No Child Left Bored

Teaching would be still be damn hard if every student in every classroom read, wrote, and solved for x at the exact same grade level. Curriculum, interpersonal, and time management challenges would still overwhelm at times.

But of course classrooms almost always have some students who are either well behind or ahead of their peers, making teaching especially tough.

In the United States, in the last decade, political, business, and other opinion leaders have realized that the U.S. will be at a serious disadvantage in the global economy if a third of young people drop out of school only partially literate. Through initiatives like No Child Left Behind more attention has been paid to struggling students.

Even if the “No Child Left Behind” rationale is more utilitarian than humanitarian, that curricular emphasis is long overdue, but it’s also important to think about strong students who don’t find school interesting or challenging enough. It’s time for a “No Child Left Bored” campaign.

Conventional wisdom on how to prevent school boredom—go faster—is wrong. In “No Child Left Bored” classrooms teachers would routinely include an enrichment activity or “extension” in every lesson or homework assignment. These enrichment activities or extensions wouldn’t require more time, just deeper thinking. Here are some examples:

• A Pacific Northwest middle school science lesson on the water cycle, how to test for water quality, and how sewer run-off impacts Puget Sound waterways. The extension is an in-class discussion or outside-of-class research writing assignment. Should dams be removed for the sake of salmon populations? Why or why not?

• A high school civics class on the U.S. electoral college. Homework is to watch one of the Presidential or Vice-Presidential debates and then answer a few questions about it. The extension is a homework option intended to take the same amount of time as the debate questions. In life we often learn the hard way that the way we say something is sometimes even more important that what we say. Put differently, style sometimes trumps substance. Offer a theory about the relationship between style and substance using examples from the debate, and if possible, your own life. Be sure to explain whether one is more important than the other or whether they’re equally influential.

•A second grade art lesson is in essence a review of primary and secondary colors. Students practice mixing primary water colors to make secondary ones. The extension is a discussion about whether artists should paint what people might want to buy or whatever they want. How important is money?

Leave no child bored by asking students of all ages more open-ended questions that are usually thought of as “adult” questions. Questions that reasonable people disagree about. Questions that adults haven’t figured out. Conceptual questions. Questions that make your head hurt. In a good way.

One Size Fits None

A warm welcome to DCRainmaker readers who are pouring in as a result of Ray linking to my recent “Where’s the Romance?” post. My most read post of all time, by a considerable margin, is one titled “School Mission Statements”. Do a Google search for “school mission statements” and it’s the fourth link, but whose counting? Ray gets 6,000 hits a day, a little more than me. If yesterday’s record uptick in readership continues for very long, “Where’s the Romance?” may give “School Mission Statements” a run for its money.

Now back to regular programming.

Read an interesting swimming article recently that detailed the different mindset of sprinters. Even elite Olympic caliber sprinters don’t like training and get bored extremely quickly. (Was that the rare double adverb? Is that legal? Shouldn’t I know that?) The ability to adapt to differences and individualize one’s coaching, teaching, campaigning, and sales pitches often distinguishes swim coaches, teachers, politicians, and salespeople as particularly excellent.

In teaching it’s referred to as curriculum differentiation. Curriculum differentiation occurs when a teacher adjusts his/her lesson plan so that it meets the needs of all students.

Amazingly, nearly all of the car salespeople I’ve interacted with seem to be reading from the same script. None of them have successfully read me. If they had, they’d bypass the small talk about what I do for a living and my family which I can’t stand and focus exclusively on the car’s features (which they often are unable to do very well).

The high school coach that I help and I sometimes get frustrated with some girls that don’t practice very hard. They sleep-swim, stop to adjust caps and goggles, stretch their shoulders, go to the bathroom during main sets, and in some cases miss practice altogether. But now that I think about it, they tend to be the sprinters. Their natural tendencies and our workouts are misaligned. They’ll probably never embrace the process, or the long, sometimes monotonous and always tiring rhythms of distance training.

If I’m ever a head coach, I think I’ll design three different workouts—a sprint one, a distance one, and a distance-lite one. The sprint workout, which will emphasize intensity and variety, will last about 60% as long as the others. Instead of coasting for ninety minutes, they’ll go real hard for 50 minutes.