Tagged “Voices”

Klea Scharberg

Carol Ann Tomlinson on Seizing Opportunities

More than a decade into the 21st century, we continue to face education challenges from the last century. To move forward, we must develop knowledgeable learners equipped with the necessary academic, technological, social, and economic skills to compete in the global community.

The ASCD 2011 Annual Conference in San Francisco, Calif., March 26–28, 2011, will engage participants in dynamic, diverse dialogues that lead to bold actions to address the challenges of learning, teaching, and leading.

In this video, ASCD author Carol Ann Tomlinson relates how a student helped her realize that, as an educator, she needed to build the bridge between where her students were and where she wanted them to be.

He taught me not just to think about what I teach, but to watch the people. And to understand that, frequently, I have to build the bridge between where they are and where I need them to be. And I hope he made me a little better with that with other people later.

Carol Ann Tomlinson spent 21 years as a public school teacher of a differentiated classroom and 12 years as a program administrator of special services for struggling and advanced learners. She is currently professor of educational leadership, foundations, and policy at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education and codirector of the university's Summer Institute on Academic Diversity and Best Practices Institutes.

Tomlinson is the author of more than 200 articles, book chapters, books, and other professional development materials. Visit her website and connect with her on Twitter @cat3y.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Engaging Learners with Emerging and Connective Technologies

Michael Riggle and Ryan Bretag

Post submitted by Michael Riggle, superintendent of the Glenbrook (Ill.) High Schools, and Ryan Bretag, coordinator of instructional technology at Glenbrook North High School. Connect with Riggle on his blog and with Bretag on Twitter @ryanbretag or visit his website, Metanoia.

 

"We should expect them to learn more while being taught less. Their personal engagement with their own learning is crucial; adults cannot 'give' them an education. Too much giving breeds docility, and the docility of students' minds is a widespread reality in American high schools."

—Theodore Sizer

 

"What did you do in school today" is a common question educators encourage parents to ask of their student. The responses can vary, but sadly, too often they demonstrate just how disengaged many learners are in school. This reality is a concern long noted by many leading thinkers such a Dewey, Sizer, Wagner, Gordon, Pink, and Robinson and calls for engagement to become a critical focus for education reform efforts.

To understand the scope of this problem, we must look beyond students who are bored to determine accurate levels of engagement. Walk the halls, visit classrooms, and talk with learners. If you observe closely and listen carefully, you'll find learners who appear to be engaged by their physical signs and activity but are, in reality, intellectually and emotionally removed from the learning environment.

As Schlechty notes, these are the strategically compliant or ritually compliant students who have learned to play the game: guided by outcome and grade, enticed by the path of least resistance, focused on superficial thinking, grounded in minimal risk-taking, and an absence of learning transfer. Too often, we fail to recognize this reality as problematic and remain satisfied by the realities of these students simply because they match the common definition of a "good" student. It is time to address the current problems of engagement and begin reconnecting these learners.

Reconnecting learners is a difficult but achievable goal that schools must make a priority in order to remain viable. It will require the interplay of engagement, learning theory, generational learner traits, and formative assessment to properly influence instruction. A focus on learning immersed in emerging and connective technologies is required, along with an understanding that some students will initially resist a student-centered, engaged learning environment focused on what Prensky calls "Partnering."

Tools Focused > Instruction Focused > Learner Focused

The social media phenomenon is currently demonstrating a heightened level of personal engagement across blended spaces: physical and digital spaces, social and working spaces, and formal and informal spaces. These blended spaces are being shaped by the ability to navigate and interact with hyperspeed information flow, to design and maintain networks, to create and share content, and to socialize and engage in customized and personalized ways.

One only needs to look at how educators are embracing these technologies for their self-designed and personalized learning to see why they are important for use with students. Through the use of social media tools, educators are becoming increasingly self-directed, personalized, collaborative, and more fully engaged in their own learning. They are using these technologies to enhance their own learning in a context created and framed with the influence of other learners. They are now capable of exploring without mandate or constraint from any formal institution, which will influence how they interact with students and colleagues.

Imagine learners in our classrooms experiencing flow the way many educators online do—powerful, passion-driven learning occurring independent of time, space, place, path, or device. Many have gravitated toward this "different," blended environment in society yet our learning environments have not.

Why are learners in our classrooms not afforded the same opportunity to design and personalize their learning? The answer clearly identifies a gap between personal experiences available to a learner inside and outside of school. It is time for schools to engage learners as designers of their learning and eliminate restrictions that inhibit creativity, risk-taking, thinking, and growth.

It is important to recognize that an increasing number of educators are exploring these tools and some have already shifted from a being tool-focused to instruction-focused. While this provides wonderful new contexts for instruction, it is slow in evolving and falls short of what is really needed: a fundamental shift in our use of these technologies toward learning and learner-centered contexts.

The next big move that is needed to close the gap is from an instructional focus to a focus on the learner and learning. Focusing on the learner and learning are essential if we are to begin leveraging the power of emerging and connective technologies for student engagement. These technologies provide a wealth of opportunities to self-select the tools used to construct meaning, represent understanding, and transfer learning in ways that makes thinking visible. The fundamental shift from instruction-focused to learner- and learning-focused will promote intellectual freedom and gives life to creative and critical thought.

Creating such an environment requires difficult conversations about current instructional practices: "If we aspire to create learning environments where all students are engaged in using and developing 21st century competencies, however, a much deeper approach may be required; one that provides for inclusive and sustained work with ideas and practices that disrupt prevailing assumptions about teaching, learning, and educational outcomes" (CEA).

At the core, this requires us to not only find ways to infuse technology into our instruction, but also to engage learners with opportunities and technologies that empowers them to design and personalize passion-based learning through choice, voice, and network construction.

Choice

  1. Depart from the one tool, one path, one choice, one outcome philosophy (e.g., everyone must create a poster using Glogster).
  2. Focus on self-determination theory and social media as a mechanism to personalize and customize the learning environment.
  3. Use design thinking and Challenge-Based Learning through proposals and conferencing that empower learners to contribute to the construction of learning paths: learning outcomes, content, process, products, tools, and assessment.
  4. Guide learners in the selection and diversification of technologies that meet their learning needs and the demonstration of learning.
  5. Foster responsibility by establishing choice and flexibility in due dates, learning outcomes, content, process, and assessment.
  6. Develop learner-owned spaces that are independent of a course, support multidisciplinary interaction, and evolve with the learner.

Voice

  1. Equip learners with their own digital authorship tools: a blog, video suite, audio suite, photo suite, and a think tank space.
  2. Make thinking visible using digital authorship tools and other self-selected web 2.0 tools.
  3. Promote self-authorship, 21st century enlightenment, and critical thinking through creation, contribution, and mash-ups.
  4. Reallocate classroom time for collaboration, inquiry, and prosumtion with a foundation in argumentative literacy, digital literacies, and partnering.
  5. Root assessment in performance and process focused on deep learning that transfers.
  6. Provide space and time for metacognition, critical self-examination, and self-awareness to develop more autonomous learners and thinkers.

Network Construction

  1. Build a learning community rooted in empathy, risk-taking, and innovation.
  2. Establish and maintain a culture of creation, sharing, and transparency.
  3. Model the power of networking and connectivism in your own learning and teaching.
  4. Expand notions of learning to networks and connections that leverage human expertise and resources to support collaboration, active participation, social- and passion-based explorations, service learning, and partnership development.
  5. Expose learners to sharing and networking tools and allow them to leverage the mobile learning devices that make this possible.
  6. Blend the role of teacher and student to just learners through the use of networks and knowledge commons, including the creation of a toolbox of technologies built by the learning community.

Ignite Their Passions

My own commitment is to pursue this question: How do we create conditions for learning that reinvite, reignite, and reconnect? If we can invite children to engage in their burning questions and give them the resources to do so, they can achieve remarkable results.

—Stephanie Pace Marshall

On a recent visit to the Museum of Play, I (Bretag) became enamored with children exploring in an obvious state of flow, lost in the moment physically and mentally. In that moment, I leaned over to a father who was equally enamored as his children explored butterflies and exclaimed, "Imagine if all their moments were like this." He retorted, "Imagine if their classrooms were like this."

Our schools need to become environments where teachers and students are both recognized as learners, where digital and physical spaces combine to form a multidimensional learning space, where learner-centered activities promote deep learning. When will choice, authorship, and network construction become part of the norm that empowers learners to engage socially, passionately, and intellectually?

Customization, passion, play, and exploration need to be accepted as interconnected with engagement and learning. These are nonnegotiable if we are to capture and shape the hearts and minds of the whole child. We live in a time that is unparalleled in providing learners support to ignite their passions and become engaged learners. Schools cannot continue to function as walled environments with a one-size-fits-all, linear model of curriculum, instruction, assessments, labels, and spaces when the potential for customized, autonomous learning environments exists.

It is time for schools to foster learning environments that empower learners with the tools that allow their voices and ideas to touch the world; embrace their choice of path, creation, and representation of learning; and provide them with environments to support the development of 21st century habits. It is here we will come to know engagement that fulfills the purpose of education: ignite and support the passions of learners while developing the skills, habits of mind, experiences, and dispositions that foster the whole child and qualities of genius.

REFERENCES AND INFLUENCES

Bransford, J. (Ed.). (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=6160

Caine, R. N., & Caine, G. (1991). Making connections: Teaching and the human brain. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Chen, M. (2010). Education nation: Six leading edges of innovation in our schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. New York: BasicBooks.

Dewey, J. (1919). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: Macmillan.

Gordon, G., & Crabtree, S. (2006). Building engaged schools: Getting the most out of America's classrooms. New York: Gallup Press.

Ito, M. (2010). Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out: Kids living and learning with new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Jacobs, H. H. (2010). Curriculum 21: Essential education for a changing world. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Johnson, S. (2010). Where good ideas come from: The natural history of innovation. New York: Riverhead Books.

Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise, and other bribes. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Kohn, A. (2004). What does it mean to be well educated? And more essays on standards, grading, and other follies. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Marshall, S. P. (2006). The power to transform: Leadership that brings learning and schooling to life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical thinking: Tools for taking charge of your professional and personal life. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Financial Times/Prentice Hall.

Perkins, D. N. (2009). Making learning whole: How seven principles of teaching can transform education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York: Riverhead Books.

Prensky, M. (2010). Teaching digital natives: Partnering for real learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Robinson, K., & Aronica, L. (2009). The element: How finding your passion changes everything. New York: Viking.

Schlechty, P. C. (2002). Working on the work: An action plan for teachers, principals, and superintendents. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schlechty, P. C. (2009). Leading for learning: How to transform schools into learning organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schmoker, M. J. (2006). Results now: How we can achieve unprecedented improvements in teaching and learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Siemens, G. (2006). Knowing knowledge. s.l.: s.n.

Sizer, T. R. (1992). Horace's compromise the dilemma of the American high school. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Tapscott, D. (2009). Grown up digital: How the net generation is changing your world. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Wagner, T. (2008). The global achievement gap: Why even our best schools don't teach the new survival skills our children need—and what we can do about it. New York: Basic Books.

Andrew Miller

Culturally Responsive Online Teaching

Online education can help solve the issues of equity and access for students across the United States. We have heard fantastic stories of student success in graduating from high school due to access to online courses.

Last year, Susan Sawyers wrote an article for USAToday showcasing how some students are using online courses to graduate on time. It's a great window into the potential and echoes many stories we hear from students, families, and community members who are experiencing online education. A diverse population of students was able to take classes to retrieve credit for classes they may have failed in the past.

Read more »

Klea Scharberg

Bob Sullo on Motivating Students

More than a decade into the 21st century, we continue to face education challenges from the last century. To move forward, we must develop knowledgeable learners equipped with the necessary academic, technological, social, and economic skills to compete in the global community.

The ASCD 2011 Annual Conference in San Francisco, Calif., March 26–28, 2011, will engage participants in dynamic, diverse dialogues that lead to bold actions to address the challenges of learning, teaching, and leading.

In this video, ASCD author Bob Sullo suggests that "motivating" students doesn't necessarily mean what we think it means. Instead, try a slightly different approach to unlock students' internal desires to learn.

Stop trying to motivate your kids! It sounds odd, but I think when we're trying to motivate kids, that's really code for "we're trying to control them." And instead, I think we're going to be much more successful if we try to engage and inspire our students. When kids are engaged and they become inspired to learn what it is that we're trying to teach, we'll get so much further than we've gotten to this point.

During his 33 years as an educator, Sullo worked as an English teacher, a school psychologist, an adjustment counselor, and an administrator in the Plymouth Public Schools in Massachusetts. These diverse roles gave him the opportunity to work in both regular education and special education, serving students from prekindergarten through graduation in elementary, middle, and high school.

Currently an education consultant and instructor for the William Glasser Institute, Sullo has provided staff development and parent workshops in more than 30 states. His presentations focus on internal motivation, responsibility, and the creation of a positive environment where students are inspired to produce high-quality academic work. He is the author of The Motivated Student and Activating the Desire to Learn. Visit Sullo's website and connect with him on Twitter @bobsullo.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Two-Faced Technology: Hardening and Healing a Child's Heart

Alice Ray

Post submitted by Alice Ray, an expert on the intersection of technology and social-emotional learning. Connect with Ray on her blog or write her at aray@rippleeffects.com.

Our young people's connection to technology at times seems designed to close off their hearts and destroy their souls. From the redefinition of "face time" so that it removes actual face-to-face contact, to the brutal social dynamics of online bullying at scale, to addictive games that require taking the first person perspective of serial murderers, technology's powerful gravitational pull seems to be in the direction of dehumanizing its users. No wonder many educators are convinced that while technology may be a good way to distribute information, it comes at a terrible cost to the education of the whole child.

The counter argument—that digital technology has a gravitational force that humanizes and pulls people together—is just as strong. Video chat turns foreign citizens into familiar faces for students who will soon operate on a global stage. Online games provide the means for even young children to take their turn at solving difficult problems, from climate change to urban housing. Twitter can promote social change at a speed and scale unseen in previous human history—witness the recent weeks in Egypt!

The truest statement may simply be that technology is less of a force field in one direction or another than it is a power-generating source that has enormous potential to help, harden, hurt, heal, and hinder, not only children's minds but also their hearts and souls and, indeed, all forms of life. Like nuclear power, we may not be ready for it before it is ready for us. We may learn about protections that need to be in place for unanticipated outcomes after the fact, instead of before.

The latter is what has happened to me. As the designer of a technology-based program designed explicitly to address children's social-emotional needs, I have learned that technology can indeed scale best practice in social-emotional learning. That was the predictable part. I have seen the data that shows computer-based social-emotional learning can indeed translate into school success—a reasonable hypothesis but previously unproven.

I have also learned that digital technology can be an effective mediator of whatever it takes to begin to heal a child's broken heart. That was the big surprise. I've learned too that, as with nuclear medicine, without the proper protections in place, the process of highly targeted, digitally delivered emotional healing could have unintended additional consequences. That's the other foot dropping from this great surprise.

The kinds of emotional trauma students address on the computer when given the chance to do so privately, how it has affected their school performance, and what unintended harm they need to be protected from will be the subject of further blogs here this month.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

In What Ways Can Technology Challenge Students to Achieve and Excel?

Cyndy Woods-Wilson

Post submitted by Cyndy Woods-Wilson, PhD, an educator passionate about enhancing the learning experience for at-risk learners. She has worked with at-risk students for 18 years, ranging from 7th grade to 12th grade, as well as at-risk students in college. Her research focuses on the particular needs at-risk learners have and which best practices in the classroom can help mitigate their interrupted learning patterns. Connect with Woods-Wilson on Twitter @cyndyw2.

It's tempting to argue that a healthy whole child shouldn't sit in front of a computer screen on one of those days when the sky is so blue and the air is swept clean and ... well, you get the picture. And it's tempting to argue that the same healthy whole child should always be engaged, supported, and challenged by the adult caregivers in his or her life. But consider, if you will, the idea that there’s an ever-expanding group of children who are not. Not supported, engaged, challenged, healthy, or safe. You know, the at-risk kids. How can technology help this group of at-risk kids achieve and excel?

The first and best thing technology can do is make them a "member of the club." Remember: They might not have electronic or internet resources available to them wherever they stay. And yes, it's where they stay, not where they live. Their living situations are volatile and result in abrupt withdrawals from schools. Once again they don't fit into a new school culture, but technology?

Technology becomes the comfort zone so that they can keep up with others on Facebook or YouTube or any other social media they might have encountered. And that's where being a "member of the club" makes all the difference. Online, we're all the same. You know what I want you to know about me. And my avatar gives me a chance to be something entirely different. And maybe, this gives me the chance to grow into something I want to be, rather than something the adults around me have left me to be.

Technology lets me explore how others live, play, think, see, and feel. Oh! That's what literature does, but at-risk kids often aren't readers. Yet they see and want to participate online with technology ... which involves reading and engagement and even challenges. Fortunately the challenges aren't as dangerous as what the kids might encounter outside, in their real lives, yet they learn how to handle challenges vicariously and can take that learning into their real world.

And in their real world, the lack of support can be crippling. Technology can help provide that link to a group who are supportive. The assumption is that the friendships made online are productive and not predatory. That's a challenge for those of us who teach the at-risk child how to use technology. We need to face them as a whole child, who may not have the whole picture on what it means to be safe and who is safe to be around. We need to be passionate about their lives and their desires to be supported, engaged, challenged, healthy, and safe. We cannot make the assumptions that they do know how to use technology, only that a curiosity exists. And in this world of handheld devices that grab hot spots, kids are connected as they play and visit and travel.

That being said, let's think about the catch-up value for at-risk kids. Without hours of computer time at wherever they stay, they know they're once again behind. Technology in schools gives them a chance to practice skills that they know are valuable and also gives them a chance to experience peer-appropriate levels of use. Once again, the school has a chance to normalize some of the very uneven playing field known as an at-risk child.

And how cool is it to know that giving them this catch-up while in a seemingly unhealthy area actually promotes the safety, engagement, and challenges that propel the at-risk child into the rest of the world. Not only engaged and challenged by the technology, they're also achieving a level of safety, knowing they're able to compete on another playing field.

We can't level all of the playing fields, but we can provide the technology that compels and moves the at-risk child into a safe, whole child mode where achieving and excelling are things they choose to do.

The sky is still blue on some days, and we all want to be outside, rather than trapped inside possibly straining our eyes to observe the nuances of the computer screens. But we also want our children to be safe, and sometimes that means knowing the programs they know others know and use ... achieving the ability to compete, and even excel.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Active Gaming in Physical Education: Embracing the Future

Lisa Hansen, PhD

Post submitted by Lisa Hansen, PhD, assistant professor at the University of South Florida (USF) in the College of Education in the School of Physical Education and Exercise Science, codirector of the USF Active Gaming Research Labs, and PE Central's Active Gaming managing editor. Connect with Hansen and share your questions and suggestions for implementing active gaming in the classroom at activegaming@pecentral.org.

What is our job as physical education teachers? What should we be doing to encourage children to engage and remain engaged in physical activity? How do we continue to learn how to motivate children to want to voluntarily be physically active ... and step away from the iPods, computers, and video games?

Research suggests that the most important element in a child's life is having fun. Studies also demonstrate that children will more likely remain engaged or continue an activity if they consider it enjoyable. If this is the case, it is our job to figure out how to make physical activity more enjoyable.

What worked 30 years ago may not be as successful with this generation. What works now may not work 5 years from now. We need to continue to educate ourselves on appropriate, modern tools that children may find enjoyable and motivating and in which they will develop a desire to voluntarily be physically active. A modern tool that is gaining in popularity in physical education programs and other health facilities is being called active gaming, or exergaming.

Active gaming combines the use of technology in the form of a game with physical activity. Children are able to engage in the technology games they enjoy, such as video games, while being physically active. Active gaming is an appropriate, modern tool that the current generation relates too and undeniable enjoys. Visit PE Central to learn more about active gaming and follow the active gaming blog.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Ignorance or Arrogance: Depriving Children of Physical Activity in School

Steven C. Jefferies

Post submitted by Steve Jefferies, professor of physical education at Central Washington University (CWU) and past president of Whole Child Partner the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. He is also the publisher of pelinks4u, a nonprofit program sponsored by the CWU Foundation and supported by a variety of companies and organizations connected to the physical education profession. E-mail Jefferies at steve@pelinks4u.org.

A country is as strong as its citizens, and I think mental and physical health, mental and physical vigor go hand in hand.

—John F. Kennedy

Almost 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy, U.S. president and the parent of two young children, connected the strength of the nation with the need for a physically active citizenry. Sadly, this vision remains unfulfilled, and by all accounts we now face worsening health primarily as the result of sedentary living and poor diets.

In the last decade, the crisis in our schools—persistently low academic performance—has been addressed at the expense of student health. The goals of No Child Left Behind, although admirable in their intent, omitted any health or physical education requirements. Not surprisingly, many schools responded by reducing or eliminating opportunities for daily physical activity and increasing seat time focused on those "academic" subjects targeted for assessment.

Ironically, the reading, writing, math, and communication skills educators would dearly love to see increase will never be realized as long as we persist with the current dualistic perspective of body and mind. Whether we look to the Roman "sound mind, sound body" philosophy, Piaget's recognition that babies both "learn to move" and "move to learn," or our own personal life experiences, it's clear that bodies and minds starved of movement deteriorate.

Not long ago, our schools were most culpable in turning the children who showed up as "happy puppies" in kindergarten into sad old dogs by the time they graduated. Children arrived at our schools from infancy and early childhood where they were used to the joyous movement of unstructured play, only to be swiftly deconditioned by the joyless imperative to sit still. Witness the same relish of these youngsters given the chance to escape outside for recess and free their bodies from the captivity of the typical academic classroom.

Today, sadly many children no longer even arrive at kindergarten as happy puppies. Much earlier, sometimes from birth, they have been conditioned by a continuous diet of television viewing and fast food to a sedentary lifestyle. They no longer want to move. Worsening obesity is merely a symptom of this malaise. The fundamental problem that all educators need to solve is a lack of bodily movement, because this inactivity negatively impacts emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual, and, yes, physical health.

Incarcerate any human, and decline is inevitable. The simple fact is that through thousands or maybe millions of years of evolution, the human body was designed to move. Bones, muscles, and brain cells are nourished and thrive on a diet of physical movement. When the body doesn't move, it declines.

Whether through ignorance or arrogance, in today's schools we've become accustomed to allocating time for our students to move based on an arbitrarily constructed adult prescription. In elementary schools, twice a week physical education for 30 minutes at a time meets most agendas. How absurd can we be? Do adults really believe that they can specify how much movement the young, physically developing body needs to flourish? Little wonder our classrooms are full of children exhibiting behavioral problems, lacking social skills, and unfocused and disinterested in instruction.

In large part, our frustrating struggle to promote academic achievement is the consequence of our dull-witted efforts to inject learning into environments that do their best to preclude learning. But what do we do? We give them more of the same thing. Have them read longer. Make them do more math problems. Eliminate recess. We persist with the mantra "pile on the bookwork and surely they'll learn." This approach will never work with our children, and they deserve much better.

Like us, children perform well when they are healthy and happy, and they are at their happiest when they are moving.

Andrew Miller

Project-Based Learning and Physical Education

Physical education (PE) can be a place where relevant and authentic learning can occur. I think project-based learning (PBL) is one way to not only create this, but to also show others how valuable PE can be. When done well, PBL gives students a relevant and authentic task—a problem or challenge—that they, as a team and as individuals, must explore and solve. Instead of a project that is a curriculum add-on or completed at the end, the standards-based instruction is filtered through this authentic task, which creates a need to know in students. They see why they are learning what they are learning. The students learn and complete the project concurrently, continually revising and producing a product that they will present publicly.

Read more »

Sean Slade

PE Criticism and Responses

This year has seen a lot of debate, scrutiny, and op-eds on and around education. And physical education (PE) has not been absent from this debate. More often than not, it has been those education leaders or commentators who believe that we need to increase our emphasis on standardized testing who have led the criticism of PE, physical activity (PA), and even recess.

For example, Jay Mathews, an educational journalist from The Washington Post, wrote an article in December 2009 denouncing the worth of PE:

The bill's physical education requirements are its worst part—a nifty-sounding reform that many of the District's best principals and teachers will declare one of the dumbest ideas they ever heard.

At the moment, D.C. students from kindergarten through 8th grade have two P.E. periods a week of 45 minutes each. High-schoolers need just a semester and a half of a similar P.E. regime to graduate. The new bill would require every public school student in kindergarten through 5th grade to have 150 minutes of P.E. (30 minutes a day). Sixth- through 8th-graders would be required to take 225 minutes (45 a day).

Why is this a bad idea? Because, as Mathews puts it, it would reduce time—or rather not allow more time to be dedicated—for academics, saying "I know we haven't finished that chapter yet, kids, but hey, it's time for push-ups." Previously, Mathews had followed a similar vein regarding recess where he stated that he "realize[s] most people don't know how poisonous recess can be for urban schools with severe academic needs...."

This year Joel Klein, the former chancellor of New York City's public schools, appeared on the The View. When the conversation turned to the issue of merit pay for teachers, he said, "I have to pay math teachers and science teachers the same as I pay my physical education teachers," a statement that, in context, suggested that math and science teachers should earn more than PE teachers.

Many education leaders spoke out against Klein's comments and in defense of PE and PA, including Paul Roetert, CEO of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance:

We believe, and scientific research supports, that educating the "whole child" is vital to a child's overall academic success. Studies have shown that regular physical activity improves academic performance. The solution to improving our nation's public education system is not to pit one teacher against another by claiming that one is more important than the other, and should thus earn more. The solution is creating an environment that motivates all teachers to be the best they can be, that honors and rewards our outstanding teachers, that improves the status of the teaching profession, and that acknowledges that academic success is built from achievement in all subjects, including physical education.

Charles Basch, a guest on this month's Whole Child Podcast on PE, Recess, and Beyond: The Implications of Movement, outlines many of the beneficial links of PA and health to academic achievement in his outstanding publication Healthier Students Are Better Learners:

If children can't see well, if their eyes do not integrate properly with their brain and motor systems, they will have difficulty acquiring the basic and essential academic skills associated with reading, writing, spelling, and mathematics. If their ability to concentrate, use memory, and make decisions is impeded by ill-nourishment or sedentary lifestyle, if they are distracted by negative feelings, it will be more difficult for them to learn and succeed in school. If their relationships at school with peers and teachers are negative, they will be less likely to be connected with and engaged in school, and therefore less motivated and able to learn. If they are not in school, because of uncontrolled asthma or because they are afraid to travel to or from school, they will miss teaching and learning opportunities. If they drop out, perhaps because they are failing or faltering; or because they are socialized to believe that, even if they complete school, there will be no better opportunities; or because they associate with peers who do not value school; or because they become pregnant and there are no resources in place that enable them to complete school while pregnant and after they have a newborn, it is not likely that they can succeed. If they cannot focus attention and succeed socially, it is unlikely that they will succeed academically. (p. 77)

And, as Basch stated on the podcast, "If you see the goal of schools as trying to help young people grow and develop as healthy people, as well as educated people, then paying attention to physical activity as well as other dimensions of health is an important part of that overall development."

So why do we need PE, PA, and even recess? Is it just about giving students a break from academics? Is it just about developing fitter kids who can then do better on standardized testing? Or are PE and PA key to developing us as whole individuals—socially, emotionally, mentally, and physically as well as cognitively?

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