Between 2006 and 2009, over 275,000 high school students participated in the High School Survey of Student Engagement, which is implemented annually in the United States. The survey focuses on three areas: why students go to school, level of boredom, and the risk of dropping out. The findings were consistent during this period. Nearly 7 out of 10 students go to school because they want to go to college or get a good job, to be with their friends, and due to family pressure. Enjoying school or learning what is taught in class was cited less often (41% and 36% respectively). 65% of students surveyed reported being bored in school. Only 2% reported never being bored. The primary reasons for boredom were that the material was either not interesting or irrelevant. 20% of those surveyed also considered dropping out of school. The main reasons for wanting to drop out included not liking school or the teachers, or not seeing value in school work.
While ‘boredom’ may be a difficult term to define, there is one thing we can gather from the research conducted: students are not as engaged in the learning process as they could be. This raises a critical question: what is needed to increase student engagement in schools and decrease levels of boredom and drop out? First, let’s consider the fundamental assumptions, which form the basis of education systems today. Some of these include: curriculum content is relevant to students; students should achieve certain standards by a specific age; subjects are to be taught separately; schools prepare children for today’s labor market; students should be grouped by age. Before getting into questions about the validity of the assumptions, let’s hear from Sir Ken Robinson, who is calling for a change in paradigm:
Key points that I gather from the video are: new and innovative education and learning approaches are needed and learning should consider student’s social environment and development. I would also like to emphasize the point made regarding creativity. An article entitled the Creativity Crisis referred to an analysis conducted of the results of 300,000 “Torrance” scores (a study designed in 1958 to assess creativity levels in children). The scores continued to increase until 1990; however, they decreased since then. If this is true, not only does our creativity decrease as we get older, but we are becoming less creative compared to past generations. Creativity, a critical skill related to innovation, can be fostered. To address this challenge, teaching styles in the US, Britain and China, for example, are moving towards problem-based learning approaches.
Another similar approach that may increase the relevance of schools, decrease boredom, spur creativity, and develop other important life skills is project-based learning (PBL). Implementing such an approach does require a shift in the teaching and learning process. It also has its challenges, especially related to assessing student learning, designing projects that inspire students, integrating it into the curriculum appropriately, and training and maintaining teachers to implement such an approach. However, the advantages are also numerous. There are examples of dramatic increases in student learning, improved problem-solving skills, better understanding of content, improved behavior, and of motivating disengaged youth to participate in the learning process.
Below is a brief introduction to Project-Based Learning. In the next post, I will include some fascinating results from such an initiative: