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A recent conversation with a parent whose child had been in the Eduskeptic’s Kindergarten class highlighted a continuing issue in the education arena. This parent said that she was on the “bad Mom” list (not really, but it is a feeling one gets), because the family had taken trips on school days. Read on:
In my talk with parents at the beginning of each year, I made a few things clear to them: I wouldn’t be successful without their support and help throughout the year; they were welcome any time in our classroom; education and learning were not restricted to the classroom; the time to do things with your family is now, there is no other time to do it; childhood lasts a relatively short time. The list goes on.
For very young children, learning is very intense all the time. There are some opportunities that occur only when children and families are young. It is a time to explore and experience. The classroom offers exploration, experiences, and opportunities for learning. So does everything outside the classroom.
Grandparents need to be visited, places in town and in the forests need to be explored. Lakes, rivers and pools should be splashed in. Trails are there to be hiked. Gardens need to be dug and planted. Snow needs to be skied. Bugs need to be collected, looked at, wondered about. Trips to different places need to be taken. The uniqueness of each season needs to be explored. Unstructured play and exploration need to be there in abundance. The list goes on.
The Eduskeptic told the parents in his classroom that if an opportunity came up to do something with their children (visit Grandparents, camp, ski, explore, have a snuggle day), that they should do it. Education is not only in the classroom. What I asked is that they notify me if they were going to do something special. If it was for 5 days or more, I would gladly arrange for an independent study for them. In California, if the absence is 5 days or more, a completed independent study gives the child credit for the time and the school ADA money for the time. If is less than the proscribed time, no body gets anything, and the schools absolutely do not like any loss of money.
If what they were doing wasn’t going to hit the 5 day mark, but was close, I encouraged them to take the 5 days. If it were just a day or so, I would arrange for them to have the materials that we were going to cover over the day or two that they would be gone. Either way, the children had adequate school material with them. I expected them to keep up. So did their parents.
Another caveat was this: if the child was really behind in class, and I didn’t think that being gone would be to their advantage, I worked harder with the parent to provide lessons for when they were gone, or spent extra time with the child when the family returned.
The Eduskeptic never had any regrets about his approach, nor did the parents. The children did well and almost all of them came back with whatever work I had sent with them, completed.
It is a complicated world. Parents don’t always have the luxury of a job that is Monday through Friday, during the day light hours. Time with the family then must come when the parents are available, regardless of the name of the day.
The parent that the Eduskeptic had the conversation with works 3 days in row, 14 hour shifts, and the days are never the same. Her husband is on a different schedule. Their children are all on the honor roll, which is no surprise to the Eduskeptic. It is obvious that this family spends time with their children, certainly allowing for education to take place no matter where they are.
My response to her was this: continue doing what you are doing. There will come a time when the children will not want to be away from their friends at school. The social structure will take over, and impromptu family excursions will fall by the wayside. It is inevitable. Besides, the children are on the honor rolls at their schools. That alone indicates how this family values education.
As much as the “go to school at all costs” group will howl over the Eduskeptics approach, which lasted for the 24 years he taught Kindergarten, the school system absolutely needs to accommodate families who are wise enough to know that learning is a whole world activity, and not restricted to a classroom.
Not everyone gets opportunities for family explorations. Not every family works a Monday-Friday, daylight hours job. Schools would be wise to support the endeavors of parents who take the time to learn with their children, inside or outside the classroom.
Teachers are hired to teach, which, for the most part, they do. How they teach is as varied as the number of teachers on the planet. No one does the same thing, although similar methods and approaches abound.
What’s more important in the classroom, teachers, teaching methods, technology, class make up? It is not an altogether easy answer, especially now.
Years ago, children communicated with each other by being in the actual presence of others. Sending letters, using the telephone, or passing hand written notes was the highest technology available.
Teachers in classrooms generally lectured about a subject. Depending on the subject, the hands on component consisted of reading, writing, building a model, or, in the case of science, experiments. It’s what was available and it’s what happened, day in and day out, in classrooms across the globe. Mostly, it worked pretty well.
Starting with children who were born about 30 years ago, there was an ever faster change in the way children communicated. The pace of the change simply accelerated over time.
By the time children who were born in 1979 hit high school, and then college, they were keeping in touch with a multitude of modalities. The entire social media experience was on us, and is on us, and continues to change at an extraordinary rate.
The interconnectedness of young people now days is more intense than it has ever been. To some extent, teaching methods have attempted to keep up with all of this. Close, but maybe not close enough.
In a recent study published in Science, the use of a more hands on approach, rather than the traditional large lecture hall experience, appears to have resulted in better test results.
The study by a team at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, in Canada, led by physics Nobelist Carl Wieman, used a more interactive, real time feed back method in a physics class of 250 students at the university level. Another 250 students were taught using the lecture method.
The interactive method posted much better test results. The interactive class was taught by two grad students, the lecture class by a well respected Professor.
Oddly enough, Kindergarten uses the interactive, instant feedback method more than anything else. Of course, the biggest difference between Kindergartners and University students is that the University students weigh more and have been around longer. The brain, it seems, learns best by doing.
It seems, according to this rather limited study, that the person teaching may not be quite as important as the method and tools employed by the teacher. This is not to suggest that the teacher hasn’t much to do with the process. Everyone has had teachers who simply inspire those in the classroom, and teachers who are best described as rather flat and uninspiring.
Give the results of this study, perhaps the teaching profession would do well to support the mass inclusion of available technology to match what children, from Kindergarten to college, are already using.
The basic skills still need to be mastered. It’s how they are mastered that may be a tipping point between average and spectacular.
As always, assume nothing, verify everything.