By Jasper Fox Sr.
Educating all children, regardless of their ethnicity and socioeconomic standing, is a noble goal. How it is accomplished, though? Recent downward trends in high school dropout rates are encouraging, but what about those students who do decide that the educational system isn’t for them?
According to the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09), just 2.7 percent of 2009 9th grade students had dropped out by 11th grade, although the percentage of dropouts within that 2.7 percent was higher for certain ethnicities and socioeconomic status levels. The question remains then: how can educators create a positive classroom environment where all students feel welcome and engage in meaningful learning so that percentage drops to zero? The following are three concepts that could be helpful in involving more students in classroom learning communities.
- Communication: It makes sense that students want to know where they stand in terms of their school experience. From attendance to graduation requirements, there should be no surprises. (This goes for assignments and resources as well.) Tools like Google Apps for Education and add-ons like Autocrat can create personalized updates or reports that can be e-mailed to all stakeholders to help keep the focus on what’s important: where students are in their learning.
- Collaboration: Ranking students according to grades demoralizes and divides the classroom. Even for higher-achieving students, obsession with grades can foster unhealthy, compulsive behaviors related to their class ranking. Instead, provide opportunities for students to collaborate regularly. Discussion, both in class and online, allows students to learn and practice discourse. Extending the time available for learning by creating blended learning environments or taking advantage of social media gives students the opportunity to develop their understanding together, outside of school, using flexible pacing. This more fluid structure allows students to further their knowledge when it is convenient for them and allows their learning to occur more naturally.
- Quality Feedback: Students want to feel like more than a number. By utilizing formative assessment regularly and analyzing the results together, either individually or in small groups, students will fully understand where gaps in their understanding exist. By using a low pressure, nongraded approach, students can focus on the descriptive nature of feedback. Building in time to relearn and reassess forms an atmosphere where understanding is emphasized. Reiterating content until students show mastery of the topic builds confidence and, if done properly, will lead to success for all students once a summative test or quiz is given.
Creating an inclusive atmosphere that is both comforting and honest builds a positive community within the classroom. Transitioning away from the mind-set of difficulties being the students fault toward the mind-set of developing strategies to build consensus and understanding will help all students meet their goals. There is still much work to be done to ensure that all students, regardless of their place in society, reach their full academic potential, but focusing on classroom interactions is an important place to start. As a thoughtful practitioner, the teacher can help students become successful lifelong learners. It is of the utmost importance to implement supportive practices, especially for lower socioeconomic students. Practices such as those outlined above will sustain young people’s interest in their schooling to ensure they see graduation day.
Jasper Fox Sr. teaches science at Copper Beech Middle School in the Lakeland Central School District in Shrub Oak, N.Y., where he is currently in his twelfth year of teaching. He was recently named the Educators Voice Honoree for Middle School Teacher of the Year at the 2014 Bammy Awards and was a semifinalist in the 2015 New York State Teacher of the Year program. An avid writer and connected educator, Fox maintains an active Twitter presence as @jasperfoxsr and writes for a variety of sites and publications.