Tag Archives: high school

Why We Should Cry for Change in Education, Part 5

15 Sep

Even though my day-to-day teaching duties are over, I’m enjoying the website Edutopia, founded by George Lucas and others. It seems to be a teacher-supportive mix of practical advice and progressive thinking, with thoughtful bloggers and helpful videos.

This blog headline caught my attention the other day: “The Role of Mistakes in the Classroom,” by Alina Tugend, a New York Times columnist and author of “Better By Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong.” Tugend’s premise is that it’s OK for school kids to make mistakes in math, reading comprehension and other subjects because it’s all in the name of learning. With effort, kids might arrive at the right answers, and even if they don’t, they should be praised for embarking on that road to learning and not just shirking off an assignment because their mindset is that they can’t do it. The concept makes so much sense; the trouble is that it butts heads with our test-scores-are-everything goals right now.

I liked how Tugend called the idea “resilient learning,” and it helped me recall the times I had to coax freshmen and sophomores into writing an essay, any essay, because — I assured them — their efforts would be reflected in their grade. So many of the kids assumed that a poorly written essay would be an automatic F; thus, why put in the effort? So, sure, I graded some pretty rough patches of writing in my time — full of sentence fragments, wandering ideas, cliched openings and conclusions and, yeesh, the spelling errors. But, hey, they were writing.

I could contrast my approach to grading essays to some of my colleagues’ methods and their superciliousness when it came to catching mistakes — an attitude of “aha! I knew I’d find a noun-pronoun disagreement in there!” Should teachers fill students’ papers with critical comments in the hopes of teaching them something? That’s a whole ‘nother topic there.

I saw Francisco the other day when I was subbing. “Look, Ms. Ross, I’m still here!” The odds were so heavy against Francisco when he was in my sophomore English class. He had moved here from LA to escape the gang life, where he had survived a stabbing, only to get lured into the wannabe-gangsta life at our school. Still, he worked with all of his teachers and a magnificent ESL aide to keep up his grades. When the narrative essay assignment came up, he admitted he’d never written more than a sentence at a time. With a little encouragement, though, he handed in a long, heartfelt essay about the mistakes in his life and the quest to become a better man. Full of errors? Yes. Sophomore-level writing? No, but a triumph in narrative voice.

And in just a few months, Francisco will have a diploma.

Here’s a cogent point from the comments section of the blog, said by instructional coach and writer David Ginsburg: “You can’t win if you don’t play–and the way to get kids to ‘play’ is to stress effort more so than accuracy.”


Hey, parents!

12 Aug

No one solicited this advice from me, but I’m going to give it anyway. I spent enough years as a high school teacher to know that many teenagers are scooted (or shoved?) out the door on the first day back to school without their parents having set a few ground rules for school life.
So, for any parents of teenagers reading this, here are a few things that teachers wish you would discuss with your student:
Should your student take an iPod or other mp3 device to school, and if so, what are the rules for when to take it out of the backpack?
Parents, realize that even though iPods soothe the savage beast and are silent playthings, they can still cause a distraction in the classroom. At the start of every school year, teachers have to decide what their iPod rules will be. Should an English teacher allow iPods during silent reading, a math teacher during deskwork, an art teacher during free painting and drawing? Certainly, no iPods during lectures and tests is a reasonable rule, but if teachers loosen that rule at other times, do they set themselves up for iPod-addicted students who whine, “We should be able to listen to our music all the time.”
Sure, teachers realize how teens love their music, but teachers don’t love how kids share an earbud with a neighbor so that they can both rock out. Teachers don’t love how kids mouth the words of a song, sway back and forth, turn the volume up too high and otherwise cause distractions during class time. It’s no wonder many teachers ban iPods entirely. Can your student handle an iPod during learning time? Talk to him about it.
And I haven’t each touched on the prevalence of iPod thefts at high schools. Not too long ago my English class came to a standstill when a junior stood up, furiously accused another student of stealing his iPod and wouldn’t sit down until he got it back. Our reading of The Crucible could wait, and I was highly resentful of the interruption. Ask your son or daughter, how would you feel if your iPod disappeared while you were at school? The administration can take a report on the theft, but is not obligated to help find the device. I’ve seen tears shed over lost or stolen iPods.
Speaking of technology, please establish rules with your student about cellphones. Most teachers would like to toss them into a big bonfire; I’ve heard of schools that won’t let students walk through the door with a cellphone. OK, so it’s not like students are chatting on them during class time — it’s the text messaging that’s the distraction. Kids have devised a hundred different wily ways to text without the teacher noticing. I especially liked the hand-and-phone-in-the-front-pocket-of-a-hoodie trick. There’s also the big-purse-on-desk trick to serve as cover; guys prop up big textbooks for the same purpose. Can your student manage to keep the cellphone in a backpack all during class period? Furthermore, can he or she turn it off? Too many times I’ve seen well-behaved and not so well-behaved students give in to the temptation to see why their phone vibrated or lit up. And what will the consequences be at home if a teacher has to call about cellphone abuse?
I’ve saved the big kahuna for last: grades. Let me be blunt: If you think it’s OK for your student to come home with a D in a class and for all of you to breathe a sigh of relief that he or she didn’t fail, think again. American education is in no shape to settle for D’s, much less C’s. Too many teachers are lowering the bar, and still, kids can’t manage B’s and A’s. Keep track of your children’s grades through the swell new ways that teachers post grades online; set up a conference with teachers; make a phone call; ask your student why he or she is not doing well in a class. Do something! Get involved! Don’t settle for “it’s the teacher’s fault” or “she’s a crappy teacher.” There has to be more to it than that. And don’t wait until the last minute to resolve a problem. Teachers get bombarded with requests for makeup work and extra credit at the end of a grading period; often it’s too late to raise a grade significantly by the end of a grading term.
By railing about these three areas — iPods, phones and grades — I’m really just expressing a general frustration that most teachers share about lack of parental involvement once kids hit high school. My feeling is that maybe you can relax and not harp on rules for school behavior once kids hit 16, but please, please talk about your classroom behavior and grade expectations with your freshmen and sophomores. And don’t be afraid to call a teacher just to get a general read on how your son or daughter is doing. Even at the high school level, teachers want to be your partners in education.
{Extracted today: 860 words}

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