Opportunities to Learn
The opportunity to learn as it exists in the world of education is highly interrelated to ideas of equity. The opportunity to learn dictates that all students have the necessary tools in order to best learn.
To better understand the necessity of creating opportunities to learn, one must understand the achievement gap. The achievement gap is a crevice that breaks students apart into different groups: on one side you have socioeconomically disadvantaged students who perform at a lower level than the students on the other side who face no disadvantages.
Dealing With an Achievement Gap
This topic has been important within the world of education for decades now and the United States is still trying to close that gap as best as it can. There are a number of factors that create this achievement gap, including but not limited to race, economic background, school funding, and teachers’ expectations.
This achievement gap actualizes itself in terms of grade disparity, standardized-test disparity, dropout rates, college-completion rates, and in other ways. Since the American culture prizes education heavily and draws a direct relationship between success in education to success in life, this achievement gap is highly troubling.
Opportunities to learn then seek to close this gap by providing disadvantaged students with the tools necessary in order to have as much chance at success as their non-disadvantaged peers. Ever since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001, there has been extra focus on bringing these two groups closer together and bridging the gap. Although things have improved since then, the gap still exists. Thankfully, more and more organizations are putting forth sets of guidelines and policies in order to create as many opportunities to learn as possible within the education system.
Factors Influencing Opportunities To Learn
For opportunity-to-learn standards to work effectively, they must take a number of things into account. First, they must consider the number of ways in which students learn. Some students work best when they take notes during a lecture. Other students learn best when they are provided the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities.
Other students still learn best when visuals are incorporated. To engage in only one kind of teaching would be to cater to one group of students while leaving others at a disadvantage. By taking the different kinds of learning into account, teachers can teach to all students instead of just some of the students.
These standards must also provide time. Students all work at different paces. Sometimes, it is easy to think too much of students as an entity rather than focusing on the individuals that comprise that body. Thus, every student needs time to learn and reflect. Teachers also need time. Budgeting this time is difficult, but crucial. However, if these policies do not carve out the necessary time for creating opportunities to learn, then students will inevitably be left behind.
Creating opportunities to learn also falls to the teachers themselves. When a teacher puts together a syllabus or plans a day’s activities, she must ask herself how to best reach all of her students equally. To best achieve this, teachers must observe their students carefully, make notes as to how the learning environment might be improved, and then practice. Practice both by putting new ideas into practice, but also in trying out new things.
Feedback and Environment
It is often difficult to gauge how well something might go over until it is tested out in a classroom of live bodies. Therefore, gathering feedback is essential. That feedback would be most useful if comprised of many things. For example, a teacher would gauge whether or not students understood the material by looking at test scores, carefully reading student essays, and asking the students to fill out an evaluation form where they self-report how well they think they’re doing.
Another important factor to consider is that opportunities to learn only thrive in the right environments. It is essential that students feel safe, both physically and emotionally. Establishing such an environment can seem tricky. Teachers often walk a fine line between being approachable to their students, so that they will bring up any concerns and being too friendly and thus not being taken seriously.
There’s no great or brilliant piece of advice that can address that particular concern, but common sense would inform teachers that being overly strict and callous towards students would not motivate them to improve. Another way to ensure a safe environment is for schools and teachers to actively discourage bullying and enforce the school’s rules involving safety.
There’s no real wrong way in working to create opportunities to learn as long as interests of all students are being considered. As long as educators, administrators, parents, and teachers work towards creating as many opportunities to learn as possible, then the achievement gap will continue to close over time.