9th grade is an important transition period - one that could affect students throughout their high school careers, which could in turn affect their college opportunities. Students come to high school eager to be more "grown-up," but are unaware that they will be required to be a different kind of student, as well. In New York State, there is the added obstacle that high school students must accumulate credits for each course taken and must have enough credits to graduate. This is a change from middle school when they are commonly promoted socially, rather than on credits accumulated.
At my school, 9th grade students really struggle to adjust to the new expectations. Students' grades usually are on the lower levels, with a third - or sometimes half - failing several courses. In January, we decided that we needed to take a coordinated action so that students started off high school well and learned how to be better students.
Here are some of the concepts/activities we engaged in:
1. Focus on improvement. In the past, we always encouraged students to strive to be on the honor roll and set positive consequences for those who did. But, there is a large section of our student population who do not think that they could ever accomplish a grade average that would put them on the honor roll. So, we decided to focus our attention on encouraging students to improve their average. Whether it was from a 90 to a 92 or a 54 to a 56, we sent the message to our students that ALL of them could improve. We told ourselves that our ultimate goal is for all of them to be on the honor roll, but we would have to show them that they could be on the honor roll while encouraging them to meet goals that would seem achievable. Our hope was that by encouraging students to be constantly working to improve a little at a time, that eventually they would find themselves with a higher average than they thought they could ever achieve.
2. Student Skills. I've written about this before. At the onset of this initiative, we gave students a survey of their student skills. They did horribly. Even those students who are doing well academically did borderline in terms of whether or not they had the skills they need to be successful students. We decided to infuse student skills into the ELA curriculum - teaching students how to make goals, motivate themselves, study efficiently, and organize themselves and their time. We purchased student planners for them and in each class they are required to take out the planner and update it for homework, tests, projects, and other important dates.
What I think is making the biggest difference initially is our focus on improvement. All of the sudden, all of our students feel like they can be successful - because they all see that they can improve. This feeling of success is so important to many of our students mostly, I think, because many have never felt "success" in school. Once you have that feeling, you don't really want to let it go.