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Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

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Academic vs. Applied
Sunday, October 18, 2009

Over the course of the last week, I think I've identified one of the major components that separate the students in the academic stream from the applied stream. I mean, the typical answer one might give to such a question is, "Academic students produce better work than applied students". And yeah, at the end of the day, that is the final measure of their difference. However, I gave some thought to exactly why this occurred on a more fundamental level. Why do academic students produce better work than applied students?

Now, I've always been very iffy about chalking it up to pure intellectual aptitude. That's not to say that I'm not prepared to admit that academic students think at a higher level, but the curriculum is SUPPOSED to cater to that by default. What I mean when I say that is, when you read the ministry guidelines, the academic version of, say, grade 10 English expects more from the students than the applied version. Thus, an applied class is already operating under "reduced" expectations, compared to the academic class. Where the academic stream might require you to understand a concept and then connect it to a broader issue, the applied stream would only require you to understand the concept. If this is true, then the quality of work in an applied class, relative to the expectations, shouldn't be that different than its academic counterpart.

Clearly, though, this isn't true. So there's something else. And I think it boils down to pure and simple effort. I came to realize that students in the applied stream do not try as hard as students in the academic stream. Regardless of the quality of the work they may or may not produce if they actually put their mind to it, the first difference between applied and academic students starts with the fact that the applied students don't always put in that effort. So I thought more about this - about why this might be true - and came to this hypothesis:

Academic students are better able to think long term. Because when you think about why we did what we did in school (since most of us are academic students), it was always about long term benefits. We studied because we wanted to get a good grade. And we wanted to get a good grade because we knew that somehow - even if we weren't completely sure exactly how - it would benefit us in the future. We recognized that not doing well in school was a bad thing, not because it was detrimental to our IMMEDIATE lives - after all, we were pretty sure our parents would feed us and house us regardless of how well we did (some of us at least) - but because we knew it would be detrimental to our future.

This doesn't just apply to the simple drive to do well in class. It also contributed to our ability to understand WHY we studied what we studied. For example, I can tell an academic class that aside from "getting a good grade," it's important to be able to write well because they'll need these writing skills for cover letters, resumes, and written applications, and they will be able to accept that as a reason to write well. I can relate a theme or idea presented in a novel or a short story to a fundamentally important principle like respect, compassion, and open-mindedness, and they will recognize how these principles might be important in the future - even in the immediate future.

Applied students, in my experience, don't think long-term in quite the same way. They tend to be very now-centered. Anything that doesn't affect them in that precise instant, they have a greater tendency to discard as either impractical or something that they'll learn "when they get there". And when you ask them, "but why not just learn it now?" they'll say, "Because I don't need to know it now." And from their point of view, that makes perfect sense. I mean, why learn something now if you don't need it now? Who's to say that we'll definitely need to know it in the future. And even if you were to prove, conclusively, that they'll need to know it in the future, you can still run into a brick wall because the mere fact that it will occur in the future means that it's not important to them at this immediate time.

So there are two basic things I've found that work in an applied class. Material either has to gratify immediately, or it has to be entertaining. The problem is that not everything can be immediately gratifying and entertaining. I mean, this is SCHOOL after all. If it were possible to make every second of every class immediately gratifying and entertaining to every student, we wouldn't have applied classes.

One caveat I've always considered when I teach an applied class is whether or not it would be a different story if it were MY class. Because when you're a student teacher, it almost feels like you're a guest in somebody else's class. That class already has its set way of doing things; students have already formed set impressions about school and work; and you're following somebody else's annual plan. I won't truly know the answer until I actually have my own applied class but for now, these are my thoughts on the nature of the applied class.

Jonathan posted at 6:13 PM - Comments (0)

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