Britain looks East for better schools

Longer school days and shorter holidays would help British students catch up with  Asian students, Education Secretary Michael Gove said at an education conference in London.

“If you look at the length of the school day in England, the length of the summer holiday, and we compare it to the extra tuition and support that children are receiving elsewhere, then we are fighting or actually running in this global race in a way that ensures that we start with a significant handicap.”

Gove should “know how boring and soul-sapping rote-learning can be,” responds Clarissa Tam, a graduate of Singapore schools.

Does he know how the emphasis on science, maths and IT can turn students into little robots, affecting particularly those of a more creative bent?

. . . The intense pressure to excel means students often study not for the joy of succeeding, but from the fear of failing. In Singapore they have a term for it — kiasu, which means ‘scared to lose’.

And yet, the drive for excellence can be empowering, Tam writes. When she faces challenges, she recalls that “my parents, my teachers, even my schoolmates have always expected more of me than I have of myself.”

I have even, somewhat to my own disgust, come to appreciate the emphasis on the rigour of science and maths, and even on the importance of rote-learning and putting certain things to memory. At the risk of sounding like a headmistress — discipline and structure must be inculcated, whereas creativity is often innate or inborn. Here’s the thing: once you have the structure, you can pile all the artistic sensitivity you like on top, free as you please. But without any proper foundation, all creativity is for naught.

Gove’s “Look East” policy comes at a time when many Asian countries are looking West in search of “inventiveness, originality and lateral thinking,” she writes. Singapore has created arts and drama schools and is “introducing more project- and team-based work as well as teaching formats such as show-and-tell.”

Why so few French kids have ADHD

At least 9 percent of U.S. children are medicated for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, compared to less than .5 percent of French children, writes Marilyn Wedge in Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD in Psychology Today. Wedge is the author of Pills are Not for Preschoolers: A Drug-Free Approach for Troubled Kids. 

While U.S. psychiatrists see ADHD as a biological disorder treatable with drugs, French doctors “look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context.” They try to treat the underlying problem with psychotherapy or family counseling.

In addition, French parents are  more likely than Americans to teach their children to control their behavior.

Pamela Druckerman highlights the divergent parenting styles in her recent book, Bringing up Bébé

. . . From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means “frame” or “structure.” Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. Mealtimes are at four specific times of the day. French children learn to wait patiently for meals, rather than eating snack foods whenever they feel like it. French babies, too, are expected to conform to limits set by parents and not by their crying selves. French parents let their babies “cry it out” if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months.

. . . Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure.

Raised in families where the adults are in charge, French children learn to control their behavior without the need for medications, concludes Wedge.

What’s the most loving thing you can say to your child? According to my husband, the father of three successful adult children, the answer is: “No.”

What do parents want? It depends

Parenting styles vary by education and social class, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. Does it matter? Mathews has been reading Michael Petrilli’s new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma, which cites the research.

A middle-class, college-educated parent of any ethnicity is likely to be like me: Overscheduling children’s free time but preferring innovative instruction and informal discipline at school.

. . . working-class and poor parents of any race are more likely to let their children amuse themselves as they see fit once their homework is done but tend to prefer schools with traditional teaching styles and strong discipline.

University of Pennsylvania sociologist Annette Lareau found “the center of life in middle-class families was the calendar” listing “scheduled, paid, and organized activities for children.”

But despite the forced march to improvement that characterized their children’s free time, those parents tolerated a lot of back-talk and often negotiated with children about what they wanted to do. They preferred teachers who did not give orders but encouraged creativity..

Working-class and poor parents, researchers found, left their children on their own on weekends and summer days but were more likely to set strict behavior rules. Those parents tended to like teachers who were tough and structured.

Middle-class parents think parenting is very important: It’s their job to cultivate their children’s “talents, opinions and skills,” Lareau writes. She contrasts “concerted cultivation” with “natural growth” parenting. Low-income and working-class parents think children develop naturally, if parents provide “comfort, food, shelter, and other basic support.”

Diverse schools face a challenge: If middle class and low-income parents have different expectations, what should principals and teachers do?

Community college students need structure

With weak academic skills and little “college knowledge,” community college students  need structure, block scheduling and better teaching, writes Aspen Institute’s Josh Wyner.

“Student success” courses, also known as College 101, need to improve to have long-term impacts on students’ persistence, concludes a new study.

Instead of rules, set procedures

Don’t spend time and energy establishing and enforcing classroom rules, writes Coach G. Provide  ”clear procedures” that give kids structure. “You can’t do your best at anything if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do.”

The KIPP model goes to college

The City University of New York’s experimental New Community College, which will have more resources, structure and paternalism, resembles the KIPP model for middle schools.

Constructing special ed students

Has constructivism increased the number of special ed students?  Niki Hayes, who’s worked as a special ed teacher, math teacher, counselor and principal, thinks so.

The constructivist classroom doesn’t provide the structure children need — especially those from disadvantaged homes, she writes.

It is students from kindergarten through high school “discovering” their own answers by using manipulatives, working in groups, contriving “real world” problems through “project-based’ activities, moving and talking – a lot — and surviving in a hierarchy of those students who can lead and those who must follow according to their skills.

It is lots of colorful, jazzy pictures in books and on classroom walls that show many different ethnic groups, women, with gender-neutral stories, and with child-directed activities that only require teacher “facilitation.” Children rule the day.

. . . It ridicules practice and repetition as “drill and kill” and believes anything that requires memorization is a waste of time that should be used for “creative” thinking.

. . . It believes that if students are having fun, according to perceived “learning styles,” they will like going to school and they will learn the academics they need to prepare for the world of work.

Taught with constructivist techniques, more children will require special education, Hayes writes. Some will become discipline problems.

No one will ever be able to determine how many hundreds of thousands of children, who came from dysfunctional, even chaotic, home environments and who entered the constructivist classroom with its lack of boundaries, no right or wrong answers, and the expectation to “discover” their own answers, were shuffled from the “feel-good, tolerant, and fun system” into special education programs.

By contrast, children learn when given “explicit, step-driven instruction with consistent consequences of positive results, along with direct teacher support,” Hayes writes.

College students help design classes

Students are helping design classes at McDaniel College in Maryland, reports the Baltimore Sun.

“I think we learned how much they crave structure,” says Gretchen McKay, an art history professor.

“If you just said, ‘Do a 20-page paper and turn it in at the end of the semester,’ they’d be out to sea.”

In response, McKay and her students added checkpoints throughout the semester. Students had to propose ideas for their final papers before spring break. Last week, they had to deliver presentations on their research. They will next turn in drafts several weeks before the finished papers are due.

“I had dropped research papers from some of my classes altogether,” McKay says. “But now, I realize that I just wasn’t doing it in a structured enough way.”

Worried about students who are “academically adrift,” professors are trying to engage students in their own learning.