Tuesday, April 10, 2012

If it’s broke, fix it!

by Lisa Cooley | Cross-posted from The Minds of Kids

Let’s think about those school practices that have actually been proven to be harmful to kids. Not big-picture issues. Instead, let’s sweat the small stuff that is very big in the eyes of the kids who are subjected to it.

Ten Small Ideas That Can Make A Big Difference
1. Homework
Get rid of it. Elementary grades: we should be giving none at all. Middle and high grades: only stuff that is supported by research. Don’t make kids work a second shift. Do we really have any idea the happiness this would bring to so many kids? Instant good will on the part of children, with accompanying positive impact on learning.
2. Extrinsic motivation
Snuff it out. No more lollipops for “good behavior,” no more rewards for conforming to adults’ expectations. Again, check out the research. All negative. Dump it.
3. Early start times for adolescents
Do you need to see any more research? Our high schools are full of zombies half asleep, half awake, all miserable. Let them sleep. It won’t kill us.
4. Cell phone ban
If you can’t hold their attention in competition with a cell, that’s not their problem.
5. Social media ban
Kids have the world at their fingertips…except in school. Figure out how to connect your classes to the world. Better still, let kids do it.
6. Restricting bathroom use
Stop making them wait to go to the bathroom when they have to go.
7. Restricting food consumption.
Stop the ban on food in the classroom. When kids are hungry, they should eat.
8. Limiting time for recess & socialization
Let them play. Let them hang out. Let them socialize.
9. Bad food
Get better lunch food, with kids playing a role in researching and deciding on menus.
10. Silencing Students
Give students a voice in the policies, procedures, and principles enacted in a school. After all they are the clients. They should have a say in how things are run.

Easy peasy, right? What else is there? What can you get started with where you work? Comment and share your strategies and ideas on ways to make kids happier in school, starting right now.

Thanks to Lisa Nielsen for her ideas!

36 comments:

  1. What you're proposing is like... like... a civilized society!! :-)

    And in the schools I work with, most will take a major shift in philosophy, especially numbers 1 and 10. But you are also right that we need to treat students more like partners in the learning process. Schools are still organized and run like the assembly line on which they were modeled more than a century ago and that needs to change.

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  2. I love your list! Shouldn't be at all revolutionary, but it still is. *sigh*

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  3. I agree with everything except number 7. Food and drink in old schools is a roach/mouse magnet, and when they appear out come the cancer-causing chemicals.

    However, if students ate a well balanced breakfast and lunch they wouldn't be hungry as much during the day, which you addressed with number 9.

    viva la revolucion.

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    1. If you want to eat, you need to clean up after yourself. I have no problem with providing broom, dustpan, mop and paper towels. Their maid doesn't work there! and NOBODY wants rats or roaches.

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  4. Thanks for the easy list of 10 things you can try for now. I'm letting the kids sleep in today, the longer the better. When they wake up they can play, eat breakfast, and then garden when it warms up. Hopefully it will be a warm day so that the butterflies and caterpillars will come out. The birds are singing up a storm right now. Good morning yall!

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  5. Love the list! Wonderful to see later school start times front and center. Evidence-based start times would NOT require kids to be on the bus before 6 am -- we're encouraging risky behaviors, poor eating, and exacerbating depression and anxiety by raising a sleep-deprived generation. There's a national grass-roots organization that cares deeply about this: startschoollater.net

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  6. Love the list, except number 1. I've always felt a small amount of at-home reinforcement of what was learned in class is beneficial and can help get parents involved...and by the time students are in high school, it is important to have at least a little homework to help prep them for either work or college where they'll likely have to put in some time 'off the clock' to achieve their objectives.

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    1. You don't need homework to learn how to do homework later in life. That's a poor excuse, imho. Homework cuts family time. Homework causes more problems within the home. You have the kids all day, they shouldn't have to do more work for you when they get home. They need to play after school since play was cut from the curriculum decades ago.

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    2. Homework as it is now is harmful. Doing 20 more math problems, balancing 20 more equations, memorizing 20 more dates, doesn't help kids, as Alfie Kohn has demonstrated in his book The Homework Myth. (and this article: http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/homework.htm)

      What people do in college is read and collaborate. If homework in high school reflected that more it would be better. Setting up a class blog with questions, some related to the course and some not, but all open ended and opinion based,would mimic the real world. Get kids discussing theories, ideas, their favorite movies, etc. and create a class culture where all kids can buy in.

      Yes, the above example cuts out kids without computers, which is a problem (19% of my current students don't have computers at home now), but that doesn't make it ok to give meaningless work just to get them ready for college.

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    3. Homework as an issue continues to make me chuckle. Every time I read a study about how ineffective homework is I look at the task given and think to myself, "How could you possibly achieve anything useful by completing that task? It wouldn't be very effective in a classroom either!" The problem is not the concept of a little bit of homework, but rather what the students are being asked to do, exactly as Schledorn says.

      My grade 6 class has a homework policy of 80 minutes per week. Students and families can choose when the time happens, I normally recommend four 20 minutes sessions in a week. It can even happen at lunch if I am the resource that they need to access. They negotiate a project (or a piece of a project if it is really big) with me on one day of the week and we meet again the following week. It can be done individually, in pairs or in groups of 3 or 4. The project is something that connects or responds to learning in our classroom, but extends the student in a direction that they wish to follow. Generally, it involves the student creating an artefact of some kind. Often it makes use of community or family resources that we don't have access to in the classroom.

      Some examples: I have had a video documentary about how to make homemade Pierogis (staring the student and her grandmother who came to Canada for a family visit), a role playing video game outlining the dilemmas a character faced in their novel study (that was pretty amazing), a diary of a student as she worked in a campaign office as one of her relatives ran for municipal office. Sometimes students double up, when they take painting lessons sometimes they use the lesson to paint the setting from a story. I had a group of students make a 3 meter tall Sierpinski triangle out of 1cm triangles. Five iterations! They had to explain to me what an iteration was. Grade 6 fractals!

      For accountability, I ask that parents (who are encouraged to work with their children if they can) to sign off that they did their 80 minutes. If they are struggling to get their child to do homework, the homework assignment is to blame and needs to be changed. I think in the last 6 years that has happened twice.

      More frequently students don't want to stop and go over the 80 minutes. Time after the homework buzzer is up is actually learning for enjoyment . This is the number one complaint about my homework: “Mr. Martin you are ruining my life. When I tell my friends in other classrooms that my homework is fun and I do extra homework for fun, they think I am turning into a nerd." And that is how I will take over the world, by changing students into nerds one at a time.

      So, I would not advocate removing homework. I would advocate re-purposing it. If it is meaningful, follows student interest, is something that the students are proud of and want to share and supports the curriculum learning, homework can be the best part of school! It certainly isn't an extra shift; it needs to be an extension of learning out beyond classroom walls and into their families and communities, a place where I can't take them very often during our "regularly scheduled" school day.

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  7. Excellent List. Can I add that I may be a cage rattler, but I don't believe there is a place for the teacher's union. The Union gets *paid* to negotiate for things that get in the way of what should be a naturally occurring phenomenon, a teacher-student relationship. Teachers that want to be there and are qualified to be there [not there simply because they are part of a union]. Students that respect them. Parents that support them. We [parents and teachers] have given the power over to a corporate entity that just keeps everyone on edge. How can teachers or parents do their jobs with that uncertainty constantly hanging over their heads? ps I'm a grandmother with two family members that are teachers +.

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    1. Yes, let's get rid of the teachers' voice altogether. Let's get rid of collective bargaining, advocacy, and everything that prevents teachers in states with unions from not completely taking it in the you know where and being relegated to second-class citizenry. What a GREAT idea.

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  8. I'd add get rid of detention. My daughter's school has five kinds.

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    1. I like it. I'd put it as a subheading under 10. Stop silencing students. Students should be part of creating rules of behavior. Both my kids say detention is stupid and doesn't help. Ditto to the age-old, "Sending kids to the office," which is a way of saying, "Get the hell out of my classroom."

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  9. Thanks for sharing your list! I particularly relate to number 6. I remember when I was training to be a teacher and I was on my teaching practicum, my supervising teacher would never let the students go to the toilet. She said that they could hold and they didn’t really need to go. One time I was left to look after the class on my own, when the teacher returned, she asked where a particular student was. I said, I allowed them to go to the toilet. Her response, in front of the whole class, “you just got played Miss Crean!” Oh my, I didn’t realise going to the toilet was such a big deal!!!

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    1. It just makes me nuts. And anyway, even if they did just want to get out of the boring classroom for awhile, so what? Is it school, or prison?

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  10. You need to get over the bathroom thing. If anyone in my classroom is forced to wait to go to the bathroom when the time is available, it's me.

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    1. Well, I believe YOU should go, too!

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    2. No. We don't need to get over the bathroom thing. Not being able to respond to bodily needs is unhealthy.

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  11. I LOVE most of these; however, I do disagree with not banning cell phones. While school is in session there is no reason children should be on the phone (somehow we all managed just fine before they were invented). It is not a teacher's job to compete with them. Children need to learn good manners and respect. Paying attention to a teacher, even if he/she isn't enthralling is not only polite but necessary. Not to mention, this concept is an important life lesson. If my boss "can't hold my attention in competition with a cell phone" should I not have to listen? What about my spouse, my kids, etc? The idea that I shouldn't have to pay attention if someone isn't the most exciting, entertaining, interesting thing in the room is absurd! Learning that and behaving accordingly is most definitely the child's problem.

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    1. ==While school is in session there is no reason children should be on the phone.==
      I wrote a book outlining dozens of reasons for children to be on the phone. If you are unaware, I suggest picking up a copy of the book and becoming informed. www.TeachingGenerationText.com

      ==Somehow we all managed just fine before they were invented==
      We managed fine without many things. Cars, electricity, heat, etc. However, knowledge is power and there is no reason to keep our students prisoners of their teacher's past. A teacher's job is not to prepare students for their past. It is to prepare students for their future.

      ==Children need to learn good manners and respect.==
      Banning students from having their own tech doesn't teach good manners. They learn that from being guided, empowered and trusted to exhibit good manners.

      ==Paying attention to a teacher, even if he/she isn't enthralling is not only polite but necessary.==
      No it isn't. If the teacher is teaching something that is not meaningful, relevant, and interesting, why should we force a child to waste their time paying attention when they could be doing something more productive.

      ==If my boss "can't hold my attention in competition with a cell phone" should I not have to listen?==
      When you compare school and a job you are comparing apples and oranges. You choose your career, get paid for it and can leave it if you want. If that was the case with school, then you could be right, but it's not and neither are you.

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    2. So when do you learn that it's rude to not pay attention to your boss?

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    3. ==When you compare school and a job you are comparing apples and oranges.

      I agree. Which is why I object a little to homework being referred to as a "second shift." Either work is a metaphor for school or it isn't. ;-)

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  12. This list is excellent! One of the reasons college actually teaches students is because students feel a part of the learning, not as empty vessels waiting to be filled, as P. Freire would put it. This list gives some of the humanity back to students, and they will more than likely respect the teacher more if they feel more respected! Many concepts practiced in college can easily be applied to high school and even middle school.

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    1. They can and have been applied in elementary school as well. Look at Reggio Emilia, Montessori, Democratic schools. You'll see all these principles in play with young children as well.

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  13. Love this post! I have a non-profit called the Media Awareness Project in Austin, Texas and we teach kids the fundamentals of movie-making and media literacy through hands on training in video production. One of the things we find with our kids is that when they are engaged they are respectful. If they aren't engaged, it's our problem. Children are inundated with media. They sit for hours in classrooms where they do nothing but worksheets. The typical public school classroom (even with an amazing teacher, of which there are many) will teach to the middle. Recess is a reward or punsihment. Children file through the hall silently, feet careful to stay in patterned lines. It's depressing to watch! You almost cheer for the kid who dares step outside the monotony of learning found there. If we are going to engage kids, we need to look at the things that matter to them, the things that are important to them, and the things that are quietly eating them up inside. Our kids today are facing more stress than ever before (http://www.mediaawarenessproject.org/2012/04/10/changing-childrens-lives/) and it's our job as educators to reach them.

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    1. @ Nina, I follow a few other blogs and sites similar to yours, and will add you to my list. Looks great and I agree that giving young people the power to create their own media is an outstanding way to counter-act the constant barrage of negative images sent to them daily by all things media.

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    2. Thanks! I'll enjoy reading more of yours as well!

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  14. First, your intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation item got my attention. I know you're right but sometimes I do use "points" to motivate. Needed the reminder. Thanks!

    Love the list and especially agree with the homework ban and the later start time for the adolescents. They are sleep deprived and not functioning at their best. Let's use all the research, science and evidence that supports that fact and change this! PLEASE!! Is anyone listening?

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  15. this list is obviously not created by someone who has experience administrating a school. free time to socialize will only result with arguments and conflict.

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    1. Heavens, no...we don't want to have to teach kids about solving conflicts and social difficulties. We're too busy teaching to the bubble tests for that. Remember Dolores Umbridge on testing: "That is, after all, what school is for!"

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  16. Since you're going through a bit of an overhaul, maybe add some philosophy to the list? Instead of all these math problems and history, mostly machinistic cause and effect situations, go a step further with ingraining the Why into a relevant part of life. Should be a standard subject, and I guess it already is to some degree. After all, I think Aesop's Fables is probably the basis for most of your childrens stories, just would be nice for a little more recognition sometimes.

    But, problem of course would be this would fly in the face of too many religious views, wouldn't have a chance with the adults, would have to get a parents permission slip or something.

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    1. Well, I think kids should be able to study what they feel most drawn toward -- whatever it might be! Cast a wide net, and learn the stuff that draws and energizes them.

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  17. That's a great advertisement for unschooling. All the changes you suggest have been my teenage son's normal everyday lifestyle for the past ten years.

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  18. Lisa and Lisa,
    I agree, and I would add one more. No seating charts. Furniture should be comfortable and choices--not all the same kinds of hard desks. When I've sat on a hard chair too long, I just need to stand up for a while. Kids should be able to decide when they need to do that too, not when a teacher dictates.

    Denise

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  19. Love this list - and the discussion that follows. These may be 'little' things but they have a huge impact and provoke such a great discussion because they are at the heart of what we value and believe about education. If schools are places where we want children to learn why do we put procedures and practices in place that make it more difficult to do so. Implementing this list might make it more difficult for some to teach, especially anyone with control issues, but it would certainly become a place better suited to foster a love of learning. I would love to work in such a school and know my children would thrive in such an environment.

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