Let’s “Stretch” Our Students

Stretch learning is exactly that – it “stretches” a student to achieve their potential in individual classes, in school activities, and in their overall school experience. It pushes them to become all they are capable of being.

Most schools don’t stretch their students. Why not? Because most schools today are organized on a “proficiency model.” In other words, they believe their job is to get all their students to the same level by a given date, and then measure the results with a test.

That’s impossible!

Students come to us with different levels of proficiency. They have different learning styles, different interests and yes, different aptitudes.  As the father of five, I know!

Stretch learning is individualized. For one student it might be scoring well on the SATs; for a severely disabled student, it might include learning critical daily living skills or self-care habits. The IEP (Individualized Education Program) process for our children with disabilities often does this. All students would benefit from the IEP concept, without the layers of regulations built around it, to guide their educational experience. But in the end, stretch learning means moving students beyond their comfort zones.

We must move schools into what Carol Dweck calls a “growth model,” where we take each child from where they are today and move them as far as they can go in the amount of time we have with them.

Why Stretch Learning Is Important
Take a look at the world we live in. It’s unpredictable. It’s rapidly changing. It’s interconnected. It’s diverse. Technology dominates. Students will not succeed in this world if all we’ve done is prepare them to pass the latest state assessment test. They’ll need much more: Creativity, innovation, teamwork, problem solving, collaboration and tolerance, for starters. In today’s world, it’s not about what you know, it’s about acquiring new knowledge and skills.

We cannot continue to replicate the past. We must create a 21st century education system that promotes lifelong learning, where students are not afraid to go beyond their current boundaries. The world will pass us by if we don’t.

How Do You Teach It?
How do you teach students to stretch? In different ways. Think about music classes. Or art classes. Career tech ed. Physical education. Sports. Classes like that stretched us. We lost sight of their value somewhere along the way. Educators de-emphasized these classes to focus more on the next standardized test. Big mistake!

One of the important benefits of classes like this is they engage students. Students are not passively sitting at their desks as the “sage on the stage” tries to impart knowledge. Instead, students actively participate! Their teachers teach differently. Think about it. The glee club teacher or the football coach is on the sidelines, coaching, showing, cajoling, encouraging. Teachers and students are engaged – and an engaged student is a strong, well-rounded student ready to take on the unpredictability of the 21st century.  

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