How to Draw Students into the Classroom
Living in the digital age requires us to be able to distinguish between our own information and what others create. That’s especially true in the case of lifelong learning: How can we help our students see themselves in the curriculum when it’s not intuitively possible?
One strategy is to use storytelling, which helps children see themselves in events and events they aren’t familiar with. In my 10th grade creative writing class at our local high school, for example, I’ve led discussions where students have spoken on the topic of the future and the single most important fact they want to learn and be able to do. By talking about events and things that happen in the real world, we help them connect with others, and that connection allows them to be the author of their own lives. A classic lesson that writers have used for years is to jump from one point to the next, then back to the beginning, and back again so students can begin to understand the ongoing process.
Shifting the center of gravity to the classroom can make a significant difference in student retention. Last fall, shortly after we implemented a new principal who wanted every student to be able to pass a state test, only 27 percent of the seniors passed. The previous principal’s attitude was the state test was great for retaining the most dynamic, resilient students, but it really didn’t matter if a number of students stayed stuck.
We faced the same challenge last year when there was a significant increase in the number of (part-time) suspended students. Now, 44 percent of the students in our 10th grade creative writing class were suspended in one year, a significant increase from the previous year. Of the students who were suspended, 86 percent were African American.
The reason for the increase in suspensions was that the number of students who were verbally disruptive rose dramatically, so we stopped suspending students for these violations. This year, suspensions have gone down. Given our ever-present need to increase high school completion rates, we’re happy to have re-prioritized retention.
Some students don’t want to stay in school because they feel they don’t have the discipline to learn.
Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that influence these decisions. One student’s family died that year. In another case, students were suspended because of behavior that they later realized had also been a result of race-based bullying and bullying. Taking a moment to talk with them about why we are suspending them helped them understand that we didn’t just suspend them for being disruptive, we suspended them for being disrespectful and disruptive.