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Coasting Through Senior Year

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In a recent article, Mary Tedrow, a Virginia teacher and member of the Teacher Leaders Network, said that, for many students, senior year is a "featureless landscape"—a year when they fulfill their remaining requirements, but avoid academic challenge. According to Tedrow, this is a wasted opportunity. She believes senior year would be more meaningful if students were compelled to take dual-enrollment courses, participate in apprenticeships, or pursue community service.

From your observations and experiences, are most seniors simply coasting through their final year of school? What can schools do to engage seniors in learning? And, how can teachers encourage students to take their senior year seriously?

24 Comments

I agree that the senior year needs some revision. How about doing away with it and using the saved money to establish universal preschools?

I agree that senior year is not preparing most seniors for the rigors of academic life on a college campus or for the real world of earning a living daily. Seniors tend to take the least challenging courses academically so that they can have an "easy" senior year. I don't think that we need to do away with the senior year, but to re-shape it as a springboard for their future.

I totally agree that some Seinors coast through their seinor year. I have 2 sons. One of them took dual enrollment and was always college bound and the other got his credits and then basically did nothing but cut school and visit with friends instead of paying attention. He didn't care about a GPA hardly ever turned in an assignment. Any time I would get onto him and tell him he wasn't going to pass he would point the fact that he would because he already had his requirements. He passed his ACT's with just what he needed. The school also did not have an attendace policy for graduating seinors. I was sure do the cutting, he would not graduate but I was wrong. He graduated in May and is enrolled to start College The end of August. I hope College will be different for him. The rules need to be stricter and enforced. I also believe Life Skills and dual enrollment should be enforced. These kids need to be better prepared for the real world and how you raise them is not always true. As I said I had 2 sons raised the same but they were totally different.

I agree most Seniors see their finally year as a time to relax and have fun. I have a daughter who is entering her senior year and I required her to continue to take AP and Honors courses instead of general electives. I believe these course help prepare for the rigors of college life and it shows prospective colleges that you are mature enough to handle a full schedule. I believe to help with this problem colleges need to seriously look at senior year performance and let students know that the senior year is also important to their academic success.

For a while, our local high school offered senior students the choice of continuing with a regular program of studies second semester or choosing to do a Senior Project of their choice. Proposals for the project needed to be accepted by a committee and final projects needed to be presented before a community audience. The projects were amazing, ranging from apprenticeships with local lawyers, contractors, and graphic designers to original plays or musical compositions to community service projects. Each student learned more through his/her project than any number of hours in a classroom seat.
I heartily support such opportunities for students to be self-directed learners...but not relegated to only senior year. Encouraging 'life long learning' is often proposed to be one of the big purposes of public education...but the daily scope and sequence of what we have deemed to important to know and be able to do has not provided such opportunities. Let us start somewhere to to make changes to graduate real thinkers and doers. At the very least, revamp senior year!

When I was a high school senior, it was a wasteland. We took what was required to graduate and maybe an elective or two and went home early. Looking back, this did not help prepare me for college.
Now my daughter is a high school senior with a full schedule of AP, honors, electives. Our school does not allow you to waste your senior year. There is also an alternative program to work through an internship of your choice (must be approved) if you prefer not to be in school.
I'm glad to see that my school district takes senior year seriously.

Are you kidding? Where are you? Check with some of the more competetive high schools and you'll find kids like my sons. Their senior years were the most rigerous they'd ever taken---AP course, honors courses---along with working and getting the whole college application thing done. My eldest said that after high school, his first year in engineering school was a breeze. In my district, the school board tried to rachet down the pressure on these kids by limiting the total number of AP courses they were allowed to take. Parents howled and kids can still take 3, 4, or even 5 AP courses in their junior and senior year. Talking to other teachers across the country, this is not unusual. Look at the Northeast, the West Coast, the Mid-Atlantic region. It's not easy to be a senior in many places. College comes as a respite.

This is an important conversation for colleges, schools, parents, and students to have. Although the GPA and completed requirements may be enough to get the student into the right college, if the student has taken senior year "off", it will be difficult for them to get back into the academic rigor needed in college. Math is one subject where there has been serious concern about how out of practice entering freshmen have become. A large number of entering students need remedial math despite having taken a "college prep" or even "honors" high school program. Even some strong students quit taking math after sophomore year because their block schedule allowed them to take it all early. Studies have shown a correlation between students who do not need remedial math and those who succeed and graduate from college. I've also seen way too many students who seem shocked that they have to do work and attend classes to pass college courses. College is an expensive place to learn this lesson! One school district nearby requires all of its seniors to design, complete, and present a capstone project. Taking on more responsibility in senior year would ease the transition into college. Even so, students should continue taking the foundations as well.

Mary is right about making a senior year meaningful. Dual-Credit courses and AP courses are should be the way for seniors to make their senior year educationally meaningful. Perhaps to go one step further states should takes steps to make the senior year all college credit and make it a mandatory condition for graduation to have at least 12 college credit hours at a 2.0 for graduation. There are a couple of reasons why senior year is a problem--one is students themselves that feel they have worked hard and can coast through their final year--this is because colleges only look at the first semester of senior year -- or only at the junior year for admittance to college. Another reason is that parents condone the belief that the senior year should be a time for students to relax. There is also a problem with college freshmen not having the work ethic to handle college. We are going to be in serious trouble in this country unless our students can compete on a global level with students from other countries who are coming into college wanting to be there and being ready to learn. We really do need to have higher standards imposed at the state/federal level that will give seniors more of a purpose to do well in their senior year.

I have "exceptional" (according to their high school transcrpts and letters of reference) students who enroll in college and struggle tremendously. They neither have a work ethic nor the foundation for rigorous college work. I like the idea of dual enrollement between high schools and local colleges. I would also like to see classes developed for college bound Seniors in the area of research skills, resume writing, narrative writing, speech, upgrade their academic computer skills (not video games), interview skills, etc.
I also like the idea of internships and apprenticeships culminating in Senior projects which must include presentations graded at the highest level. Many of my college Freshmen cringe at the mere thought of standing in front of the class and making a very short presentation.

I believe it is up to the student to make their senior year meaningful.

My son took 4 AP classes his senior year. Our state, Indiana, has a fairly rigorous honors diploma.

Along with swimming and playing French Horn in a wind ensemble, his senior year was anything but too easy....

For those students, who are not college bound or in a vocational program, mentorships, projects, career preperation, etc. could be very helpful.

To me, the most powerful concept in Mary's fine essay is the idea of "rite of passage" -- of culmination and transition. A time to reflect and to connect school experiences with the world to come.

I'm also reminded of an interesting article in Edutopia magazine, a couple of years ago, that described a meaningful approach to senior year in the Evanston, IL schools. Not quite as visionary as Mary's (which I love and hope we'll hear some examples of), but the authors' description of a Senior Studies course is well worth reading:

http://www.edutopia.org/combating-senioritis

I teach an elective called Reading for Pleasure at the high school level. Some students, those over achievers taking three or four or more AP classes take the class to read some of their AP novels and find having two English teachers to talk to about their books very beneficial, but every year colleges will call our counselors to ask about the class, since it sounds like a 'blow-off' class.

Other students take the class because they know more reading, regular reading, will help them raise their ACT scores. Which it does. One student had positioned herself with a great cumulative record and GPA, took my class to raise her ACT, and agonized over what colleges would think of this class on her transcript.

Like Mary's school, our state requires students to attend class full time during their senior year. Concurrent enrollment is an option that many students take, but that means they lose touch with high school, since they're only attending classes on our campus half the day.

I love the idea of Senior Capstone projects or internships or apprenticeships.These would all have that connection John spoke of. What valuable learning that could be.

Like my class, seniors can make of their last year of public school education whatever they're motivated to make. But if we as educators could offer more options, ones that would reflect students' interests and talents and goals, how much more meaningful this year could be.

My daughter graduated from one of the most highly regarded high schools in California, but she HATED her senior year. It was boring, irrelevant, and unchallenging. Why? Her teachers told her they were so fed up with "senioritis" and lack of effort on students' parts they they'd giving up any hope of teaching. My daughter wanted to learn, so this attitude infuriated her. Mary's article puts forth some reasonable alternatives to this stalemate.

An eighteen year old is ready to take on the world, and too often we ask them to take on one more course for which they have no real application instead. There is also the unspoken implication that the primary purpose of high school is college preparation even though the majority of high school seniors will never finish a college degree.

Career and Technical Education high school programs that articulate through a two year community college program provide an alternative for many students that prepare them for lucrative employment in high need fields such as healthcare and technology. Students on this track can always switch over to a four year degree plan if or when they discover a need for a deeper theoritical knowledge base in their field. It closes no doors, but it does offer multiple paths into the workforce.

Mary's point about 18 year olds asking permission to use the bathroom, told where to sit or stand at lunch in certain high schools while also being 'old' enough to drive, vote, and hold down a job is compelling. There is a strong connection between course offerings and the affluence of the school district, but now, virtual classes are opening up more opportunities for remote access areas. I think Mary's article does a great job at underscoring the need to help and grow in one's community while learning how to be compassionate and caring. Some say that's 'soft'---I totally disagree. Work ethic isn't measured on SAT's and yet, it's the backbone of why we succeed.

I observed, as my three children completed their graduation requirements, that only Sr. English and government remained. That would account for 2 of the 8 hours of school and I really wanted them to wait as long as they could before they started college courses.

So, being the mean mom that I am, I "required" my "seniors" to take all sorts of electives they hadn't had time for in their schedule. They took Writer's Workshop, Dramatic Literature, Construction Techinques in Woods, Textiles, Java programming, Accounting, Music Theory, Computer-Aided Drafting, Photoshop....I think you get the idea. Our HS was rich in all sorts of things they'll never get a chance to do as adults ever again.

My oldest is in a biochemistry PhD program and treasures her time in Silvermaking, Philosophy and Photoshop. The next one, who graduated with a BS in Math, loved woodshop, CAD and Accounting. And my youngest....well, he's a senior in college and he explored enough Music Theory that he has continued his music all through college as a hobby. I guess my point is that their "extra" time didn't necessarily need them to be engaged in traditionally academic HS courses...they were enriched by lateral exploration of other topics.

I know some of these HS departments have actually started having "fairs" in the spring. The point of the fairs is to publicize what is possible and to market their courses to students as they received their spring enrollment packets. Much to the dismay of kids, many parents once they find out all the possibilities....well, they don't want their kids to be out on early release to sack groceries or to get college credits. They want them to find new interests and horizons.

What a great thing to do as you're about to launch into a new life, with new freedoms, and new opportunities.

Here we go again.

1. If schools were led by administrators to have a truly meaningful student-centered curriculum via quality teaching standards (instead of testing-driven standards), it is impossible to have a wasted senior year. This sums up the core of most of the content contributions so far.

2. Additionally, when administrators (and teachers, parents & community) recognize the value of excellence in real art education, off-hand comments about art being so easy and unchallenging would more commonly be recognized as shameful flambouyant displays of ignorance. Ever hear of the internet and cable? They are more visual-based than reading and math combined. That is where most new non-local information enters our home! If we keep graduating visual illiterates from high school, we will severely compromise our world's future. Art class is the place where we should be teaching visual literacy - how to critically read and assess, not just make, coherent visual thought. Beware of the educational professionalism of any person who does not hold the arts in the highest regard as the flower of quality education for now and the future. True professional educators know that art is NOT exclusively talent-based and is not a classroom babysitter. We all LEARN how to see. And if we are not taught properly then we do not see properly - a scary proposition when we get our politics so much more from TV than the newspapers!
If more citizens knew how to read the VISUAL IMAGE information from TV, our politicians could not be fooling so many people so much of the time.

3. Finally, when administrator do not obfuscate the display of leadership education as 'good behavior', and instead present it as thoughtful and responsible action, then students could not sit still for slack curricula, especially in the senior year.

This system is broken in the schools where the school leaderships fights to maintain an inadequate, antiquated, status quo. Teach the students how to think and be responsible to themselves, each other, society, the environment, and the world. Again, when taught properly, the arts can do a great job in this regard!

I teach Freshmen students at a state university and it is often easy to see the students from the administrative leaderless schools and the students from schools that put their students first.

Citizens and teachers must start addressing the problem where it really exists - administrator preparation and accountability in true student-centered leadership.

My apologies for missing out on this great side conversation on the teenage wasteland. I have been attending an AP conference and preparing to challenge students to think their way through English class next year. Its going to be great fun for all of us.
I hope I did not imply that the arts are a waste of time - only that one student made it clear that he was only marking time in order to meet requirements without showing much interest in the course. Also, I agree wholeheartedly that our avid students are NOT wasting their time. In many cases these highly motivated academic students are overextended.
Over the years I have listened to colleagues grow frustrated trying to reach students who have already passed the required state tests at the end of their junior year. To the middle student it seems apparent that senior year is superfluous. Some have even shown up on the first day of school asking, "You're not really going to make us do anything are you? We're seniors!" Most sign up for college prep courses because they have no idea what else they might do (guess I'll go to college...) but have little investment in the coursework. The more the real world intersects with this final year in public school the more opportunities students might have for participating in their own future.

I believe I have read recently about some colleges who are retracting some of their scholarships after final semester transcripts have been received.

It is important for parents to stress the importance of all courses, but in some ways I think they believe they are beginning to "wean" their children by abdicating some responsibility in senior year (after all, it's easier for the parents, that way)

There are many driven students at my son's school, but there were also many drifters. When it was time to schedule his senior classes, noting that he had already included all requirements for an Honors Diploma, I told him, "take classes that you know have outstanding teachers". He looked at me like I had three heads or something! One of his favorite courses was AP Art History; with very little art background, it was still a smashing success for him. The teacher was fabulous, the other students were hard workers, and he was exposed to a totally different area of thinking. He will probably never take another art course in his life, but he has a much richer background now.

I think Mary's comments point out that one size does not fit all in high school. My oldest daughter enjoyed all parts of high school and spent her senior year taking AP classes and participating as a drama leader in her school. My two sons hated every minute of high school. They took the classes we asked them to take and made reasonably good grades but when the option to graduate in December came they were ready to flee. Most of their hatred of high school had to do with the authority and permission issues and often a lack of relevance. They have both enjoyed attending community college and they each have responsible part-time jobs where they feel respected and as members of a team doing something important. Our youngest child is a sophomore in high school. She loves school and takes challenging classes and is on the track team. Like her sister, she will probably attend 4 years or more of college. It seems that high school is a good fit for those who wish to head to the university but maybe not such a good fit for those who have other interests.

Schools can engage students in learning in their senior year by starting before the ninth grade.
I believe, in my years of education;flexibility, consistency and, creativity could be a start.
By their senior year, some students have become frequent in truancy, increased their absenteeism, increased suspensions, working more than 12 hours a week and, have disciplinary infractions. Learning, in some instances has lost its “fun” in the learning curve.
I feel, elements of successful programs begin, with gained influences within the school’s organization and management of knowledge of administrative staff, learned teacher support, faculty and students understanding that a well-defined curriculum can enhance their chances of reaching their goals and, believe that implementation of these elements must be concise on every level.
Objectives, guidelines that follow these principles, uncompromising discipline programs, schedule flexibility within the class, guided teacher autonomy,and then gradually implement some of the "prep for college" agendas that would help "bridge the gap" between high school and college bound students. Others,that may not be college bound at the moment,this would give the student an edge on responsibility, as well as, and introduction to the world of "Business 101".
Personally, I feel that this could change the curve on personal growth and achievement in a student while lending motivation in their senior year to consider taking college courses to obtain credit toward their guided college goals. Nothing ventured nothing gained. Then they could glide their way out the front door of high school to an obtainable brighter future.

WOW! Is this ever a timely discussion! As a stepmom/birthmom to a total of 8 kids, all but one of which has completed high school, I have seen some changes in the atmosphere of my local high school.

I honestly don't remember with the older kids seeing the lack of direction and energy that I see in today's generation. As a teacher myself, I love school and learning new things. While I understand that not everyone is so cerebral as myself, I am disappointed in the trend I see in a majority of the high school students who seem to do as little as possible to excel in their studies. My daughter is 17 and because she attends a small high school (her graduating class has about 60 students), there are simply some opportunities that are not available to her and her classmates. Because of this, I sat through a meeting with her counselor who was trying to encourage her to sign up for classes she had no interest in just to fill her schedule! Needless to say, she was less than forthcoming with any positive responses.

She could graduate in December but wants to stay in school so that she can be with her class for the entire school year. She has enrolled at a local college to take a class that will transfer to her post-high school credits should she go on to college, but she still has gaps of time in her schedule. She and the counselor finally agreed that she will do some student service work for staff members as well as working in the elementary school as a cadet teacher during these empty spaces.

Now, I did not raise my children to do nothing. They have seen me encourage their educational careers and go on to take more schooling myself after their father died. They know how I feel about education and the myriad possibilities it opens to an individual willing to do the necessary work. She (in addition to many students raised in this generation) just does not care! I am not sure if young people think that someone will take care of them, or they will win the lottery, or what, but the general attitude in this 3-county area is one of apathy on the part of high school students. They face so many challenges (drugs, indiscriminate sex, alcohol, and on and on...) that it seems too easy for them to slip away from our circle of protection and care.

I have also heard from college freshmen that they wish their high school experience had been more rigorous because they are finding that college is so much more demanding than they ever imagined.

If anyone comes up with a surefire way of "lighting a fire" under the behinds of our young people, please share it with the rest of us. I fear that too many teens today expect to move straight from high school into the presidency of some major corporation with all the rights and privileges that entails. They apparently refuse to see that there is so much more to success than immediate gratification. Sadly, some days my own daughter appears to have the same attitude.

I find it funny to read an article about paying attention in school and see such glaring grammar mistakes within the article. The author could have spent more time learning grammar skills during her senior year of high school. In an attempt to point out the need for seniors to pay more attention in school and language arts class, the professional writer for this article must have made grammar mistakes on purpose or simply made mistakes.

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