Accelerating the Learning of All Students: Cultivating Culture Change in Schools, Classrooms, and Individuals

By Christine Finnan; Julie D. Swanson | Go to book overview

Foreword

In the early 1980s I undertook a study of why the schooling of children in at-risk situations did not seem to close the gap in academic achievement between them and other students. As part of this study, I visited a very large number of schools with high concentrations of at-risk students. I found most of these students were placed in "remedial" programs that reduced the pace and challenge of instruction and placed great emphasis on "drill and skill" exercises. The notion was that since these children enter school without the developmental experience that would enable them to do "mainstream" work, they must undertake a boot camp of drill to build a foundation of skills before they can entertain more meaningful challenges. Sadly, it is a form of training that most of them never escape as they fall farther and farther behind the mainstream. The remedial classrooms that I observed were characterized by a painfully slow pacing of the curriculum and a reduced challenge of instruction. There was a virtual omission of meaningful applications and problem solving and a derogation of joyful learning experiences and links to the culture of the children. Students and teachers appeared to be disengaged from the educational process, following established routines rather than purposeful and motivating educational paths. It was little wonder that these students got farther and farther behind the academic mainstream the longer that they were in school.

But in many of these schools there were a few classrooms where students were considered to be gifted and talented. In those classes, students were identified by their strengths, not their weaknesses, and provided with activities and projects that built on these strengths. Instead of being stigmatized with labels such as "slow learner," their talents were celebrated. And the learning environment was electric with activity motivating the highly valued and stimulated students to think, reflect, create, and master.

These experiences challenged my own thinking about what was best for students in at-risk situations. Paradoxically, it seemed that the most promising educational route for such students was one that would accelerate their growth and development rather than slowing it through reme

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