Sunday, December 10, 2017

Another Thing High Schools Might Learn From Elementary Schools

I completely agree with the tweet below from Jennifer Hogan. High schools can learn from elementary schools. And every level of education should stoke the fire and cultivate curiosity in learning. It's important for every classroom to inspire kids to want to learn more.

I truly believe that regardless of what level we teach, we should also strive to learn from each other. When we share our knowledge and experience across content areas or with other grade levels, it just makes us all stronger.

The tweet also reminded me of another way high schools might learn from elementary schools.

I'm always amazed when I have the opportunity to visit elementary classrooms. I observe keenly and enjoy seeing different strategies and methods that lead to more learning in that context. I often see things that would be beneficial in the typical high school classroom, too. 

All the way down to primary school classrooms, I have observed students taking responsibility, working collaboratively, and self-managing in various structures. The teacher is often working with a small group of students while other learning activities are happening all around the classroom.

I've heard teachers at the high school level make statements that seem to reject this type of learning. 

"Freshmen can't handle working in groups."

"Projects don't work for my students."

"I would like to do more collaborative things, but I have 30 kids in my class. It's just not possible."

"If I'm working with a small group of students, how will I know what the others are doing?"

All of these statements have an element of truth. It can be challenging to do these things, at any grade level. But the statements are also extremely self-limiting. These statements become self-imposed limits, probably based on an experience that wasn't positive, "I tried that. It didn't work for me. Case closed."

Is it possible for projects, collaboration, and small group instruction to be effective at the high school level? Of course! I've seen high school classes thriving with these methods. And it makes no sense developmentally that even much younger students can handle self-directed methods while older students cannot.

So why do teachers tend to revert to more teacher-centric approaches in high school? It's likely because of the efficiency, control, and structure that is provided through direct instruction. It's partly because it's what's comfortable, and perhaps all they've ever known. 

By the way, direct instruction is not bad. It can be an effective and necessary method, but it shouldn't be the only way students learn.

There should also be opportunities for more self-directed, student empowered methods also. We must provide students opportunities to develop agency, ownership, and social learning abilities.

So what does it take to have success with this type of learning?


It's the same thing that makes teachers want to use direct instruction. Every teacher knows that a productive learning environment is going to have structure. And it feels easier to do in a direct-instruction, teacher-centered classroom. And maybe it is easier to do. But that doesn't make it better.

In the classes that succeed with more collaborative, student-centered approaches, teachers must clearly communicate the structure that will be used. There must be boundaries. The expectations must be communicated consistently and revisited regularly.

Whether it's an elementary classroom or high school classroom, it takes structure to make any learning strategy successful. We are not talking about anarchy in the classroom here.

However, it will take willpower and determination on the part of the teacher to push through some of the struggles that may happen as students learn the structure. But as the teacher works with students to clarify expectations and provides opportunities for practice and reflection, students will learn to have more independence and exhibit a higher level of responsibility.

It's not that the students can't do it. Don't impose your limits on a classroom of kids. Don't diminish their capabilities. You are choosing not to pursue success when you embrace disempowering thoughts. You won't have success with any method if you don't believe in it and your kids' ability to succeed with it.

It's just that you must teach them to do it. You must provide accountability as needed. You must coach them. You have to reflect with them. You have to provide consequences when needed. You have to bring so much passion to the space that students know you're not going to settle for less than their best.

With your guidance and creativity, you can help your students do amazing things, regardless of the grade level you're teaching.

Is there a misconception that student-empowerment means not having structure in the classroom? I wonder about that. Share your thoughts below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

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