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Great School Advice from the Popular Press!

Cheryl S. Williams's picture

Those of us who have spent our professional lives working in public education have come to expect that articles written about schools that contain advice for both parents and the educators who work with students will focus on pointing out what’s wrong with schools and those who work in them and generally be negative in tone and wrong with the advice.  So, it was a pleasant surprise to read an article in the August 11, 2013, Parade, the magazine distributed across the country as an insert in Sunday newspapers, entitled “Building a Better School Day.”  Since schools across the country started this week (joining the many that kicked off classes in August), I thought it a good time to reiterate the seven great ideas the article proposed:

  • Begin the day with breakfast—We don’t usually think that schools should be responsible for feeding students more than one meal a day (lunch); however, studies have shown that an increasing number of kids arrive at school without having had breakfast, for a variety of reasons – some young children from poor homes can’t afford it, and some older students sleep in and just skip the meal.  Research has shown that “breakfast consumption may improve cognitive function and school attendance,” and breakfast in the classroom provides an opportunity to socialize in a relaxed setting to kick off the instructional day.  Further, providing breakfast for all students removes the stigma of those students who qualify for free and reduced price meals.

  • Emphasize learning, not testing—The unintended consequences of the federal No Child Left Behind law have been an overemphasis on testing and the use of standardized testing data to punish schools and teachers for persistent low scores.  While the original intent of the requirements was to uncover inequities in education environments for poor and minority students, the result has been too much time spent on test-focused instruction and too little time spent on creating exciting learning environments that offer a wide range of options for exploration and discovery.  Further, subjects that aren’t tested—art, foreign languages, history and science—are fading from the curriculum.

  • Teach 21st Century Skills—The Learning First Alliance (LFA) has collaborated with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) over the past several years to promote the adoption of standards that support the “4C’s” in the classroom:  communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity—skills required for success in work and life in the 21st century.  The Parade article recommends 1) emphasis on long-term projects; 2) use of technology; and 3) multi-disciplinary classes to support the inclusion of 21st century learning in schools.

  • “Flip” the Classroom—The “flipped classroom” is the current buzz word for having students watch teacher-led explanations of concepts and assignments in after school time on their home computers and then use class time for activities, written assignments, group work, and teacher assistance.  Moving to a “flipped classroom” approach takes significant planning on the teacher’s part and accommodations for those students who don’t have home computers with broadband connections.  However, experimenting with the use of instructional time provides flexibility and options for creative approaches in schools where teachers and students are open to new experiences.

  • Say “Yes!” to Recess—With the over-emphasis on testing and preparing for tests, in many schools recess has been dropped.  According to the article, only nine states now require that schools offer recess during the day.  Research has shown that physical exercise contributes to children performing at their optimum level, so time to unwind and enjoy active play is an important part of any school day.

  • Get creative!—Another way to provide breaks in a student’s academic day is through offering of art, music, theatre, or dance.  Creative pursuits and tactile learning activities such as wood shop or cooking involve different parts of student brains and help to teach approaches to solving problems and completing projects in different ways.

  • Go longer and better—A longer school day that includes a variety of activities with different kinds of experiences enriches learning for all students.  The lengthened learning time should not be devoted to academic, seat based activities.  Examples of after school opportunities include mentoring sessions, dance, chess, photography, gardening, sign language and more. 

Not only are Parade’s suggestions a pleasant surprise from the popular press, they’re on target and provide straightforward guidance we can all follow and advocate for in service to the education all our children deserve.

Image from the public domain via Wikimedia Commons

This is an excellent article.

This is an excellent article. I would only make one suggestion. Teachers should read Susan Cain's book, Quiet. Sometimes, collaboration is helpful in solving problems. On the other hand, sometimes (and for some people), peace and quiet is a valuable study aid.

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