Much of our current educational system maintains the late 19th- and early 20th-century methods that build it. At that time, students learned the basics, preparing them for urban life which translated into a job in a factory. The industrial model became more efficient by standardization, which then emerged in the schools. Better students became better workers and citizens. This common goal meant that all students were taught the same thing in the same way.
Today we are faced with a new revolution, one where massive amounts of data are becoming the key feature. This flood of data is improving the industry in ways that the people of the early 20th century could not dream. It is leading to the personalization of many sectors, with Netflix and Amazon being two significant examples. Both of these platforms utilize data from the people using them to customize their experiences. Such data collection now affects every aspect of life in the 21st century, including education.
With computers being used more and more frequently in the classroom, it is becoming more feasible to gather data about how students learn best. This data comes from both the programs the students are interacting with and the observations of teachers in the classroom. Many educational management systems, like Google Classroom and Blackboard, allow teachers to see how often students communicate. Other programs adapt to what students are learning, and how fast they are learning the subject matter.
These technologies provide data that educators can use. This data can be recorded, stored, and used by teachers in future classes to develop plans that adapt to student learning needs. Not only can they adapt to the pace, but they can also adapt to topics that students find more engaging. On a larger scale, districts can use this information to see what curriculum is effective, and what is not. This can help them keep what the students are learning more relevant, and therefore keep them more engaged.
On a larger scale, data collection improves when students learn. There is an experiment going on in California right now that pushes the edges of how data can impact student learning. Information gathers via through Fitbits, cameras, and a variety of other tracking mechanisms and uploaded to a cloud. There, engineers access the data, analyze it, and report it back to the school. Should we teach math before or after lunch? How can we address the restlessness in class that happens at 10 AM every day? These are questions they are trying to solve to see if they can create the ultimate in customization of the educational experience.
Gathering information plays a big part in the Kids Read Now program. The data we collect helps districts see who is participating during the summer, what they are reading, and how that reading affects their test scores. What we have provided shows the impact of our program over time on students and on their ability to read.
The amount of data in a classroom is vast. Utilizing data to improve educational outcomes is being explored at the dawn of the 21st century. Much like industry affected the 20th-century class, data and customization are impacting education in the 21st century. Not only will the collection and customization of data improve state and federal educational metrics, these processes also will optimize the learning experiences for students. The information is all there, just waiting for schools to use.
Homework was not always a staple of a student’s’ life. Until the 1950s, homework felt to be an unnecessary burden on school children. When they left school, it was time for chores on the farm or around the home. It was not until the Cold War, when there was a fear of falling behind the Russians, that a fresh emphasis on homework reignited. We needed to keep our educational edge.
Over the last decade, educators have been examining the wisdom of giving students hours worth of homework every night. A rule developed suggesting ten minutes of homework for every grade the student was in. So a second grader would have twenty minutes of homework, while middle school students would have over an hour of work to do when they got home. This “10-Minute Rule”, while not an exact science, is a rule of thumb that many schools and school districts have adopted.
Homework at a young age can be a critical step in turning your child into a lifelong learner, but homework amounts can cause negative results. Too much homework can be intimidating to a new learner, driving them away from school and learning. Too little and they are not stimulated enough to want to learn outside of school. The National Education Association (NEA) goes by guidelines suggested by Harris Cooper: ten to twenty minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional ten minutes per grade. This research is where the 10-Minute Rule developed.
This rule works in multiple ways. The first way is keeping a definite time for children to explore. Studies show that the further children get in their school careers, the more homework becomes a benefit to them. Before third grade, most children cannot learn outside lessons from their homework. They can do it and understand what they do, but they cannot fully apply it. As students start to read to learn, a love of reading becomes essential. Younger students, however, do most of their learning by playing and exploring the world around them. Small amounts of homework benefit students at this age, as long as it does not interfere with their exploration of the world.
Homework at a younger age puts stress on parents as well. Older students that have developed more critical thinking skills can answer the questions on their own. Younger students do not always have that ability, and may struggle with assignments. This puts some of the onus for educating them on the parents. This can add stress to the parents, especially if they have busy lives.
Younger students’ benefits from homework are much different than older students. The repetition and reinforcement of the lessons they are learning in school are the primary reasons for elementary school students’ homework. Homework for younger students is a way to allow parents to see what they are learning in school. As parents help their young children, they can look at the lessons and can reinforce them at home. The children also are starting to understand the necessity of doing schoolwork at home. This is a valuable lesson as they move through their education.
Though the pendulum of how much homework to give students will always swing, we have discovered that homework is an essential tool for students’ growth. It teaches them more than what it is on the paper. It helps them with discipline, reinforces what they are learning in school, and builds them into better learners.
The summer slide is starting this week for most Ohio students.
But it’s not the slippery steel slope kids enjoy on the playground. It’s the downward slide of skills, especially reading skills, that affects all children when they stop learning.
They start sliding backward. Children can lose two to three months in reading skills over the summer. The drop is especially pernicious for kids in K-3 grades who must learn to read so they are better prepared in fourth grade to read to learn.
The longer summer lasts, the more most children slide, and disadvantaged children are sentenced to the steepest downward slope, lacking the adult-led interactions and nontraditional, but effective learning opportunities that their well-off peers experience.
These opportunities include frequent reading with a parent, weekly trips to libraries, and the availability of dozens or hundreds of books in the home.
Thanks in large part to the summer slide, fewer than 40% of Ohio fourth graders are proficient in reading.
Sadly, the Ohio state legislature will soon debate a new bill designed to make the problem worse.
Introduced by a senator from Lorain County, the bill will greatly benefit Cedar Point and Kings Island amusement parks, which are dependent upon high school students for summer help. The bill will allow students still in high school to extend their availability to work beyond the end of summer. This will allow families to continue spending money at the parks into September.
Setting up the milk bottles at the arcade or hawking cotton candy might be a good summer gig. However, the ramifications of extending a student’s availability to work such a job — and extending the summer break which causes students to fall further behind in learning — may result in this being the only “career” that student can aspire to.
The introduction of this bill would only make the summer slide more closely resemble the steep drops at the Cedar Point roller coasters.
P.S. I’m visiting Germany and Austria this week, where reading skills are much higher. And summer break is only six weeks long.
In the middle of the summer, it can be difficult to keep children motivated to read. There are pools to play in, friends running up and down the street, and for many, little desire to be reading anything.
School is not for another month, and there is not a scrap of homework in sight. They have a small stack of colorful and exciting books to read, and even more of them will be coming as they finish each one. Without the motivation of assignments or encouragement of teachers, reading over the summer could fall the wayside.
There are multiple ways to keep students motivated to read over the summer. These tips are just as valuable during the school year as well, encouraging students to read for pleasure as well as for homework and information.
- Create a fun environment – Getting children to do something they do not want to could be a labor worthy of Hercules. Creating a fun reading environment will make them want to read, not force them to read. Instead of external motivation, they become internally motivated, making it more likely they will grab a book as a fun activity.
- Give them choices – Allowing children to have say in the books they read and when they read them gives them control. Children that are interested in a topic will spend hours exploring it. Providing books on that subject strengthen the association that books are for more than homework.
- Discuss what they are reading – As children approach preschool ages (three to five years old), they are starting to develop their standards and communication skills. The books they are reading are perfect opportunities to allow them to practice discussing with you about a topic they enjoy.
- Set attainable expectations – Children, despite what we may think, can be reasonable. Giving them specific goals, with specific rewards, is a way to encourage them to be motivated. Go the extra mile and make them visible. Make a chart where they can color in a box or add a sticker when they complete a book. These visual reminders allow them to see where they are in relation to their goal.
- Always be encouraging – When a child sits and reads, or discusses their reading, give them positive encouragement. Support from teachers and parents builds confidence in the task they are performing. Even when they do not perform to a high level, encourage them to try again and congratulate them for the work they put in will go a long way in their eyes.
Summer reading does more than preventing the summer slide. It is an opportunity to build their love of reading outside an environment where reading is required. Maintaining the momentum of reading through the summer will help students find an appreciation for reading they may not discover elsewhere.
John Chapman was born just before the start of the American Revolution in 1774. His father was a soldier as well as a farmer, passing his wisdom to his son. John was attracted to planting orchards and set off on his own to start planting orchards through the land. Partially because he loved to work the land, but he claimed a good deal of property as well. On the frontier, if you planted fifty apple trees, you could claim the area. John owned over 1,200 acres of land doing this through five states, earning him the nickname Johnny Appleseed. He patiently developed the land he claimed, selling most of it to settlers as they moved out west. The seeds Johnny planted and quietly cultivated gave Americans a hardy apple they could call their own. The seed was the key; had he used other methods, the final result may not have been as robust or enduring.
Spending time reading with your child builds more than just literacy; it builds a love of learning.
Like Johnny discovered, focusing on development in the early stages of the process helps to develop more balanced outputs. There has been a growing movement in the country to focus more resources on early education, learning from preschool through third grade. These years are considered some of the most critical in the development of young learners. In a study done at the Perry Preschool by HighScope, there were significant benefits shown to early education. Beginning a student’s educational journey as young as age three can help increase their chances to graduate college, earn more over the course of their life, and avoid trouble with the law.
There are no barriers for starting to teach children early. Playing educational games at home or just reading to children during the day can help with a child’s development. Even parents with busy schedules can find short periods of time to read with their children or incorporate learning into daily activities. A study done by Rhode Island Hospital saw that reading to children as young as eight months old can improve their vocabulary and love of reading. Spending time reading with your child builds more than just literacy; it encourages a love of learning.
Teachers that work with younger students observe other benefits from early education. It improves attention span and concentration, two skills that are critical in learning as we go through school. It relates learning to a pleasurable experience, which in turn makes school that much more alluring. It will give your child the confidence they need to acquire new lessons and explore for themselves. And children like to copy what their elders are doing. If they see parents and grandparents reading at home, it is more likely they will want to learn to read as well. Books also expose children to a wider vocabulary than most adults use with toddlers and kindergarteners.
If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people. – Confucius
Johnny Appleseed nurtured his orchards until they were ready to sell to fresh-faced settlers heading west. It was a combination of his efforts while the trees were young and the new owner’s efforts to maintain and improve the crop that gave us the apples we have today. Kids Read Now, through encouraging students to learn at home at a young age, offers parents a low maintenance way to help children develop essential learning skills. Skills that will create lifelong learners and help give them opportunities to thrive in their education.