Friday, June 3, 2016

What is the Purpose of School: students' perspective

By Kim Miklusak

We talk about purpose a lot in the Collab Lab, so much so that it's become a running joke.  But it's true: knowing the purpose of why we do what we do in our classrooms is the center of everything.  It guides everything from our goals to our assessments to our grades and everything else in between.

We decided it would be interesting to hear students' perspectives of school and classes--not any class in particular, but overall.  So we invited in a small group of juniors and (literally) grabbed some seniors as they were on their way out the door.  This is a group limited in that they are mainly AP English students.  We realize that this is just a small representation of our student body, and we hope to host this same type of meeting with other groups of students on the same and additional topics in the future!

We could write a year's worth of blogs based on what they talked about, and they could have talked another hour!  You can follow this link to read the entire summarized transcript of the conversation as it happened, but here are some points I found most insightful and interesting:
  • Students felt that while academics held a great importance, obviously, that "soft skills" such as time management, character, networks of support, etc. are all equally as important.  We talked about whether these were skills teachers should teach or if they were simply expected.  Surprisingly (or not surprisingly based on this group) many students said it was self-accountability and self-awareness that were most important although they admitted that not everyone has a support structure or that it took some people more time to develop these skills.  This, interestingly, relates back to a previous post we had about Executive Functioning Skills.
  • Students discussed at length the process vs. product of school.  They discussed why some teachers require notes and assignments to be completed in a certain way even if it wasn't the way a student learned best--again while conceding that it's not possible to completely individualize instruction.  They do advocate for options in the process of learning.  There were disagreements about whether habits of work and task completion were truly useful in the learning process.  There was also great discussion about why we average grades (unprompted, seriously!), that if by the end of the year they are able to demonstrate mastery, why were grades averaged from earlier in the year when they were not yet mastering materials.  Again, however, the conversation came back to the idea of grades being a reflection of where you are and thus not including "task completion" activities simply to bump up grades.
  • Students brought up the importance of clear standards, the need to clearly know what they need to know and be able to do.  They talked about how class needs to be a reflection of the proportion of the assessments; that is, do we as teachers spend the appropriate amount of time on skills and topics in our instruction and in our assessment, and is that then reflected appropriately in our grade books?  Do we provide appropriate and timely feedback when we return assignments, holding ourselves to the same standards that we hold them?  This led into a conversation about the importance of critical inquiry and critical reading (again, unprompted!) with one student saying: 
    “The way we critically analyze or think, most of my classes taught me how to be a better writer or thinker, how to look through a different lens.  That’s what they’re trying to teach…when we leave this school there are a lot of” people who are not like you.  This will make you well rounded.
So many thanks to these students for their time and insight!  We appreciate their speaking with us today, and we definitely look forward to hosting more sessions like this in the future!

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