The Montana Constitution,specifically Article X Section 8, gives ownership of the state’s publiclyfunded schools, with the support and engagement of school staff and thecommunity, to each community through the supervision and control by its electedtrustees. Section 1 of the same Article requires that the state’s educationsystem to develop the full educational potential of each student a schoolserves.
This is exactly what the St. Regis SchoolBoard, elected by our community, is trying to accomplish in the district’sstrategic plan. The move to the personalized learning platform is less abouthow the material is delivered to our students and more about the content we areteaching and the higher expectations we have for our students. The shift tohigher expectations is what is causing the anxiety for some of our parents andstudents.
When I was in the classroom, Itaught my students that there are three kinds of questions they had to answer,on the line, between the lines, and beyond the lines. On the line questions arequestions whose answers you could find by opening a book and putting your fingeron it. The answer was there in black and white - the dates and facts we ask ourstudents to memorize for a test, such as when the Declaration of Independencewas signed. These questions don’t take much thought and are often quicklyforgotten.
Then there are the between thelines questions whose answers are a bit more challenging to find because youhave to take information from different sections of a book and create aresponse. For instance, how veins and arteries carry blood to the lungs in onesection of a chapter and how the lungs then exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxideduring respiration, in another section of a chapter. While these are moredifficult to answer, the answers are still in the book.
The last type of question is thebeyond the line question. This question is the hardest to answer because youcan’t put your finger on it, nor can you find the answer in different sectionsof the book. This answer requires that you process information, using what youknow from the text, your own experience, and other resources to create aresponse from your own understanding of the information. Instead of “When wasthe Declaration of Independence signed?” (on the line), a beyond the questionwould be “How did the opposing ideas of Thomas Locke and John Locke influencethe founding fathers’ (Jefferson, Franklin, etc.) thinking for the Declarationof Independence?”
Because politicians and the mediaare more concerned with how our students stack up against students from othercountries than whether our students can actually think, educators have allowedthe education reform movement to develop an educational system that promoted onthe line and between the line thinking. While tests that ask these questionsare easy to prepare for and helps our students move up in the comparative rankings,the tests do nothing to really demonstrate if our students can really think.The St. Regis School Board, through its strategic plan, has said enough. Theyhave courageously taken back the control guaranteed them through the MontanaConstitution to develop the full potential of the district’s students.
The teachers, administrators andboard members are asking our students to become deep thinkers. I admit thatthis is a challenge to both our students and teachers. Teachers must learn howto develop deep thinking skills in our students. Students who are used togetting A’s because they could easily memorize facts or put information fromtwo sections together are now struggling because they find thinking beyond theline to be much harder. The struggle is to be expected. What we as educatorshave to do is provide the support for these students to meet the change inexpectations. Blaming the platform or internet issues for the struggle thesestudents are facing is easy fingerpointing. Recognizing and accepting that ourstudents are not used to thinking beyond the line is difficult to face – forteachers, parents and students. We have to stop comparing our students againsteach other by placing them in groups according to a grade and start comparingthem against their own capabilities and growth. Some students are not used toseeing their own shortcomings. Some parents and students are having a difficulttime accepting the shift from on the line thinking to beyond the line thinkingbecause the student is no longer bringing home A’s. The important piece is thatour model allows students to show growth and develop the skills over the courseof the year. The feedback they get from teachers help them learn how to thinkdeeply and develop skills that allow them to respond to beyond the linequestions.
Education is meant to be hard.Learning to analyze ideas, break down arguments, use information to explain yourunderstanding of an issue is difficult. Understanding that struggling isexpected and provides for deeper learning is a new concept for many of ourstudents. Our teachers have been trained, but teaching beyond the line is newto them as well and will take practice to master. We will continue to provideour teachers training so they can better serve our students. We will continueto support our students so they can master the expectations we have of them andhelp them grow as scholars. I ask for your patience and support as we make thistransition. Change takes time and is often difficult, but we will overcomethose difficulties. Students are already changing their thinking and coming toterms with these new expectations.
What we will no longer do is sendstudents to college and into the work force without the skills necessary toovercome challenges, to think deeply, to think for themselves, and to solveproblems. We have too many students who go on to college only to drop out afterthe first semester because they do not have the skills and deep thinkingability to be successful there. In the end, we will have students who willleave St. Regis confident in themselves, capable of thinking deeply, and preparedto face the challenges that await them as members and leaders of our state andcountry.