Focusing on the Essential

Posted on: Thu, 05/20/2021 - 13:16

For a decade, I have spent time with seniors at every high school talking about their school experiences. Their candid feedback has led to improvement and innovation for our school system. This year, their reflections on their school experiences during the pandemic have again provided powerful lessons for us to consider.

A talkative participant in one of my senior visits did not hesitate when I asked about their shorter classes during the pandemic. He immediately responded, “It helped our teachers to focus on the work that was really important.” This statement generated much agreement from his classmates, and I heard many comments about the extra work or “busy work” that characterized their experiences with 90-minute classes. The consensus was that a 60-minute class was more beneficial for students. But, of course, they also reminded me that science labs need those 90-minute opportunities!

While they did not use the term “priority standards,” our students recognized their teachers were honing the content of their courses to ensure that essential skills and processes were the focus. That was welcome news to me since I know that our curricular offices have been working to identify priority standards to support our teachers as we transitioned to a virtual environment, but also for the recovery efforts that are beginning.

Research related to recovery efforts across the globe emphasize the importance of using priority standards to focus on the essential components of our curriculum as we address the impact of the disrupted instruction caused by the pandemic. Educators are notorious for continually expanding the curriculum in our schools. As content experts, the passion an educator has for the material makes it easy to want to go deeper and explore more — to see everything in that content area as critically important. It can be hard to let anything go. Yet, as our students pointed out, some things are really important and that is where our focus must be.

I recently read a book titled “Artificial Intelligence in Education: Promises and Implications for Teaching and Learning.” The authors recognized that in a rapidly changing world, identifying the fundamental knowledge and competencies essential to creating a foundation essential to all future learning should drive curriculum development. The curricular framework they suggest is definitely worth exploring and aligns perfectly with the conversation I had with our seniors. Because as these students head into the future, it will be their ability to problem solve, communicate, persevere and continue to learn that will ultimately lead to their success.

Sometimes less is more!