Learning Walk, Pt. I

I was sitting in an English classroom. A room full of junior level students. For the most part, they are highly motivated. They all have good grades and are all genuinely good, nice people. I know this because I know every single one of them by name. They are not, contrary to popular belief about kids who take either honors or advanced level courses, all involved in school activities – whether it be clubs, athletics, or any other type of extra-curricular activity. I was able to, however, from my perch in the very rear of the classroom, see that there were a good number who are involved in Track & Field, Drama, Spirit Club, among others.

This day, they were being instructed in the proper formatting for the writing of major papers, instructed by a highly sought after, master teacher. She is the kind that students come back to visit and talk about long after they have left school, the type that students request and if her class is filled, decide they might pursue another course, another pathway. She is that kind of good. Maybe you’ve had the privilege of being in her class. If you haven’t,  I’m sorry. I hate grammar and proper formatting and all things MLA or APA, and yet I could sit and learn for hours.

I wonder about the rest of the day for these students. What it’s like, if they can remain as engaged as they are now with content that is not all that exciting, as opposed to when the content might be a little more interesting but the teacher in front of them is not as engaging.

As I sat and pondered, I pulled up a student’s schedule in our student information system. We run a straight, eight-period day. It is a fairly rigorous schedule for a 17 year old. Besides a couple of period changes, not much looks different from 1st to 2nd semester. The biggest difference is that she dropped her Intro to Psych class and picked up a PE. Pretty good move for a schedule that contains mostly honors and advanced-level courses. I believe in the power of physical education as a stress and anxiety reliever.

I followed this same student out of English to see where her schedule takes her. She has AIM (kind of like an academic study hall) next, which is designed at the same time of the day for every single person in the school. If a student needs assistance from a teacher, she can go and get the help she needs during this period.  

Today, however, the student I decided to shadow was involved in conducting interviews for next year’s LINK Crew. No time to study or ask for help in any of her classes on this day. At least she had that Study Hall at the end of the day. Not that she will use it for what it’s designed. This is something I discovered early on last year, especially in what we call “Upper” Study Hall. The student in an Upper Study Hall has maintained a GPA high enough to earn an unstructured 45 minutes. Most of them are held in the Student Commons or Cafeteria. Most kids in them watch Netflix on their phones or laptops.

I decided to look up my student’s grades. See how she’s faring. Solid A’s and B’s, except for her Physics class, which sits at a C. A quick check into her historical record and I was able to see that has always been an A-B student, currently holding a 3.5 grade point average. She is in the top quartile of her class.

Next up – a Science course. I know next to nothing about this material. Or at least I don’t think I do. And I don’t know if high school students know too much about the content going in to the class at first, either. 

So what will their success depend on? 

How do they know if they are even interested in a particular course in the Science arena?

Does that matter?

Should it? 

I kept an open mind as I sat in the back of the classroom, gave a nod to the teacher to let him know I was just there to take in some teaching and learning, and opened my laptop to take some notes as he spoke

Of course, not all things go as planned… I got called down to the office and had to postpone my investigation into one student’s schedule. I was intrigued, however, and planned to pick up where I left off the next week – 3rd period Science.  A couple of things I’m interested in and will be looking for and noodling over:

  • How much of an impact does the teacher really have on student learning, especially when the content is dense and perhaps tough to understand?  And how is one able to tell? What are the indicators?
  • How do we know if a student’s schedule and course load is developmentally appropriate?  
  • What can we tell from shadowing a student?  What are the takeaways?  What questions should we be asking?  And what should we do about it?
  • (Can I make it through Science class again as an adult??) 

Author: jdprickett

Educator Father Blogger

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