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Teachers Turn Classes Into Boot Camps

On a mission to improve student performance, some schools are turning to boot camp-like programs to motivate kids before state tests. Student recruits find themselves marching, chanting, doing sit ups, and pulling for their battle buddies. Included: Information on how boot camps are organized.

A Parris Island drill sergeant could take a page from middle-school math teacher Michelle Corbins lesson-planning book.

Dressed in battle fatigues, she had students marching, chanting slogans, and dropping to the ground to do push-ups for not completing assignments as part of a four-week math boot camp to get seventh graders ready for Mississippis high-stakes tests.

Weve seen results; discipline issues go down to none, said Corbin, who teaches at DeSoto Central Middle School. Were reviewing concepts they need to know in a fun way, and more homework gets done.

The boot camp approach to test preparation is becoming more popular as educators strive to make reviewing material more interesting and even fun. While in some schools all students participate in boot camps, other programs are designed to help students on the cusp of reaching proficiency.

At East Cheatham Elementary School in Ashland City, Tennessee, third and fourth graders identified by teachers as needing additional help were recruited for a five-week boot camp that focused on reading and math skills.

I would recommend this because several of the children dont get the extra help they need at home, said Principal Dawn R. Young. Its our way of extending time and effort to students because we want them to be successful.


Few, teachers, though, might be as gung-ho about boot camp as Corbin, who has been doing running them for the past six years. Over the past two years, two more math teachers joined her, including one who served in the National Guard, who gave the boot camp an even more authentic feel.


Were reviewing concepts they need to know in a fun way, and more homework gets done.

Interestingly, Corbin does not have a military background. The idea for the boot camp just popped into her head. The district asked that I change the curriculum to leave time to review [for state tests]. I get bored very easily -- as do seventh graders -- so I tried to think of a way to liven it up, Corbin explained, adding, I try to learn more every year.

During the boot camp period, classrooms are transformed. Netting hangs from the ceilings and U.S. Army slogans and the U.S. Soldiers Creed are posted on the bulletin board.

It is imperative that the teacher take on a drill sergeant mentality, Corbin wrote in a memo to her colleagues. Teachers notify parents that students will be exercising -- daily push-ups, sit-ups, or jumping jacks, and more -- if there are infractions. Each student is assigned a battle buddy. Together, they keep one another on top of assignments; and if one member of the pair misbehaves, they both get the consequences.

We told parents students could be doing five [exercises] at a time, Corbin said. Some said, Give them 15.

Corbin and colleagues also developed a ranking system, starting with Pi Baby, and moving up to Pivate and Pivate First Class. Students earn promotions by completing ten consecutive homework assignments and not committing any infractions.

But few students misbehave, Corbin said. The discipline issues go away, she told Education World. The kids who are most likely to push limits dont do it in boot camp.

Because boot camp is held in April and May, the good behavior usually continues through the end of the year, Corbin added.

Even with all the work that goes into running the boot camp, Corbin still is able to differentiate instruction for students who are below and above grade level. Boot camp only scratches the surface of what she does, according to Principal Duane Case. If I had more teachers like Ms. Corbin, Id have more hair and less of it would be gray.

This past year, boot camp graduation featured competition among different squads of students led by high school students in the ROTC program. Graduates received certificates and items from military recruiting stations.


Other schools use boot camps to boost the skills of students who are close to proficiency. At East Cheatham Elementary School, about 40 third and fourth graders participated in the most recent three-week-long boot camp, which met for two days a week from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.


I would recommend this because several of the children dont get the extra help they need at home. Its our way of extending time and effort to students because we want them to be successful.

Young, the principal, said it was her idea to have some type of concentrated test preparation for borderline students. I knew we had some students who were struggling academically, so I talked to the grades three and four teachers, Young told Education World. I worked with the teachers to determine which math and reading skills needed to be reviewed.

The students were divided into four groups: the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Each group received 30 minutes of instruction in two areas of reading and two areas of math each session. It was all hands-on, fun activities, Young noted. During every class, teachers reviewed material from the previous class and students did calisthenics. A teacher assistant prepared dinner, billed as chow, for the boot camp officers and recruits. Young was able to pay the instructors with Title 1 money and use PTO funds for food.

After the first boot camp, Young said, the school had more students reach proficiency on the state tests than in previous years. Test results showed that the lower-performing students made the most gains, while the average students performance were the same. Participants also were recognized at a graduation ceremony.

Im eager to see this years scores, Young added.

The camp was a hit with students. On a student survey, in response to the question, What did you dislike most about boot camp? two students wrote Having to go home, according to Young.

The camaraderie and unity that develops among students during boot camp carries through after they graduate, Corbin noted. A lot [of students] have the ability [to do well]; they just dont have the confidence, she said. [After boot camp] the kids take pride in what they do and develop more respect for each other.


Special Archive: Testing
Education World Issues Glossary: Testing

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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