Monday, June 8, 2015

How Much Help is the Right Amount of Help for High School Students?

       Parents and teachers want school-age children to be responsible--at least, "responsible" given their age.  But what is the right amount of responsibility for a high school student--or for a new college student?  How much "help" do 16 year olds (or 18 year olds, or 20 year olds) need to navigate the rigors of high school courses, college courses, and college life?

       Some high school students seem to breeze through high school with very little guidance from adults while others struggle--same for college.  These students make some teachers say, "See!  They can do it, so anyone of you can do it."  But is this just a "sink or swim" mentality?  Does this viewpoint help students learn responsibility, or does it prevent them from succeeding.

       On the other end of the spectrum, some say that we help student too much in high school and (so) they aren't prepared for the independence of college courses.  (Is it true that college teachers don't help their students?  I hope not.)  High schools help students to remember deadlines and they offer after-school help.  Is that "too much" help?  What is the proper balance of teaching responsibility and helping students to successfully navigate courses and school programs?

       I believe that their is value in allowing students to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes.  I also believe that we should not be so extreme in our "caring" at the high school level that we (as teachers) do too much for students to the point that they only doing-what-they-are-told and are not learning anything.  But should we allow them to fail a course if they know the content but struggle to meet deadlines?

       Should we really expect 14 year old 9th graders to hear a long, long, long list of directions and rules on the first day of school and then penalize them for not following rule # 56 on the 23rd day of school?  Should we have to remind 11th graders of the term paper deadline everyday for three weeks?  How much help is the right amount of help?

       I think my main concern is for students who capable of learning what they need to learn at a satisfactory level (or higher), but they struggle with skills such as organization, planning ahead, learning school procedures (such as college course sequences), and meeting deadlines.  I know that these skills are important and (certainly) we want these future employees to have these skills.  But is high school and college the right place for penalizing teenagers and young adults who are still developing these skills?  I am particularly concerned about students who drop out of high school or college due to a lack of organization and not due to a lack of academic ability.

       As public schools, we should do everything we can to help our students to succeed.  But how much "help" is too much help, and how much "help" is too little help?

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