Today I have articles that take a positive stand regarding three things that are well known to impact the joy of learning in students. First, an elementary school principal argues for more play in school. Next we hear about a Vermont elementary school that has abolished homework. Third, an elementary school teacher shares her strategies for helping to keep testing from harming kids' sense of personal worth. Each of these is a small data point - a voice in the wilderness calling out in on behalf of kids against the relentless pressures heaped upon them. But they are a start! Hope they brighten your day.
Eric Sheninger: "Play has a magical effect, at times, of taking away some of the stress and pressures of life. It is in these carefree moments that kids and adults develop and enhance certain skills that will play a huge role in personal and professional development. I find myself reflecting on the seemingly endless positive impacts that play has on kids and yet it is being cut from schools across the world. Ask any young kid what was their favorite part of the school day and they will respond in no specific order – recess, gym, or art.
Our kids need and deserve more play, not less! Recess in particular is needed not just in our youngest grades, but also even through the middle and high school years."
Me: Eric Sheninger both cites research on the positive impacts of play and offers concrete suggestions for schools on how to incorporate more play throughout the day. I hope that this article is widely read!
The Mind Unleashed: "The principal of the Orchard School in South Burlington, Vermont, a kindergarten-through-5th grade school says that he’s observed more anxiety among students in the last decade. The school opted to do away with homework this year, based in part on the book, The Homework Myth...
Alfie Kohn, the author of the book says that, “Homework may be the greatest extinguisher of curiosity ever invented.” He also argues that there is no real evidence that homework causes better academic learning. There is research to support his claims that go back to 1897, where a study proved that assigning spelling homework had no effect on children’s spelling proficiency later on. (Joseph Mayer Rice in Gill and Schlossman 2004, p. 175.)
There has also been a global push toward allowing children more free ‘play’ time, since this natural state of curiosity allows learning to happen organically, without force or the ensuing frustration.
There are also great men and women in history who have proven that intellectual prowess need not be gleaned from a system which tends to indoctrinate us against our most basic, inborn genius."
Me: School by school, the pendulum does seem to be swinging away from increased homework... I can hope, anyway.
Starr Sackstein: "Living my life in a solutions-based model, I'd be lying if I said I haven't told kids that the tests are bad. The truth is these tests don't accurately assess our kids, the lowest functioning ones especially, so we need to remind our students that no test cannot define them...
All students have the right to feel like they have something valuable to offer the world and it's our job to ensure that no test takes that away from them. There is more to each of us than our score on any given exam and we must keep this in perspective."
Me: Recognizing that testing is inevitable in most classrooms today, Starr Sackstein includes a list of ways that teachers can try to mitigate the negative effects of testing. For example: "Do your best to align actual class learning with some aspect of critical thinking. Although it may not look exactly like the test, the skills are the same." My daughter, in first grade, has yet to get bogged down by testing, but I know that it's coming, and I expect to have more personal thoughts to share on this in the future.