Real Experiences for Real Results

‘If “soft skills” are in your definition of student achievement, are you finding ways to provide those experiences? Many students find those experiences in their extra curricular activities. I am wondering if it is common for our schools to limit time for these “soft skills” learning activities from the very students who may need them most for building future success.’

I wrote those words at the end of a May 3 posting and now I found some other writers raising a similar question.

April 22, 2009 edition of Education Week

Debra Viadero reports on recent research indicating that after waning for years, civic participation among young people appears to be on the rise. But students who are members of racial or ethnic minorities, who live in poor neighborhoods, or who are tracked into low-achieving classes get fewer opportunities to exercise their civic muscles than their better-off peers.
Statistics also show that a majority of young people report having spent some time volunteering while in high school­—­and doing so at much higher rates than their parents ever did. The number one predictor of volunteering for students is whether anybody ever asks them. Many disadvantaged and low-achieving students never get “asked” to take part in volunteer or civic-learning opportunities in their schools.

“The lesson is that asking young people to contribute in a positive way can be an effective way to get them involved”.

April 27, 2009 edition of the Washington Post

Jay Mathews states,” Senior Projects Encourage Insight and Sustained Effort.” He reports that students he has interviewed report beginning their projects with resentment of the time demands during what should be a fun filled senior year but at some point have a change of heart realizing the value of their efforts. He quotes Wendy Ramirez after finishing her report on forensic science, “It’s an experience that I will never forget that will help me so much in my future.”

(See an earlier interview I did with a senior who echoed his findings)

Mathews ask, ”Why should just private schools, and a few exceptional public schools …be encouraging insight through sustained effort? This relates to another of my pet peeves: the reluctance of American public high schools to assign even one research paper of significant length and complexity before students graduate. The exceptions are schools that offer the International Baccalaureate diploma program. Many IB students have told me the 4,000-word extended essay they wrote in their senior year was their most memorable high school experience, but only a few private or magnet IB schools make everybody do that.
But many high school students still don’t get to learn what Wendy Ramirez did: “When I set my mind to something and work hard to accomplish it,” she said, “I will conquer it and complete it.” We want our teenagers to get something out of high school, but we usually define that as good grades, high test scores and a few extracurricular activities, whatever the colleges want. We don’t think they are capable of much else.

I recently finished reading Rachel’s Tears. Rachel Joy Scott was a high school senior killed in the Columbine High School attack that happened 10 years ago. A photographer, who was updating my photos for work, was so moved by the book shortly after it was written by Rachel’s mother and father that he painted Rachel’s portrait and gave it to her mom. When he learned about my work in education he gave me a copy of the book signed by Rachel’s mom just days before the ten year anniversary. Throughout the book Rachel’s parents share understandings about their daughter and her life. Many excerpts from Rachel’s diary, which was in her backpack when she was shot, are included. I stopped many times while reading impressed with just how insightful, deep, and influential students can be.

How much are they and we losing when schools miss providing the opportunities for students to commit to REAL EFFORT for REAL RESULTS?

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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