Monthly Archives: January 2014

Restorative Breaks

A break from work serves one of two purposes: to invigorate or relax. Students should be engaged in a discussion of which break activities have which effect, and which kind of break students need. Self-awareness precedes self-regulation.

Closing the Gap

I attended a professional development event last night where I was told that it is our moral imperative to close the gap between high and low achieving students. How do we do this?

Let’s say there are two students: Bob and Doug. Both students are in Grade 6. Bob reads at a Grade 8 level, and Doug reads at a Grade 3 level. They are both in the same class, and their teacher does a great job and both student improve their reading level. Now this improvement could either be expressed through multiplication or addition. Let’s say that they both improve by a multiple – 1.5. If that were the case, then the gap between the students also increases by 1.5. Bob would now read at a Grade 12 level and Doug at a Grade 4.5 level. If both student improve by the same percentage the gap increases by the same percentage as well, creating a greater disparity while improving outcomes for both students.┬áIf the improvement was expressed as addition, then both students improve by the same amount and the gap does not change.

I would argue that the regular classroom may be not the place for the gap to be closed, but it is the place for all students. I remember when my sister’s teacher told my mother that my sister was “by far the best reader in her class, but she was confident that the other students would catch up by the end of the year.” My mother was appalled. The teacher had basically said that my sister would not be receiving any instruction that year. Is it fair to hold back or ignore high functioning students to allow the others to catch up? Maybe they should just stay home and watch TV until the others have caught up.

The answer is not, in my opinion, in the regular classroom or in pull-out classes. The answer is in extra instruction outside of the bookends of the school day. We should be looking at using after school classes, weekend classes, summer classes, anything to reach these people without ignoring those who do not need the extra help. Students in Canada attend school about 185 days a year for 5 to 5.3 hours a day. This leaves 10 hours outside of school and sleep, and 180 full days, to find extra time for extra help. We obviously don’t need to use all of it, but even a small percentage would make an enormous difference.

Self Regulation

I have just started reading Calm, Alert, and Learning, Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation by Stuart Shankar (2013). By part way through the first chapter, on the biological domain, I started wondering about how we teach self-regulation. Like many of the most important things taught and learned in schools, self-regulation is not really part of the curriculum. Self-regulation is seldom explicitly taught, except to remediate deficiencies or to respond to observed infractions such as fist fights or habitually incomplete work.

Would explicit instruction in self-regulation help children who struggle to self-regulate? How would such instruction affect students in the middle?

This speculation brings me to a point I have often pondered. Should the implicit curriculum be made explicit? If self-regulation and related skills such as emotional intelligence are more important than IQ in future success, then why are they not part of the curriculum? Arguments could be made that they are, but I can only do so by creatively interpreting a few learning outcomes scattered seemingly randomly in various course outlines. I have heard teachers claim that these types of skills are infused throughout the curriculum, and there is some truth to this claim. However, some parents, students, and even educators argue that the education system should focus on the explicit curriculum. For example, the call to assess learning instead of work completion is justified by the fact that the learning outcomes do not mention completing work. Where is completing work mentioned? Nowhere, really. It’s part of the implied curriculum, just like self-regulation. This does not, to my mind, depreciate the value of work completion or self-regulation. On the contrary, they are so essential that they were considered a given. No one thought to write them down, because they were considered too obvious to bother with.

I would argue that the time has come to make the implicit explicit. We need to talk about the assumptions that underpin the education system, decide which ones are worth keeping, and then make them part of the explicit curriculum.