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Teach Students to Go Out on a Limb With Learning

Second-semester seniors are a stone's throw away from college and in many cases more independence than they have ever had.

Entering into this new found freedom can have extremely negative effects if they aren't given the opportunity to try and fail with caring, watchful eyes in high school.

As a high school teacher of seniors, I have the opportunity to help ready students for the next phase of their lives in a supportive way. Their readiness is as important as is their ability to learn the content in each of their classes. The skills acquired will make success more of a reality than as on a report card, as the game changes once they get to college.

Too often, students are babied, hands held straight through to the end. Poor habits can be overlooked, rather than tackled head-on which doesn't just change because they leave high school (although some students will suggest they will). The habits and skills they acquire with us in public school are the ones that will either make or break the learning they have in their next chosen school.

So how can we better prepare them?

  • Offer real opportunities for independence early in high school both in learning and in responsibilities in class.

  • Speak with students before reaching out to parents about late or missing work or behavioral issues. In this way, students can become accountable for their actions. Although parents should be involved when intervention is necessary, once they get to college, parents cannot be involved because of a student's FERPA rights.

  • Work with ongoing projects that allow students to learn to pace themselves through an assignment and adjust their work habits based on their lives.

  • Provide a syllabus so students learn to track what is coming up and then allow them to get work in based on it the way they will in college.

  • Allow students to fail and then teach them how to pull themselves out of the situation if the situation requires it. Failure is a part of success and we can't save every child from the unfortunate feelings that come with being unsuccessful. However, having experiences that both teach students that failure doesn't feel good and then more importantly that success after failure is an accomplishment can build more resilient people. Nothing worth doing is easy, so missteps will be made and mistakes are essential to growth.

  • Empower students and develop a growth mindset. Students must be put in charge of their own learning, so encourage them to ask questions, offer them chances to take risks in their learning. When they ask if they can do something different than is aligned with a parallel assignment, say "yes" rather than "no". You'll find when they develop their own ideas, they are more engaged and motivated. In college, they will be selected classes, even prerequisites have choice.

  • Allow for choice in what students are doing in class. Where you can be flexible you should be. Life doesn't expect such rigidity and as adults, we are able to take many liberties, remember that when curtailing student freedoms. For example, giving students the chance to use cell phones as an academic tool can be a great learning opportunity. They will likely be using their phones in the future to look up research and there are many apps that can aid in this experience. Let them experiment now. Better they take chances in a safe environment than when they have to fend for themselves.

  • Provide a rigorous environment that relies on them having nuanced and supported opinions and offers an opportunity for them to share those ideas in a respectful and meaningful way.

  • Treat them like adults where you can. They can handle it.

Students who are about to go into the world, out of our watchful environment need opportunities to practice first. Let's give them that and trust that they will take advantage of the chances we provide. Just because there will be a few kids who take advantage in a negative way doesn't mean we should punish the whole group.

How can we empower students who are pseudo-adults to act like it in our classes? Please share your thoughts

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in March 2016


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