We’re rapidly approaching the end of the school year and I’ve had the hardest time trying to motivate students to keep trying. Even some of the students who are typically on top of everything are letting assignments slide. I know that they’re overwhelmed, but who is at fault? Their lives are busier than ever with school, homework, jobs, and sports. They definitely don’t get enough sleep, so I can see why they zone out during class. They didn’t hear about the assignment and are so glazed over that they don’t check our online learning management system. What can I possibly do to keep students on track for graduation?

The Problem With School

I’m genuinely concerned with the future of education. I recognize that teaching is the way it has been for a long time and while technology is changing rapidly, teaching is not. I have decided to ask my students what they think the solution is. Many admitted that they didn’t know how to fix things, but they did offer some ideas that might help them individually. Here are some of the things they don’t like about school:

  • Excessive homework
  • School start time
  • Seemingly irrelevant content
  • Bored or tired teachers
  • No real break during breaks (Spring Break, etc.)

Solutions According to Sophomores

From conversations that I’ve had with multiple classes of students, they fully recognize that they don’t know what the possible solutions are, however, we both recognize that something needs to change.

Sleep

One of the possible solutions is a later start time. If school started later, they would be able to get the sleep that they need, and do all of their activities after school. There are potential issues with this solution, including bus schedules and truancies, but I think they can be worked through. Parents and siblings would have to adjust, but if students are at their best in the few years before university, won’t they be better off?

More Time

Another possible solution is for students to work at their own pace. They recognize the need for deadlines, but they also recognize that not everyone is at the same ability level. Some students take longer to grasp concepts. Some students need more practice with math problems or essay writing. Some students admitted that total freedom at their own pace would be a problem and nothing would get done. Some structure is needed, but flexibility seems to be important. Several students mentioned the possibility of taking online classes. Not that they want to do school 100% online, but that they could get more done without having to go anywhere. The social aspect of school is the other side of it. None of them want to do school alone. They need to see their friends. They need to experience new ideas and interact with others.

Enjoyment

Why can’t class be more fun? It’s a serious question. Students can tell if a teacher has lost interest in teaching. They can tell when teachers are having good or bad days, and whether or not they love their content area. A couple of students were bold enough to say that if a teacher is grumpy or tired of students, they should stop teaching. I can’t disagree with that idea. But, if we change what school looks like, would more teachers stay in the profession longer? And, should class be fun? What in the world can I do to make reading literature more fun than it already is?

Reality

“I know I’m not an artist or musician, so why do I have to take these classes?” or “I’ll never be an athlete, do I really need this fitness credit?” Are some of these classes a waste of time? Could the time that students are expected to be in school be reduced? Could those classes be replaced with more career specific experience? Would our communities benefit from skilled tradesmen and women? I think there could be some compromises here.

To Sum It Up

School should be fun, with no deadlines and no pointless classes. School should be flexible with some class time online, and some class time at school. Teachers should be funny and engaging, and flexible with due dates. Homework isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as it helps students learn what matters to them.

Can 15 and 16 year old students know how education works, and how it would be best for them? Can they really know what is best for them? Would they avoid the hard things, like math, or reading? Would they get the work done on time? What would happen if we tried it? What would happen if students focused on what really interested them, and could ignore what they didn’t care about?

Managing a school system is tricky. Public schools have a system. Private schools have a system. Charter Schools have a system. But, they’re all different. Some are run by educators. Some are run by business people. Some are managed by a Board of Directors.

What is the end product?

What do we hope students get from our school systems, whatever they look like?

What do we hope they are capable of as they leave the various education systems and enter the workforce, join a branch of the military, go on to college or a trade school?

 

Do we really need a change in our education systems?

Ultimately, some changes could be made. However, students need to pick what they think is most important and make it happen. There aren’t any shortcuts in life that yield real results. It takes dedication and work to make things happen, even if we don’t like them.

I’m curious, let me know what you think.

Think on, read on!

-Dave

Like every other skill, writing is something that will not get better without practice. That idea is probably obvious, but how does a student absorb instruction from the teacher? Even if an English teacher or tutor demonstrates how to write an argument, it is often difficult for the student to watch and then do.

Why Write Argument?

When I say argument writing, most students think of arguing. Argument writing can simply be informing the reader about a subject, and supporting the claim with reasons. Writing this way  is a skill that is valuable in a variety of careers. It’s also a skill that many people never have to use once they leave high school. Writing is an extension of thinking, but they’re not synonymous. It would be a weird world if we were to write like we speak. When people speak, we have multiple chances to explain what we mean so long as the people we are talking to stick around to listen. However, when we write we only have that one chance. If we have a point to make, or something to explain with the desire to convince others we have to be clear. It sounds like a big job, but it’s doable.

Graphic Organizers

Most English or writing teachers will use some form of graphic organizer to help students outline what they’re writing about. For some students a simple outline will help them get organized and write. Others need to see exactly what they are doing step by step. Many graphic organizers will be directing students in the same direction by providing boxes or ovals where they can write their thesis, supports from articles, and their commentary about why those quotes or supports make their thesis true.

It looks something like this. I’ll use smartphones as an example.

Thesis or claim:

Android smartphones are better than iPhones.

Evidence, reasons, or supports from articles:

1. There are more types of Android phones to choose from.

2. Android phones are a better value. Cost for features is better.

3. Android phones are more customizable.

For beginning or intermediate writers, the most difficult part of writing is often validating or explaining how the evidence supports the thesis.

This is where we focus on commentary. Explaining how Android smartphones are better than iPhones is obviously opinion, but there are facts for both sides. I could easily argue that iPhones are better than Android phones. The point here, is to explain why I used the reasons or evidences I did.

Evidence # 1 – There are more types of Android phones to choose from. There are many different manufacturers who make a wide variety of smart phones. Some are smaller, and might work better for younger users. Some have better cameras so people can take professional quality pictures. There’s a phone for every need. Some Android phones have bigger screens so people can watch movies anywhere. If a person is on a budget, or a phone gets broken, it is easier to replace an Android phone with something that is affordable. iPhones have different sizes, but they’re all the same, and they’re all expensive.

The idea behind explaining the evidence, or making commentary, is the “so what?”. I made the claim, and you might say so what? So I explain my thinking, or my reasoning.

Writing Is Like Sports

Sports commentators do something similar to writing during every game. They make a statement about a player, or a play during the game, then try to explain or validate why they said what they said. They will talk about the players abilities, their past performances, and their potential future in the sport. When the commentators make a claim, they immediately back it up with their response to the “so what?” question.

Writing is just like having a conversation with someone, but the writer never gets to see the other person. It’s challenging because when we are writing, we have to anticipate what the reader won’t understand. We have to try to think of their questions and answer them in our writing.

This is a simple outline and description for writing. The easier this gets, the more you can customize your writing to what your teacher or professor is looking for. Some writing will require more evidence and commentary, others will be very straight forward summaries.

Write to be understood, read to understand.

-Write on, Read on!

Dave