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What are classes would you offer to today's students to help improve their education?

What classes would you add a options to all students to help them learn?

I came up with a few:

1) Reasoning- Reason is the capacity for consciously making sense of things, applying logic, for establishing and verifying facts, and changing or justifying practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, mathematics, and art, and is normally considered to be a definitive characteristic of human nature. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reason)

2) Learning-Learning is acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing existing, knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning)

3) Critical thinking-Critical thinking is a way of deciding whether a claim is always true, sometimes true, partly true, or false.( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_thinking)

4) Active Listening- Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to feed back what they hear to the speaker, by way of re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to confirm what they have heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_listening)

5) Study skills-Study skills or study strategies are approaches applied to learning. They are generally critical to success in school, considered essential for acquiring good grades, and useful for learning throughout one's life. There are an array of study skills, which may tackle the process of organizing and taking in new information, retaining information, or dealing with assessments. They include mnemonics, which aid the retention of lists of information, effective reading, and concentration techniques, as well as efficient note taking. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studying)

I provided wiki links for further explanation.

What are yours?

  • Jul 27 2013: Reasoning- Forget classes in reasoning. Simply require it to be done in every subject, and grade on whether or not the correct answer is reached. Start in primary and continue through 12th. Just like it used to be. I had to "use my head", not just look up or repeat rote answers. "Teaching to the test" because schools get paid based on test grades is incredibly destructive of reasoning ability. Student are encouraged to conform and accept what is given to them instead of questioning it. Teach differently.

    Learning - I think there are two big challenges: Showing them that they CAN learn, and that it is worth the work required. Most kids I see want answers handed to them and simply won't work in class. Again, you can't teach it as a course except at the highest levels. It needs to be tackled at every level. Right from Kindergarten.

    Critical Thinking - Well, it used to be called Reasoning. A course in Formal Logic might be useful in high school.

    Active Listening - This should also be a classroom technique employed by the teacher as an example. But, because it's so simple, could be started in primary school even as a daily exercise of just a few minutes. Require students to "feed back" the morning announcements and discuss them. Once they learn to do this, later grades can practice it in group projects.

    Study Skills - Again, these should be taught from the very beginning - as a part of class, not a separate one, unless the student has exceptional difficulty. Lunchtime and recess remediation time can be used for this as well as class material.

    I've been a substitute teacher for 8 years in Texas public schools, grades 6-12. I've subbed on every subject taught and spent a lot of time in behavioral, disciplinary, and special ed units. I'm not educated in education, but I have managed to teach a lot of students that their original thoughts are appreciated. That's something all teachers can do to encourage the love of learning. And improve their scores.
  • Aug 9 2013: Hi Robert, great question. I've been an educator for 17 years and I've never been so certain on a response to your question. First, I believe what you're asking is more related to skills rather than coursework. With these skills students become the leaders of their own learning. Ironically, the skills of organization, reading, writing, inquiry, and collaboration aren't new. To ensure these skills are taught with fidelity becomes the issue, thus the nationwide focus on improving our methods of evaluating how well we practice the art of teaching.

    The art and science of teaching has become much more deliberate in this generation, much more than ever before. The need for this? Because our world is changing, and changing faster than ever before. The questions around what students should learn in school is shifting to questions about HOW and WHY students can and should learn and how can students learn to learn if that makes sense. Provocative topic. Thanks for asking the question!
  • Aug 8 2013: Thanks Robert, the fact that you care about these things means the young people around you are very lucky. When I was growing up I had a number of learning barriers to overcome, which came from my childhood and from a medical condition. It meant that I had great difficulty reading and remembering, and had very little confidence in myself. I thought that I was a fake and that people would eventually find out how stupid I really was. Meanwhile my father was extremely bright and that made things worse. Mr. Clark showed me that I had lots of potential, but that I would have to work first to discover how best I learned and then apply that to every learning situation I was in. It has been quite a journey, but worth every minute.

    From this lesson I learned that most students DO want to participate, but first you must get them to stop being afraid to expose their thoughts to others. My college students are free to ask me any (relevant) question, and sometimes I have to think about the answer--sometimes I actually don't know. But I have learned to say 'wonderful question, give me a minute to go to the board and figure it out' (or I'll find out & let you know--and I always do). So my students know I am not afraid to make a mistake or have to think about an answer, or even just not know--so they aren't either.

    Also I reward hard work and effort as being just as important as being 'clever'. I had a student this summer who certainly wasn't my best reading student and she knew it. I didn't let her lack of confidence get in the way and rewarded every single effort she made. Pretty soon she was getting the highest marks in the class and beaming with pride. She took my feedback and turned it into progress. I didn't GIVE her anything--she earned every mark w/ her hard work.

    I got to where I am by sheer hard work and a lot of mistakes. But, I don't want my students do feel alone as I did, so I never let them accept failure if they are willing to try...

    Keep exploring...
  • Aug 8 2013: Thanks Robert. In fact my dissertation explored whether I could improve the problem solving capacity of 6th graders in scientific contexts that I designed, so I am very interested in how young students learn, think, etc. I was able to improve the abstract reasoning of students by teaching them to successfully manipulate models so that the outcome of the experiments changed. This knowledge was generalized to other such problem solving situations in my study. So, this led me to believe that it is the DOING of things in class with meta-learning support that most effectively helps students execute critical thinking and problem solving more effectively.

    Eighth to 12th graders are certainly capable of engaging in this experience, but this approach should not be looked as highly intellectual lessons for gifted students only. The key here is to get all students involved by creating an engaging classroom atmosphere. My 6th grade teacher (Mr. Clark) was a genius at this in the 5 subjects he taught us. He encouraged all of us to have ideas and got almost all students involved. If your idea was wrong, he explored it with you so you could see the flaw in your thinking--and got peers involved in the conversation. Everyone had a chance to share ideas, and this approach raised the level of the whole class (like a rising tide and all boats). So, this approach is highly flexible as to language or conceptual level, but learning is nevertheless improved for all those who are engaged. That is, IF students do their part, then they progressively become more autonomous learners--at their own pace, which is highly important.

    Also, 'engaging' is not the same as 'entertaining'--when engaged we sit forward in anticipation of participating, when entertained we sit back passively--far too much of the latter in US education.

    Important too to remember that this a bi-directional process (think about it..).

    All students will respond to this if respectfully motivated. :)
    • Aug 8 2013: Ernst,


      Love the engaging vs entertaining distinction.

      I had a few teachers like Mr. Clark in my life, and I really liked the learning experience, but I could not put my finger on the reason why I like going to their class.

      I tried to practice the 'explore your answer until you realize it is wrong approach' with my kids and my Scouts, but to me it just seemed like a way to not have them shut down communication channels with me. As I recall, it took some patience, took some time, but was effective. It was only a rare occasion when you had to jump in and play the heavy with a 'no' or 'this is the way you do it', but usually only when safety was involved.

      By they way, don't tell anyone, but this same technique works with mentoring strong minded (even arrogant) young colleagues, as they will argue to their last breathe to prove they are not wrong, but are often quite willing to jump to a new point of view if they see a flaw in logic in their own. You can usually tell this transition has occurred when you hear statements like 'Oh, well that is what I meant' and then a few weeks later "Well my idea is " and they use your logic to support it. It is fun to watch.

      Definitely agree with the respect at all levels. Some of my teachers always talked down to us. The best seemed to take what we offered and include it somehow in the lectures, and make a point of citing our contribution. That really helped build my ego as a young student.

      I suspect that 20 years from now, someone will be in a blog a cite his or her learning experience in Mr Schneider's class with the same fondness that you recall your experience in Mr, Clark's class.

      Thanks for your response.
  • Aug 7 2013: I think it's better to integrate the things you are taking about into classes on any subject. I don't think of critical thinking as a discrete subject, rather as a way of looking at whatever I am learning or teaching (I am a college professor). I tell my students of academic and research writing (or any other subject for that matter) that I will teach them HOW to think, but not WHAT to think. I model what's called 'meta-language' for my students, which is simply talking about learning, exchanging ideas, etc. Pretty soon my students begin to ask critical questions about what's being taught. I never answer directly unless it's a very complex concept--mostly I just ask the asker what he / she thinks or ask their peers what they think. Piece by piece we build knowledge and critical thinking about the topic together. Also, I don't lecture much in my classes, I only give mini-lectures when students ask about something that I think everyone should know. During class time my students improve their academic and research writing with my and peer guidance. Similarly, in other kinds of classes students should be DOING math, or history, or reading, or civics, or whatever IN class--if they need help the teacher is there to guide them but not do the work for them--otherwise students learn nothing. With technology these days students can watch all sorts of 'lectures' about almost anything online, so that's what they should be doing at home along with starting homework based on those lectures. Well done lectures can be done in about 20 minutes so there is not a lot of time necessary. Using this style students get the help they need in class through asking questions and meta-learning, and teachers can actually teach what they know and are passionate about, not just give some canned lecture that no one is interested in (including the teacher). My students love this system, and they learn what they learn well--the more work they put in, the better they do.
    • Aug 7 2013: Well said professor.

      I was thinking more of the 8-12th grade public school learning experience.

      Fritzie, Jenny and Kirk agree with you that these topics should be integrated into all course matter as method and it sounds like they are teaching professionals, so I am sure that what should be done by teachers in the classroom.

      While I do not disagree that this should be done by the teachers, I thought at some point in a child's learning process, teaching each as a discrete unit or short course might help students figure out a metric for their own performance in these areas, give them an awareness of learning methods and perhaps look to other techniques or skills that further reinforced their ability or worked better for them. It may only be the highly motivated or gifted student that gets benefit form this type of experience at earlier ages, but at some point, prior to college, I think this sort of training might help.

      At a college level, what you describe sounds like a really good approach to me. Perhaps it is scalable to age levels. What do you think? If so, how and when would you introduce this type of teaching method to kids?
  • Jul 27 2013: For the older grades Case studies with discussions based on the Socratic Method. with case studies you can combine all the skills.

    for the younger classes, i would make the case studies a year long project. For example, 2nd grade in New York the course is on the state of New York. Build a large sand map table and start with the ice age and how the state was formed by the glaciers. Step forward,build the Erie Canal and show how it opened up the west and made people rich in Buffalo later in the year add the electric grid and the water reservoirs to support NY City - finally break up the class to show the power of NY City in the State government. use this as a vote and g this may show the need to allow the minority a voice. Build science, english (writing and reading and speaking), math, social studies all based on the map and the timeline
  • Jul 26 2013: I agree that some of the classes suggested in this discussion question may be taught within other classes. I’m not sure that they would work as classes themselves. I think a lot of teachers probably teach active listening and reasoning within other subjects (I know I do) and students probably do these things on a daily bases without even realizing it. Learning, I do not think could be a class because it’s not really a teachable area. It is a lifelong process. Everyone learns from the day they are born and they continue to learn until the day they die. Some may say that critical thinking can’t be taught, or that it is not a skill. However, there are thinking strategies that once learned can help in the critical thinking process. Being able to think critically depends on knowledge and practice. I believe it is definitely something that can be practiced from day to day in the classroom. Study skills I do agree can and should be taught. I think this could also be integrated into part of another class or several. This should not be left until a child is 14 or 15 years old. It can be started much earlier and gradually implemented as they get older.
    I also agree with Robert that we should teach “the process” and I think that good teachers do. If a child doesn't understand what or how to do something to get the desired result, it is our job as educators to explain, model and practice that process with them. Some may understand one way but others may need to be shown a different way to come to a similar result. We need to be flexible where possible, as all kids learn a little differently.
    • Jul 26 2013: The learning class I was thinking about was more a study of how learning occurs, techniques for learning, and sort of how it relates to the education process. I thought some insight into the process, particularly for the high school age kids might spark some curiosity about the process. I think the concept of metacognition, or learning how to learn, such as is discussed in the pedagogy wiki would also make a good topic in this course.

      The integration of these techniques into normal subjects is great and ties into Fritzie's comments below. Again, I see these new courses as a supplement to what is already being taught in these subjects, just to highlight the the importance of the techniques.

      Any other ideas about a class that is missing from the current curriculum?
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    Jul 25 2013: I think education needs to move in the direction of becoming MORE interdisciplinary and MORE integrated rather than less so. While a study skills module may be a useful tack-on module in a homeroom setting, splitting out these other areas in self-contained classes would not be pedagogically sound. These skills and dispositions are naturally integrated into almost all areas of academic content. Splitting them out of natural contexts is likely not nearly as effective for students as integrating them into their areas of application.

    I have said in other settings that I think economics is a natural addition to high school curriculum.
    • Jul 25 2013: Had to look something up first...

      Pedagogy is the science and art of education, specifically instructional theory. An instructor develops conceptual knowledge and manages the content of learning activities in pedagogical settings.
      ... theorists have laid a foundation for pedagogy where sequential development of individual mental processes, such as recognize, recall, analyze, reflect, apply, create, understand, and evaluate, are scaffolded. Students learn as they internalize the procedures, organization, and structures encountered in social contexts as their own schema. The learner requires assistance to integrate prior knowledge with new knowledge. Children must also develop metacognition, or the ability to learn how to learn. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedagogy)

      Ok, I understand 'pedagogically sound' now, I think.

      I will not argue that elements of what I suggest should be integrated into the pedagogy as described above.

      I will argue that self-contained classes in the subjects I mentioned would be effective supplements to the existing curriculum, not replacements for materials learned. In order for them to be effective, they would need to be stratified like other subjects to match age and educational maturity levels of students. Perhaps they would be effective computer based modules or classes in the Khan approach to education.

      I see value in separating out some of the mental processes in hopes that students would understand the value of structured learning as opposed to trying to blindly read every book in a library or consume all the information on the internet. My hunch would be that if they were more aware of the process, they might be more effective learners, know where to look for help with a process on their own, and perhaps reinforce faulty scaffolding with new techniques or processes that resonate with a particular student.

      Not all students would be mature enough to benefit, but perhaps some might be inspired by the knowledge.
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        Jul 25 2013: I understand that this is your point of view. I would choose to do this work entirely in context and have found that practice extremely effective, as subject matter experts can represent these skills and dispositions in the context in which they are actually used in those disciplines.
  • Jul 25 2013: I prefer communication classes,interactive communication bewteen teachers and students,students and students all are the best learning environment to improve. together.
    I remind myself:be conscious to be ware of how much I can learn from students.it motivates me to be enthusiastic in teaching and learning...
  • Jul 25 2013: If I was to suggest classes that would help kids to learn I would include something that promotes creativity and their own personal interests. Kids learn when they are engaged so it is important to give them the opportunity to learn, and grow their creativity. Have a class where the student starts with an interest and delves deeper into that. It could be anything from a personal interest to a worldwide issue. Some kind of project based learning (PBL) that they have a say in could be very beneficial. They can help create the rubric that holds the criteria on which they will be assessed. Let them choose how to present their project. If they are artistic then give them a chance to present artistically (through painting, music, dance, etc.). A "Creativity Class" like this could help those kids that just aren't engaged on a daily basis and it could also connect with other areas of the curriculum depending on how the teacher wants to focus it.
  • Aug 24 2013: Gaining Space Original Aug 14, 2013-Revised 8/24/13

    The young man came in and sat on a long wooden bench near the front of the Greyhound station. The Greyhound station’s occupancy limit was about 500. The bench faced the waiting room. A black woman was seated across an aisle in a facing long bench.
    He started to increase his space. He pushed his space out. He got his space up to her. He had been taught not to stare. He could not get his space to stretch beyond her. He thought it was a requirement that went along with not staring, to not stare past a person. The black woman sensed what the young man was trying to do. They were alone in the waiting room. The black woman stood and picked up her bags and went back. She sat down on the farthest bench. As she sat, she gave the young man a slight nod.
    The young white man’s space expanded. The expansion of his space was sudden and empowering. He had the whole waiting room and the black woman in it. The black woman sat comfortably on the long bench at the back of the waiting room. She looked at the young white man. She did not smile. She didn’t mind if the young white man had the whole bus station. She allowed him that. She allowed him more. And she looked triumphant. What a gracious gift she had given the young white man.
    The young man enjoyed the space for a while and left. He had a new ability. He could go into a Greyhound station and enlarge his space. He didn’t know yet which places he could go and enlarge his space. But he knew this wasn’t the end of it. It was wonderful to have the space that had been refused him up to this point in his life.
    I lived this. 'Staring' was a definition that changed. When it changed, there was another way. I could look comfortably and comfortably include a person in front of me without talking. Staring, of course is not looking comfortably, but looking intensely. Better-to have had the difference early.
  • Aug 22 2013: Respect. At all levels.
  • Aug 22 2013: If I could choose one thing to incorporate into the educational system in terms of curriculum, I would choose to have a leadership course that includes the following:

    Etiquette (social, dinner, phone and interview)

    Cultural diversity

    How to conduct a productive business meeting

    Speech: How to give an effective and entertaining presentation

    Team Concepts: How to work as a group and appreciate the ideas of others

    Philanthropy: Have the students choose various projects (both locally and globally) to get involved in so they can learn that they CAN make a difference now. And also to see the importance of looking at the world outside of themselves.

    I believe that youth need to understand how powerful their voice is and that their voices need to be heard. I would give them a platform!
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    Jul 25 2013: I wonder if there would be a way to force students to do things that make them uncomfortable. For instance, some students would feel self-conscious in an acting class, so force them to take an acting class. I read a saying once that if something makes you uncomfortable, you should seize every chance to do it.