Tuesday, September 11, 2012

When the school yard enters the classroom

A recent parent survey reported on by Reuters finds that nearly half of teenagers with autism are bullied at school. Particularly affected are those mainstreamed into regular classrooms.

The study's authors suggest that schools need to target their anti-bullying campaigns more towards the AS population. Bullying researcher Debra J. Pepler adds that classes should create"circles of support," which, quoting Reuters, "are groups of children who are educated about a student's condition and able to provide help and support." Pepler also told Reuters that classrooms should set the expecation "that everyone has the right to be safe, and just because someone is different doesn't mean it's OK to make fun of them or bully them."

One remedy no one mentions is reducing the amount of time kids spent working in classroom groups.

Indeed, as I've argued here and in my book, no teacher, even the best multitasker, can supervise multiple groups simultaneously, and the more collective control kids have in the classroom, the more school yard dynamics creep in. (I say "collective control" to distinguish what I'm talking about from the sort of individualized control you'd get if you instead allowed independent, self-paced learning).

A friend of mine just told me about how her son's 2nd grade teacher invited the kids to vote on who would get which of several end-of-year-awards. My friend's son, an avid reader, was awarded the "bookworm" award. When his classmates made the negative connotations of "bookworm" clear to him, he felt so bad that he lost interest in reading for pleasure. It took his mother some effort to undo the damage of what to the teacher had probably seemed like a wonderful way to let students "take ownership" of their classroom.


Paul Bruno said...

I agree about reducing group work time, but in fairness to teachers I know that I personally find science lab groups pretty unavoidable.

I've also had similarly negative experiences with "restorative justice circles", during which students are allowed to share - or not share - more or less anything they want. This mostly resulted in socially dominant students dominating yet another school context at the expense of others.

Happy Elf Mom said...

Science lab groups in high school are way different from forming little groups of four kids all over the classroom and asking them to debate the best way to add 3 + 7.

It would be nice if they got rid of all pep assemblies and fundraising assemblies, and pretesting assemblies too. Just a side thought.

Auntie Ann said...

To our continued disbelief, our school filmed a math lesson in which a student was called up to do a fairly simple division problem. The kid chosen to be put on the spot was one of the poorer students in the class. When he botched the answer, the teacher turned to the class and had them vote on whether he was right or not. "Who thinks Carl is right?" could just as easily have been "Who thinks Carl is an idiot?"

They then took the video and posted it on their school website for all the world to see.

If I'd been the kid's parent, I would have been furious.

And that's not to mention that a simple math problem is not open to differences of opinion, and that voting is a stupid way to discuss a math problems in general.

Auntie Ann said...

HEM: Exactly.

If you do a google scholar search for "project based learning" (one of the current enthusiasms of the educational establishment,) what you find are studies of science classrooms in high school or higher where it has been successful.

But to say that, since it works there, it must work everywhere, is pure idiocy. Secondary and post-secondary students should already have the basics of the 3-R's down. To impose project-based and constructivist ed on kids who are still learning to multiply is crazy.

lgm said...

Until the sociopaths are removed from the mainstreamed classroom, and the cliques broken up, bullying will continue, whether the target is autistic or not.