All kids should love school.
Yes, they should.
But we all know that they don’t. In fact, many hate it.
By high school, many students have become disenagaged. And we’re losing some really bright minds along the way.
My friend Kelly and I have talked many times over the years about her son, Jake. For years now, Kelly has been frustrated—wondering how to support this boy she loves so much. Parent teacher conferences focus on what a great kid Jake is—how articulate he is, how full of enthusiasm about the stuff he loves. However…there’s the issue of not completing homework. And losing papers. And indecipherable handwriting. And occasional distractedness.
So, Kelly asked me. What should we do? Should we get him a tutor? A peer mentor who will help him create better homework habits?
Here’s how I see Jake. This is a kid who, at age 8, devised a trap for Santa. Wanting to get a glimpse of the elusive fat man, Jake created an elaborate trap with trip wires and bells. (It would have worked, too, if someone hadn’t tipped off Mr. Claus at the last moment.)
This is a kid who spends hours, days, months focused on projects that often involve digging up the yard and rigging contraptions. He contemplates problems and devises solutions. He’s curious and visionary. He tries, fails, learns and tries again.
And his grades are pretty lousy.
Does that add up?
So, what I told Kelly is this. If it’s a choice between better grades and his enthusiasm, joy, curiosity and creativity….well, the choice is clear, isn’t it?
This shouldn’t be a choice.
So, what can be done?
1) Ditch traditional HOMEWORK.
That doesn’t mean that kids don’t need to practice or that they don’t need to do work or thinking beyond the school day. Often, they do. But not always. Experiment with ways to balance practice, skill development and responsibility. Middle school math teacher Michelle Russell ended up doing this. What will you do differently?
2) Create choice boards for EVERYTHING…
…including the above-mentioned homework. While some may think they are better suited for elementary school, the truth is they work at all levels. I’ve worked with HS teachers to create summer reading choice boards (that included options for watching videos, listening to podcasts or audiobooks as well as space for student-created options). I’ve also used choice boards when creating professional development opportunities for teachers!
Kasey Bell shared some choice board ideas on her site, Shake Up Learning.
3) Have students reflect and self-assess ALL THE TIME.
Here’s my Smiley Face Self-Assessment. Don’t be fooled by the name—this isn’t just for young learners. A colleague adapted this for use with his AP Physics classes—with great success.
4) Show parents your syllabus/course overview.
Ask for feedback about projects, assignments, their child’s response. (I included a more detailed, teacher-facing overview template in my last post.)
5) Remember your WHY.
Why do you do this work? Why do you teach? What do you want your legacy to be?
Here are some hints:
YOU are preparing students for a future you cannot fully imagine or appreciate. Therefore, YOU need to create the conditions where they will learn how to learn. YOU have complete control over whether students are cognitively engaged, thinking hard and working with enthusiasm.
For more thoughts about this, see the awesome Catlin Tucker’s post about Articulating your Why
All kids can love school. All kids can learn deeply and joyfully every day. So can you
*Names have been changed