Today, the U.S. is in 21st place for high school completion rates and 15th place for college completion. Only 40 years ago, American students were at the top of the list.1 Students need to be engaged, motivated, challenged, and supported. Above all, they need to be challenged in ways that will allow them to take responsibility for their strengths and interests. They also need role models, mentors, community, and their own space. In addition, they need learning programs such as tutoring, extracurricular activities, and summer enrichment, which enhance learning basics.
A high school diploma is essential for all students and more important than ever. Today, a high school diploma is not the end, it’s a stepping stone to the future. The global world of work is increasingly more competitive and employers want employees with a college degree and real-world work experience who add value. Alive, not just for the job for which they were hired, but for the potential they bring over the arc of their time at a company, ascending to more complex jobs as their pay increases.
Educators can’t be held responsible for addressing every student need, but they can adapt their classrooms to the changing world and develop a strategy to engage the 21st century student that works to keep them engaged, purposeful, and moving forward. The following are just a few innovative ways educators are successfully changing the traditional classroom to put students in charge of their own learning.
Incorporate Student Mentorship
At Sevastopol High School, a group of high schoolers just finished another year mentoring younger kids in kindergarten through sixth grade. The mentorship program has been growing over the last 10 years and has proven to be a benefit for both younger and older students. Younger students get to interact with older students who help them with their homework, play learning games with them, and have someone to look up to. Older students practice responsibility, being a role model, and organizing activities.2.Working this closely in a leadership capacity, students learn to see themselves in others while realizing the impact of their own authority on those who are younger and more impressionable.
Make Excellence the Standard
Pushing standards above average challenges students and prepares them for the demands of college and the world of work. Pritzker College Prep is a charter high school in northwest Chicago with 95% of the African-American and Latino students living in poverty. These students are at a high risk of not finishing high school or pursuing higher education. Pritzker is working to close the achievement gap by letting their students know dropping out of high school and not pursuing college is not an option. Students spend more time in the classroom than their peers in traditional school, are largely involved in summer learning programs, and regularly talk about earning good grades and entering college.3
Bring Global Learning to the Classroom
Students will be entering a global workforce and with the help of technology can get experience learning from different cultures without even leaving the classroom. At Charlotte Jewish Day School students in K-5 go to their global classroom once a week to meet with their global friends through an online ePal program. They talk about world issues and brainstorm how to solve them, they learn about natural disasters in their ePal’s homeland, and they email them questions when they think of something else they want to learn more about.4
Don’t underestimate the power of small change. All of these schools, and many more not listed here, are putting students in the driver’s seat of their own learning. Try adopting an activity in the classroom that gives students responsibility for their own success and gets them excited about learning, whether you use the power of technology to bring the world into the classroom or peer programs that develop perspective. When students are in charge of their own learning, the stakes are higher, they’re more invested in their own success, and they tap into an intrinsic motivation that can guide them through the rest of their schooling into the rest of their lives.
3“A Look Inside a Successful Charter School Culture,” by Beth Hawkins. 31 January 2011. Hechinger Report. Accessed on 7 June 2012. http://hechingerreport.org/content/why-does-it-work-a-look-inside-a-successful-charter-school-culture_5117/
4“Students Go ‘Global’Thanks to Technology,” by Caroline McMillan. 8 February 2012. The Charlotte Observer. Accessed on 7 June 2012. http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/02/08/2982882/students-go-global-thanks-to-technology.html