Of course I want my students to be successful. All teachers do. But, I think the Ministry of Education and I have different ideas about what student success means. I don’t think students are successful if they only develop intellectual skills. Earning a high school diploma may be a necessary condition for student success, but it is not a sufficient condition for achieving student success. Students aren’t just one dimensional beings. Students, like everyone else, are multidimensional. We all have an intellectual, emotional and spiritual dimension that needs nurturing. Students need help developing intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually (not in a religious sense but in the sense of dealing with alienation, with sense of identity, ) . So Ministry of Education, what are you going to do to help meet the spiritual needs of students?
I don’t know how many times I’ve asked myself and anyone else who was within earshot of me why weren’t my academically at-risk students more successful. I was doing everything I could except stand on my head and yet some of my student’s still weren’t getting it. I’ve got professional development coming out of my ears. I’ve tried to keep my student-centered teaching practice fresh and up to date by including things such as problem based learning, differentiated instruction, assessment for, of and as learning , computers and other digital technology, student created rubrics etc., etc., etc. What is preventing students from doing their best?
The conventional wisdom is that students’ lack of engagement or distractability in class is due to such things as poor preparation, the break down of society, too much TV, too much time spent on the WWW, etc. Students seem to be “brain-dead” and need teaching strategies that are like IV systems that would give students the information they need because they can’t to do it themselves (Parker, 1993 ). Spoon feeding is the metaphor that comes to mind when I think about the problem. But, Parker (1993) argues conventional wisdom is mistaken.
Parker notes poor preparation, the break down of society, too much TV, etc. are not the most significant causes for students lack of engagement or distraction in class. Student fear is responsible for student underachievement. Students believe their lives have no meaning, the future has little to offer, and that adults don’t really care about their problems. Young people ” have been thoroughly marginalized by the elders of this society, and their deepest response is not an angry rejection of us but a fearful internalization of our rejection of them”(Parker, p.11). This fear causes students to hide behind masks of silence and indifference. Parker suggests educators aren’t even aware that students have this fear. Educators can’t recognize the fear in students because they don’t recognize the fear in themselves. This fear is the fear of rejection by students. Parker admits he doesn’t know any techniques to overcome the fear of rejection, but he says whenever he sees past his students silence and fear and tries to understand the inner lives of his students, his students learn more.
I have to agree with Parker when he says when we try to know and understand the inner lives of students, students learn more. In order to get to know the inner lives of students, we need to build authentic relationships with students. The bonds of trust that develop between teachers and students within a positive relationship leads to a more positive classroom climate and more student success. It’s been my experience that when students feel more accepted for who they are by their teachers, the fear of rejection no longer exists to thwart student success.
The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer
As a spec. ed teacher, I’m always looking for ways to make reading easier for my students with dyslexia. Thanks to twitter, I just came across a post by Jeff Dunn about a free font called Opendyslexic that can be used to help students who have dyslexic reading challenges. Teachers could use the Opendyslexic font in their handouts to make reading easier. I’m thinking students could also change the font of text to Opendyslexic. This is very exciting. Please let me know if you’ve tried the font and it really does make a difference.
You can get the Opendyslexic font here.
Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
at least according to a nursery rhyme I remember from long ago. For most of my teaching career, I’ve been supporting kids who are filled with woe and have far to go like the Wednesday and Thursday child in the old nursery rhyme. I’ve found when children come to school filled with woe they can’t do their best. Chronic psychological stress is a form of woe, and it can thwart kids’ progress in school. Chronic psychological stress can negatively affect kids’ cognitive development, working memory, problem solving ability, attention and emotion regulation.
Clancy Blair’s discusses the negative effects of chronic psychological stress on student success in his article “Treating A Toxin To Learning” in the September/October issue of Scientific American Mind. Blair’s research supports the contention that chronic psychological stress due to financial worries, the inability to provide adequate child care, the crowded conditions and noise that accompany low income affects the thinking skills and brain development of very young children. But, it’s not only kids who live in conditions of poverty that suffer from chronic psychological stress. Kids from other family circumstances that involve divorce, death, overbearing or distracted parents and kids who have learning disabilities can also develop chronic psychological stress. Chaotic and poorly run classrooms and problems with peers can also cause psychological stress that can impact kids negatively.
Blair argues improving kids psychological well being by improving conditions at home and in the classroom would reduce stress and enable kids to do their best in school. To this end, Blair and his collaborators are doing two things. First, they’re testing a program that supports parents by teaching them better parenting skills to help them become more sensitive and able to structure learning experiences for their kids while providing a warm and caring home environment; and, second they’re testing a new curriculum that gives preschool and kindergarten kids more control over how they learn.
The education system has spent a lot of time and money trying to help academically at risk students succeed and stay in school until they graduate. I’ve taught in alternative programs that we hoped would give kids the support they needed so they’d do their best and graduate from high school. I think we should do all we can to help students. One of my department heads when I first started teaching told me I would be doing well if I helped my students become tax payers. I was too idealistic at the time to appreciate his advice. These alternative programs do give kids some extra support that helps a bit. But, I think we also need to give parents who are in psychologically stressful circumstances more support. I think if we help one another, we all benefit. I don’t mean just throwing money at a problem because that isn’t helpful in the long run.
I’m looking forward to seeing the data from Blair’s research. I hope there is a strong positive correlation between the support parents and students receive in the two programs and student success.