This is the final piece of a three-part series on valuing learner time.
First, how do you get more time with students to work on things that really matter to them? While there are myriad ways, here’s one way you might think about it. Let’s take science for a moment. Rather than putting the students who love science into the same class as those who find little interest in it and then teaching things mostly of interest to a science major, what if you thought about it a bit differently? And, no, I’m not talking about old-school tracking. What if you had a school that ensured that every student had the basics of scientific inquiry down and knew how to look at scientific findings/opinions with a critical eye rather than preparing them to be biology majors? For those non-science majors, that might be understanding how and why the earth is warming, how herbicides and insecticides work and their positive and negative consequences, and how knowing some science can make food taste amazing, etc. Rather than “dumbing things down” the results will likely be counterintuitive – more, not fewer, students may discover a love of science because it’s more practical and relevant.
Then, imagine the time available for the students who love science and envision a career in a science field to engage with an equally passionate teacher. Deep, deep inquiry. Internships, job shadows, conducting research alongside college students – and graduates who are incredibly prepared for their next steps.
Since English skills (reading, writing, thinking, listening, speaking, writing, presenting, discussing, debating) occur in every discipline and in most, if not all, contexts, why relegate it to a class? What if students handled the basic English standards and work through an online course supported by a physically-present teacher/coach? Then, with the extra time created for the teacher, they now interact with all the other teachers to teach students English skills in the context of that discipline. The science paper/report now satisfies not only a science standard or two but an English standard or two as well. Students would begin to understand the interconnectedness of these subjects. (How many times has a student told you writing shouldn’t count on a particular assignment because it’s not English class?)
Another way to think about this: consider what our friends at Village HS in the Academy 20 School District in Colorado Springs, Colorado are doing in this regard. Students take online core classes that focus heavily on the required standards and these classes are given a block of time in a student’s weekly schedule. Teachers, now free from constant lesson planning, lesson delivery, assignment and assessment grading, are available and monitor student progress, stepping in to help “just in time” for individual or small group students. They can use the data from the online class to target skills students struggle with and address those directly through enhanced lessons. Now, the rest of the time (about 5 blocks out of 8 a week) is filled with electives built by teachers and students that are high-interest and high-relevance and that provide students opportunities to continue to hone their academic skills. It is filled with time for internships and job shadows. It’s a time filled with strong mentor relationships with teachers having the time and flexibility to build those relationships. It deep dives into subject areas students care about – like the 12 students at Village who wanted to be writers getting to engage in a novel writing course for a year.
An additional value add to having more time would be to engage students in contextually-rich experiences in the community through authentic projects. Like at Iowa BIG, students could choose projects they cared about and work directly with community members in business, non-profit, and government settings working on real problems and opportunities. All while having an opportunity to practice their critical 21s Century/Universal Construct and relevant academic skills in real, authentic, “messy” contexts.
Make no mistake, students are (and let’s be honest have been) questioning the value of school and the time being asked of them to endure so much of what feels foreign and disconnected to who they are and who they want to be. Let’s take that seriously and make that seven hours worthy of their time.