Friday, April 07, 2006

Winners and losers at school.

  Posted by Picasa Our Sunday paper had an article about why some students do well at school. Forgetting for the moment that many secondary schools are not suited for many students, until they change, success in them is still important.

The Competent Children study, now in it’s thirteenth year, led by the NZ Council for Educational Research’s Dr Cathy Wylie, ‘breaks new ground in solving the mystery of why some kids do better than others.’

The research givers a big tick to the middle class parents obsession for providing their children out of school experiences – music, dance and sports etc. The research shows that children with diverse and challenging out-of-school experiences are building important qualities such as perseverance and self management. ‘What you do out of school is really important to how you approach school and the kind of knowledge that you’re bringing in’, Wylie says. ‘These activities involve persistence, and they have goals. It’s about firing on all cylinders.’

The warning in the research is about students who do little but immerse themselves in electronic gaming. These children, it seems are heading for trouble, academically and socially. Such activities are not a worry if children have other interests as well.

Children at 14 are beginning to become divided into two groups, those that look like they will do well in life, and those that will not. Two thirds of them are engaged in school and the others find the experiences less than engaging. There are a lot of reasons for student’s success at school: parental expectations and support, early childhood education, exposure to reading at home. These of course are more likely in affluent middle class homes.

Unfortunately for many students without such experiences school must be like going into another world.

The research found that at fourteen the 'all rounders', taking part in the arts and sports activities, were also doing well in their learning and in their social and communication skills.

What the research is saying is that it is important for kids to have experiences that get them to use language, or that challenge them, so they don’t just take their own world for granted. ‘They are trying to master something’, Wylie says. Such kids were ‘topping up communication abilities, curiosity, self management and social skills.’

At the other extreme were the children who said either that electronic games were their main interest or that they had no interest, or spent too long watching TV; about a quarter of the students. Such students were more likely to not to enjoy reading and to be at risk of disengagement from school. The time to worry is when electronic gaming becomes all-absorbing - when there is nothing else.

Parents need to provide rich experiences for children and this not need to be expensive options. Taking children tramping or fishing, going for a walk, or giving children responsibity around the home, or encouraging a hobby, a sport, and drama – anything that challenges children and encourages them to articulate their thoughts, to enter into conversations, and develop social and other skills.

‘Boredom is the big sign if my kid is monosyllabic and I can’t see anything deeply intriguing them, there is something not right’, says Dr Wylie.

‘Unfortunately there are homes where you realize there is very little use of language going on’ and she continues, ‘those kids are so disadvantaged’. Learning how to have conversations with children, reading to them, and to encourage children’s interests are a start but it is hard to compete with the electronic universe of monsters, heroes and villains and exciting computer games.

Changing such habits will not be easy.

Wylie said, ‘the research raised questions about how to enrich the lives of students from children of the poorest backgrounds. If their homes did not provide enough enrichment maybe society should.’ She suggested decile 1 and 2 schools be given resources to offer extra activities, such as drama productions or music lessons.

Schools would welcome this as Wylie’s research found children of low decile schools much less engaged and less confident and often such students disrupt others who are ready to learn.

It is not as simple as saying teachers should have higher expectations . In these schools teaching and learning was a lot harder as students in such school are easily bored and easily distracted ;and they enter with less motivation and without adequate literacy and numeracy skills. And as the work got harder they struggled Wylie says.

The strongest message to come form the research, Wylie said, was that no child was preordained to turn out one way or the other. ‘That gives parents and teachers ground for hope- and also continuing responsibility.’

It would be great if schools were to place all their efforts towards building a learning environment that exposed all their students to a range of creative and physical activities.If this were done the teachers role would be to tap into, and amplify, the interests and passions of all students, and to do this in concert with the parents and the wider community.

To engage all students schools would have to change dramatically – particularly those catering for students at the age of 14!


Anonymous said...

Really like the idea of giving low decile schools support to allow their children to be exposed to a wide range of experiences. If these involved their parents as well it would be even better.

Anonymous said...

The efforts required to do the things in school simply to meet the demands of NCEA etc when coupled with the increased risk to Teachers when they take kids out from school into oudoor pursuits etc and the huge amount of paper work required for risk management etc etc means more and more Teachers unwilling to take on the task. I have been on several year 13 camps with up to 125 young adults in a situation of camping and cooking in the open. The students do a lot of hard work on all their skills and learn new things. So do the Teachers.The students never forget these trips and regard them as a highlite in the school year They learn cooking in teams, canoeing Tramping, bush craft, trust etc but mostly they learn about themselves and the relationship with others. They even learn the names of other students in their form as it is so large even the yr 13s don't know each other! This is perhaps one of the most important things they do at School but it is undervalued by the State.

Bruce said...

You are so right. The very things students need are programmes such as you outline at all levels but if all the compliance requirements get in the way teachers will get sick of doing such great things.

And you are also right to say it is such experiences that remain in student's minds as memorable events.

There must be a way to sort this out?

Anonymous said...

Schools that value the 'voice' and experience of children as the basis for all learning would help.