The faculty here at Harry S. Truman High School is focusing on aligning tasks to the Common Core Standards. As I walk around observing classes, I can see and hear the engagement among students during class discussions. The type of discourse that I am witnessing is proof that students are not just memorizing facts and concepts, but that they are understanding, debating and questioning various types of material.
The new standards, which all schools are beginning to implement, emphasize analytical skills, nonfiction literature and mathematical word problems.
For example, in an English class, students are discussing the power of the media, and besides forming their own opinion based on their personal experiences, they are examining different sources such as video clips, research and other informational texts, so that they can critique other people’s views and arguments.
While this thrills me as a principal, I also have high-stakes tests, such as State Regents exams, on my mind; will students be able to transfer this type of understanding to the Regents and A.P. exams? The truth is that when we teach for true understanding, our students will not only be prepared for any examination, but they will retain information far beyond June.
Students are engaged when they see that the material they are learning is relevant to the real world, and moreover, relevant to them directly. Once educators — including administrators — see the powerful changes in students when they are engaged, the idea that test-preparation courses entail “teaching to the test” will diminish.
What do all people remember so vividly, even as time goes by? We remember our fondest or worst experiences — because they stir us, and they reach us at the core. When we teach students, we should stir them, reach them at the core and provide them with an educational experience that allows them to see the relevance in learning across all content areas.
As a person with a science and math background, I do not agree that our students should be robotic persons focusing on only mathematics and technology — only a strong liberal arts education that holds all content areas as important will allow students to be ready for the 21st century world.
Our students will be able to make a smooth transition to college because the academic rigor that is required of them as university scholars is present in a mentally engaging high school classroom; they will also make wise decisions when choosing careers because they will use these fundamental thinking skills to make professional and personal choices.
Moreover, we can count on well-rounded youth with highly developed thinking skills to be active participants and leaders in an ever-changing society.