I recently saw an article from the Sun Sentinel here in Florida. The author noted a change to a local attendance policy which would enable students to skip school without excuse notes, though they would receive an automatic grade of 0 for any tests or assignments missed due to an unexcused absence. I understand why schools would move toward punitive measures in order to not allow teachers, schools, and even other students to get the raw part of the meal. However, I could not stop thinking that it should be easier to educate ourselves and our children. Why is it such a struggle to get kids in the seats, bring assignments in, and have happy faces on a regular basis?
You may not like the answer. It was a foreign idea to me for quite a long time. Are you ready for it?
Student-led learning with a teacher, or parent, available for support always works. I know this seems bizarre. Won’t they sit and play video games all day and never learn to read? Actually, even kids living with special needs want to learn. The problem is that we are forcing it instead of supporting learning in a natural, developmentally appropriate way. Keep in mind that I am guilty of this, too. Though I know better, there are times when I revert back to a forced education model and have to readjust myself.
This type of educational model is easy to implement in a homeschool environment. However, due to current laws and mainstream views, an open ended student-led model is not easily implemented in private and public schools. Teachers and administrators can take some steps to work toward a less forced curriculum, though. Try having morning or weekly meetings in each classroom. Look at students as stakeholders whose ideas about what to learn matter as much as the standards and benchmarks that are currently in place. Allow students to list, then vote on weekly or monthly activities that are safe for the classroom. Better yet, let them create small groups of interest, or clubs, then make these choices within the club. Perhaps the science club wants to know why Hot Wheels cars can go around a loop without falling, but the math group wants to know a faster way to add numbers with 9 as a ones digit. Another option is to get out and about. Create a garden, nature trail, or field trip on campus. Foster citizenship by pairing with another class to be reading buddies, math buddies, or to practice social skills via play or talking activities. It may not happen overnight, but you can foster a sense of ownership in students. If they own the excitement of learning and have free choice, then you will see them be more willing to show up, participate, and help others. There will be less behavior problems and better use of time. (This is especially true when you include outdoor activities.)
You may receive push back from administrators, other co-workers, parents, or students who are not used to having choices. However, students need to love to learn for the sake of learning. They need to practice choosing what to learn, how to learn, and how to find the information they need to learn. By opening up choices for students, we enable their love of learning to grow. If they want to learn, they will want to show up. This is how we lower the days of school students skip.
If you would like more information, have a question, or would like to implement this type of model in your school, then contact me at 407-712-4368.