I felt with constant, repetitive questions.
A follow-up post:

A few clarifying comments are in order, based on the half million reads and many comments and tweets:
  1. I was thus not the author of the piece; there was no attempt on my part to hide behind a mythical person, though many thousands attributed the piece to me (even though my introduction to the post said that I was not the author).
  2. There were hundreds of comments about the cause of this HS drudgery being due to NCLB, Common Core, teacher accountability, and standardized tests. OOPS – as I noted early in one of my few replies to comments, Alexis teaches in a private school. Indeed, she teaches overseas in an American International School. So those many reader comments were a bit of projection – which, itself, is perhaps worthy of another post. The fact that such passive learning exists in good private schools (and colleges) only makes the matters raised in her post MORE important: why do we continue to make even elite education so passive when we don’t have to?
  3. The overwhelming response to the post was positive. Only a tiny handful of readers trashed the post, the author, me, and/or other commenters who were positive. They felt attacked as educators (though I really believe a fair reading of the piece shows that it was not an attack on teachers but schooling as we have all experienced it).
  4. The most poignant comments had to do with Alexis’ observation that the teachers she observed – as well as herself and me on video – are unwittingly more sarcastic than we imagine ourselves to be. Numerous parents picked up on this truth, too. Only 2 commenters tried to defend sarcasm in teachers.
  5. Alexis teaches in a school that has a block schedule, as was noted by the post. That made the passivity longer and more tiring – but it also meant that Alexis did not get to visit all the students’ classes (which included art and other more active classes). The good news: Alexis shadowed students in the other block and will report her findings later this week.

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