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Great Divide: What does high school prepare kids for?

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LifeLearn

High school classrooms offer learning targets and reminders. The room littered with informational facts that inspire and create connections throughout the year. A word wall with prior, current and future learning keeps an eye on where we start and where we are going. How many people have seen a college classroom or job cubicle look like this?
High school classrooms offer learning targets and reminders. The room littered with informational facts that inspire and create connections throughout the year. A word wall with prior, current and future learning keeps an eye on where we start and where we are going. How many people have seen a college classroom or job cubicle look like this?

Rereading this older post from sometime in 2013, I'm reminded of how I got to the current belief system I have. What a great reminder of each step. Check this out and try to see the steps of what got me here. The below post originally ran on April 4, 2013. 

Let the transformation begin.

Last night I diligently lurked on a chat about grading practices. Although I agreed and practice many of the theories espoused, inside an irksome voice lingered.

One brave soul, a person I correspond with on Twitter frequently asked, "where do we draw the line?" Referring to how many opportunities we should give without some kind of negative consequence. I tentatively began to type a response only to be beaten to it by a barrage of aggressive comments about learning and how giving grade reductions or zeros give students the right to not do the work.

This morning however, after some reflective time, I'm left wondering what some of these new learning and teaching practices are really preparing kids for.

My classroom is 90% project based learning with the occasional essay or presentation or solitary connected reading assignment thrown in. I teach my seniors differently than I teach sophomores, allowing for more flexibility with the latter. Always, transparently with the end goal of college preparation and/or life at the forefront of my pedagogical choices.

Something nags me in this position though. As secondary education shifts dramatically, in new and amazing ways, the academic and career worlds we are propelling students into aren't changing at the same rate.

College is still largely lectures, with syllabi and a few projects where product is what gets the grade, not the process. Kids aren't offered multiple opportunities once a paper is due to revise and correct; they are expected to go for extra help on their own accord, visit office hours or a writing center prior to the deadline. The onus is put on them for their own success.

The same can be said for the job force. As a teacher, my growth is largely up to me. In my prior career in information technology, I was given a task and deadline and was expected to complete the task with proficiency by or before the date it was due. Granted, in life, sometimes we need "do-overs" or extended time because of extenuating circumstances (like illness, death, unforeseen situations), but we build up the good will and accountability to afford us those opportunities. For example, because I am seldom late or ask for special favors, when I need to ask, they are granted. Too many students today expect, actually feel they are entitled to exceptions just because that is all they know.

This is a dangerous behavior to enforce and life won't treat young people well with this attitude.

As secondary educators, how can we nurture kids and create an environment where learning is the priority and still prepare them for life? Deadlines are a part of life and so is practicing until perfect... where is the compromise?

Grappling with this essential ideological divide creates a chicken or the egg cliche. As an over-achiever my whole life, I always felt that kids that were offered 20 chances and then given something easier at the end wasn't a fair way to handle grading. My principal reminds me all the time that it isn't about justice, but I'm still questioning the validity of any grades if we allow students to work at one project until they achieve an A.

Education needs to decide (and by default, the world that follows must oblige) is it about mastery of skills and life preparedness or is it about traditional achievement. The two don't seem to coexist well. Mastery is essential and therefor grading antithetical to its success. What do you think?

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Starr Sackstein currently works at World Journalism Preparatory School in Flushing, N.Y., as a high-school English and journalism teacher. She is the author of Teaching Mythology Exposed: Helping Teachers Create Visionary Classroom Perspective, Blogging for Educators, Teaching Students to Self-Assess, Hacking Assessment, The Power of Questioning and Simply May . She blogs for Education Week Teacher on “Work in Progress” in addition to her personal blog StarrSackstein.com where she discusses all aspects of being a teacher. Sackstein co-moderates #sunchat and contributes to #NYedChat. In speaking engagements, Sackstein speaks about blogging, journalism education, throwing out grades and BYOD, helping people see technology doesn’t have to be feared. Follow her @MsSackstein on Twitter.
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