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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall


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Actually, it wasn't that much of a News Flash that High School Students are Bored. To tell you the truth, I don't know (and probably don't want to know) anyone who made it through high school without ever being bored. Because, just as when I was in high school,

....the factor the students most frequently cited as the cause of their boredom was that the "material wasn't interesting," with "lack of relevance" of the material following not too far behind. Some 35 percent of the bored students, however, indicated that the source of their boredom was a due to "a lack of interaction with their teacher."

Ouch, that last statement hurt! It demands that I look at my practice in the mirror of student perspective, so I checked out the the Indiana University School of Education High School Survey of Student Engagement. It reported that

As for what methods they preferred in the classroom, 65 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "I like discussions in which there are no clear answers."

Wow! That's enough to drive a data-driven principal into apoplexy! What's the mastery objective? Where do you put that on the curriculum map? When will this fit into the pacing guide? How will we know what they learned if there is no correct answer to put on the bubble sheet? Can a teacher be trusted to guide discussion? Can a teacher trust her students to engage in meaningful open ended discussion? Troubling questions, indeed.

So, what else did they like?

"Projects and Lessons Involving Technology" was chosen by 55 percent of students as an instructional method that was exciting/engaging either to some degree or very much.

Project based learning is all well and good; but does the project have content specificity with a clearly defined learning objective? Is there a measurable outcome? Will there be a rubric based assessment? Might the technology become a seductive distraction from the content? Does the teacher have the technical capabilities and classroom management skills to insure that students can manage this sort of assignment?

Teaching is a tricky business. Sometimes quality control seems to be more important than creativity and when that happens instruction tends to become rather static and less engaging.

Monday night I hung out with educator buddies from around the country. These incredibly creative, engaging and inspiring educators had gathered to present at the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Teacher Leadership Symposium. First we had a long dinner with conversations that literally danced around the table--changing partners and topics, to and from classroom practice, our children, policy reform, literature, our individual work, gossip about friends, world events, the future of education, our futures, and the brainstorming projects we ought to pursue, to the big "what ifs." Then we gathered in a hotel room, huddled around two laptops, and attended a Teacher Letters to Obama webinar where teachers with varying perspectives and agendas from around the country came together to share their insights and perspectives on education policy. This group does not have an agenda of advocating specific "clear answers," they would just like to be part of the discussion.

One of the coolest things about the webinar format is that while one person has the mike and talks, it is possible to carry on a written instant message conversation with any and everyone in the virtual room. You can butt in without interrupting, pass notes without getting in trouble, and share insights and ideas as they come. Monday night there were four of us in the room carrying on a third tier of conversation as we talked among ourselves in physical space. Sounds like a high school classroom where all the kids are texting, twittering, and talking out loud at the same time!

I was still turning over the ideas and the insights and the possibilities from Monday's dinner and webinar when I read Anthony Rebora's review of the High School Survey of Student Engagement -- and I began to reflect on interactions with my colleagues and interactions with my students.

"I like discussions in which there are no clear answers."

Yeah, me too, and I learned a huge amount during those unstructured, somewhat chaotic, loud and rowdy discussions. And while I'm not an intuitive techie, my need to create materials, prepare presentations, and communicate with colleagues around the country have motivated me to become technologically proficient. Just as students learn best in project based learning situations, I've built my skills because I needed them to do meaningful work.

But do you know what I liked best about this survey?

It had an open ended question that allowed high school students to say what was on their mind, and it is interesting that one out of five responded. The executive summary of the survey results tells us

The most frequently expressed idea is that taking this survey is "pointless" and a waste of time. Those that give reasons for believing that there is no point in doing this survey generally state one of the following: no one listens to students or cares what students have to say, and no one will take action in response to students' views.

Wow! How often have I heard, "No one listens to teachers or cares what teachers have to say, and no one will take action in response to teachers' views."

I guess we are not alone in our frustrations. Or perhaps in creating frustrations for others. When reflecting on how we would like to be treated as educators, it behooves us to look at the mirror image of how our students would like to be treated as well.

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