In his article, 21 Ideas for the 21st Century, Charles Leadbeater chronicles the work done by five schools in Britain to change the nature and quality of education.
Personalizing the learning experience for students increases engagement. The five schools in the study did many things to increase personalization. Strategies included teaching by ability rather than by age; varying start times of the school day; arranging the timetable to allow for longer and shorted periods; creating catch up / consolidation time each term; aligning curriculum among feeder schools with a focus on learning skills; using project-based Skills 4 Learning programs; creating independent approaches to Humanties; creating social spaces; developing learning villages; having students participate in personal challenges; investing in social support and skills for students entering high school; developing electronic learning plans; using adult mentors; and connecting the schools to the community in many ways.
Perhaps it is time to rethink grade 9. We know that grade 9 is the turning point for many students who enter the secondary stream. Leaving the stuctures of the middle school is perilous for some students particularly the most vulnerable. It make sense to make grade 9 a transition year and for schools to consider ways to provide social support to assist with the adjustment. To that end, schools should examine ways to support the social development of grade 9 students.
The literature is very clear on the efficacy of student/teacher relationships. Creating structures in grade 9 to allow fewer teacher contacts is a beginning. Students can be arranged in pods with core teachers. Social skills can be taught and reinforced in small groups both with teachers and among students. A greater the investment made with the social development of students will enable them to relate better to one another as well as with the adults.
Curriculum can be integrated into interdisciplinary studies. Having an adult advocate and having students create a personal learning plan with an adult is a good idea, particularly for at risk students.
Schools can improve the experience for students entering the secondary track. A strong start for grade 9 students will ensure a greater success rate in the following years.