Op-Ed: Should High Schools Implement Learning Projects?

Anthony Camera

The 2020-2021 school year, with instruction in remote settings, brought more challenges than most school years. Additionally, civic engagement grew more important than ever, as movements for racial justice gained momentum and democracy was threatened from multiple fronts. What was a teacher to do? While it sometimes seemed scary or counterintuitive, an important action was to get out of the way. Yes, teachers need to build strong relationships and provide rigorous lessons to scholars in order to prepare them for an unknown future, but teachers also need to let scholars engage and grow without interfering and stunting that progress. Therefore, having the scholars conduct research and write op-eds on topics important to them carried more weight and impact this year than in years past. Here is another essay that came out of that process this past school year. — Samson Patton, teacher, STRIVE Prep RISE in Green Valley Ranch

An Independent Learning Project (ILP) is pretty self-descriptive: the student chooses a topic they are interested in and it counts toward their grade. My ILP is about cooking and how I can cook on a budget. This will be especially important going to college and in order to make decent food on a tight budget. Also, I can study and understand the basics of cooking without having to compromise on school time.

ILPs are currently a privilege reserved only for students who have proven themselves to be accountable and able to work on their own. But I say that it shouldn’t just be a privilege, it should be a practice all high schools implement once per school year. I believe that this will make school more engaging and have a greater impact on students. For example, a research paper published by the London Department for Children conducted a test in the Thomas Telford school, and they discovered that since the implementation of ILPs, the students have shown improvement in academic performance, increased motivation and confidence, greater student awareness of their limitations and their ability to manage them, enabling teachers to provide differentiated tasks for students and fostering social inclusion by countering alienation. Further reading of the paper talks about the school claiming that since the implementation of the ILPs, “100% of students gained A-C grades in at least five GCSEs.” As we can see, the research paper gives solid evidence of academic improvement as well as improvement in social skills due to ILPs.

You can counter that ILPS are all just a waste of time that could be better spent reading or preparing for a standardized test. But that is a very shallow view, because ILPs can count as classes in college, which means they are part of the student’s GPA. Another argument you can make is “Why am I using up English class time for this?” ILPs also require some writing and reading since you have to not only research, but also take notes and study. This then concludes with an essay or presentation that brings together all the research, notes, and study.  ILPs also involve a skill set needed in college, which is responsibility and time management. Overall, an ILP has more pros than cons, since it doesn't get in the way of school, standardized tests, or require any money.

I stand by the claim that implementing ILPs throughout schools will increase the engagement of students in school by allowing them to learn their favorite subject; it could even lead to what they truly want to become. This is huge, because if the student finds what they want to do early, then they can follow that career choice into college and right off the bat have a basic understanding of it, making the classes easier for them, which will reduce the number of dropouts. This will also help the students waste less time and money trying to find their future career. In conclusion, ILPs will be a great step for students to improve their skills academically and socially without compromising on the already established school formula.

Westword occasionally publishes op-eds and essays on topics of interest to the Denver community. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to [email protected], where you can also comment on this piece.
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