Posted in Student Perspective, Why Unlearn?

“My biggest issue through school is that I’ve never been interested in what I’m learning.”

Disengaged Students

I have had the pleasure of teaching Sean for the past two years.  Sean is very bright and probably one of the most interesting students I have ever taught. If you have been following this blog you will know that I have been trying to change my classroom so that it allows for everyone to find their passion and then connect it to the course curriculum. For most students finding that passion is a struggle, because they have never been asked, but once they go through the unlearning process it gets easier and easier. Sean is one of the lucky ones, he has found a passion already and is doing amazing things with it. Sean is an entrepreneur and at a very early age he began learning about dirt bikes and other recreational vehicles, he figured out how they run and how to fix them.  He then started buying old bikes, fixing them and then flipping them for a profit. How many of us could say that we were making a profit when we were 7 years old?? Here is the problem…..Sean hates school, has never felt all that smart and his skills outside of the classroom have never really been recognized. This drives me crazy, here you have a kid who has learned to learn on his own, taken it upon himself to start up a little business and feels unworthy to his counterparts at school for 6 hours of the day.  Are you kidding me???

So….over the past 2 years Sean and I have been working together to figure out how he can feel good about himself while in the confines of the school.  He was able to promote eating locally (he has a lot of friends who are farmers), advocate and make people aware of the stigma around going to college (University and College are viewed very differently in Canada – University being the one held in high regard) and more recently he is working on writing a blog about his views on education and how it needs to change.  He wrote and published his first post a few days ago and I had goosebumps. The post has only been out for a couple of days and I am not sure that he realizes the impact he is having on all those other students who feel the same way as him. I have already had students come to me and say that his post was amazing and that they really connected with it….this is, in my opinion why we need to unlearn how we do school.

I asked Sean and his Mother if I could feature his post on my blog and they said yes!! Please read his post below and follow his blog The Fault in Our Education for the rest of the semester – he says he’s got lots more where that came from.  

He and students like him are why I am on this unlearning crusade.  There are more out there then we realize.

Thanks for reading 🙂

R

Sean Swayze

My  name is Sean Swayze and I’ve disliked school as long as I remember, School for me has never been something I looked forward to or enjoyed. I grew up in Arnprior, Ontario and attended a public school named AJ Charbonneau. Through public school I was always a pretty average student, I never did exceedingly well but I wasn’t necessarily struggling either. My biggest issue through school is that I’ve never been interested in what I’m learning. Most of the time as I sat in class, my teacher would talk about math or history and I’d be sitting at the back most likely zoned out thinking about Dirt bikes or searching kijiji on my phone as I hid it under my desk. I Guess I never really cared about school, I only did what I had to in order to get through with good enough marks that my parents wouldn’t give me a hard time. I guess I struggled to find the will within myself to put in all the extra effort in order to get an “A” in class. In my mind I just never saw the bigger picture about how memorizing the elements of the periodic table would help me later on in life. The things that really mattered to me were the skills that I learned outside of school. I always had a drive to learn more about dirt bikes and small engines. My parents would make fun of me as it would be almost all I’d talk about, whether it was riding with my friends after school or begging them to lend me money for new parts. No matter what it was I’d make sure no one else got a word in at the dinner table.

My dad had bought me my first dirt bike on my 7th birthday, I can still remember it perfectly. As I started to ride it became my addiction and even if it meant doing laps around my lawn for hours it didn’t matter to me. But then i’d run into problems, My bike would breakdown or something would happen and I wouldn’t be able to ride for days or sometimes weeks. I am, and always have been a very impatient person. I couldn’t handle waiting on dealers to fix my bike and the repairs would get really expensive. I started to want to fix the bike by myself but my dad had no mechanical skills so I decided i’d teach myself. It definitely didn’t happen overnight but now after almost ten years of riding I know the parts of a dirt bike inside and out. It turns out that mechanics was something that came quite easily to me and I really enjoyed it.

Now here I am in grade 11, a student who still doesn’t understand why I’m here day after day. Now I’m not saying school is completely pointless, I’ve definitely learned a few things through my years of school, such as if you don’t show up for class both your teachers and parents will most likely be mad at you. But in all seriousness a student like me who has a different skill set does not have the opportunity to thrive in the education system that we have established today. Just because our skills are not recognized by the way our education system evaluates us it means we are graded poorly and made to feel of a lesser value. In reality we are just as smart but it’s a different type of smart. I have a friend who struggles to read and write, he has always hated school and often wonders why he is there too. By other students he is told he is dumb, yet he can rebuild a motor on his own, he knows how to weld and he has great mechanical abilities, some of the students who are getting extremely good grades struggle to turn a wrench let alone change the oil in their vehicle.

I believe that our education system does fit for some people, they learn the skills that they will need for their future but our students need more options. A student like me who has a different set of skills needs a way to develop those skills and focus on them earlier in their education. I have done so much work that I’ve had no interest in and because of that I’ve felt like I wasted my time, so many of those things I will never use in life, instead I could have been using that time to instead focus and develop the skills that I have strengths in and prepare for my future. This would give me a better opportunity to succeed in what I want to do. Right now in my second semester I have become pretty careless with my education. Summer is just around the corner and I only have a few weeks left until I can go back to grinding out shifts at work and spending every spare minute working on my truck or dirt bike. School has become so seemingly pointless to me that I usually don’t even bring a backpack to school anymore. I took co-op in the morning as a chance for me to get out of a regular classroom and to actually get a taste for what it’s like in the trade. After co-op I come back to school for my final two classes. And to be honest when I’m here it’s not always that terrible but my school day is 7 hours in total. Not to mention the hour drive here, so in total I’m spending 9 hours of my life 5 times a week just to be here. Every week when I look back on what I’ve learned school seems so inefficient to me, 45 hours of my time or more has been spent either here, or getting here and I just feel like there are so many other things that my time could have been better spent on.

Thanks for reading, I now have to leave as I have a dirt bike to buy.

Please follow Sean’s blog here The Fault in Our Education.

Posted in Why Unlearn?

Why not Alternative Options for All?

Alternative-option

It is my understanding that alternative schools are for students who have not been successful in mainstream for various reasons.  I think these schools along with the Ontario Student Success programs are fantastic for the students that they serve. But my question is why can’t we have alternative classes / programs for all students in every school?  I am sure there are funding issues as I know that the alternative sites and the Student Success programs have a much lower student to teacher ratio, but if we had alternative programs in every HS then wouldn’t the need for alternative and Student Success classes be minimized?

This to me is another way that we need to unlearn how school is done.  I am a dreamer and have a vision for school, but am also realistic and know that this will take time.  Students, teachers, administrators, parents and society as a whole have an idea about what school is. Students should show up to classes on time, ready to work, be quiet, wait for instruction, change classes when the bells ring and eat in the allotted time.  They should work hard, especially in the maths and sciences because they are most important, they shouldn’t challenge their teachers, and if it is not in the curriculum there isn’t time to cover it.

Alternative programs focus on the following:

“Students who attend an alternate program are seeking an alternative to the traditional high school setting with a different delivery model. Alternate programs offer students an opportunity to learn at their own pace. Students work on one course at a time, and are able to complete six or more courses in an academic year. The focus is on student directed learning. Student progress is monitored closely and students are held accountable for their work.” (Elizabeth Wynwood Alternative School)

How can we make this happen in mainstream???

I would say ¼ of our students come to school motivated to work, ready to learn and eager to get good grades. These students are engaged inside and outside of the classroom and will be successful in life because they value learning and honestly love the way that they are taught and school in general.  The second ¼ are motivated by marks, they want to be successful and do what they are told. They are smart and have figured out the system, they are compliant and do what needs to be done to earn their mark and move on, I would argue that not a whole lot of lifelong learning goes on for these students.  The third ¼ are doing what they need to do to get by, they are not causing problems but are super disengaged, they get good enough grades to keep their teachers and parents off their backs but are so checked out that they have really learned nothing at all. And the last ¼ are our at risk students. Many of these students suffer from mental health issues, family issues and / or learning difficulties. They have often had horrible experiences in school and have given up and don’t see the value in school.  There is definitely very little learning happening for this group, other than school is not a fun place to be 😦

So if ¾ of a schools population is only motivated by marks, are disengaged or have written off school completely, shouldn’t we be unlearning what happens in our schools?

Part of my vision or argument is that there should be “alternative” programs in every school.  I am not suggesting that all 3/4s of a schools population needs to be in an alternative program or that it should be the only way things are taught, but what if ¾ of the population had the option to do their schooling alternatively?  

Currently students who wish to attend an alternative program have to fit a certain criteria to be put on a waitlist (to me this is saying something about traditional schooling, just sayin’).  What if the criteria was altered a little bit so that those who really need it can get in and those who want it can get in as well?

I often have these conversations with my students and it is really interesting to get their perspectives.  I asked them if they had the option to be in an alternative program for their four years in HS, would they do it? All of these students have been in my class that is somewhat of an alternative program so they have experience with both.  I indicated what group my students and feel like they fall into at the end of their quotes. Here are some of their thoughts.

Yes I would. It would be nice to feel like you are headed in the right direction on a daily basis- I think a lot of kids (or at least me) feel like were just going to school everyday and that our careers are another chapter in life. I actually feel like I’m passing time and days are just going by as I sit in class and complete the work assigned. Part of that is very easy and comfortable, but to me personally it’s also very uncomfortable- it makes me feel like I’m wasting time every single day and that I should be taking it upon myself to start my own career in my spare time so that I actually have something going for me when I’m done high school. I think to have more respect for our own education we need to feel like something is actively happening in an area that we are interested in. If the alternative program was an option and students were choosing to be in it- everyone would be surrounded by people that have a passion to be learning in that different way. If you are surrounded by people who care and want to make change or are actively motivated than you become more focused and motivated.” Gr 11 student (disengaged group)

“I’m not sure if I’d be able to attend a school like that. I believe I’m so used to the traditional way of learning I’d be frustrated with everything. I usually like a lot of organization and when people tell me exactly what to do. But on the other hand, I really like the way your class is and the ideas behind the blue sky school. If my parents permitted it, I might give it a shot.” Gr 11 student (compliant group)

“I’d prefer a combo because on days when you’re just not feeling it, traditional style forces you to hear what teachers have to say. I’d like interest lead as well because it’s more fun and in the end I learn more!” Gr 10 student (compliant group)

“I’d be fully interested in attending a school like that for my four years, as long as I would get the same sort of high school experience. I’d embrace a schooling system like this because I think that I can excel and learn more than in a regular school.” Gr 11 student (compliant group)

“I would like to mention that our schooling is designed for auditory and visual learners. No doubt about it. We are told we have to become those types of learners instead of finding a method or developing a program for kinesthetics  learners which would increase performance overall as a community.” Gr 10 student (compliant group)

“Yeah definitely. If I had the chance to completely re-do high school and focus on my own education I’d get the chance to discover the things that I’m passionate about. It seems like something students going into gr9 aren’t able to do but that’s only because we aren’t given the option to learn about what truly interests us. One of the biggest things that students need nowadays is a network. Putting us into school for 4-8 years as we develop as adults leaves us unable to grow our professional network within the community.” Gr 12 student (disengaged group)

While these students all fit into different groups, I think it is evident that they would be interested in having the option within their own school as none of them would qualify for an alternative program right now.

So, I am going to continue to unlearn, continue to teach my students to unlearn, continue to inform parents about other possibilities and keep trying out new things in the classroom to give my students an alternative option.  But I would love for someday this to be the norm. To end on a positive note, I am super excited that next year my school will be offering a new dual credit course where the students will have more time to unlearn with me. It is not happening until second semester 2019, but my brain is already full of ideas.  It is proof that change is coming!!

Does your school offer an alternative program within a mainstream HS?  If so, I would love to hear all about it. Please connect with me 🙂

Thanks for unlearning with us.

Cheers, R

 

Posted in Why Unlearn?

Teach Skills not Content

skills

A few years ago I found a list of essential life skills that I wanted my students to use as their curriculum in my classroom.  We decided that we would use the course material to work on those essential skills – you can see them below. For the life of me I can not find the site that I borrowed these from.  It was definitely somewhere in the UK…sorry!!

Learning to Learn

  • Self Directed Learning skills
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Right mindset
  • Emotional resilience
  • Grit

Learning to Think

  • Independence & creative thinking
  • Innovative problem solving
  • Judicious decision making

Learning to Listen & Tell

  • Narrative skills
  • Persuasive skills
 

Learning to Collaborate

  • Empathy
  • Accepting diversity
  • Teamwork

Learning to Earn & Give

  • Financial literacy
  • Philanthropy

Learning to Be

  • Self awareness
  • Pursuit of goals larger than own interest

Little did I know that our board already had something called EXIT OUTCOMES.  I found a lot of overlap with the essential life skills that we had been focusing on. Now we use the combination of the two as our curriculum.

exit outcomes
I want my students to be ok with failing and willing to take risks, learn to be able to learn on their own, to be self-motivated and self-regulated, confident, feel valued, motivated and excited for their next chapter.  I want them to leave with a set of essential life skills that no matter what content they learned they will have the ability to be successful in anything that they want to pursue. They may not all take the same path in getting there, but I want to know that they will have the ability to get there because of this toolbox of skills that they possess.

Just in Time learning vs Just in Case Learning

I listened to Sergio Marrero: Just In Time Learning or Just In Case? on Don Wettricks StartedUp podcast a month or so ago and was intrigued.  Marrero talks about College in the US and how he feels that there is a need for a post secondary option that focuses on Just in Time Learning rather than Just in Case learning.  He suggests that a lot of traditional Colleges focus on the concept of teaching students what they might need in the future rather than what they need right now. I would argue that this is the same for our elementary and high schools.  It has been the teachers job to prepare students for their next steps, in elementary school they teach a lot of just in case you need this in high school, in high school we teach just in case you might need this in post secondary and beyond.  But is it time to get rid of this model? Rather than sitting through classes that bore some students to death, why can’t we work on the skills that the students will need later in life by finding out what students are interested in learning right now and connecting curriculum to that?  I am trying this out in my Social Science classes but, the question that I have been pondering is how do we do that in all subject areas, is it even possible? As mentioned I teach in the Social Sciences and any time I have this conversation with people it is always, that is great and I can see how that works in the Social Sciences, but it would never work in Maths or Science.  I am on a mission to prove that teaching skills over content can happen in any class. What I want to figure out is what set of skills would someone need in order to pursue something that they did not go to school for. For example if I wanted to be an engineer but did not take maths and sciences in high school or university what set of skills would I need to eventually become an engineer?

I have often wonder where my set of tools came from.  I can hypothesize that first and foremost they come from home, some genetic, other activities and experiences that I was exposed to over my lifetime and finally school.  I am so fortunate to have been brought up in a household with two amazing parents who were great role models for me. My mother is a retired elementary school teacher who was so passionate about everything that she did at school, she is a true leader.  She ran anti bullying programs, worked with inner city kids and modeled perseverance and lifelong learning when she worked on her degree by taking night school all while raising a family and working full time. My father was the GM of a Steel Mill who from day one instilled in his girls that they would be strong, confident and independent.  He never treated us like “girls” and taught us to throw a baseball, drive a boat and understand how to fix things if we were stranded, meet deadlines and always be on time. He modeled confidence, compassion and empathy and was there for us when ever we needed him. I also played competitive volleyball for an organization that was coached by Catholic School Teachers.  While volleyball was important to them, the way we conducted ourselves in public and with each other was one of their top priorities. Sport taught me perseverance, good health, teamwork and collaboration. My teammates were like my sisters and we learned so much together. We travelled a lot and learned a lot of life skills while on the road. We learned about philanthropy and giving back. I know for a fact that the time spent with this group is a huge part of who I am today. As for school,  I would say that I definitely learned how to read and write, numeracy and how to interact with teachers and peers. However, I find it hard to figure out what about who I am today is a result of my schooling. I would argue – not all that much.

In my fourth year of University I worked at the GAP and H & R Block as a receptionist. While I was working at H & R Block I learned a lot about tax preparation. As exciting as that sounds, I decided to take the course that would allow me to prepare taxes.  I have a degree in history with a minor in geography. One would think that I would need some sort of math or accounting background to do this but I didn’t and I was still able to successfully complete the course and prepare some taxes – this would be a case for some just in time learning.  

Skip ahead a year, after I finished university I decided to take some time off before going to teachers college to enjoy life and work. I ended up getting a job as a receptionist at an accounting firm.  I worked here for about a year. While I was there my bosses approached me and asked me what my future plans were. I told them that I wanted to be a teacher and was hoping to go to teachers college. It was pretty tough to get into teachers college at the time so I wasn’t sure I would get in.   They sat me down and asked me if I would be interested in getting into accounting. While I was flattered, I knew that working in an office was not for me. But, what I am wondering is this – if I had all the tools needed to learn something that was not related to what I learned in school would I be able to do it?  In my experience I think yes. If I really wanted to become an accountant, I could have pursued this because I would have been motivated, confident and would learn what I needed to learn in order to make it happen. I wouldn’t have used much from my just in case learning, but I would have to pull from the skills from my tool box.  Now the question is, can all people do this if they are equipped with the right tools before heading out into the “real world”?

I am curious to hear people’s thoughts on this.  How much of who I am today and what I am capable of comes from my just in case learning in high school when I was very disengaged???

Thanks again for reading 🙂

Cheers, R