Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rigor in an Alternative High School

A great guest post about rigor in high school!
Rigor in an Alternative High School:  Thoughts on Beginning
                  Today I began a new adventure on my journey as a teacher – I stood in front of a classroom as a full time high school teacher for the first time.  During the course of the day, I saw about 100 different students in six different social studies classes ranging from History to Sociology and everything in between.  How then can I presume to write about rigor when I have only just begun?  I have a couple different answers to that question.  I have served as a part time teacher in the same building running an evening program (3:30-8:45pm) for the last six years.  I have also spent significant amounts of time substitute teaching in a wide variety of classrooms for the last eight years.  Most importantly, I don’t pretend to have all (or maybe any) of the answers.  I do have some thoughts on the subject however, and this year will serve as a proving ground to see whether any of my ideas bear any fruit.
                  The program in which I work is an alternative high school, which means that we get the kids who don’t make it in a traditional building.  They may have had significant attendance issues from problems at home or may be in legal trouble or any of a variety of other reasons.  Whatever the cause of their arrival at my school, they tend to have much in common with each other.  They are typically behind in credits, typically have trouble attending regularly, and typically are exceptionally unmotivated.  How can we as teachers possibly ask for rigor from these students?  I believe that step one is to develop relationships with them as human beings.  I have found from my time in the evening program that they are willing to give some extra effort if they believe you care.  Step two is present the material in a way that grabs their attention.  It must interest them.  If it doesn’t, why should they bother?  This is a difficult task, but by no means insurmountable.  Step three goes hand in hand with step two.  It is to allow them freedom to grapple with the material themselves.  Listening to a teacher lecture did not serve them well in a traditional setting.  Why should it in an alternative setting?  Turn the reins over to them as much as your administrators, standards, and teaching style allow.  Let them wrestle with becoming learners and critical thinkers, but be there to help scaffold them along the way.

Rick Jackson is the Social Studies teacher at Discovery Alternative High School in Grand Rapids, MI.  You can take a sneak peek at his classroom at www.discoverysocial studies2.weebly.com and follow further educational musings at www.nightschoolrick.weebly.com.  You can follow Rick on Twitter @RickJackson10 and e-mail him at rjackson@kvilleps.org.  Rick earned a Bachelors in US History and Education from Principia College and is the process of completing a Masters of Teaching Mathematics from Western Governors University.

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