Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Making Better School Memories

Yesterday I was listening to the radio and a DJ started talking about what he remembered liking in school. “I don’t remember liking much of anything,” he said. “But nobody is supposed to like school.” “I liked recess, and lunch,” said his co-host.

Last week Aleta proposed a different take on school – one that might actually create positive memories that transcend the playground and lunchroom.

Today I offer some specific examples of what this new and improved school experience might actually look like.

1. "What if this year instead of worksheets and rote memorization, students experience exciting real-world projects that connect what they are learning to life outside of school."
For example, 4th graders explore a comprehensive unit about the neighborhood surrounding their school that involves every core subject:
  • Social Studies – students do historical research in the city archives at the MLK library and conduct interviews with people who live in the neighborhood.
  • Language Arts - students read old newspaper articles and write new ones about the neighborhood.
  • Math - students gather data and create graphs to chart population growth over the last decade.
  • Science – students study the flora and fauna of the neighborhood and perform experiments on air and water quality.
2. "What if this year instead of following class rules out of fear of punishment or because they seek a reward, students want to do the right thing because they feel valued as members of a learning community."
For example:
  • 9th graders in a history class are asked to create their own class-constitution setting the rules and expectations for the year.
  • Kindergarten students help to create a mural in the classroom depicting images of how they want to be treated by one another.
  • 5th graders learn a variety of conflict resolution strategies that they employ in their class, and – as a leadership opportunity – teach to students in lower grades.
3. "What if this year instead of predictable days that are always the same, students experience multiple approaches to instruction that embrace their varied learning styles, interests, and abilities."
For example, teaching something as basic as vocabulary can be done in a way that reaches every learner.
  • Instead of memorizing words simply by looking at them on flash cards students can create role-plays where they actually use the words in dialog.
  • Students can create picture dictionaries that access the visual learner’s need for images to make mental connections.
  • Students can play a variation on “charades” by using playdough to create tactile representations of the words.
  • Students can create physical exercises for each word that help them to remember what it means.
These ideas might seem far-fetched, or at the very least quite hard to do in our current educational environment – but they come from Inspired Teachers we’ve known over the past 12 years who are making this kind of teaching and learning happen every day.

If we reject complacency and willingness to follow the general trend of dull, repetitive, and scripted instruction that’s becoming the norm – we can change what’s happening in our schools.

The more we advocate for things to be different the easier it will be for them to become different.

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