Human touch ‘makes all the difference’

Rocketship Education, a Palo Alto-based charter school network serving 3,700 San Jose students who are nearly all poor and speak little English, is showing strong results through its reliance on “blended learning” — a combination of traditional methods and computer-based instruction.

The network is getting a lot of attention for showing the way to an educational future that is very high-tech — perhaps, some say, to the exclusion of school-based learning altogether.

But after visiting the 640-student Rocketship Discovery Prep, policy expert Thomas Toch drew a different conclusion.  The secret of the school’s success, he says, is the intense involvement of teachers and parents.

Parents at Discovery Prep are asked to put in 30 hours a year of volunteer time — and most do, Toch says in an article for TheAtlantic.com. 

As a result, students have the sense that there are always adults ready to help, that their parents care about them, and that education is important. When I visited Discovery Prep, parents were reviewing young students’ rudimentary homework assignments, freeing teachers to spend more time on instruction.

The human element extends to more than instruction.

Each morning at Discovery Prep and the rest of the Rocketship network, everyone gathers on the playground for announcements and a sing-a-long. Students receive recognition and rewards for outstanding behavior and achievement and teachers and students (the oldest are 5th graders) sing and dance to songs by Michael Jackson and other pop stars, surrounded by parent-volunteers. In the same spirit, teachers greet every student by name as they enter their classrooms, a routine that Rocketship calls a “threshold invite.” Personal connections between adults and students are paramount.

“The younger and more disadvantaged students are, the more they need adults supporting them in many different ways, day in and day out — the more they need school to be a place rather than merely a process,” writes Toch, Washington director of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

“It’s this human element that makes all the difference for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who, in many public schools, need far more adult support than they typically get — and certainly more than they’d get online in the digital future that many are predicting for public education.”

Do you agree?

(Photos: Discovery website, via TheAtlantic.com)

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Posted on October 22, 2012, in Innovation, Reading, Teaching, Technology, Volunteering and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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