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Community Conversation Highlights Student Voice

Community Conversation Highlights Student Voice

Since the 2012-2013 school year, the Lakota Board of Education has held Community Conversations to listen to parents, community members, staff and students. 

This month, the Board continued its practice of empowering student voice. Board President Lynda O’Connor and board member Kelley Casper met with nearly 40 seventh and eighth grade students to learn more about the junior school educational experience. Held separately at both Liberty and Plains junior schools, the students were encouraged to speak freely about what school is like and what they would like to see in the future.

The Student Perspective

Jeff Stec, the program’s facilitator, began both conversations by asking the students to share examples of what they find helpful in learning.

School Today

  • Teachers and students co-create a social contract dictating the rules of the classroom together.
  • The teacher pulled out what part of the subject they were best at teaching and spent more time on that topic with students to really tap into their expertise. 
  • Teachers that give you freedom and flexibility to learn however you need to learn - group discussions, individually, etc.
  • Higher teacher energy and group learning makes the class a lot more fun. 
  • “Safe and relaxed” environment where you feel comfortable talking to the teacher. 
  • Always better when the teacher expresses themselves and lets their personality come through. 
  • Like when you have freedom to devote time to what is meaningful or important to you. 
  • Teachers who go into depth and detail make us understand the content better because they work through things with us.

Common Themes

Stec then asked both groups to think about what they have shared and come up with common themes they heard.

  • We want a variety of experiences.
  • More person-to-person interaction among teachers, classmates and class content.
  • Less online and more hands-on work.
  • More group work.
  • More practical content that will serve them in the real world - i.e. learning about money and banking. 
  • More variety of electives, especially foreign languages, finance, cooking and “adulting”. We have the right amount, but we need different ones than are currently offered.
  • Fewer core classes as you get older to give you more freedom to pick what interests you. (State requirements were noted here.) 
  • In contrast to above, others said you should have to do everything - not only to explore but also to experience what you might experience when you have a job. You’re not always going to enjoy everything you do. 
  • It all goes back to student choice. Would it be possible that students could choose the teacher that best meets their learning abilities? For example, visual learners are placed in a class with a teacher who embraces that type of teaching style.
  • Teachers asking for student input about learning methods & checking in along the way; asking is this working for you?
  • Looking to the Future

Looking Ahead

Knowing that the Board and district leaders want to hear from students for input when considering possible changes, Stec asked both groups to share what they would like to see in the future. 

Learning

  • Repeating assignments and doing the same thing over several weeks when it could be consolidated into days. Expand the type of worksheets being given out. 
  • “Homework was invented as a means of punishment.” Why add more to what we’re already doing for seven hours a day? 
  • Need a level in between advanced and not advanced to challenge all students. “Need a middle ground.”
  • Homework should mimic tests in the level of challenge. Seems to be easier than when the test rolls around.
  • Fewer practice tests, but more teaching from past tests so students have experience with how questions are asked.
  • More quizzes along the way instead of one major test at the end of the unit/quarter.
  • Want to learn about all different cultures, not just American History - to reflect our student population and the world around us.
  • Students would rather not have teaching teams in order to mix up classes and have access to a variety of teachers. “If you’re stronger in one subject, you can’t necessarily go to the stronger teacher or the best teacher for your ability.”
  • Having seventh and eighth grade lunch periods would help students be able to have lunch with their friends.
  • In social studies, students like when they start a new unit as a big group discussion, followed by individual time to come to your own conclusions; never had a teacher that interactive, as opposed to just handing you a packet. Helps with communication skills and gives you more perspectives from classmates to expand your thinking.
  • More paper and pencil work as opposed to always doing it on the Chromebook; easier to remember when it’s right in front of you, especially with math.
  • Enjoy games as a way to review and reinforce content. 
  • Like the flipped classroom approach to learning when students take notes at home and the lesson is reinforced in person with the teacher.
  • The students want more personal interaction with teachers - more 1:1 help.
  • Teach us, don’t just show us.
  • They would like the ability to customize the classroom experience - more input in how they learn.
  • Interactive note-taking (the students taking notes as the teacher teaches) helps them learn better as opposed to teachers giving students prepared notes for them to review.
  • A teacher’s bad day shouldn’t impact students.
  • Teachers should read the room - if the students don’t seem to understand, stop and reteach even if the lesson plans say to move on.

Facilities

  • Not one-size fits all seating (students currently sit in chairs attached to desks); students want more comfortable & flexible seating. 
  • More of an open-plan classroom where you can see the teacher from all vantage points - not rows of desks.
  • Color in a classroom is important instead of just white/cream - it’s more appealing and welcoming than a plain room.
  • Better lighting - not the fluorescents.
  • Warmer and more inviting lighting in a classroom makes all the difference.
  • Make school feel more inviting and welcoming and less public - classrooms with flexible seating, different lighting, for example.

General

  • An additional one-two minutes during the bell change.
  • Students do not like the staggered start to the school year or spending the first two days building relationships. They are ready to start the year and want to see their friends.

Academic Support/Advisory Period:

  • Students would like to have input in the structure of academic support bell.
  • There needs to be a better system for getting help. You don’t necessarily sit by people in your classes because seating is alphabetical. Also, there are not necessarily enough teachers to answer questions and you aren’t allowed to talk to one another if you want to get help from them.

Final Thoughts

Both groups of students were given the opportunity to share any final thoughts they had about their educational experience.

  • Why are we keeping old teachers who aren’t adapting to new ways of teaching?
  • Updating things around school like restrooms. 
  • Teachers are using the same behavioral consequences for different level offenses.
  • Free lunches need to come back. 
  • Consequences should help students improve. 
  • Not all kids learn the same and teachers should acknowledge that.
  • More patience among teachers. 
  • Teachers treat us like we’re stupid when we make mistakes.
  • School should make you feel like you have freedom and you’re part of the community and not like we’re just visitors. 
  • Treat us like our age.
  • Open some doors in our learning to acknowledge that we gain knowledge & information from places like social media, rather than cutting it out. 
  • Choice over your personal learning experience.
  • Friends - they push you; they get your mind off of actually having to be at school.
  • We like having a personal chromebook
  • Personal relationships with teachers - you learn better, you’re more comfortable talking to them & asking questions
  • Students would like input in:
    • Academic support
    • Bathroom pass process
    • Choice of teacher
    • Room design
    • Lunch setup
    • Seating arrangement
    • Which semester electives are taken

In addition to the board members who participated in the conversation, notes from the discussion were shared with building administration and district leaders.

  • community conversations
  • school board