Dear North High Families,
One of the challenges of raising teens is getting them to talk about what they are doing in their classes. How often have you asked your son or daughter what they did in school only to be told, “Nothing.” I have the pleasure of observing in classrooms so I know first-hand the interesting things the students are learning in their classes. I see the rigorous curriculum and the expectations for students to develop a deep understanding of the curriculum.
In addition to learning the standards for each course, teachers challenge students to see issues and topics related to the curriculum from multiple perspectives. During first semester several of our students in a Modern US History class read a book from the list below:
King of the Hill and Looking for Miracles by A.E. Hotchner
Kind of Courage by Colleen Heffernan
Breadgivers by Anzia Yezierska
Witness by Karen Hesse
The intent was for them to see the historical concepts they were studying from another perspective. I don’t know about you, but I think I would have remembered more from my high school history classes if I had been able to read these novels and better understand the personal view of history.
Last month I observed in an English classroom where small groups of students were having discussions about different books. Each member of the group was engaged and was responsible for participating in the discussion. Students had selected a book from a list provided by the teacher and were practicing their skills in book talks. In addition to the dialogue about plot and the characters in the novel, the students were identifying the author’s use of the literary components that they are studying this year in English 2. This has been an instructional practice used by our teachers for the past few years and again, I found myself wondering if I would have enjoyed my high school English classes more if I had been encouraged to participate in small groups rather than sit through whole-class discussions about classic novels day after day. You might ask your son or daughter what the suggested novels for this semester were; the following novels were suggested reading in an English 2 class:
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon
The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I was further intrigued when I saw one of my student aides reading a book with several graphics and drawings with stick figures (Relativity and Quantum Physics for Beginners by Steven L. Manly). I asked her why she was reading it and she told me she was reading it for her physics class as an option for a project. Wow! I am confident I would have understood physics much better if I had been able to read a book about the concepts I was studying in high school physics.
Over the years during winter and spring break, I have made a point of reading the books our students are reading in their courses. This gives me an opportunity to converse with them about their learning. I highly recommend you try this technique as a way to understand what your son/daughter is learning and as a way to have a more directed conversation about school.
As first semester draws to a close, I am reminded of how different high school is now than when I was a student. The stakes are higher for students now. They have to be far more responsible for their learning so that they are appropriately prepared for the world beyond North High.
I hope the upcoming break will provide time for you to rest, be with loved ones and read a book or two. May the New Year bring joy to you and your family and a more peaceful world for all.