Visiting elementary schools, cognitive scientist Dan Willingham meets eager first graders. By sixth grade, some students have turned off and tuned out. “They see school as a place where they fail and are made to feel ashamed,” he writes on Answer Sheet. What happened?
Language arts dominates the school day. A struggling reader gets little respite from “something that is unpleasant, unrewarding, and at which he feels a failure.”
Suppose that student would really like science, or history. He won’t know that, because the average third grader spends only about 6% of their academic time on each of those subjects.
A broad curriculum in early elementary school supports reading comprehension in later grades, Willingham argues. It also maximizes “the chances that students will find school engaging and rewarding.”