| Volume 65 | Number 6
Reaching the Reluctant Learner
EL Study Guide
Sharpen Your No. 2 Pencils
In "Testing the Joy Out of Learning," Sharon L. Nichols and David C. Berliner describe how schools' efforts to help students succeed on mandated high-stakes tests have backfired, causing more learners to become disengaged.
- What does your school do to motivate students to do their best on tests? Do you believe these practices actually help raise test scores? More important, do they lead students to actually learn? What can schools do motivate students to do their best on mandated tests without making the tests themselves the goal of instruction?
- Nichols and Berliner note that many schools have reduced or even eliminated the amount of time devoted to untested subjects. Have you seen this happen in your own school? How important is it that students have opportunities to explore the arts, foreign languages, social studies, and career-preparation courses?
- Critics of high-stakes testing have said that schools often focus on students who are "on the bubble," ignoring the needs of students who will pass without help and dismissing the needs of students who are unlikely to pass as hopeless cases. Nichols and Berliner share the example of an Alabama district that "dropped" more than 500 low-scoring students from its rolls shortly before testing. Do you believe this is a legitimate criticism? What types of accountability measures might be most effective in ensuring that all schools and students must meet challenging, but realistic, standards?
Power Up or Power Down?
In "Turning On the Lights," Marc Prensky argues that many students today learn more from their technological devices than from teachers who rely on traditional methods. He encourages schools to use technology to engage students in learning and to help them connect with the world.
- Do you agree with Prensky's notion that requiring students to "power down" in school actually impedes their learning? How might allowing students to use technological devices in class help or hinder their learning? What place do you see in the classroom for laptops, cell phones, mp3 players, social networking sites, Wikipedia, and other technologies? For specific examples of how teachers have used technology for teaching, see these two March 2008 EL articles: "What's Relevant for YouTubers?" by Johanna Mustacchi (print edition) and "The Book Trailer: Engaging Teens Through Technologies" by Sara Kajder (online only).
- What is your school's policy regarding technology in school? How was this policy developed? What role did teachers, students, and parents have in the creation of your policy? Do you believe your policy meets the needs of your students? If so, why? If not, what changes would you make?
- Patrick Welsh, an English teacher at an Alexandria, Virginia, high school, notes in a February 10, 2008, Washington Post article (www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/08/AR2008020803271.html) that some teachers, and even students, question the value of their school's many high-tech "gizmos." He writes,
Science and math teachers, for instance, have been told that they can't use traditional overhead projectors to present material to classes, even though the teachers say that in many cases, they're far superior to computers for getting certain concepts across.
When might the traditional method be the best approach to teaching? How can teachers and administrators balance the desire to stay up-to-date with the need to always make sure that teachers can use the techniques and technologies that best suit their students?
Healing the Wounds
Several March EL authors suggest that formerly enthusiastic students only become reluctant after being exposed to a negative school environment. Marie, for example, lost interest in math when her teacher told her she "couldn't keep up with her peers in advanced math" ("The Wounded Student" by Kirsten Olson, p. 46). Only a little over one-half of the minority students Gail Thompson interviewed in "Beneath the Apathy" believed that most of their teachers cared about them.
- Look back at your own schooling. Which teachers inspired you to learn more, and which teachers caused you to shut down and lose interest? What might you learn from these teachers about your own instruction?
- What common education practices might lead students to believe that their teachers don't care about them? How might schools reverse these practices?
- Think about a student you've encountered who seems to have been wounded by a past experience in school. How did this past injury manifest itself in the student's behavior? What might help this student recover from these wounds and get back on the right track?
Copyright © 2008 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development