Monday, March 31, 2008

An experiment I would love to try

Last week, Darren, the Conservative Teacher, posted about an experiment he has joked about trying. There is an experiment I would like to try, but I'm not joking.

When I read Diane Ravitch's Left Back, I learned that way back in 1934 a leading educational scholar named Isaac Kandel said this: "There is one part of our educational system, secondary and higher, in which there is no compromise with standards, in which there is rigid selection both of instructors and students, in which there is no soft pedogogy, and in which training and sacrifice of the individual for common ends are accepted without question. I refer, of course, to the organization of athletics." He suggested that American education could reinvigorate itself by following the model of athletic programs. That made me think of something a wonderful female English teacher in our school said to me a number of years ago.

It was early in the hockey season, and that year we had so many kids out that we had to make some cuts. That is something every coach dreads more than anything else, and I was complaining to our English teacher about it. She said to me, "You know, I wish I could make cuts for my English class. I wish the students had to try out." And that leads to my proposed experiment.

On the first day of school, I would like to announce to my American History students that they are going to have to try out for my history class. At the end of three weeks, cuts will be made. Making the class will not be based on ability. It will be based on the willingness they demonstrate to do the things necessary to be successful in the class, and their willingness to behave appropriately in the classroom. At the end of three weeks a list will be posted on my classroom door with the names of students who have made "the team." Students who make the cut can still be dismissed from the team anytime during the year if their effort or behavior should fall below the standards expected in the class. Students who fail to make the cut can certainly try out again next year.

Do you think I might end up with a pretty good American History class if I did that?


Blogger M said...

brilliant!! yes!

3/31/2008 8:41 PM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

I'm not sure about other places, but I remember public school in Australia was much like what you're discussing.

There were six "teams" from A down. Within the A team each grading quarter were the grades A-E. There are only so many A's, B's etc. in each class. So an A on team E is NOTHING compared to a A on team C or B.

I could NOT convince my mother no matter how I tried that I was doing quite well to get B's and C's on team B. That a C is NOT the same thing.

The only thing is, when you grade like that, you're only comparing children to themselves. The truly brilliant ones coast and the truly not-so-brilliant ones feel pretty crappy about themselves.

I don't suppose school uniforms are in the next post? We did those as well. Of course we hemmed up our skirts so that we looked like Uhura, but we had uniforms...

4/01/2008 3:11 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

I would think you'd do better if there were some reward. Kids in athletics get the adulation of their peers. However, I think it's a good idea even without that.

4/01/2008 6:18 AM  
Blogger Roger Sweeny said...

Do you think I might end up with a pretty good American History class if I did that?

Without a doubt. It might also be rather small. People try out for a team because they want to be on a team. They are in history class because they have to.

Some students will relish the chance to learn more in a no nonsense class. Most will prefer less work and more ... whatever. (I assume the "penalty" for being cut from your class is simply getting put in a more ordinary class.)

4/01/2008 2:59 PM  
Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Best freaking idea of the year.

4/01/2008 3:02 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Actually, Roger, no! I would still have a "basic" class for kids who honestly had a difficult time with the subject matter, but that's not what I'm talking about. The kids who failed to make the team because of their behavior and/or effort could either try to gain credit in an ALC or go home and try out again next year. To have them go to a "more ordinary class" would completely defeat my purpose.

4/02/2008 3:32 AM  
Blogger EHT said...

Sounds like British education where you have to take certain tests and meet certain requirements to go to the next level.

Due to all the "make whatever concessions you have to to get the student to pass" mentality on the part of anyone with authority I'm sure your experiment would never get off the ground, but what a nice utopia it would be.

4/02/2008 11:53 AM  

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