Elementary, My Dear Watson?
March 16, 2010 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Pressure on Children, Social Action · Permalink

Sherlock_HolmesPresident Obama is focused on supporting reforms in our educational system, but what if these reforms are based on faulty assumptions?  Susan Engel, head of the teaching program at Williams College, writes a simple, straightforward recipe for elementary education in her Op-Ed Play to Learn.

She argues that, based on developmental research, children should not be forced to accomplish the “laundry list” of tasks now present in many classrooms.  Instead, they should be immersed in language and literacy, collaboration and experimentation and steeped in play. Our current focus on early academics, testing, testing, and more testing is not what sets children up to be great learners in middle and high school. On the contrary, present day curriculum “is strangling children and teachers alike.”

“In this classroom, children would spend two hours each day hearing stories read aloud, reading aloud themselves, telling stories to one another and reading on their own. After all, the first step to literacy is simply being immersed, through conversation and storytelling, in a reading environment; the second is to read a lot and often. A school day where every child is given ample opportunities to read and discuss books would give teachers more time to help those students who need more instruction in order to become good readers.

Children would also spend an hour a day writing things that have actual meaning to them — stories, newspaper articles, captions for cartoons, letters to one another. People write best when they use writing to think and to communicate, rather than to get a good grade.

In our theoretical classroom, children would also spend a short period of time each day practicing computation — adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Once children are proficient in those basics they would be free to turn to other activities that are equally essential for math and science: devising original experiments, observing the natural world and counting things, whether they be words, events or people. These are all activities children naturally love, if given a chance to do them in a genuine way.”

Parents need to push their schools, Boards of Education and their representatives in government to change the direction of our educational system. Let’s put our focus and our money, not on propping up a broken system, but toward creating a new one that supports how children learn best.

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