Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Targeting Growth Over Outcome In High School

The race to achievement and college career readiness has invoked a paradigm shift in the high school experience. With an expectation that all students will further their education at the college level we have seen not just an impact on curriculum standards, standardized assessment, and rigor, but also change in mindset and decision making.

The amount of students applying to and attending universities has risen across the U.S. The introduction of the common application has simplified the application process. The end result is students applying to a significant number of schools and those corresponding schools breaking their own records each year regarding the number of applicants. The schools invite this increase as it increases their selectivity which improves their perceived status. For example, it was just released that UCLA received just over 100,000 applications this year for a freshman class that is expected to be 6,500. With a 6.5% acceptance rate, one could conclude that a tremendous number of fully qualified applicants are denied. This new pattern has turned the college admittance process into more of a lottery.  The reality of this is that a student who enters high school with a specific university as their goal and one who devotes all of their decisions to meeting that schools expectations has the greatest risk of minimizing what high school can be.

There has been countless research and discussion about the value of finding the right "fit" and the correlation of success and what you extract from your college experience.  This data contrasts the opinion that the most selective school will guarantee you the best possible outcome.

The shift in mindset experienced by students is a focus on developing a transcript that reflects high level of rigor and grade point average. With this comes a great deal of anxiety as students sometimes sacrifice physical and psychological wellness in order to remain competitive.This new path limits the greatest experiences that build a foundation for life long learning. That being, experiencing and overcoming failure or setbacks, taking risks, exploring courses outside of your comfort zone or that are of high interest. The extrinsic motivation created by this escalating race clouds perceptions as the goal to achieve can be viewed as intrinsic motivation when in fact is an outcome of the encapsulating competition. In the end, students shift their focus entirely to achievement at the expense of true learning.

My wish is to work to evolve this mindset to a new focus. Rather than focus solely on a specific outcome, I would encourage students to look at growth. Understanding strengths and limitations and making a goal to improve them incrementally. A high school student who finds the right mix of challenge, rigor, and intrinsic interest and who works to grow incrementally in each area will develop the attributes that have a greater opportunity for continued success. The ability to understand mistakes, failure and setbacks and your ability to improve on them as a valuable learning experience would be the greatest skill to graduate from high school with. The understanding that you have four years to appropriately challenge yourself and grow. Staying committed to follow your passions and interests and not be victim to "this is what I have to do" is invaluable. In the end, you can find yourself as a senior who did your best, properly challenged yourself, and expanded your interests. At that point you can then apply to a university that fits who you have become and what you bring to them instead of you trying to be what you think they want.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Promoting Collaborative Inquiry To Improve Intrinsic Motivation in Teaching

The Common Core standards were introduced in 2010. While there are varying views on the quality and expectations of the standards, this new framework offered a much needed benefit. It provided a common language across our country that answered the question: What do we want our kids to learn? This common framework gave a point of reference for all teachers and was a significant shift from the isolation of individual state standards.

My experience at the secondary level of education consistently identifies areas of isolation among teachers. The common standards have provided a uniform curriculum and a set of standardized assessments to measure student mastery of these standards. However, the instructional strategies, assessments and grading formula's utilized by teachers in many cases remain autonomous. Autonomy, flexibility and creativity are important attributes for educators. It is what enables an intrinsic motivation to thrive in the classroom. The ability to innovate and deviate provides opportunity for differentiation, personalizing and individualization of instruction. However, this sometimes results in inconsistency, burn out and a miss alignment of grades and mastery. It is my belief that a more balanced approach of autonomy and consistency will provide the right mix to ensure an effective learning institution.

When segmenting instructional practices into its menu of ingredients a closer look at the student experience in similar courses is necessary. When two teachers of the exact same content area are provided a significant level of autonomy without any required alignment deviation occurs. Weighting of assignments as a function of final grade, inflation of grades and a false representation of student mastery are all possible outcomes. If the experiences in one class over another are significantly different it demands a system of assessment that can determine the effectiveness of each decision.

When planning an effective secondary program a focus on teacher collaboration must occur. Whether through virtual or physical means an investment of such will support a directive of collaboration. Teachers working together can share their best practices, align experiences and develop common assessments to align their progress towards standards mastery.  It is my belief that effective collaborative teams may invigorate the love of teaching as much as autonomy. The collective thought  provides teachers with a deviation from isolation. The sharing of materials and ideas can dramatically decrease workload as well as develop teachers depth of instructional practices.