Wednesday, October 24, 2012

They're Honors Kids; They Can Handle It

This is my first year teaching an honors class. In fact, this is my first brush with honor students since I sat in my umpteenth AP class in high school (because obviously I would take every AP class possible. Was not taking it even an option?). I've preferred teaching lower-proficiency and reluctant learners because they seemed to be "my" kids. They really needed as many caring adults as possible. They needed teachers who could stay late freed from constraints of family, and you know, a life. There is an intellectual challenge in figuring out kids who don't love English class.

Honors students, I reasoned, don't need me. They would learn to analyze, dissect, and create whether they had a long-term sub or a National Board certified teacher (not that I'm either). Honors kids, however, I'm learning are still kids. This probably goes without saying to the thousands of wonderful teachers who love, encourage, and write thirty-seven college recommendations for their honors students. But it's a whole new world to me.

In trying to figure out how to engage their minds that are eager to learn, I've realized I've just given them more stuff to do. Today, I extended a deadline for an essay and a collective sigh of relief filled the room. I didn't even give back the second drafts so they couldn't be tempted to work on them over their long weekend. I had a student break down in tears because of the number of tests and projects due this week as the quarter ends.

Maybe this is old news to many of you, but it seems to me that our education system hasn't gotten it right for kids at either end of the spectrum of interest/proficiency/parental involvement. We can't seem to engage kids at the lower-interest end in a way that encourages them to pursue something beyond high school (or even finish high school) and we just keep throwing things at kids who have an honors designation thinking that more stuff to do equals more rigor. Teacher friends, how are you balancing these needs? How do I provide a space that is challenging and engaging but still acknowledges the fact that these students are all teenagers who need social lives, exercise, and (most often missed) sleep?


Casey said...

I was definitely one of those kids back in the day. I made it through the IB program, but I look back on so much of the work as having been less than worth it in the end. I've always thought that teachers should encourage students to, as the cliche goes, work smarter and not necessarily harder.

Kate Givens said...

I try to only assign paper revisions and projects as homework and then play that up big time in class-- like, "I really understand how much other stuff is going on and I respect how hard you all work, so I try to be really careful what I ask you to do outside of class. However, the other side of that is that what I assign is really important to me."

I also have found that using a lot of scaffolding for projects and writing in class alleviates a lot of anxiety (which I think is probably honors biggest problem). So if we're writing a paper, we might start it as a journal prompt and explode it outward until they have a pretty concrete start. Same thing with a project--it might start as a classwork, then we expand on it more as group work, and then: "Look, you're practically half-way done already!"

I also find that some kids really appreciate having all of their work for an entire book/unit/whatevs in a packet so they can be proactive and get ahead if they so desire. I think you already do that, but that made a huge difference in the morale during my last unit.