Go Play!

It’s official. Kids need more time to play.

Duh.

We didn’t need the Atlantic  [ http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/06/for-better-school-results-clear-the-schedule-and-let-kids-play/373144/ ] to tell us this. 

But wait. There’s a rub. It seems kids need more time to play… without adult intervention. 

What? No grown-ups?  It will never fly. Developmental anarchy. Instructional blasphemy. They are kids, you know. They need us; they really, really need us.   

They do need us, but not all the time.

Consider this.  For some kids, up to 90% of their time is spoken for. There are the non-negotiables like school, meals and sleep.  Figure in the play dates, gymnastics, music lessons, Little League, dance class, travel teams, AYSO, art lessons, swim practice, Scouts, drama lessons.  There isn’t a lot of time left over for make believe.  There is practically no time left over for trying out independence or making a stab at conflict resolution or practicing assertiveness.

Sometimes, kids need grown-ups to just butt out. Sometimes, we should MOOB: Mind Our Own Business. 

But we mean well.These activities can be great for kids and sometimes, they can even be fun. We want our kids to turn that double play and to play the Pachelbel Canon. Of course, they need to be able to do a front handspring and earn that orienteering merit badge. They must get those community service hours logged.  We can’t have our kids left behind. They will thank us later, when they present a rich and well-rounded resume in this uber-competitive world.  

And besides, they need us. Really. In so many ways. We can officiate, instruct, intervene. We are, after all, the grown-ups.

The truth is they do need us.  They need us to keep them safe. They need us to help them make sound choices. They need us to support their efforts.

 But they also need us to give them time to create an imperfect fort out of a refrigerator box.  They need us to allow them time to settle a disputed call at third base. They need us to let them make–and fix– a few social mistakes. 

They need this time to develop the individual self confidence that they will never pick up from an overly adult-directed childhood.  They have to learn to trust themselves, to figure what to do and how to do it. A small study conducted by three German psychologists suggests that the most successful among us are those who have had ample time for unstructured play. [ http://www.psmag.com/navigation/books-and-culture/value-unstructured-play-time-kids-81177/ ]

We won’t always be around–nor should we be–to right their wrongs and chart a perfect course for them.  Though it may be a tough pill to swallow, we have to understand that our job is to make ourselves obsolete. 

So let them go play! 

 

5 Lessons Education Can Learn from Sports

1. There are no short cuts.

Success is about hard work.  In every sport, the best players embrace the sweat.  Someone way smarter than I am once said, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

 2. Experience counts…a lot.

Rookie errors are costly. Veterans anticipate the unexpected and react with skill.

3. Resist the urge to showboat.

Humility is always classier than self aggrandizement. Individuals make plays, but teams win games.

4. Trust the coach.

Respect leadership.

 5. Stay hungry.

Today is yesterday’s tomorrow.

Gravity

No, not that “Gravity.”   I like my cinema closer to home and just a little bit lighter.

No. Forget the movies.

Imagine instead a Pearson Common Core multiple choice question that might go something like this:

The gravity of the state of American education cannot be underestimated.  Which of the following answer choices best defines  gravity as it is used in this sentence?

A) weight

B) magnitude

C) the attraction of the mass of a planetary body at or near its surface

D) solemnity

Don’t misunderstand.   I don’t dislike the Common Core.  As an English teacher, I am a huge fan.  I love close reading.  I love supported, well-crafted argument.  I love that implemented appropriately, the Common Core will simultaneously challenge both high achievers and reluctant scholars.

No, the Common Core is not the problem.

Those most closely  connected to instruction –administrators, parents, teachers– agree, too:  American students must be well prepared for their post-high school lives.  This is not negotiable.  The success of a democracy rests in an educated populace; the success of a competitive economy resides here, too.   There is no contention about this shared goal.

So what’s the problem, then?

Education has become a prop in the theater of American politics.  Contenders for public office who may know little about the ingredients of successful instruction wave education about, making sweeping promises, sometimes vilifying teachers.   They glad-hand voters, swearing that more rigorous tests are the answer. More tests will promote learning.  More tests will lead to accountability.  More tests will provide the data necessary to fix what ails US schools.

But politicians who mislead the public into believing that more high stakes testing will somehow magically yield  universally stronger students over- simplify an extremely complex issue. Rigid adherence to the notion that linking teachers’ annual ratings to standardized tests will lead to improved performance fails to account for the intangibles that affect instruction, things like poverty and security.   Kids who come to school hungry will not perform well on tests.  Kids whose health care needs are not met will not perform well on tests. Kids who are anxious will not perform well on tests. Schools that are underfunded may not have the resources to support student achievement.  Time devoted to testing would likely be better spent cultivating a culture of intellectual curiosity,  nurturing the thrill of discovery, fulfilling the potential of every child in every classroom.

Gravity.  So much rests on education.  It’s not about number two lead pencils or  tabulated data.  It’s about the weight of wanting to know more tomorrow than you know today.  It’s about a solemn promise we make to all kids that if they work hard, their futures will be bright. It is about the magnitude of the responsibility we have to promote preparedness and achievement.  It’s about the pull of the moon, Mars, Venus that will draw today’s students to become tomorrow’s explorers.

 

P.S.: Again, I thank everyone for following/reading this and my other blog.

Data: What Would J.Evans Pritchard, PhD Say?

There will always be a J. Evans Pritchard trying to force the arts to yield to statistical analysis.

If you’ve been listening, you have heard the conversation. Data, Data. Data.

Standardized tests are the treasure troves of statistics that are driving–oh, excuse me, informing— instruction. # 2 lead pencils are the wands that, with the right sleight of hand, can make you see anything a skilled statistician wants you to imagine you saw.

But like poetry, teaching is an art, a fine art.  Just as it is obvious intellectual farce to reduce the mystery of poetry to the “data driven analysis” spoofed  in the clip, the same could be–no, should be— said for the purely statistical analysis of the instructional artistry that happens in classrooms every day.

Armies of academics going forth to evaluate kids and teachers via mathematical calculations, cold hard data?  Pardon?

Don’t misunderstand; testing has a place in education.  It is one of many tools good teachers use to plan and adjust their instruction. Reliable and valid testing can provide benchmarks of achievement. Sound tests can show teachers where kids need more time on task.

But great teachers know that testing–particularly one-size- fits-all testing– provides only part of the masterpiece that is learning. Learning is about curiosity and confidence. It’s about taking academic risks. It is about the intangibles that make every parent’s child a priority.

Every child who crosses the threshold into our classrooms is a unique and complex individual.They come to us with strengths and challenges, enthusiasm and fears.  No child should ever become a statistic on a bar graph, a mere blip of data on a spreadsheet.  Kids are people, not commodities.

Like poetry,the art of instruction defies scientific deconstruction.  There is just too much happening in classrooms on a day-to-day basis to reduce teaching to a few days of testing, especially flawed testing, especially testing created by one of the biggest text book publishers in the country.

Obviously, you say.

But here’s the rub. Politicians use data mined from classrooms nationwide to further their own ambitions, to promote their personal bureaucratic promises.

Just as J. Evans Pritchard’s method of deconstructing poetry ultimately destroys the beauty of the text, data driven education crushes the joy of learning, stifles creativity on both sides of the desk.  Teachers, fearful of the way test scores now compute into annual performance reviews, are far more likely to play it safe. Meeting Pearson’s benchmarks of  proficiency has become a matter of professional survival.  Kids, too, will stay within the lines because everyone knows standardized tests have no patience for divergent thinkers.

Where’s the data on the data?

P.S. : And big  thanks to all who continue to follow me on all my sites.

Stop # 1 on the Journey: All You Need is Love

I saw this post and couldn’t help but reblog this post. It is just so true!

Life is a Journey, Not a Destination

     Back when I was too young to truly appreciate either the lyrics or the music, Lennon and McCartney said it all: “All you need is love.”  Back then, this was just a catchy tune playing on pop radio,  the big kids singing in the back of  the bus.

Now that I am older–much older– though, I am constantly reminded that what really matters is love: the people you love who love you back.  I know for sure now that the Beatles had it right.

Life isn’t about what you can own: cars and houses and clothes. It isn’t even about the achievements we can boast about.  What good is a Ferrari if you don’t have someone special riding shotgun?  If you have no one cheering for you when you bring home the Pulitzer, it’s just a piece of paper.

         No.  Life is all about people…

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The Legacy of 9/11

It was a beautiful day, crisp air, clear skies, the ultimate antithesis of what was about to unfold that morning.

Most of us older than 21 clearly remember where we were when we heard the unthinkable: the towers had fallen. I can remember what I was wearing and the sickening fear for the people I loved who were in the city. We were near enough to tragedy to see the smoke and almost everyone I know knows someone who was there. Two people I went to high school with died that day.  A man in our town did not come home to his family. A friend lost his brother-in-law. A neighbor lost her cousin.

It was a day for saying, “I love you” to our children and to each other.

9/11 was a dark defining moment for a generation with memories of neither Pearl Harbor nor Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby.

The juniors I was teaching that Tuesday morning seemed suddenly so very young. Teen swagger and bravado vanished. We huddled around a battery operated radio, anxious for a sign that everything would be OK, that someone was in charge.  When we all heard the unmistakable overhead roar of military pilots en route to the city, they surged toward me with the unconditional collective expectation that I would be able to keep them from harm. I will always remember the helpless dread, knowing that I would do whatever I could, yet equally certain that whatever I could do might not be enough.

The world changed forever that day.

And for our students– though each year, more and more of them are too young to remember this day– this is the only world they have ever known. It’s a world where traveling means removing their shoes and liquids are no-nos. It’s a world in which images of explosions can dominate the evening news. It’s a world of colored-coded security assessment and random acts of terror that we never believed could reach us here.

As adults, we must find ways to make this generation of kids feel safe amid this new reality. We have to provide the pockets of security where they can still be children, where they know they are far from harm’s way.We have to provide quality time for laughter and pride, for anticipation and excitement.

We may not be able to alter the future, but we can, we must, do what is in our power to preserve the present.