Changing the Classroom: Focusing the Syllabus on Juniors’ Interests
by Madeline Barnes on Friday, April 24th, 2015
Senior Projects are one of the highlights—if not the highlight—of senior year. Projects provide members of Class I with the opportunity to pursue an activity or area of interest outside the confines of Milton, such as skydiving in a remote area, directing and producing a short film in their backyards, or writing and recording music in their basements. Although these independent studies are educational and enriching for seniors, the seniors’ absence in the classroom can be disruptive for those left behind. Over thirty academic courses offered at Milton are open to both juniors and seniors, allowing class members to bring different opinions and perspectives to discussion. Though classes shrink when seniors leave mid-spring, most teachers do not significantly alter their curriculum at this time. In my opinion, teachers should consider altering their spring agendas to take advantage of smaller groups and to focus on the main interests of the remaining students.
One of the many educational tools Milton uses, the Harkness table, can be found in almost every classroom, promoting to in-depth class discussions rather than lecture-based environments. During the regular school year, these discussions often follow a weekly or unit-by-unit syllabus; however, during senior projects, those left behind—primarily juniors—must continue these discussions among themselves, often awkwardly because the class leaders are gone. I propose that, rather than continuing the regimented schedule of the normal school year, teachers should take the opportunity of smaller classes to concentrate on areas of interest to the juniors. For example, if the juniors in a US History class find the American Revolution particularly interesting, the teacher should then focus on that time period, rather than pursuing a new unit that wouldn’t captivate the class as much. In this new American Revolution unit, the teacher could go more in depth than in the school year’s rigid curriculum. This could not only deepen the students’ understanding of a particular topic but also spark new interests at a time when many are wishing they could skip right to senior spring too.
Although this new approach of focusing on a particular topic may seem more applicable for English, history, or the social sciences, it could also be applied to science and math courses. After the commencement of senior projects, the remaining students could focus on a particular subscience in greater detail and benefit from a smaller class and more of the teacher’s attention. Sophomores and juniors could study an area of math or science in greater depth than what the normal curriculum would typically allow, similar to the DYO project but without the extensive lab time.
Milton prides itself on offering what seems like an endless range of opportunities to explore new activities or to delve into new subject matter. After classes get smaller during senior spring, teachers should take into account the interests of those students left in the classroom when picking the next topic or unit. By switching up the curriculum and choosing subject matter specific to students, teachers would ensure that their classrooms remain engaging and their students become even more involved.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=7008