A Visionary Reflection: Pushing Exceptional Learners

Visions in World Literature and Composition: An intensive study of the Communication Arts for 11th grade visionaries, focused on critical thought, literary analysis, writing, and discussion, with emphasis on individual growth and autonomy in learning.

Rationale: The Need to Push Exceptional Learners

I have the privilege of teaching two sections of high school juniors in Visions in World Literature and Composition. These are high-performing, mostly compliant students. However, due to the competitive culture we have created, the strong students have learned how to play the system to get (not earn) better grades than their peers. These respectful, conscientious students admittedly complete work to the minimum expectations in order to receive credit. ​I observe as students rush to complete (or copy) menial tasks for their classes with little thought or effort. Many will not push themselves to explore concepts outside of class or read beyond the assigned material. Yet, they constantly check their online average and wonder why they are not getting an A in the course. Is this a local issue? A generational issue? A cultural issue? How have our actions enabled extrinsic rewards to nearly silence intrinsic motivation?

Visions students are capable readers, writers, and thinkers–many of which are college-bound and in multiple advanced placement courses. The majority have supportive parents, but face the pressure of (sometimes unrealistic) parental and personal expectations. They rarely take risks in their learning and tend to be satisfied when a grade is secured. For students and their  parents, learning is not viewed as important as the grade point average.

Some high-achieving students admit to not feeling challenged, but most feel overwhelmed with anxiety, knowing one subpar quiz will crush their average for a marking period. This stress is accentuated by the number of advanced placement courses on their schedule. As we direct more attention to accommodate the needs of all learners, my focus is on those already proficient in most English Language Arts standards.

I am frustrated with exceptional students settling for mediocrity by playing the game of school. And for what? To earn A’s and B’s so their parents may drive around town with a “Proud Parent of an Honor Student” bumper sticker on the back of the family SUV–but not to learn the material. They are honor students, but likely have little to show for their education. The reality hits when seniors struggle to craft memorable college application essays. It is time to push these students to create something greater–something authentic and meaningful. Let’s stop setting minimum expectations and have students challenge their own limits. This is a necessary step if we wish to remove the current ceiling on our schools.

Essential Question

How do I get high-performing students to move beyond proficient in course standards to attain levels of mastery? I will spend time building a conducive learning environment, push critical and creative thought by allowing room for innovation, and focus on the quality of work produced by students. This rubric will be used as a consistent reference point to measure student outcomes and to shift our focus from grades to learning.

SLO Crit Think Rubric   Google Sheets

Professional Growth Goal

For the 2014-15 school year, I will increase the quality of student performance in eleventh grade Visions in Literature and Composition by shifting from traditional grading and instructional practices to standards based learning, instruction, assessment, and reporting. This shift requires me to:

  • establish a community of trust
  • identify and analyze individual learning styles
  • insist students take academic risks in order to grow
  • implement strategies to differentiate instruction by using data from formative and summative assessments
  • eliminate the averaging of grades and instead report mode or most recent indication of performance
  • increase transparency and communication with students and parents

*This is part one of a reflective series for My Learning Plan for professional growth. Part two will include steps in the action plan and an update of our progress.

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