Here’s what I’d do:

In response to growing criticism about the length of my blogs, I’ve tried to keep this one concise – it’s still above 500 words, so I’ve failed, but you should have seen it before. Enjoy it.

  • Increase opportunities for students who are (statistically) likely to under-perform – we can see from the success of KIPP and other schools that given the right circumstances, all students can reach their full potential.
  • Extend learning hours, but regularly intersperse periods of classroom teaching with other activities; ensure that every school, especially ones with high intake of students from deprived backgrounds, have a decent and comprehensive set of after-school-hours activities. Schools in predefined area boundaries should collaborate and offer activities that include pupils from all schools in that area. (Would particularly help in rural areas, where this could result in significantly increased choice.)
  • We should do much more to encourage educational mobility. There’s plenty of evidence that low SES means children are more likely to leave school without qualifications (Ermish & Francesconi, 2001). This needs to be addressed, but more fundamentally we need to re-assess what we consider to be a successful education: is three A*s at A-level really what every student should strive towards, or maybe alternative measurements – e.g. PISA – are more appropriate? What’s wrong with qualitatively assessing students? – we could give a descriptive analysis of what a student is like; surely (purely from an employability perspective) that’s more valuable to employers than how many UCAS points you’ve accumulated?
  • Computer games provide motivation. These can be integrated into lessons.
  • Make sure that children don’t grow up with the snobbish and harmful perception that vocational courses are somehow lesser than traditional degree subjects – they provide a valuable education by focusing on (a) valuable, transferable skills, and (b) specialist knowledge increasingly employability in that sector (http://goo.gl/59CM6; http://goo.gl/AgJrA).

At the same time, not everything we teach needs to be geared towards future employability, or even developing a skill – knowledge should be recognised as an end in itself. If somebody wants to spend three years writing a thesis on how Duns Scotus used citations, good on them. Considering what people have discovered by experimenting or exploring for its own sake (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_LSD#Discovery; http://goo.gl/8u6qp), it seems absurd to insist that all learning has to serve a direct purpose.

  • Scientific journals’ business model is unsustainable – charging £30+ to view a paper online for 24 hours makes no sense. The effects of free distribution of collective knowledge will benefit everyone but the publishers. From a pedagogical point of view alone, free and open access to scientific studies will allow teachers to implement the most efficacious evidence-based techniques.
  • Ignore what Mark C Taylor thinks we should do to revolutionise tertiary education: his ideas have been widely criticised as “unbelievably misguided”, “reckless” and “wrong-headed”; for example, his proposal to abolish permanent university departments and replace them with short-lived problem-focused programs would be a huge structural change, bringing few conceivable benefits. Those benefits could alternatively be achieved by encouraging inter-disciplinary collaborations on projects in such “zones of inquiry”, and this is where its application in classrooms applies: by encouraging students to synoptically develop an understanding of an area from multiple subjects’ perspectives, knowledge can be applied in a new way that encourages a greater depth of understanding and a holistic view of said area.
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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Here’s what I’d do:

  1. PsychEd101 [Katie]

    Hi there!

    Interestingly, Rutter and Maughan (1983) claimed that 15,000 hours of a child’s life was spent in school (from 5-16) and on average, 21-24 hours a week were spent directly listening to a teacher. I certainly agree that after school activities should be introduced but I am not sure that extending learning hours will be beneficial. Rutter and Maughan (1983) went on to argue that scholastic/academic success in schools (although related to teaching time) could be better predicted by 2 factors:
    1) Curriculum and teaching orientations
    2) Atmosphere

    If more time was spent in ‘active’ teaching environments, then children would benefit very efficiently. A well-planned curriculum was argued to be more important that extra-curricular activities for this reason.

    Furthermore, children were thought to benefit more from academic and friendly working ‘atmospheres’ – this was dissociated from time spent in learning environments. They also benefited on a personal and social level in this respect.

    • Hi Katie,

      Fair point – thinking back, learning hours at my school were long enough. If they made them any longer I probably would have just skived more often.

      Having read Rutter & Maughan (honest), I think you’re/they’re probably right. Quality over quantity etc.

      To be honest I hadn’t really considered what kids do outside of the school environment at all, which, when you think about it even a little, you realise affects them massively, especially if they’re unstructured activities unsupervised by adults.

      Apparently arrests of school-age children spike sharply in the first few hours after school (Osgood et al., 2009) (http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=yHOt-AT2y4EC&lpg=PA45&ots=I7dXuh-7nN&dq=longer%20school%20hours&lr&pg=PA46#v=onepage&q=longer%20school%20hours&f=true). Osgood et al. also say that indirect supervision by adults “reduces negative developmental outcomes” (do they mean bad things happening as they grow up…?), parents’ awareness of where they are and what they’re doing apparently being critical. They go on to say that unstructured socialising isn’t a bad thing, but only in small doses apparently; most of the time it should be organised and clean-cut I guess.

      Another thing that I didn’t even consider before is whether the children actually enjoy the activities they’re made to do. Everyone seems to be agreed that a wide variety of choice in activities is generally a good thing, so long as they’re all beneficial, but apparently being forced to spend time doing activities they dislike increases the likelihood of “delinquent behaviour” (Agnew & Peterson, 1989 – reference in previous link).

  2. Nice work keeping the word count down 🙂
    On your Brain Gym comment, I had no idea that it has actually found to be ineffective!
    Its weird as Dr Dennison still claims that Brain Gym aids education in: “improved focus, concentration, calm, memory, listening, speech and langugage, motivation, self-confidence in approaching new tasks and general learning skills across the subject range”
    But knowing the research showing it to not really work, you can look into his claims more on a ‘state’ improvement, (e.g. concentration levels). So although it doesnt benefit in the improvement of intelligence, it seems to aid with the state of mind to learn.

    • Hi Alice,

      Thanks very much – apparently it gets me more comments so it has to be worth doing.

      First of all, I just want to point your attention to this interview with Dennison where he gets completely ripped apart (I promise it’s not boring): http://youtu.be/YjRhYP5faTU

      Secondly, it was never actually found to be effective in the first place. It’s hard to see how any of it possibly could be. It’s scary what they get away with saying in those manuals, and people actually believe it – like the “brain buttons” exercise (supposed to improve reading skills and memorisation – http://www.witchhazel.it/braingym.htm).

      I just had a look in Google Scholar for some papers by Dennison – surprise surprise, no published/peer-reviewed studies come up. Because he’s never written any. Even just looking at Wikipedia you can see that Brain Gym’s been widely dismissed as pseudoscience (e.g. http://www.senseaboutscience.org/data/files/resources/55/braingym_final.pdf; http://www.badscience.net/category/brain-gym/)

      I think it’s safe to say that any benefits gained from Brain Gym would be found from any light physical activity/placebo effect?/any activity other than just sitting down in a classroom, facing the teacher.

  3. Hi Steve! Great blog again this week! I understand where you’re coming from when you suggest the need for more extended school activities, and I share the belief that they could be of a potential benefit to students. However, similar to what Katie alluded to in her comment… I think the reason why after-school activities are scarce and not effective as they should be at the moment, is largely a result of a lack of engagement within school-time classroom activities.

    The way things are at the minute it seems like most students are counting down the hours until they’re free to go home – even at degree level in our lectures we still hear the premature rustling of students packing bags 5 minutes before the end; it’s like they can’t wait to get out of there! This is most likely due to the fact that what they do at home, like you say playing video games for example, is deeply engaging them – However what they do in the classroom, quite frankly, does not! Prensky (2005) argues that a majority of classroom activities do not encourage students to develop their own personalised identities, and basically carry the proverbial message of ‘have your cake and eat it’! – In response to this, they adopt an ‘engage me or enrage me’ mentality, almost as if they’re challenging the teacher to make them want to learn.

    This is what I think some teachers seem to overlook, the idea that students clearly have the smarts to know when they’re getting ripped off by a tedious and thoughtless activity. Perhaps once we make a positive change in making activities more engaging in the classroom, students will be more likely to want to stay in school and continue with learning activities even after the last bell has sounded etc.

  4. Reading your blog entry for this week, I found myself agreeing with every point you make!

    You mention extending learning hours. While many, especially those who consider themselves liberal or on the political left, might disagree with you (believing that ideally children should have a lot of time to play, sleep, be themselves etc.), I think that your position is in fact far more left-wing and down-to-earth. In my experience, middle-class parents will always find ways to make sure their children get a good education, either by sending their children to private schools (if they can afford it), or by taking matters into their own hands. When I was young my parents believed that my primary school was not teaching me adequate writing skills, for instance, so they made me keep a journal about everything I experienced in the summer holidays. This is simply not something parents of low socio-economic status would do (Lareau, 2003, writes that working-class parents do not spend much time at home as they must often work long hours, wait for public transportation or queue at social service agencies, and thus adopt a detached parenting style called ‘accomplishment of natural growth’). The only way to (at least partially) compensate for these differences in middle- and working-class parenting styles is a rigorous and mentally stimulating school system, I think. This is backed up by statistical data. For instance Alexander et al. (2001) found that the reading scores of wealthy children rose by 15 points over the summer holidays, while those of poor children dropped by 4 points. So school actually works. Not perfectly of course, there is always room for improvement, hence this module. But it works adequately. The problem may be that there is not enough of it (Gladwell, 2008). The KIPP schools you mention address this by extending learning hours and requiring that students attend a three week summer school. Again, this will obviously not sit well with a certain politically correct crowd, but could it be that by being too ‘liberal’ these people (as humane as their intentions may be) are actually betraying the poorest students and putting them at a disadvantage compared to their middle-class peers with more ambitious parents?

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