Helping Students Learn

(Today I've been weeding through over 120 emails containing great websites to check out from my Diigo Groups.  I ended up reading several blogs and articles that are mulling around in my brain today.  I'm trying to articulate a huge concern I feel growing as a parent & educator.)

I can see a big circle developing that is scary to think about:  as we pile more and more "stuff" on our children, somehow we are losing the essentials...

Importance of Character Education - specifically performance character traits not moral character traits - are a greater predictor of a student's success in life than other factors such as IQ.  A couple points from the article What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? that hit home with me:
  • "measures of self-control can be a more reliable predictor of students’ grade-point averages than their I.Q.’s"
  • "People who accomplished great things, often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take."
Importance of Physical Play -  As requirements increase, the chance for play decreases.  Yet research shows the importance of play on many levels.  Concerning physical activity, the Centers for Disease Control released the publication The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance in 2010 that looked at a variety of independent research article and reports concerning physical activity and school performance.  Some key finding:
  • "There is substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement (including grades and standardized test scores)."
  • "The articles in this review suggest that physical activity can have an impact on cognitive skills and attitudes and academic behavior, all of which are important components of improved academic performance. These include enhanced concentration and attention as well as improved classroom behavior."
The spark back to that study was watching PBS Need to Know: A physical education (8 1/2 minute video).  Of course, this also has a huge impact on the issue of the growing number of children whom are headed towards obesity at an early age.

Imaginative Play - Beyond the physical activity, for imaginative play is also important.  The article The Case for Play talks about some of the positives of pretend play for children
  • "students in the play-based school scored better on cognitive flexibility, self-control, and working memory—attributes of 'executive function,' which has been consistently linked to academic achievement"
  • "Play is steadily losing out to what play proponents refer to as the 'drill and kill' method." 
  • "when young children are pretending, they often use bigger words than they normally would and fully inhabit their roles."
Importance of Sleep - Sleep is a factor often overlooked by schools that they do have an influence over. Is this important?  According to Can a Lack of Sleep Set Back Your Child's Cognitive Abilities? losing even less than an hours worth of sleep can have a huge negative impact on a student. 

As a parent, I struggle over how to prioritize activities at home so that my children can lead healthy, active, productive AND content lives.  It is confirmation for me that their time away from school NEEDS to be time away from school, and bedtime needs to be bedtime.  It makes me wish more teachers would read So Much Homework - Connected Principal to think of alternative and more meaningful ways to give homework.

As an educator, I struggle with the knowledge that schools are being forced into a position where they cannot incorporate the idea of the child as a whole into their buildings, but only as an intellectual being that needs to perform on high-stakes tests that have no bearing on life.  It is not a far stretch for me to see how "raising the bar" of expectations is actually putting into place systems that negate the importance of a student being a person.  How sad.

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