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Tailoring education to students
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2014 11:39 AM

With the Common Core State Standards dominating educational news, teachers, administrators and parents alike have had the opportunity to think about what works in schools and what doesn't. The Common Core attempts to address key content issues, improving critical-thinking skills, offering more challenging reading and writing goals, and altering the "mile wide, inch deep" approach to math education. While all of these efforts are a positive step toward a more dynamic education, teachers must still contend with classroom issues. Setting the right benchmarks certainly guides students toward college and career readiness, but other factors contribute to student learning as well.

For instance, issues at home can distract students throughout the day. According to the National Association of School Nurses, 16 million children regularly deal with hunger, which can impact how well they learn. Even the environment of a school influences learning outcomes. Alexis Wiggins, a 15-year teaching veteran who now works at a private American International School overseas, was tasked with shadowing high school students to learn what the day was like for kids. She discovered a list of issues that influence how much students take away from their lessons, and she devised ways teachers can help them learn more effectively.

Key issues
Wiggins had to attend class, take notes, do homework, complete exams and do labs, everything her student guide did. The experience revealed the following:

  1. Sitting all day is hard and causes tiredness.
  2. Students absorb information, but don't get to engage with it.
  3. Many students feel like they're an annoyance to their teachers.

The issues Wiggins faced are generally caused by the way school days are structured. Students have to sit and listen because the teacher is presenting. However, this format leaves them tired and passive. Because the students are tired and overloaded, they lose focus and are told to "pay attention." It's a self-perpetuating cycle. However, that doesn't have to be the case.

Combating the problems
These issues were difficult for Wiggins to deal with, impacting how much she learned. However, she noted in her report that all of them have solutions, and fairly simple ones at that. Here are a few of her solutions for the corresponding problems:

  1. Make stretching mandatory, provide hands-on activities and add physical play tools (like a mini basketball hoop) to the classroom (students could play before class starts).
  2. Follow super-short lessons with group activities and questions.
  3. Display patience and show students they are valued - Wiggins noted that she would throw a pizza party periodically.

The issues Wiggins faced had to do with school environment. Solving them comes down to the instructor, and making changes doesn't disrupt Common Core goals - in fact, if more classrooms got students on their feet and kept them engaged, those students might grasp their lessons better.