Thanks to Mark Salkind at Urban for this recommendation, and it is spot-on. Pope’s book is in large part a report on her student shadowing, so it is especially useful that way for me and this project. She does it in a very different way– shadowing five students, multiple (many) times, all at the same school, and watching for how they are managing to “do” school.
September 9, 2008
Like Pope, I too aim to be an educational thinker dialed in too to the views of our students, and to use shadowing for this goal. She says at the book’s end: “Only by working closely with high school students and by listening to their needs, frustrations, and desires may we begin to pursue answers to the important questions raised here. Without their voices, we are missing a key component of any conversation on school success.”
What does she find? No surprise– her subtitle reveals all. High school students at this “good” high scoring comprehensive public high school are competitive, good-grade obsessed, exhausted, disengaged, overextended, bored, prone to cheating, and stressed out. Teachers are “blind” to student experiences and see “only one side of a the student.” They are trapped by the realities of an overcrowded, impersonal, bureaucratic and competitive school system;” they are “robo-teachers,” they “go through the motions,” they multi-task, they suffer from stress and burn-out. Schools have “fragmented schedules,” are too large, too tracked, and too departmentalized. It is a bit of a tale of woe.
But there is another way… School and class size matter, teacher relationships with students can have a great impact, and we have to reduce competition and grade grubbing. Parents need to tap down the incessant pressure for elite university admission (a message loudly echoed by Levine’s Price of Privilege).
And we have to honor our students wish for genuine engagement. As Pope explains, her shadowed students are at their best when doing activities meaningful to them: community service, theater, a presentation. Here they are “extremely focused on their work, passionately committed to doing it in the best possible way, and willing to toil long hours until satisfied.”
“What students say they want are more opportunities to do real work as opposed to game-playing… These students long for what they believe is genuine, real success for jobs done well, a different kind of success from what they experience for the most part in school. They want more moments of engagement in school and, ideally, a context that supports this kind of learning. ”
Pope doesn’t tell us a lot about where we might find this, but does refer to and endorse schools where curricula is designed “around a small number of concepts and skills to be covered in depth…choose to organize lessons around central challenges or problems to be solved, many of which have application to the world outside of school.”