Sunday, November 21, 2010

Exceptionally Effective- High Expectations

Challenging/ Has Reasonably High Expectations

In my class, I strive to balance the fact that my students are in a twelfth grade college level class with the fact that they are still twelfth grade high school students.  They should leave my class able to take responsibility for their own learning, but while they are here, I must take my share of responsibility for their learning. 

This means that I must help them discover the expectations and outcomes that earlier in their education would have been clearly outlined for them.  I cannot be ambiguous and unclear, but my students must also learn self-direction and begin to set academic goals that balance their desired outcome with the expectations of the course.  By nature, this becomes an individual process with some students entering the course completely capable of taking full responsibility for their academic success and others requiring a greater level of teacher and parent involvement.

Earlier in my career I taught ninth and tenth grade students and this requires a different approach.  Indeed, this year I teach a predominantly ninth grade elective for the first time in several years and I am learning to readjust to their needs.

Personal experience informs this philosophy.  As a junior in high school, my AP U.S. History course was taught as a college class.  The teacher assigned reading and students were assessed periodically with tests.  I never read, but managed to remember enough from test to test to manage a B which weighted to an A.  By the time I took the AP test in May, I scored a 2.   Most of my other classes required homework, but I only completed it when I knew it would be graded. 

Neither approach served me well.  I did not learn the value of study and practice.  In college, I continued to only do the work required for a grade-- my learning and GPA suffered.

Having reasonably high expectations means that we set the bar high enough to reach, but this might be higher than the student believes he or she can reach.  It also means that if one must fully extend and balance on the tips of their toes to reach the goal, sometimes they will fall.  To set reasonably high expectations  for our students we also have to teach the value of failure and the resiliency to learn from failure instead of letting it define our futures.

The biggest challenge today is finding the time to set these challenges AND to stand behind each student as they strive to achieve.  As "factory schools" pile more and more bodies into the classroom the problem of effectively challenging students becomes greater and we fall back on setting the benchmark that we know everyone can achieve instead of pushing each individual to achieve every bit that they can.

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