Thursday, July 17, 2014

Keeping Students' Full 360 in Mind

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The biggest tragedy I’ve read about in modern schools has to be the increasingly myopic ways schools are addressing foundational needs of literacy and numeracy.  Yes, I get that reading, writing, and arithmetic form the basis of most everything that’s done, so I get why they’ve always been prioritized. What doesn’t sit well with me - or for our students - is that places are cutting so many other pieces of students’ education - e.g. arts, history, sciences, recess - and replacing them with more reading, writing, and mathematics worksheets, videos, and computer testing applications.  Yuck.  There are four tremendous issues with this approach:

1) These decisions are almost always based on scores from standardized testing, which means that even if reading, writing, and math were the only things that a school ought to be teaching, moves like these are only looking at a very limited perspective on them.  I’ve never, for instance, heard of a school changing the schedule and shortening or even cancelling recess because students were taking a long time to choose an independent reading book or craft a blog post.  It’s such a limited way to look at education.  In truth, if students are struggling, schools need to be excessively creative in broadening the scope of topics, ideas, and courses to which students are being exposed.  We have to fight to engage them and help them see that we are interested in them as people.  Then, they’ll be more likely to follow our example and dig into the foundation lessons when it’s time.

2) The pieces being dropped have been proven to be essential to the development of great academic programs.  Art, music, playtime, and science and history courses have all been proven to elevate students’ overall achievement, self-perception, and - yes - test scores.  Too many teachers, schools and districts are just choosing to ignore this research.  This , this , and this are all articles that speak to the need to develop the “360 child,” which I’ll get to in a second when I address the idea of “summer slide.”

3) What schools really need to do is ensure the quality of their Tier 1 teaching.  Subjecting students to more weak instruction or sitting them in front of a computer as a means of “remediation” is not a strategy I’m buying into.  Yes, sometimes, more is more, and practicing helps (think: McDowell’s 20,000 hour theory), and yes, there is software out there that can be appropriately used to support struggling students, but all of this has to be part of a purposeful program that ought to be founded on the best instructional practices we know about.  

I’m thinking about this in mid-July because of this article ( I just read on how to prevent the “summer slide.” At the fully polar opposite end of the spectrum from the other articles, this one speaks to setting aside time during the summer for family activities that sound a lot like test prep to me.  So let me offer some alternatives, things I believe take a 360 in helping students who struggle, things that could very likely also be part of schools’ curricula, things that come to mind when I stop long enough to ask questions like these:

- Adults need to be walking with children, taking them places.  They can then write letters and postcards, with photos and art work, telling relatives and friends where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.
- Research the historical significance of places they’ve seen and/or heard about.  Invite them to journal and/or teach someone something about it.

- All kids, by the way, should have a special journal.  If you think money can’t help education, think about how powerful giving all students a nice notebook of sorts to write or draw in over the summer could be.

- Kids and libraries are such a natural mix.  Not only can they get all sort of books to borrow for free, but there are also often great programs going on.  Surround kids in the chance to choose books as much as possible.  Invite them to tell you about what they’re choosing.

- If you’re going to the store, bring your children and have them help figure out the costs.  Have them ask people where things are and check the change at the register.  Social skills and math all wrapped up together :)

- If you or your kids are sports fans, the potential to work on geometry and statistics are bottomless.  

- Find paper maps of wherever you’re going with the kids and have them navigate.

- Try food from another country and learn about the place of origin while you’re at it. Music and art great components of culture studies.  

- Speaking of music and art, can you get to a museum and or a concert?  Summer is a great time for free, outdoor music and many museum and zoos have free days.  

- Model and share:  Kids should know that even though all of these are great, adults still like to sit down and read during their days.  (If you’re not a reader, by the way, having kids is a great excuse to become one.)  Find some time to relax and read something, be it a book, magazine or otherwise.  Share with your kids what it is that’s interesting to you about what you’re reading.  Invite them to do the same.  Reading books together is also great.  

The reason ELA and math have become the focal points for education is that they are found everywhere, in everything.  It’s a miss on the part of adults, then, when the opportunities we give kids to master them are exponentially skewed to the pieces that are easiest to measure and photocopy.  Even my daughter, who in her own nerdy way actually loves workbooks, gets much more excited when I ask her to tell me a story about or take a picture of something that interests her.  


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