As seems appropriate given that my daughter has just started school for the year, today I have five posts that are all about bringing joyful learning back to the classroom, one way or another. In the first, a first grade teacher introduces a play kitchen in her classroom. In the second, a veteran teacher assigns his students things like "read a book" and "volunteer", instead of offering traditional homework. In the third, the author laments efforts to force all preschoolers to sit still for group learning sessions. In the fourth, a teacher gives tips for empowering students in the classroom. In the fifth article, a Texas teacher defends her new "no homework" policy. All five of these post offer an encouraging view of teachers trying to help kids to learn through play, and figure out what truly engages them.
Sarah Cooley: "Let’s face it. Technology has taken over, and while technology is amazing-- gone are the days when videos,iPad's, Kindles, and such weren’t at our fingertips every given minute. The play kitchen will allow my students the opportunity to pretend again. How many memories do we have with our friends playing in the home living center at school? Dressing up and playing with baby dolls? Developing imagination will inspire them to become creative writers and thinkers. I think I will see a dramatic change in the writing my students produce because of the play kitchen."
Me: How great is it that this first grade teacher is bringing in a play kitchen for her students? While some of her reasons, like the one quoted above, focus on benefits to creativity and literacy, her real reason is clear: Kids who are six years old need and deserve time to PLAY. At my daughter's school, the play kitchen in the kindergarten sat and collected dust all year last year, so I have no expectation of this in first grade. But it makes me happy to think of Sarah Cooley's students out there somewhere. I'll be following her blog going forward, and will share any updates about the success of the play kitchen.
Peter Cameron: "My views on homework have changed and evolved over my 20+ years of teaching. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that traditional homework has done nothing to improve my students’ academic performance or their ability to think and learn. In fact, I believe it’s had somewhat of the opposite effect. When homework piled up, stress increased and students came back to school tired, overwhelmed and burnt out. I also found that students who had little support from parents or guardians with their homework (whether it be assisting them or encouraging them to get it done) tended to come back with it incomplete. This created a large gap in learning for my students who weren’t able to complete their homework."
Me: Peter Cameron goes on to share a "homework" assignment that he started giving to his students near the end of the last school year. Kids are to do one or more of the following for 90 minutes each day: play outside, exercise, create something, read a book, etc. He actually made a little form with checkboxes that students can use to track their progress. How amazing is that? Early results that he reported in June were positive. I'll be following Peter's blog this year for updates.
Heather Wenig: "I’ve got some news for you, folks. There’s plenty of time for sitting still and lots of experiences children need to have before we can expect it of them. And too often our attempts to force this “readiness” backfire. How? I’m glad you asked….
One way forced participation in group time (and punishment for pushing back) can backfire is by sending a message to young children that learning is not fun and doesn’t work for them...
Let’s spend some time really reflecting on what children really need to learn. It’s just possible that unquestioning obedience is not the first thing on the list."
Me: I'm reassured every time I see another post or article about how we "need to pay closer attention to children’s FEELINGS ABOUT learning", and about taking children's developmental readiness into account in setting expectations for them. Why on earth does anyone feel like preschoolers need to practice sitting patiently in a group? Some kids are going to be ready for this, and have no problem with it. But some kids are not. Heather Wenig is a champion for those latter kids.
Starr Sackstein: "Give students a say in how they learn. Get to know your students well. Understand the way in which they best process information and develop skills and allow them to make the choices as to how they go about completing tasks. There is never only one right way to do anything and since every child is different, we must be flexible with the methods we allow students to employ while learning."
Me: Over the course of my life, I've gradually learned the ways I am more vs. less able to process new information. [I take things in better by reading, and understand them better by writing. Verbally conveyed information is much more challenging, as is brainstorming in a group session.] Imagine if our youngest children had teachers who could help them figure this out in elementary school? And who could help them to match their learning methods with their own temperaments? I realize that this wouldn't be easy to achieve, but I think we'd see a lot more kids succeeding as learners.
Erin Hill (in People Magazine): ""All of my parents have been really enthusiastic and supportive," she (teacher Brandy Young) shares. "We're partners in educating our children."
Young says she hopes her policy will start a larger conversation about homework in all grades.
"Any homework that's given just needs to be meaningful. The kids are so busy and they work hard days, and when they go home, they don't need busy work, let's just make sure we're not giving busy work," she adds."
Me: My six-year-old is one week into first grade and already complaining about homework, which she has every day. This is very frustrating for me, knowing that the research doesn't support it, but feeling like my one voice will be utterly drowned out in our academic-achievement-focused elementary school.