Thursday, November 3, 2016

Is The Classroom Exciting?

I saw an infographic last week that caught my attention.  When teachers were asked to respond to, “I make learning exciting for my students”, 84% responded affirmatively.  But when students were asked if their teachers make learning exciting, only 40% indicated that they felt this was the case.  The disparity between the two perspectives got me to thinking about why this is the case. 

As I look back on my K-12 days, I realize just how many differences there were between that environment and the environment in today’s classroom.  While there may have been a prescribed curriculum to ensure that students in a particular grade were being taught pretty much the same content, there was a great deal more autonomy on the part of the teacher to teach the content in a manner best suited to their individual personality and style.

The continued focus on high stakes testing has to be a part of this gap between student and teacher perspectives on what makes learning exciting.  This is certainly no fault of today’s teachers.  They are doing a phenomenal job of adapting to an environment where autonomy has somewhat been sucked out of the classroom.  With the focus on testing, they are left with no choice but to adapt their style to a structure that requires a bit more (or maybe it’s a lot more) of a structured approach.  But they persevere and are generally very successful; for that, they deserve our undying appreciation.

The question now becomes one of better understanding why students feel that learning is not exciting.  At the core, I have to believe that the “drill and kill” approach driven by high stakes testing is having a major impact on their perception of what makes learning exciting.  Much like an accountability system where the lowest performing campus dictates the overall rating for the district, the testing requirement has an overarching impact on student perception of the classroom environment.

Can I absolutely state that the elimination or at least the reduction in testing would jump the number significantly?  I certainly cannot but I firmly believe that the response percentages will be favorably impacted.  I have one other idea of how we might better understand student perspectives.  Let’s ask them!  After all, the real stakeholders in the discussion about public education are the students themselves. 

Increasingly, I see efforts on the part of leadership in districts across the state to engage students as part of an advisory council for them and those efforts are to be applauded.  When education is a collaborative effort between all stakeholders, “good things” happen in the classroom.  And the more that “good things” happen, the greater the likelihood that students will begin to feel that the classroom is more exciting.  

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