Earlier this week, I had the chance to spend an hour with Catherine Walton’s Grade 11 and 12 Peer Helping class at West Vancouver Secondary. We spent the hour discussing the current state of schooling and the potential of social media.
The first activity was having the students write down everything they could remember from Grade 6. In the discussion that followed students realized that not one of them had written about content covered, but reflected on their feelings and connections. They wrote about the teachers they loved, the friends who were in their class, the activities they participated in and the fun they had.
The conversation moved to describing their current school experiences. They wrote about their anxieties and fears about university; the challenges of getting good grades, and the complexities of navigating the system to find the right courses to land them in the right universities. It was actually a bit depressing — few students had positive comments about their current experiences.
So, naturally, the conversation flowed to what could be done different now, in their schooling, to bring back some of those strong, positive feelings they associated with in Grade 6? I left the conversation feeling that while they were nervous and anxious, the only thing we could do worse, right now, is to change the system. These students have figured it out — they have binders full of notes; they know how to study for exams, and they are completely fluent in the entrance requirements for universities across the continent.
When pushed for what they would change, they spoke of schooling that placed less emphasis on homework, “It shouldn’t be for marks, it is practice”. The students liked the idea of their texts being digital, but, almost to a person, they did not feel ready to replace their paper binders with a digital equivalent. While they are interested in using technology, they are frustrated with the different systems they need to spend time figuring out, and that take away time from their subject area. They have mastered the system — so, change the way for the kids who follow, just don’t change anything now for them.
And what about social media? The only time students had uploaded a video to YouTube was for school projects, and beyond Facebook, the use of social media was very spotty. They did report Facebook was an excellent learning support — a place to get help with homework and promote school events.
And finally, what about e-mail? Please, only teachers send them e-mails — even their parents know to text them.
Having done a similar exercise with Grade 6 and 7 students several weeks ago, it was interesting to see how much more open these younger students were to changing the learning model.
At least, given this small sample of Grade 11 and 12 students, they want to be sure there are no changes late in the game to a system they have spent 13 years mastering.