• Overloaded and Underprepared, Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids, by Denise Pope, Maureen Brown and Sarah Miles

    This information is based on the Challenge Success Program - a research-based project founded at Stanford University's Graduate School of Education - and shows how to create a more balanced and academically fulfilling life for kids.

    Denise Pope, PhD, is a senior lecturer at Stanford's Graduate School of Education.
    Maureen Brown, MBA, is executive director for Challenge Success.
    Sarah Miles, MSW, PhD, is director of research for Challenge Success. 
    Madeline Levine, PhD, a Marin County Psychologist and author of The Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well, is one of the co-founders of Challenge Success.

    Much of the information below is either a direct or indirect quote.  Sheila's comments are pretty obvious.  From here on out, Challenge Success will be referred to as CS.

    CS recognizes that our current fast-paced, high-pressure culture works against much of what we know about healthy child development.  The overemphasis on grades, test scores, and rote answers has stressed out some kids and marginalized many more.  Our largely singular focus on academic achievement has resulted in a lack of attention to other components of a successful life - the ability to be independent, adaptable, ethical, and engaged critical thinkers.

    This book outlines initiatives (most of which are FREE) that schools can implement to support students to achieve a more successful life.  It provides real examples from schools many of you will have heard of (some here in our area), and gives student examples of how systemic changes in schools can result in either increased or decreased anxiety and performance.

    The process they use is interviewing and surveying students, parents, and school personnel to determine root causes of problems in schools (i.e., cheating, anxiety, depression).  Then they work with faculty, parents, counselors and students to work on and implement solutions. They design an individualized school plan (not a one size fits all program) for changes during the year, then they Pilot discreet, incremental changes (rather than trying to do too much all at once), and then they evaluate the effectiveness of those changes on the stated outcomes.  Once results are measured, effective measures are retained and ineffective measures are adjusted.  Institutional reforms are not decided upon until the results of the incremental changes have been evaluated.

    The plan is always clear, regularly communicated, and flexible.  Effective CS teams reduce student stress and increase health and engagement.

    Schools are more likely to fail when they take on too much at one time.  CS helps schools to set a vision which can start of slowly and with realistic goals.  They recommend that schools "turn their ship slowly" and stay aligned with a few root causes to address in a systematic way. 

    A Saner Schedule is a chapter that reviews the research on student circadian rhythms and suggests ways to design a daily bell schedule that optimizes time for students, so that they can be both awake and engaged during the school day.  (I am currently on a team at Drake that is revisiting our current schedule and seeking an alternative that will more effectively serve student needs.  Feel free to email me your input.  Members of our team will be meeting with parents and students for input during the next 6-8 months - in 2016).

    The research cited in this chapter demonstrates that fixed and shorter periods of class time tend to inhibit students from engaging in deep exploration and learning, whereas longer periods of time allow for more individualized learning, use of emerging technologies, collaboration among teachers and the inclusion of community resources.

    Students feel less harried on days when they have fewer classes, and have a reduced homework load (three or four classes v seven). 

    Specific Suggestions:
    - Later start time
    - Block periods every day
    - Project based learning (Drake already does this)
    - Juggle instructional minutes so students still get out early
    - Hold staff meetings in the morning (same work day for teachers, later start for students = more sleep for students)
    - Open the library earlier in the am for those students whose optimal study time is early am or to serve those parents who need to drop students off early
    - Serve breakfast
    - Consider lower stakes testing.  Research shows that more frequent, low-stakes or no-stakes quizzes may actually help students learn and retain material better than high-stakes cumulative exams
    - Use alternate forms of assessment (projects, presentations, etc.)
    - No homework over extended breaks (winter, February, April, summer)
    - Testing Calendar (agreement between departments that tests for a specific department will be on a specific day, so that your child never has to take four exams in one day)

    Homework Chapter: a brief history of homework, some research on the amount students are doing each day (frightening!), a comparison to when teachers were in school (30 years ago) and suggestions on how to make homework helpful in terms of the learning goals.

    CS found a correlation in high school, which fades after two hours spent on homework.
    - Clear directions
    - Differentiated for needs of each student
    - Authentic
    - Connected tot he big idea
    Then a section on Student, Teacher and Parent responsibilities that is very clear and succinct. 
    There is a great Time Management chart for students to use which clearly spells out the amount of hours in a week and helps them calculate how much time they are spending on school, extra-curriculars, or daily living activities.  I am a big fan of these types of forms for student use.

    Project Based Learning Chapter (I am not going to write about this as all teachers at Drake are knowledgeable and experienced in PBL and it is used extensively.)

    Assessments and Grading - This chapter is interesting to read as it makes an argument for tossing out our grading system and using written assessment.  This is a huge shift for many schools, but one that colleges across the country are more than willing to adapt to. 

    AP Program -  Benefits and Challenges.  This chapter will dispel you of the notion that your child should rack up a hefty list of AP courses while in high school, as the authors found no conclusive data to suggest that AP classes make students more likely to succeed in college, and some colleges felt that taking an AP exam and passing it was not so great an advantage that students didn't benefit by repeating the course in college. Some students are able to earn high grades in AP courses and still not pass the AP exam. 

    An argument is made that students in non-AP courses pay a price for the AP program: they may receive lower instructional quality, they may be in larger classes (as AP classes tend to be smaller), and non-AP course offerings may be limited in order to staff the AP sections. (An argument can also be made that the benefits of the heterogenous classroom benefit all students, whereas the homogenous classroom does not allow for as wide a range of abilities and diverse viewpoints.  Another point is that, by having high and low performing students in the same class, the high performing students can mentor and model ideal academic behaviors, thereby raising the level of participation and engagement of the lower performing students. This information has a great deal of research from the folks who advocate PBL.)

    - Evaluate number of students passing AP classes, but not passing exams to see if something needs to change
    - Establish open enrollment policy so that AP classes are available to all who have an interest, not just top tier students
    - Create a safety net for students who may need to be re-assigned mid-semester as opposed to having them just fail the course (the purpose is engagement, not demoralizing kids)

    Create a Climate of Care.  This chapter stresses the importance of every student having at least one adult to confide in on campus and feeling supported by most teachers.
    - Treat all students fairly
    - Hold high expectations for all students
    - Train teachers in how to personalize Advisory and lead it effectively
    - Allow students more flexibility in how they use Tutorial Time (i.e., homework, take a test, take a nap, listen to music quietly, have a teacher conference)
    - Provide wellness services (peer counseling, mediation, wellness fairs, yoga club)
    - Have wellness and PE overlap services to demonstrate the mind/body connection
    - Measure the success of programs (then change things if they are not effective)
    - Plan for a climate of care for staff & students

    I still have two chapters to go (Educating the Whole School & Keeping the Momemtum), so more will be added when I finish.

    For now though, the major takeaway for me is that almost every one of these suggestions is FREE to the district.  They may take some teacher/parent/student/administration time and energy to plan, design, pilot and evaluate, but WE CAN MAKE CHANGES RIGHT NOW TO SUPPORT OUR STUDENTS.

    Posted by Sheila Souder on 03/28/2016.