A lesson plan to accompany “A different way to learn” by Genesis Morales in the May-June 2006 issue of L.A. Youth

By Libby Hartigan, Managing Editor

Grades: 8-12
Subjects: Language arts, life skills

Overview: Students will discuss and read about approaches to classroom learning.

Warm-up: School—what comes to mind when your students think of school? Have them call out the first thing that comes to mind and jot some of their ideas down on the board. Some students might refer to specific activities like homework, classes, grades or tests. Others might describe school in general: boring, interesting, fun, annoying, stressful.
    You might point out that the same school or even the same class can evoke different responses among students. A teacher that some students like could be disliked by others for being too strict.
Students might change their views from one week to the next. It’s hard to come up with a learning process that suits everyone all the time, but could our schools be improved, and if so, how?
    If you have time to discuss this question broadly, it might be fascinating to find out how the students would like to change the school. Answers could range from changing the starting time of the school day to improving funding for extracurricular activities. But for the purposes of this lesson, it would be best to focus on the school’s curriculum and educational structure. While these parameters are the focus of attention in some classrooms, many students have never given much thought to how they get their grades and why. What is the purpose of the school’s grading policies? Who selects class curriculum and why?

Reading: Ask your students to read the article, “A different way to learn” by Genesis on pages 24-25.

Reading comprehension and analysis
As a discussion or as a written assignment, ask students to answer the following questions about Genesis’ article:

When Genesis entered her junior year, she entered a new program at her school called “Senior Academy.” Under the program, what did students have to do?
–They chose independent research projects and studied their topics.
–They had internships in the community to learn about the real world.
–They made presentations called “exhibitions.”
–They did some work such as SAT preparation in groups called “advisements.”
–They had to learn to manage their time.

At first Genesis liked the “Senior Academy” because she thought it would be fun and easy to get through the year. But then she ran into some problems. What were they?
–She was fooling around so much, she wasn’t getting any work done.
–She was afraid she would not have enough credits to graduate from high school.
–She didn’t prepare enough for an exhibition and it didn’t go well.

Genesis considered switching to Lincoln High School, but when she visited, what bothered her?
–The hallways were crowded.
–During a class, kids weren’t engaged.
–When she asked a student who the principal was, the student didn’t know.
–She felt like she would be lost on the big campus.

What strategies did Genesis use to help herself get her work done?
–She and a friend asked her principal for help.
–She studied with headphones on.
–She sat by herself or in the principal’s office.
–She asked her friends to stop talking.
–Students suggested some things that the advisor could do to help them be more productive, such as sending letters home and imposing deadlines.

Why does Genesis like her school overall?
–The school trusts her to choose her own research topics.
–She has learned to be more organized.
–She has learned to break down big projects into small manageable tasks.
–She feels inspired to learn and better prepared for the future.

Do students think they would do well at a school like Genesis’? Why or why not? Would such a school do a good job of preparing them for standardized tests and college admission? In their opinion, what does CALS do well and what are its flaws?

Ask students to write a paper comparing the educational philosophy of CALS with that of their own schools. The paper should not only state the philosophy, but back it up with specific examples. At CALS, Genesis wrote that the school trusts her to decide what she should study. But since some students are lazy, is it sensible to give them that much freedom?

Extension activity:
Design an ideal school that would promote learning, creativity and critical thinking. What kind of educational philosophy would it have and how would that be shown in the school’s curriculum, disciplinary policies, grading policies and requirements?