What Can Be Done to Reduce School Dropout?
School dropout is a major problem in the United States today. There are many reasons why students drop out of school. Many are at high risk for failure and have serious deficits in reading, writing, mathematical, reasoning, and learning skills. Aside from these problems, however, most students who drop out of school find school boring and show little excitement about school learning. This chapter suggests that such students lack personal interest in topics covered in school, and that the school setting is not helping to generate situational interest.
The conditions in many classrooms do little to raise situational interest. Such interest will not be increased when teachers predominantly lecture, vary the classroom format little from day to day, give students few choices in topics to study or research, and make little attempt to link the material to relevant issues in everyday life. Studying quadratic equations, for example, can be a dull exercise when teachers explain how to solve them to the whole class and then assign problems to solve in class and for homework. The problems can be made more interesting by linking them to real-life phenomena, such as how high a ball will rise when thrown into the air. Creative teachers will use classroom and outdoor activities to demonstrate the properties of mathematical equations.
All students have personal interests, and creative teachers will find ways to link these interests to the classroom topics. Such linking combines personal with situational interest, which will prevent boredom and ultimately could help to reduce school dropout. A good example is found in the increasingly popular senior projects, where high school seniors select a topic in which they have personal interest, research it, write a paper on it, and prepare and deliver a presentation that includes props. This assignment is part of the school’s academic program and is used in one of the classes (e.g., English). It allows students to explore in greater depth a topic in which they are interested and which they choose. The assignment includes different activities, thereby ensuring a varied format. Students set their own schedules to complete the assignment and choose their presentation formats and props. Senior projects combine personal with situational interest and show students how school learning can be enjoyable and can facilitate their understanding of a topic of high interest to them. Students who do not plan to attend college could choose a senior project linked to a vocational interest. Teachers could show students how the project will improve their work skills and potentially help them in their careers. This belief might help students stay in school.
We do not mean to downplay skill deficits, because no amount of interest will lead to a skillful performance when capabilities are lacking. Most students at risk for school dropout need remedial assistance in order to enjoy some measure of success. Skill remediation programs, combined with linking students’ interests with learning, may help to reduce the dropout rate and thus contribute to a more productive citizenry.
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