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Monthly Archives: October 2011
In fourth grade this morning:
“I agree with Laila…”
“Like Oswaldo said…”
“I disagree with you…”
The discussion was around the meaning of a variable “n” in a multiplication number sentence. It, along with a Think-Pair-Share in which each scholar had a chance to express his or her thinking with a partner, was as natural to these students as talking about the weather.
Why are these words so important? There are two reasons: First, they are indicative of the collaborative learning environment that research from Vygotsky to Marzano shows is optimal for long term retention of skills and knowledge. Secondly, the fierce policy debates about firing teachers, high quality teachers, etc., often gloss or ignore what it takes actually to accomplish this high level of instruction. The fact that this language is embedded in our fourth graders’ daily experience is the product of years of practice and purposeful instruction from our teachers.
In education reform, these small words are the locus of the action.
At our biweekly whole school assembly yesterday, I introduced college cheers to our 300 scholars. For the first time this year, pushing the message about the importance of college more prominently, we have asked teachers to name their classrooms after one of their alma maters. I took the time yesterday to explain why we have these college names adorning our rooms.
The high point of the assembly came for me when I got them all pumped up and screaming my alma mater’s cheer, “Hoya Saxa!” and then told them that not everyone gets to go to college.
I didn’t expect it, but kids across all the grades from kindergarten to fifth were visibly upset. Some of them actually started booing, and it grew to a crescendo. We are talking about an assembly that is normally calm, composed and silent when someone is talking. And they were booing like it was really a pep rally and the other school’s sports team showed up!
Of course the room was drop dead silent again when I told them what they had to do, and what they were up against, to get to college. Work hard, listen to your parents and teachers, do your best in school, and get to school on time, every day. (We later handed out our 100 Perfect Attendance certificates for September to the scholars who were on time every day in the first month of the year.)
And when I told them that I expected every single one of them to go to college, the tone changed once again. A groundswell of clapping, and soon thunderous applause from all the adults and kids, and a spontaneous cheer the likes of which I hadn’t heard since our graduation at the end of June.
The experience made me realize: kids need to know. They need to know the dropout statistics, the college statistics, the challenge of getting into the college of your choice. Georgetown accepted less than 20% of its applicants again last year. And something like 1 in every 7 African-American or Hispanic student drops out before even finishing high school, a figure that is probably severely under-reported.
They need to know that we are counting on them to make the choices that will prepare themselves for college. It’s one reason why we have Responsibility as one of our six core values, and I’m sure it’s why the Success Charter Network has Agency as one of its core values.
Many of my little scholars were genuinely surprised to hear that not everyone goes to college. It can be hard for them to connect the reality they know on the outside of school with the safe bubble we have created within school. If we don’t make sure kids know about the urgency of this problem, how can we expect them to act on it?
If we are to turn all those boos into cheers, then it’s time to put public embarrassment about our collective failure to provide equitable instructional access to all students behind us–and to tell the truth.