Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Reinventing the High School Experience

I read an interesting bit of commentary in a recent edition of Education Week which argues for a radical change in the organization and operation of high schools. According to Jerry Y. Diakiw, a former school board superintendent who now teaches at the Faculty of Education at York University, “we need to revolutionize our basic high school structures: We need to tear apart the school day, the high school timetable, the school year, the four-year diploma.”

Diakiw’s claim is supported by the sharp decline in student attendance and student engagement that takes place between the fifth grade and high school. According to a study by the Canadian Education Association in 2006, student engagement declined from 62 per cent to 30 per cent.

Diakiw attributes this lack of engagement to the structure of high school which, “imposes dependence on, and withholds responsibility from students.” Citing other reputable, educational commentators, Diakiw notes that high school students are often passive participants in classrooms dominated by teacher talk.

As followers of this blog will realize, personalized learning is one way of reorienting high school classrooms so that students - rather than teachers - are at the heart of the classroom experience.  Diakiw refers to the Khan Academy and flex schools in San Francisco which combine face-to-face learning with online learning as approaches which are transforming the traditional high school experience. Both of these models have been discussed in some detail in earlier entries on this blog.

Diakiw’s call to arms, “is that we must stop tinkering with an antiquated model.” As we have tried to articulate throughout First Person Plural, we share Diakiw’s viewpoint.

Ultimately, schools will only realize the full benefits of personalized learning, if they have the courage and wisdom to thoughtfully reinvent the high school experience.

Allan Hardy

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