Earlier this month, a star-studded telecast asked the public to rethink the American high school education experience. XQ Institute, which created the event with the Entertainment Industry Foundation, is a nonprofit that believes America’s public high school system needs to be improved to ensure all students are prepared for wherever life takes them, from college to career.
Co-founded by a former assistant education secretary, XQ started with a competition in 2016 – XQ: The Super School Project – that asked Americans to reimagine high school and create innovative ways to educate young people. Monica Martinez, XQ senior school strategist, says this is necessary because, among many reasons, high schools predominantly follow centuries-old models that generally don’t prepare students for the 21st century.
Students shouldn’t necessarily just learn with a textbook and a teacher lecturing at the front of the classroom, says Tara Bordeaux, a media arts instructor at Lanier High School in Austin, Texas. She says they should get the chance to have their voices heard while teachers listen, adding that high schools need to innovate and allow for more creativity.
While not everyone thinks high school education needs an overhaul, some high school educators may want to try one of these new strategies this year to help all students succeed.
1. Enhance student creativity: Blake Busbin, a history teacher at Auburn High School in Alabama, says that while some teachers may need to be more innovative, others are already taking a fresh approach through cross-curricular activities and other efforts.
For example, Busbin’s Advanced Placement U.S. History students worked with AP English students on a Vietnam War project. Students learned about storytelling and the war.
They read the book “The Things They Carried” and interviewed hundreds of local veterans, then submitted those records to the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.
“Don’t be afraid to try something different,” says Scott Bess, head of school for the recently opened Purdue Polytechnic High School in Indianapolis, which XQ partially funds.
This new charter school has no master schedule, and teachers host different weekly or biweekly workshops that students pick from to attend, he says, in addition to working on projects that stem from design challenges that industry partners present.
While it may not be feasible for students at many high schools to build their own schedule each week, educators could offer them some choice in their learning experiences, perhaps through designing cross-curricular projects, Bess says.
But teachers should outline project requirements upfront so teens know what educators are looking for, suggests one Twitter user.
In addition to grading, use rubrics as part of assigning a task / project so students know the qualities of the best versions up front.
— Mrs. Wendy Ramos (@MrsRamosAP) September 19, 2017
If teachers allow students to be creative, teens learn more on their own, says Lanier High School teacher Bordeaux, who was recently named Texas’ Teacher of the Year.
2. Incorporate more project-based learning: Through hands-on activities, Bordeaux aims to make students feel like they are not in a classroom.
She teaches media arts in the career and technical education department, a natural fit for project-based learning that prepares students for the real world. But she says that even core subject teachers can incorporate these types of exercises into their lesson plans.
For example, English teachers could ask students to create video book reports using iMovie on iPads. These kinds of creative activities make learning fun, inspire students and also give them some ownership over their education, she says.
3. Give teens more autonomy: Bourdeaux says teachers need to give students more freedom through options. “They don’t feel like I’m teaching them because they are teaching themselves,” she notes.
One Twitter used agreed that students need more autonomy.
The new economy requires autonomy & problem-solving skills. That means less lecturing & orderliness; more interaction & student ownership.
— Michael D. Toth (@MTothLSI) September 19, 2017
Bess suggests administrators spend a day shadowing teens to see what the student experience is like and then ask themselves what they could be doing better as school leaders.
Teachers could ask students how they’d like to see their learning experience change, he says. Asking that question can be really eye-opening; he says teachers may be surprised to hear the meaningful ideas students have.