Friday afternoon is not an optimal time for academic focus, but when Keesia Hyzer peers over her glasses and commands three minutes of “think time,” the 21 students in English 10 at West High School get busy.
“The only thing you’re thinking about right now is what you can get passionate about!” she proclaims as she snakes her way around aisles of desks.
Hyzer is teaching a new “core curriculum” class that puts the most-struggling students together with the highest-performing. It’s part of the Madison school district’s effort to reduce the achievement gap between racial minorities and whites.
The students are being asked to brainstorm topics for a semester-long research project. One by one, they stand and share their ideas, which Hyzer scribbles on the blackboard. Among the topics: Greek mythology, genocide in Sudan, prejudice against gays and lesbians. The students quiz each other on these ideas before breaking up into topic-based groups, listing on posters what they already know and what they want to learn.