I was speaking with a group of high school
freshmen repeat freshmen this past week. We were reviewing their “hot off the presses” progress reports, or lack there of reports.
When I speak with students who are in situations like this – students that we in public ed label “at-risk” – I like to be real with them. I like to spell out their current situation as it is and then discuss how to turn-it-around. However, this particular day they got me to thinking. With a resounding commonality they all had the same thing to say.
C’mon Mister, our teachers make it way too hard; they need to take it easy.
Well, being the educator that I am – I was not going to leave it there. So I followed up with some probing questions about their classes, teachers, and assignments. We also discussed why they were behind and what was leading to, let’s just say lackluster performance. As we delved deeper into the root causes for poor performance and lack of motivation it was becoming clearer to me. It was not about taking it easy; instead it was about making it relevant.
You see, our students are not stupid. In fact, should you choose to converse with them outside of the classroom you will find that many are more intelligent than we could ever imagine. The mundane “busy work” that students are receiving in classes across the United States needs to brought to an end. This is not a student intelligence issue or a student motivation issue – but an educational engagement issue. Bottom line: the students, many of whom are “at-risk” are not engaged. Now many in the profession would respond with a: “it’s not supposed to be all fun and games you know”. Yeah, I know.
I also know that there is a difference between “fun and games” and engagement. I have been on a tear lately completely reflecting and redesigning what I believe assessment (and grading) should look like in the high school classroom (that’s a post for a different day). But, engagement goes right along with it. In fact, it may be the key. The time for us to really reflect on what we are using in our classrooms to engage students and provide a meaningful learning experience is now. We are losing students to this epidemic of non-engaging, mundane , boring, over-used classroom strategies.
It’s not about easy, it’s about relevance. If we work to make our curriculums relevant I believe that we can connect with these students again. This past week I was giving a workshop on instructional technology to a group of high school teachers. We were going through some web 2.0 resources that they could bring into their classrooms immediately to begin engaging students in something they’re familiar with. It doesn’t have to be a huge overhaul of your curriculum (yet). But, we need to find the tools that we can utilize to engage these students. One educator that I recently heard speak about student engagement was Tina Boogren – you can check her work out at her blog.
So, when you’re designing your next lesson, don’t take it easy – make it relevant.
PS: More to come on this grading and assessing issue – its been trapped in my brain and I need to get it out into a blog post soon.
More to come…