May 22, 2009

Looking at the classroom from the other side

In a recent post on Suite 101 Barbara Pytel writes about why students drop out. According to a survey of 500 recent drop outs, here are some of the reasons they decided to drop out of school:

•    47% said classes were not interesting
•    43% missed too many days to catch up
•    45% entered high school poorly prepared by their earlier schooling
•    69% said they were not motivated to work hard
•    35% said they were failing
•    32% said they left to get a job
•    25% left to become parents
•    22% left to take care of a relative
•    Two-thirds said they would have tried harder if more was expected from them.

Looking at these numbers, educators should ask why. Why did 69% of students feel unmotivated? Why did 47% feel classes were not interesting? Why did two-thirds of students feel not enough was expected of them?

Part of answer might be found by looking inside a typical classroom. McREL has been collecting classroom observation data for over two years. Administrators and others, using McREL’s Power Walkthrough™ software have been in K-12 classrooms from coast to coast, in 27 states, and collected data from over 23,000  3-5 minute visits. What those data indicate might provide some clues to why some students drop out. Here is a picture of the “typical” classroom experience, as indicated by the Power Walkthrough data.

Students walk into a classroom and are seated in rows of desks for whole group instruction for the majority (54%) of their day. The teacher stands in front of the room lecturing for just over 20% of the day. When the teacher isn’t lecturing, students are doing workshops for 16% of their school day. Technology, the world students live in outside of the classroom, is only used by teachers in 22% of all lessons. Students only use technology in the classroom 21% of the time. Students are engaged kinesthetic activities in just 4% of all observations. Just under two-thirds of observations (60%) indicate that instruction is at the lowest two levels of the Blooms Taxonomy. Could this be a reason that two-thirds of dropouts feel not enough is expected of them?

“Yes,” you might say, “but that is high school, not elementary school. Elementary teachers have kids working in small groups and do much more hands-on activities.” Not according to the data. While the overall data indicate 54% of instruction is whole group instruction, the number for primary (K-2) classrooms is 50%. In fact, the data just doesn’t change much at all from primary through high school.

It is time to think about teaching and learning from eyes of the student. Let’s think about designing our classrooms and our instruction for the benefit of the student, rather than the convenience of the adult. As Marc Prensky writes, “Engage Me, Or Enrage Me.”

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Comments

As a classroom teacher, finding ways to challenge students ends up being a double edge sword. While I understand the need to try and challenge students but what ends up happening a lot of the time is you get resistance from the administration and from the parents. A lot of the time, the drive to have a high GPA is higher than the drive to be challenged and actually learn.

It obviously has to start with the desire from the teachers to actually want to challenge the students. However, what also needs to exist is a basic understanding that challenging equals harder... in a good way. The harder you engage yourself in the material, the more it will actually be learned and the more it will stick. Ten years from now, my students may not remember every tiny detail from our time together but, by striving to challenge them, the big picture will stay long after the details fade.

I'm not exactly sure what the cure is for this country wide but it really starts with the teachers. We have to realize that we are not doing them any favors by printing useless dipolomas. The college dropout rate is so high due to lack of preparation on our level.

Thankfully my administration has by and large allowed me to raise the bar and keep it raised. I have a high failure rate at the beginning of the semester that I attribute mostly to lack of preparation from the teachers they have had before. But what I've noticed is extraordinary. By the time the semester comes to a close, my total failure percentage becomes extremely low. As long as I keep the expectations high, they eventually rise up when they realize I refuse to come down.

I can live with that.

There is always a danger of expecting too much from students and having them give up.

As educators, we should take time to discover what motivates our students in order to increase school attendance with a higher graduation rate. Furthermore,the teaching strategies should raise the bar using Bloom's taxonomy. Using the two lowest instructional levels does not create higher-order thinking that challenges our students to prepare them for post secondary education and real world experiences.

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