Dear Reader, I have a confession to make: I disliked high school. A lot. A real lot. In fact, I disliked it so much I stopped going my senior year. Eventually my truancy caught up with me, and to graduate, I had to run laps in PE class, one for each day I “cut” school. It took three weeks of running before I erased the days skipped. I was marathon-ready after that experience. Perhaps you, too, disliked school? For me, it was my inattentiveness, what we’d term today as ADHD, and common family stressors. Regardless, high school was a boring, tedious experience for me and many of my friends. Are things different today?
Data from a Pew Research report on social trends (2018) suggests things may not be too different. For 920 teens, ages 13-17, who responded to an AmeriSpeak survey which informed the report, students’ excitement for what they studied at school was less than 50%. Girls (33%) more regularly got excited about something they learned at school than boys (21%), partly explaining why 33% of boys say they never get in daily trouble at school versus 48% for girls. Reasons for the numbers are varied, and speak to the many challenges of our complex, digital world confounded by a divided nation. What’s an educator to do given these data?
My suggestion is to practice the Three Rs: Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. Balancing rigor with students’ abilities is a fine dance, akin to the Goldilocks phenomena. Content can’t be too easy lest one lose student’s interest, nor too hard, sparking student anxiety and disengagement. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development captures this idea in a more scientific manner. Relevance, the second “R”, is what excites me as a former curriculum director. Taking learning standards and developing lessons and units that both match standards and motivate students is a true creativity thrill. We all know students get excited when they are doing work that interests them. Relationships, the third “R”, is honoring what drives our species. We are social beings, and thrive working in concert with others. Problem solving, debating, strategizing, celebrating, etc…are things humans like doing with one another. Let’s honor our brain’s hard-wiring for challenging, relevant work that involves others by practicing the Three R’s: Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. Let’s get kids excited about school. We can do this.