Breaking Free From the Public School Box

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Choosing to break tradition in the public school system is hard, maybe impossible. I remember a professor telling me once that doing the right thing by your students is as simple as closing the classroom door and doing what you need to do. But what if you simply cannot do what is required for your students to learn?


Reasons your Students Cannot Learn


Do your students come to school hungry? Did they witness their parents fight right before they got on the bus? Did they even see their parents before getting on the bus?


When your students go home, do they spend their time unwinding from a day forced into a quiet, obedient, position in a chair by playing outside? Or do they sit in front of the television playing a video game or watching their favorite show?


How much time do your students spend sitting throughout their day? Do they get enough sleep at night to be able to sit still and stay awake at the same time?


Your students come from diverse backgrounds and even those students from well-off families come with needs and physical demands that the traditional school system cannot fulfill by putting them in a chair and forcing them to be still.


While you cannot change these things, you can change how you teach and thereby improve how students learn.


Making Learning Happen Differently


When you make learning happen differently, you attempt to break free from the presupposition that the way the public school has always done it must make it the best way for children to learn. So let’s get really crazy and wild. Sit down with all your plans for next week. Make a chart of each subject and what has to be taught/learned for each. Now think of a way to teach those skills together.


For example, have the students write a play to summarize the lesson they are learning in writing. Have them figure out how many people could come watch the play in your school auditorium and how much money they would make by selling tickets. Put requirements on them including things like:

Include all your spelling words in your script.

Show all your math.

Proof read and edit the advertisements and script.

Read aloud from your history book and make page notations in the script to support why you included each fact.

Put requirements on how each student has to participate, but by all means, allow collaboration!


When you get creative, integrate each subject and give purpose to the assignments, you may just be surprised at how much learning takes place. Don’t be afraid to try something new! If you fear retribution from administration from straying too far from the required script, write down the objectives you are required to teach and a detailed explanation of how each learning activity will support that learning objective. With a bit of effort, you’ll be able to meet your students’ needs and make learning more authentic.



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