Monday, December 10, 2012

Processing Sandy

I've hesitated to post this New York Times photograph (of a classroom in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy) because, in doing so, I can't help feeling like a curmudgeon. Why shouldn't teachers act as therapists after kids go through Superstorms?

Along those lines (more fodder for my inner curmudgeon): monthly field trips; movies in the classroom; games. Why shouldn't teachers provide field trips when some kids come from families that don't/can't take them out to museums, zoos, and pumpkin patches? Why shouldn't teachers include fun activities that some kids don't otherwise experience?

But what are our educational priorities? What should concern schools most vis a vis kids whose home environments don't permit movies and field trips? Of all the disadvantages these kids experience, is closing the Field Trip gap really the top priority?

It was Auntie Ann's comment on my last post, and Anonymous' follow-up, that inspired me to go ahead and post this.

Auntie Ann writes:
Our experience is that teachers work to keep kids engaged by making the classroom "fun!" What this means in practice is that the drudgery of homework and practicing a skill repeatedly isn't fun enough for teachers to take the time with, and they shunt those tasks off as homework (or worse, don't assign them at all.)
Anonymous writes:
I teach Middle School English, and I feel tremendous pressure to make all my classes entertaining and fun, often at the expense of learning. No on teachers grammar anymore, mostly because it might actually involve a worksheet (god forbid) or something that kids today find boring.
So here, uncensored, are my immediate reactions to the Times photo. How much time is being wasted here? What makes the teacher think she can act as trauma therapist? And do the kids really want to be "processing" their feelings about Sandy in their 5th grade classroom?


FedUpMom said...

My objection to "making learning fun" is that learning IS fun. Attempts to "make it fun" usually don't have that effect at all; they're usually tedious.

Just teach the subject in the most engaging way possible. That is all.

I agree that therapy is a completely inappropriate use of class time, but I'm inclined to give a pass on field trips to zoos and museums.

Katharine Beals said...

Learning is fun, but based on what Anonymous has written, I'm wondering how many teachers struggle with students who've picked up from the dominant ediculture that pen and paper work can't be fun and expect "fun" instead.
As for monthly field trips, I'd hold off on these until kids are reading, writing, and doing math at grade level-- at least those who are capable of grade level work if given the opportunity.

Katharine Beals said...


Anonymous said...

I've been in museums when school field trips were in progress and I haven't been impressed that the kids are getting much value from the experience. Most simply wander around aimlessly. Some have lists/questions and some have adult guides (chaperons, teachers or docents) but, even a science museums with interactive features, most kids seem to push/pull without any real thought. The exception has been homeschooling families/groups (I've asked the adults what kind of group they were), with advance preparation and specific objectives.

I think that classroom use of a good art DVD series, with appropriate classwork would be a better use of time, particularly for kids who are academically behind. For kids in cities, by 7th grade, they can and should be encouraged to visit local cultural/government/historical site on their own time - writing a report/answering questions on same could be extra credit.

Auntie Ann said...

This also ties in to the studies that show that effective teachers are effective in large part because they have their students spending more time actually on task than less-effective teachers. A fun classroom tends to be distracting, more-chaotic (let's make up a rap!--a recent option at our kids school,) and disjointed. Constantly churning the classroom to go to different stations, or to assemble and reassemble in small groups, or to have the day chopped up into short classroom bursts interspersed with short enrichment classes (not knocking art or science or gym, just the way the day is scheduled into 45 minute or shorter sessions,) leaves less time for tedium to build; less time for skills to build too.

Which then ties into the studies that show having ineffective teachers two years in a row is disastrous for kids, with literally a lifetime of consequences.

No drill-and-kill, because it's boring.

No long periods of concentration, because (come on!) the kids can't handle that; not when they're used to flashing lights, loud noises, and fast visuals. Asking them to actually focus, and working to develop their attention spans and concentration is just boring!

No chalk and talk, because some studies of high school science students show that they learn science better with hands-on experiments; therefore, it must also be true of all other skills, from basic phonics to art history. And besides, lectures are boring!

No corrections on homework and no revisions required, because the kids' tender feelings can't handle criticism and they have a panic attack at the sight of red pen marks on their papers. Besides, revisions are so boring!

Everything about school these days seems to be exactly structured to *not* teach or to *not* allow kids to actually learn anything.

Niels Henrik Abel said...

Regarding the teacher-as-therapist: How is it that they can get away with essentially practicing psychotherapy without a license? Seminars do not a therapist make. Besides, there's entirely too much emphasis on "feeling," and nowhere near enough on "thinking" - note how often people preface their opinions with "I feel..." rather than "I think..."

momof4 said...

My first-grade grandkids missed almost 2 weeks of school, after Sandy, because there was no electricity. My son and DIL are not doing therapy sessions (admittedly, they just lost power); my DIL is acquiring a home copy of the Singapore Math (yes, the school uses Singapore-due to parent pressure)workbook, to make sure the twins make up that time and get plenty of practice. They read to her or my son every day and she just emailed me about sources for grammar and composition work. Even the 4 yo works on academics at home. Actually, the not-yet-2yo also does letters, his name, numbers etc.

NHA: We already have several generations who don't know the difference between "I think" and "I feel"; possibly because schools have abandoned thinking, in favor of feeling.

Allan Folz said...

Our graphic artist's son said it so well I quoted him on our web site, "I hate it when people try to make learning fun. I'd rather just learn."

Kids aren't easily fooled. They know an hour spent talking about the storm is an hour that's not going to be on the test. They'll talk to the teacher about anything they think she wants to hear if it keeps the conversation going until the bell rings.

Allan Folz said...

To clarify, there's a pecking order for what kids would like to do:

1) fun - obviously!

2) learning - it's harder but has its rewards

3) fun, learning - never as fun as real fun without compromises, and seldom as effective as directed instructional learning. It's wasting time they could be having real fun, and they know they'll have to put in yet more time later to accomplish the learning that's expected.

"Talk about your feelings" isn't necessarily fun, but it's an hour which precludes anything that will be "on the test." So, kids will take it.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, we don't know how much time the teacher is spending on this conversation. I do know from experience that if you totally ignore the issue when a community has undergone a traumatic event, students can shut down. This goes back many, many years to the devastating flood in 1955 in Connecticut. All that was needed was an acknowledgement by the school/teachers that many children were having to live their lives differently for a while, and a bit of sympathy. Of course, this was the '50's so there was a good bit of "stiff upper lip," too. Not a bad thing at all.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous - the kids are going to talk (or at least think) about it during class time whether you acknowledge it or not. So spend 15-30 min at the beginning of the first day back in school talking about it, and then move on back to regular school work. Btw, you could even throw some education into the discussion, by discussing how the community could have been better prepared for a storm like that. Sure, it might not be on a test, but it would be useful nonetheless.