Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Enthusiasm is Contagious...


 and so is the lack of it. So goes an unattributed quote.

Our trend data says that the youngest students start out very excited about school, build to a fever of enthusiasm in the fifth grade, and in middle school start a slow slide into the near coma of the latter high school years. I have observed as much in the field:  First graders flush with making their first paper plate clock. Fifth graders fighting over who describes their science project first. Sophomores more pumped about the softball game after school than the prerequisite of being in school. And seniors slumping into a fifth row seat, cheek to hand, elbow to desktop, eyes half lidded. An exaggeration?  Not as long as every kindergartner, over the anxieties of September, is excited to go to school in October and one junior is considering whether they should just cut class or finally quit coming at all.

I have the good fortune of having a wide age range of friends and family.  This year alone I know and regularly communicate with a kindergartner, a second grader, a third grader, a fifth grader, a seventh grader, and a high school senior. These particular kids don't fit the pattern and I think I have a diagnosis and, maybe, a prescription. Undoubtedly someone's second opinion will be that it is parents or socioeconomic status, but I don't think so. The fifth and seventh grader suffer school, dance when there is a day off, and regularly tell me that school is boring and that they hate homework. The K, 2, and 3 students all enjoy school (that's normal) and so does the senior (that's not so much).

I think it's choice.  As in options. As in I get to decide. Enthusiasm, evidently, is a symptom of having a say. The K and 2 kids talk about "stations" and picking assignments from red boxes or blue boxes or green boxes.  The third grader selects from among chapter books and chooses writing topics earnestly explaining why she selected this theme over three others.  The senior has a schedule filled with electives and (this one lives with me) does homework the way some students do texting. Meanwhile, the fifth and seventh grader talk about getting ready for tests and doing the same math problem over and over with different numbers and only because I ask, "How's school?"  My friends on either end of the K-12 continuum still are eager to talk to me about school.  The two in the middle, after politely answering my question, have already switched to talking about Halloween. Maybe because they get to choose their costume.

If part of your enthusiasm as an educator comes from choices you get to make about curriculum and instruction, what are you currently doing to spread the contagion by way of choices for students? 

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