Modern Learners and the Student Perspective

On two recent occasions, I had the privilege of attending both the kickoff Student Advisory Group  meeting, and the Castle View High School Modern Learners evening panel discussion.

The Student Advisory Group (SAG) is an official committee of the Board of Education.  Several students from each high school work directly with the Superintendent and district administrators, creating an opportunity for the district and Board to hear directly from a focus group of students.  We ask them to provide us with feedback on what they think about their education, and to help foster communication between staff, the Board and students.  The space on the dais at Board of Education meetings designated "Student Voice" is primarily filled by SAG students.

District staff led a group discussion with SAG members to help launch the pilot program for the student satisfaction survey.  The district is cultivating teacher practitioners who continually adjust their instruction based upon feedback from their learners.  The survey will be an important mechanism for teachers.

Students have some very keen insights into what is satisfying to them as learners.  When asked to describe what a great teacher looks like, these were some of the things they had to say.

  • We will be more excited to learn if the teacher is excited to teach us.
  • Sometimes teachers think they are teaching us but they aren't; they need to make it simpler for us and spell it out.
  • We want teachers to take the time to talk to us. We don't want them make us feel dumb or like we are taking time away from what they are doing.
  • We like for things to be straightforward.  But at the same time, don't show us the easiest problem and then expect us to understand everything.
  • Sometimes when a teacher makes us want to learn, it doesn't have much to do with the class or subject; they make us want to come to class.
  • When teachers insult our intelligence, it's the worst.
In the past, I have heard some people express concerns that students can't possibly know how to determine what makes a good teacher.  They may scorn teachers who are perceived as "hard," or only grade teachers well whom they like--not teachers who are actually good.  Students dismissed this idea.  They are interested in teachers who will challenge and engage them, make their work relevant, and help them see the value in their class work.  For those who still want to scoff at the validity of student feedback, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did a formal study called the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project.  Their initial findings show that student perceptions are a remarkable predictor of academic achievement.  

DCSD's pilot student survey will take place in the spring.  Student volunteers were solicited to help DCSD staff, including teachers and the World-Class Education Department, develop the surveys. 

This leads me to the Modern Learners Symposium at Castle View High School (CVHS) last week.  CVHS brought a panel of nine educators to discuss the challenges for the future of American education in preparing students for the future.  

I was happy to see that the educator panel had views that were in line with what the students wanted for their educational experience.  Dr. John Lanning, for example, an educator at the University of Colorado at Denver, notes that engagement makes kids successful.  Dr. Tim Kubik, who has worked on numerous initiatives to increase student engagement, believes that students need meaningful things to work on, with real context and complexity, if they are to be engaged.  Michelle Baldwin, an educator at Anastasis Academy in Centennial, remarked that if students have more choice and voice in their own education, they'll be successful--it has to be about the learner, not the content.  

Every member of the panel had a particular perspective on how to move education into the future for our students.  All of our students in the SAG meeting had something to contribute to the discussion about student satisfaction and perspectives.  Although the two sessions were over ten days apart, many of the same themes were present.  Engaging students with meaningful learning experiences, and providing them with choices and a hand in their own futures, will make kids' education into a far more successful and satisfying experience.  I am so proud to be part of our district, where educators have moved beyond conversations and toward action in creating the future of American education.