Innovative educator Lisa Nielsen has been working toward the ideal school day of the future for a while now. In her inspirational blog, she pushes the boundaries of traditional ideas about progress, thinking ten steps ahead while being firmly grounded in today’s realities. When I asked her about her ideas the future school day, she sent along an article she wrote last year that addresses the topic directly. Here’s her take.
SETTING THE SCENE
Sam is an eleventh grader who has struggled with English Language Arts courses in secondary school. He is accustomed to the cycle of failure after years of low and barely passing grades in elementary school and repeating eighth grade before being allowed to continue on to high school. Although eager to learn and eventually finish high school, Sam has already failed two quarters of English. He is frustrated by the continuing cycle. He often finds himself bored and unmotivated in school, which he thinks might have something to do with his less than stellar performance and motivation. He has friends that feel the same way and they notice there are other students in their classes that seem to have stronger educational drive and performance. He’s just not one of them.
An alert English teacher took notice of Sam and recommended that he participate in a unique class of students with similar academic needs. He was given a chance to participate in an online credit recovery program to make up the credits lost by failing the two quarters of English. The Credit Recovery Program is an Internet-based curriculum for high school students. Students work individually and at their own pace using laptops. Each course is organized into units based on each of the seven standards. Each unit has lessons composed of several different activities. The units and lessons are structured to address varying learning styles and include audio, video, animations, interactive segments as well as traditional text.
Participating students have a teacher/mentor who has been specifically trained in online instruction and can focus on individualizing instruction for each student. Students receive timely feedback on assessments. Sam knows that he must complete all activities and receive a grade of 70 or better in order to move on to the next lesson or unit.
In New York City, there are seven English Language Arts performance standards that high school students must meet. They are: E1) Reading E2) Writing E3) Listening, Speaking, Viewing E4) Conventions, Grammar, and Usage of the English Language E5) Literature E6) Public documents E7) Functional Documents. In our online learning credit recovery model students must demonstrate achieving mastery in each area. One area that Sam failed in ninth grade English Language Arts was Standard E1b: Read and comprehend at least four books on the same subject, or by the same author, or in the same genre. In this case study we will take a look at how Sam was able to demonstrate mastery in the 21st century classroom.
Sam reports to school at the beginning of the school day and picks up his laptop from the OLC (Online Learning Cafe). Although all 25 students taking a variety of classes report there, they can use their laptops in any of the school’s various study spaces connecting to the Internet through high speed wireless connectivity.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Sam logs on to his laptop where he has his online bookshelf filled with a variety of texts including contemporary literature (both fiction and nonfiction), magazines, newspapers, textbooks, and more. These books were part of the previous unit he completed that addressed Standard E1A. As Sam logs on, he thinks, “Wow, if reading was like this before, I probably wouldn’t be taking this class.” Sam’s bookshelf is made possible through a variety of partnerships with entities such as the Public Library, NetTrekker, Book Glutton, LuLu, Blurb, Blogger, and Google Books. Here Sam has a collection of every book he has read since entering the school and all those he plans to read.
“The teacher just showed us bins of raggedy old books and magazines and told us to pick one we liked. I didn’t like any of ‘em and was left with a bunch of books about Ronald Reagan.”
Sam is actually excited about demonstrating mastery in this area because as he clicked on the standard in this module, his animated teaching assistant explained that this standard is intended to encourage students to invest themselves thoroughly in an area that interests them. He learned that such an investment will generate reading from an array of resources, giving him more experience of reading as well as increased understanding of a subject. Continue reading