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Engaging Students in Learning

As the fall semester begins, it's time to rethink behavior standards.  If schools don't, they are unwittingly setting students up to act out or drop out ("Far more kids would succeed in school if we didn't bore them to death," Citizen Ed, July 28).  That's because so much disruptive behavior is the result of students seeing no connection between what they are taught and their lives. 

It doesn't take a study to confirm that fact.  But just in case, the Promise Alliance surveyed nearly 2,000 students and found that 25.9 percent of them dropped out because they were bored, and 20.3 percent dropped out because their classes didn't relate to their lives. Those who are bored but stay in school become disruptive, depriving other students of their right to learn.

We've got to get real if we ever expect to raise the graduation rate.  We can begin by differentiating students.  That includes tracking in academic classes.  Yes, all students are educable.  But the goal is to find out what they are interested in learning.  There will always be a few teachers who are able to engage all their students. However, they are outliers. 

When I taught English, the only tracking involved remedial students.  Grouping them together minimized disruptive behavior because they didn't feel the material was too difficult.  I never tried to teach them Julius Caesar.  It would have been a prescription for disengagement.  Yet there are reformers who claim that eliminating Shakespeare shortchanges students.  I say that they need to get real.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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