Tuesday, December 24, 2013

True Confessions: I Used to Give Kids Finish-like Breaks

An American teacher now working in an elementary school in Finland, via the Diane Ravitch blog, writes about the differences.
Finnish schools often schedule lessons into hour-long blocks: 45 minutes of instruction, 15 minutes of break. Students rarely have back-to-back lessons without breaks—and at the elementary level, it's expected that children will spend their breaks playing outside, rain or shine.... This was a turning point for me. I shifted my approach, and began to notice that the students were more refreshed when they returned to the classroom after frequent but short breaks. The breaks helped children pace themselves.... Back in the States, I remember days when I pushed young students to produce work even when they were clearly dragging their feet. The idea of allowing a break away from the classroom didn't cross my mind. Now I'm convinced that regular breaks help students to stay balanced and sharp throughout the day. 
Back in those ancient days of teachers controlling what they could do in the classroom, when I detected fatigue on the part of the children I would say, "Take a break."What that break entailed was entirely up to them. They were free to move about the room but no running or leaving the room unless they asked. Lights out meant break was over and they were to go to their seats. It wasn't only about detecting their fatigue -- it was about mine too. I tried to be an energetic teacher and when I wasn't my effectiveness went into a dive. So logically, taking a few minutes to recharge made sense -- and one of the things that recharged me was the ability to have kids during the break just come up and chat about anything. And the chats they had with each other resulted in world peace in my classrooms -- kids really got along because of this level of socialization -- and I think they had fun. But I won't get away from the fact that there was time taken away from the learning that is so prevalent today. Does common core standards have room for social interaction?

1 comment:

  1. Your observations are on the mark. Education in the US has become strictly academic. The adjectives of the day are "rigorous," "demanding," Teachers are under surveillance for "keeping kids on task" and so on. Interesting that this doubling down on non-stop academic performance has been cited as having the virtue of developing "grit," the character trait ascribed to John Wayne in a film called "True Grit." The strictly academic ethos is part of a larger and and undisguised effort to make schools less progressive, less "feminized," more keyed to careers, college, and the economic superiority of the nation. Children and their teachers--the majority of them women--are the scapegoats for failed economic and social policies on the left and right.


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