Think back to when you finished high school. No doubt you can recall the names of many students in your senior class who did not have the grades or SAT scores to place in the top 25th or even the top 50th percentile of graduating seniors. However, fast-forward to your 10-year class reunion. How many of these so-called non-achievers became extremely successful in the actual world of work? Could it be that much of the knowledge and skill one acquires in school may have little relationship to the actual knowledge and skill required for success in life? Could it be that for some occupations, on-the-job training may be infinitely more valuable than memorization and regurgitation of isolated facts, which seems to earn the As in school? Students who may not be successful academically or who are discipline problems at their neighborhood schools appear to succeed at vocational or technical schools.
Work study, apprenticeships, practicums, and internships may be instructional strategies that afford students the best of both worlds: exposure in school to a wide variety of experiences that help students determine possible career choices and actual on-the-job training work experiences that prepare students for success in the real world.
What The Research Says
To prepare students for their life after they have completed high school is the actual purpose of schooling (Sousa & Pilecki, 2013).
One of the problems with high schools is their propensity to cover a great deal of content without providing students the opportunity to use that content in the context of authentic situations (Wiggins & McTighe, 2008).
When students learn under the supervision of an expert in the field, they are given full participation in the process of learning and working (Wonacott, 1993).
Make It Happen
- Initiate a career day in school. Invite parents, scientists, historians, writers, mathematicians, dignitaries, local celebrities, radio station hosts, and other persons of interest to talk about their vocations and avocations. Have students research the careers in advance so that they are more knowledgeable and brainstorm pertinent questions to be asked during the visits. This career day can be done schoolwide or in an individual classroom.
- Take your students on a field trip to a job site related to the content you are teaching. For example, Warren Phillips, exemplary science teacher and co-author of the Science Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites book, took his middle school students to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) annually where they could visit various science laboratories and talk to the scientists about their work. Following the trip, several of his students each year would decide that they wanted to be scientists or conduct laboratory work (Tate & Phillips, 2011).
For more examples of instructional activities that engage students using work study and apprenticeships, consult the 3rd edition of my best-selling book, Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites.