Modern day students face many challenges. One in particular that seems to have captured the attention of the administration at Black River Falls High School is the student disengagement. Many approaches have been taken to combat this, but none can succeed without knowing the exact cause. Advancement in technology and changes in the social environment are rapidly changing the way students learn. The fact of the matter is that students want to be engaged and teachers want to successfully teach their students, but a wrench has been thrown in both equations. This wrench has caused a decline in participation and a negative school atmosphere, making it increasingly more difficult for kids to stay engaged. Today’s students don’t learn the same ways that our teachers were taught, and our disengagement can be linked to the fact that we’re still being taught as if we were students 10, 20, or 30 years ago.
The pioneering of outcome based learning is one example of a shift in the right direction. We want to be engaged in the school and with extra curriculars, but ultimately it starts in the classroom. This year, a few teachers introduced outcome based learning, and already there has been an increase in student engagement. This approach takes the focus off grades and assessments and instead concentrates on the idea that students can prove their comprehension of the material in their own ways. Modern day teenagers deal with more outside stressors than any other generation has, and it makes it harder to focus in class. In fact, according to a 2018 APA survey, teenagers reported much higher levels of anxiety and depression than all other age groups. Taking away the stress and anxiety that comes along with grades is a technique that we feel has made a positive difference in the classroom atmosphere.
Another way to encourage student engagement is through positive reinforcement. When good behavior is praised and exemplified, it motivates other students to follow suit. With the implementation of the new behavioral interventions such as the Alternative Learning Center (ALeC), many students–including the editorial board of the Paw Print–felt as though the focus was on the wrong behaviors. There have been many attempts at positive reinforcement throughout the past few years, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system (PBIS), school assemblies, and the coffee cart. The goal of this approach is to offer opportunities that will inspire students to perform to the best of their abilities, but student input has never been sought out. If the goal is to implement incentives that encourage teenagers, it makes sense to ask said teenagers what would motivate them. This is another example of the lack of understanding between administration and the student body. Teenagers will never respond to stickers or tootsie rolls. If students aren’t offered incentives that intrigue or motivate them, they will become disengaged.
The technology is another factor to consider when trying to understand the students that aren’t meeting their potential. Technology has changed the way students are taught, and thus has changed the way students learn. With the launch of a virtual learning system (Canvas), along with one-to-one laptops, the majority of the work we do is online. Going in this direction has had many benefits, including the convenience factor. However, convenience in some areas is becoming an obstacle in others. For example, conducting science experiments online as opposed to in class is resulting in students lacking the ability to conceptualize the ideas they study. Not only that, but students are missing out of the real life applications of experiments and projects like communication, observation skills, and the ability to make analyses. This is only one example of important life skills students are missing out on due to the reliance on technology. As we grow up and enter the real world, it will be clear that those areas of our lives need some fine tuning.
High school is meant to give you the tools necessary to be successful for the rest of your adult life. With the focus on improving test scores instead of building mental resilience, we will never succeed. Not only will we not succeed, we will never become engaged. The majority of the students at Black River Falls High School want to be engaged. We want to come to school and be filled with spirit and pride. Before that can happen, we need to feel heard and we need to feel accommodated. Outcome based learning, positive reinforcement and utilizing instead of depending on technology are all things we plead for. We want to be engaged, and we’re asking for help in creating a framework to encourage that.
NOTE: This is a staff editorial. Staffer members met over the course of February and March to research and come to a consensus on the content of this editorial.