Thursday, August 4, 2011

Alternative Education and A Teaching Action You Should Want to Copy

By sheer serendipity, I've just met a teacher of the local [small] city's alternative school.  I have to share (paraphrased) one of his stories:
When these high school students act like little kids, I tell them, "If you're going to act like elementary schoolers, I'll treat you like elementary schoolers."  One day they were all throwing their pencils into the ceiling to get them stuck and I said that to them.  The next day I put a crayon on each of their desks instead of letting them use pencils.  "Remember yesterday?" I said, "If you want to act like a kid, you'll get treated like one."  They used crayons all day.  It worked.  No more pencils in ceilings.

Alternative education has an interesting title.  Alternative to what?  The useless answer is, "alternative to the mainstream school system," but what it ultimately means is, "alternative to a system that gives students inadequate feedback and personal focus."

You may have read my thoughts on individualized education (particularly on the prevalence of IEP's), but I haven't yet mentioned an idea that could improve things dramatically, "[Why] Alternative Education Needs to Go Mainstream."  Click that link to visit Liz Dwyer's discussion of the notion and what Sir Ken Robinson says about it.  An excerpt:
[Sir Robinson] also debunked [at a conference] the myth that students who drop out are reacting to the system as a whole: "For any student, the classroom they sit in is the education system and that's what they're dropping out of."  But the kids who get into quality alternative programs fall in love with learning because they're getting an individualized experience—and the support they need to address particular life challenges, like being a teen mom or being homeless.
(The end of that excerpt reminds me of a friend who conducted research on students who had dropped out of school and found that most of the girls who experienced both dropping out and becoming a teen mom were not pregnant until after they had already dropped out.  Hmm...perhaps a topic for another day.)

In the ideal world of modern educational philosophy, every student would have an IEP.  In my ideal world, every school would have a student-teacher ratio that enables proper individualized attention for every student, time built into the day for tutoring and schoolwork sessions, and an environment that encourages stronger student-teacher connections.  Funny, that's what good alternative education provides.

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