Strength-based teaching allows students the opportunity to grow without wasting their time

March 28, 2019 — by Siva Sambasivam & Callia Yuan

In almost every K-12 American school, students are required to take core classes in math, science, history and English.

Although learning these subjects at a basic level makes abundant sense, students beyond middle school often take advanced classes in subjects they just aren’t interested in, particularly at competitive high schools like Saratoga High.

This flawed system often allows students who struggle at any one of these core subjects to spend so much of their time focusing on these subjects that they are not able to learn about the subjects that they are naturally talented in.

Specialized strength-based teaching schools offer a solution to this problem rather than taking a wide range of classes, students are able to focus more on developing their interests in a particular subject or field with only basic supplement courses in other subjects.

Giving students a chance to find what they’re not only naturally talented at but also enjoy doing at a young age is crucial, and students statistically do better.

For example, the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) in New York for high schools such as Hunter College Prep and Bronx Science, allows students to apply for and rank their choices of specialized schools. Students can apply for these selective public schools specialized in subjects such as math, science, American studies and engineering.

Attending schools like these allows students who already have a general direction of their career focus more on finding specific jobs they’re interested in or things they want to learn more about.

By contrast, at most high schools, many students end up spending a lot of their time in their high school years on subjects that they do not consider enjoyable nor subjects that they are good at.

This creates a cycle in which students are constantly spending the majority of their time completing work for subjects that they aren’t good at, forcing them to put the few areas that they enjoy learning on the backburner.

In elementary school these students are generally very attentive in class, with a Harvard Study finding that nearly 8 out of 10 students pay attention on a daily basis. However, when continuing to learn higher-level concepts of subjects that they do not enjoy, this number drops to 40 percent at the start of high school, and continues to drop to under one-third of students by 11th grade.

The impact of this system is two-fold. First and foremost, students are less likely to graduate when they are bored and not paying attention in class. UCLA professor Marcelo Surez Orozco finds that students’ lack of interest in their school’s curriculum is one of the primary reasons that the U.S. has declined from being No. 1 in high school graduate percentage worldwide two decades ago to now a mediocre No. 11.

Second, the students who are still able to finish high school and graduate are still not trained to succeed in the collegiate and post collegiate world. They have spent so much time learning about subjects that they would not use at all later in life and thus are not nearly specialized enough in subjects that they consider their strengths and the ones that they enjoy studying.

It’s important for these students to begin specializing at an earlier age. Not only does it give them more time to be active within these field, it motivates them to learn. The joy of learning has been tarnished by constant pressure and stress of not doing well enough and continually focusing on subjects you struggle with, rather than those you enjoy. Students eventually become tired and unmotivated by the endless cycle of trial after trial, and lose their eagerness to learn.

The fact that we are putting so many students in this bad of a position to succeed is a travesty, and strength based teaching is the perfect solution. Students will still become well rounded by learning a bit of basic materials in all subjects during their early elementary years, and after they are able to identify an area that they enjoy and look forward to studying, schools will be there to help them achieve success in those fields.

Of course, specialized high schools aren’t for everyone. Those who aren’t yet sure of the field they’re going to pursue, or are looking for a more laid back high school experience should remain in a classic high school setting that allows them to get a taste of broader subjects, so that they can eventually decide what they’re doing during college. However, the scarcity of specialized schools and the lack of guidance that students receive to find their natural strengths poses a problem.

The public education system that we’re familiar with was established decades ago and hasn’t evolved enough to accommodate the variety of learning styles and unique strengths individuals possess. This makes public school education ineffective and prevents students from reaching their full potential — and strength-based teaching is the solution.

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