In my previous post I described an English assignment that had students reading about education and educational research and then designing the perfect school. I was happy to serve as a panel member, asking questions and giving feedback as appropriate. While the names and architecture varied quite a bit, there were similarities across all presentations that seem to indicate general student (at my school) consensus for what makes a good school. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too different from the school they already know.
Fairness in grading
The idea of fairness in grading took several different forms, although almost all of them were based on the letter grades and 100 point scale that students are used to. Two groups proposed mandating teacher collaboration time with the specific goal of aligning curriculum and instruction so the learning and grading were the same no matter what teacher you had. (Learning is my insertion – their concern was really fair grades). They all still had the grades based on the 100 point scale and A-F, however – we are behind in communicating with them.
Without necessarily recognizing that this idea is a privilege of our Northern California climate, all of the groups but one suggested some form of design that allowed them to be outside more. Two of the groups suggested outside classrooms that would be “checked out” by teachers like computer labs are now. It was heartening to me after hearing so much hoopla about students being plugged in to the point of not attending at all to their environments that the students longed to be outside more. This idea has even gained some purchase with our parent community – look for the RHS outside classroom coming soon.
All of the groups created self-contained department “areas” within their schools, and none of them talked about integration of disciplines or problem-based learning at all. One group suggested that there should be a competition among departments for increased pay if students learned the most in that subject. They understood that one test at the end of the year wasn’t an accurate measure, so they suggested that the teachers could be judged by their peers based on observation and multiple measures (again, my words) of learning.
Surprisingly, several groups did away with PE as a requirement (in California, there is a four semester requirement for high school students), believing that it was a waste of their time and took up space in their schedule that could be used for other things. I know our school has moved to a more standards-based approach to PE, meaning more time in classroom for students who used to feel some relief of movement during PE each day. The question is – how do students learn the habits and ideas in the curriculum and get to move each day as well?
It was interesting to me that while the students created circular classrooms, outside access sand some other creative changes, basically the schools they created were the same as they are in now. In Visible Learning, John Hattie (2009) talks about the fact that school culture is so hard to change because educators have been apprenticed to the way it exists since we were five. The same can be said for the students who presented to me. They can understand the problems that exist (i.e. grades are unfair) but are hard-pressed to imagine changes that would represent real differences in school. This makes evident the need for leaders to focus on changing culture to change long-standing and perhaps outdated ideas of what schools should be.