High schools engage students through 3 new R’s

High schools engage students through 3 new R’s

When it comes to the high school experience, the three R’s have taken on new meaning. Education experts say that high schools must focus on rigor, relevance, and relationships to keep students engaged in learning and ensure that expectations are high for all students as they prepare for college and the work world.

The first R… rigor… is a nod to the increased achievement that comes with higher expectations. When students are encouraged to tackle challenging coursework, such as college-level Advanced Placement (AP) classes, and are supported in their efforts, increased student achievement is the result. “Even if a student doesn’t make a 3 or higher on the AP exam to earn college credit, in taking an AP course, he’s had to stretch academically and he’s had exposure to a different way of teaching and learning. That exposure alone is valuable preparation for the rigors of college,” says Delores Hendrix, executive director for School Improvement. “Rigorous classwork isn’t just for gifted or honors students. When you set the bar high and support learning, students will rise to the occasion.”

Educators also say students must maintain a high level of rigor throughout their school careers, including the crucial junior and senior years. Simply meeting the minimal state requirements, then filling in with electives, may be a temptation for some upperclassmen, but the continued challenge ensures that students are better prepared for postsecondary studies and the workplace.

“When will I ever use this?” “What does _________________ (fill in the blank) have to do with me?” The perennial complaint from generations of schoolchildren underscores the need for classroom lessons to be relevant to students’ lives and what they expect to do in the future. Relevance, the second R, ensures that students truly are engaged in learning.

Studies suggest that students will invest more of themselves into their learning when the lesson has links to interests they already have or builds on what they already know. Finding those connections, and making the most of them, make lessons relevant and enhance teaching and learning.

Relationships, the third R, are at the heart of teaching and learning. Experts say students are more likely to try the tough courses and do their best work when they know that the adults around them care about how well they do. A recent Harvard Family Research Project study showed that parents’ high, but realistic, expectations— clearly communicated— translate into student success, especially when children are urged to take the most challenging courses. Teachers, counselors, administrators, parents, and peers form a support system for students that experts liken to academic personal trainers… encouraging students to keep pushing for their personal best.

“It is our responsibility to give all Gwinnett high school students as rigorous and relevant an educational experience as possible,” says Emmett Lawson, chief school improvement specialist. “Our school communities are committed to continually improving our high schools, ensuring students are prepared for the world after high school, whatever their plans for the future.”