Pass or Fail: Get Students Involved, Be Flexible
In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.
While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?
Educators have a big stake in what they present in classrooms. The material is, after all, hand-picked by them to help get students from Point A to Point B. For most of the history of public education, a prescriptive form of teaching the masses has been widely accepted but that’s changing, and quickly. Any teacher who has spent more than a day on the job knows that students who have a say in how they learn are more engaged — and more invested in the end result.
A study conducted by Apple tracked the benefits of high levels of student involvement in learning. Apple’s study found that with active classrooms, high levels of student involvement occurred. Encouraging students to frame their questions and urging them to take the initiative to follow up and essentially learn independently is a positive strategy.
The collaboration was also considered a key point and was particularly beneficial because of the diverse population of students in schools today. There is a clear need for education standards to support a system that also reflects and celebrates diversity and allows children to reach high standards.
Encouraging educators create new pathways to learning by providing more opportunities for students also makes allowances for the fact that not all children learn in the same way, or at the same time. By offering more routes to achieve learning standards, teachers enable more children to reach them, which should also be reflected in new education standards and learning criteria.
The challenge of expanding pathways is particularly significant because it determines that there must be some guidelines as to how this expansion should take place, how it could work, and how it should be supported as a policy.
One of the strategies for expanded learning, according to the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, is to incorporate flexible scheduling. By reorganizing the school day or even the school year, the report suggests, educators can more effectively use the time to support all learners and participants in ongoing professional development.
Block scheduling, in which classes are lengthened (often ninety minutes, rather than the usual forty-five or fifty) can also be effective for helping schools to meet the unique needs of students. Various models exist for this, as well. There are numerous advantages to block scheduling, including that students can be exposed to a variety of instructional techniques.
When students are exposed to various types of learning, they often experience improved grades, test scores, and attendance. Block learning can also mean that students have longer lunch periods and the opportunity to get extra help with their schoolwork. Teachers can have longer prep time and increased opportunity for teamwork and integrated professional development activities.
Reorganizing the school year is another a strategy that has gained some general popularity around the country, with several models available for year-round schooling, all of which involve modifying the school calendar so that learning occurs more consistently throughout the year.
The basic premise of the year-round learning calendars is that the school year can be reorganized to shorten the long summer break and schedule more frequent breaks throughout the year.
Specific advantages of this strategy include reduced summer learning losses, which typically require substantial catch-up and review time every fall. Reducing the length of breaks through reorganization can also help to increase student achievement because of the reduced catch-up time in the fall.
The various additional benefits of year-round schooling include supports for diverse populations of students, improved student and teacher attendance, and fewer discipline problems. These benefits alone would seem to suggest that year-round schooling might be an optimal approach to support the needs of minority students and other students who fall into high-risk categories for retention or social promotion.
Improved student and teacher attendance, fewer discipline problems, reduced teacher stress, increased student and teacher motivation, and increased opportunities for enrichment and remediation during breaks are further benefits.
Reorganization or differentiation of instruction can also expand learning opportunities. As Tomilson points out: “At its most basic level, differentiation consists of the efforts of teachers to respond to variance among learners in the classroom. Whenever a teacher reaches out to an individual or small group to vary his or her teaching to create the best learning experience possible, that teacher is differentiating instruction.”
Teachers can also more effectively differentiate with at least four classroom elements – content, process, products, and the learning environment – based on student readiness and interest. Supporting flexible grouping, cooperative learning, multiple intelligences, and brain-based learning, an emphasis on differentiation in teaching, supported by reorganization of the school year, would be a viable means to align resources and create clear expectations to overcome retention and social promotion.