I was talking with a colleague the other day about how Education in this nation isn’t able to get the job done. I do believe in the idea of rigorous tests as being achievements necessary for promotion to the next level, I don’t like how standardized testing is being used. It’s nice that it gives administration the bragging rights to say, “LOOK AT US! We’ve got a great school. Our teachers can develop kids to pass rigorous testing,” which is essentially a good thing. However, when I look at the grand scheme of things, it just doesn’t operate the way it could.
Wrong Right With This Picture?
Upper Level Administration operates with one underlying goal. Test Scores. They may honestly have an innovative VISION or try to downplay their focus towards testing, but there is always goals written for students’ test scores in the District Improvement Plan (DIP), Campus Improvement Plan (CIP) or School Improvement Plan (SIP). These plans place the majority of their emphasis on test scores. The plans are ESSENTIAL for government funding for schools, but uses our brains against us. Yes. You read that correctly. The government is using our brains against us. I’ll show you how.
Which phrase feels more natural for you: “Whats wrong with this picture?” or “What’s right with this picture?”
Administration is geared to answer both of these questions. Unfortunately, our emotional and analytical mind can’t fight off the urge to predominantly try to solve the question in red more often than the question in green. We feel that we need to focus our efforts on fixing what is broken rather than duplicating what is working. Therefore, pressure from above is filtered through the school. It’s all with good intentions to maintain accountability and retain high quality employees, but it’s still the wrong kind of pressure.
What’s the right kind of pressure? The right kind of pressure is going outside the educational and government fields (which are both so incredibly fixated on what is going wrong), and start researching areas that are focussed on what is going right.
We now have so much more understanding about how the brain works with decades of research in Neuroscience. Much like premiere athletes have learned to take a specific regiment of supplements in order to perform at the absolute pinnacle, schools need to structure the school day for the brain to perform at its peak. Here is how I would structure the school day.
Exercise short and often. The classic specific gym time for kids needs to change from one class period to more frequent short bursts of exercise throughout the day. Gym teachers will need to change their role from teaching students to teaching teachers. I see the gym teacher more as a facilitator and planner for the activities each teacher will have to lead as the day goes on.
Longer School Days. The student day will be 9 hours long yet only 4 days a week. Teachers will work the 5th day for the resulting 4 hours of their 40 hour work week. During this time they meet with their teammates and administration to focus on what they are doing right and how they can replicate it.
Short Lessons Multiple Times. Lessons will be no longer than 20 minutes, but each subject will get 3 to 4 lessons each day.
Nap Time. Everyone gets a nap time. Teachers included. You may laugh at the thought, but I ask that you truly consider it. Studies have proven that our brain uses sleep to cognitively reteach all of the learning you’ve undertaken in that day. Your brain solidifies the new ideas and thoughts that you’ve learned earlier that day.
Trimesters. There is too long of a gap placed between the end of the school year and the beginning of the school year. We need to disperse the vacation days throughout the traditional school year. Here is a hypothetical solution.
1st trimester: September, October, November with December Vacation
2nd trimester: January, February, March, with April vacation
3rd trimester: May, June, July, with August vacation (state testing in early June. Students may retake in early August)
About My Solution
Notice how I didn’t try to abolish testing. No. Like I stated before, I believe testing is important for promotion and assessing the cognitive development of the student. I rather focussed on what has been proven to work. Longer days with shorter lessons with frequent breaks for physical activity and napping just applies to the research from John Medina’s book 12 Brain Rules. Breaking up the summer vacation into 3 separate vacations spread out through the year also creates less gaps between structured learning. This was also described in Medina’s work. I didn’t say that teacher’s methods are poor. I believe the teaching methods have strong backgrounds in research as well. I’m just changing the structure of the school day and it’s frequency, not the content.
Will it work?
I don’t know. I sure would love to find out. Great businesses create a testing site to see if the idea would work. Walmart and Best Buy both tweaked their store model and tested the results before scaling it throughout. Our government and school systems need to start acting like a business. They need to create a program that tests and implement these ideas into standard practice. There is empirical evidence that supports these ideas.