Thursday, March 12, 2009

does doing it longer = doing it better?

in his recent education speech the president mentioned that we need to get rid of the agrarian calendar- keep students in school all year and have longer school days. in truth, for my kids at my school, this is exactly what i think we need. i strongly believe in the year-round model and know that it has made an incredible difference in our children's abilities. and longer school days? at first i hated the idea, but the one thing teachers complain about is time- we never have enough time to teach anything, so yes, we could use a longer day (of course, you'd need to pay us for that time though). can you imagine the skills we could teach? the projects we could do??

but, as assorted stuff pointed out when he wrote about the kipp program- is doing the same thing for longer really that much better? isn't it better to teach it right the first time- teach well and in depth instead of just using the same plan that only kind of works and just spreading it out. like taking silly putty and just pulling to see how far you can stretch it.

i'm one of 5 teachers at my school on an extended contract. i get paid to teach "math club" two mornings a week to struggling third graders. the kids of course think they are the luckiest ducks in the world and don't realize they were hand selected because of their low math scores. it's only 10 kids and we focus on basic skills- addition and subtraction facts- the foundations to math that these children will need to be successful with the more complex concepts. so i do think the longer day helps them. but it's not the mere fact that they are in school longer that is going to help. it's the specified instruction that matches their needs. it's a much smaller group than their normal classroom- they are all about at the same ability level and i can monitor their progress and develop curriculum specifically for them. if one girl needs to work on telling time to the half hour for a month we can do that while the others are working on their specific goals.

but there are children who do not need a longer school day, or who actually learn more from getting out of school early and being able to enjoy other aspects of life- sports teams, music lessons, theater groups, art lessons (all those elements we've had to limit in schools because of nclb). that doesn't mean my math club kiddos don't need math club- it just means every child needs something different.

my school's population benefits from year-round schooling. they are learning english, they have limited opportunities at home, and at school we provide at least 2 meals a day. but there are some schools where children would not benefit from a year-round system. i personally learned more from my month long all girls summer camp where we lived in tents, shot guns, and paddled canoes (i heart camp alleghany!) than i ever would have in the classroom. and everything i learned from the swim team summers, nature camp, or the art projects my brothers and i would cook up in our cool basement on hot summer days. (besides, i didn't like school. i had a happy kid when i was playing in the woods and writing stories with my friends, but i may have curled up and died if i had to spend any more hours in school- doing work i could already do)

i worry that president obama's plan is going to do to education what bush did to education- create a one-size-fits-all model that doesn't take into account the needs of the students. i know i sound libertarian (or-gasp-republican) but i think it should be the decision of the school board. i love that in my huge school system they acknowledged that our schools were different and let 7 schools go year-round while the others stayed with the traditional calendar.

children are different, families are different, and communities are different. yes, personally, please give us a longer school day and a longer school year. let us have those kids in our rooms more than we do now. give me more time.

but don't make other schools go more if they don't need to. let them have other alternatives. let them decide for themselves the best way to meet their populations' needs.


Cathy said...

Very well put! We need you in the department of education. But then, your kids need you in the classroom. CSL

Anonymous said...

It comes down to quantity vs. quality. My husband correlates it to writing a paper. You could write a 10 page paper with a bunch of extra "fluff" in it that doesn't mean or do anything or you could write a meaningful, quality paper in 1 page. Longer doesn't always = better.

Anonymous said...

I voted for Obama but don't agree with this concept of putting children in school for longer days, year round.
Childhood is short and it should be savored and enjoyed. What would summer be without riding bikes, playing at the park, going swimming, ect. There is so much of a different kind of learning that happens when kids are not in school. We shouldn't be robbing them of that.
Yes, I agree that for some students, it can be helpful, but that is why there are special programs and summer school- if we build on those programs the needs of those children can still be met.