Building a Better School Day

Parade Magazine is a U.S. weekly magazine that’s inserted into hundreds of local newspapers each Sunday. On August 11, their cover story was “7 inspiring ideas for a new and improved 21st-century classroom.” Because I do research as a learning scientist, and I’ve written articles with titles like “The Future of Schooling,” I read this story right away. Parade Magazine got it exactly right with these seven ideas:

  1. Begin the day with breakfast. Only 50 percent of middle schoolers and 36 percent of high schoolers get a regular morning meal, even though nutrition researchers say that breakfast improves cognitive function (Gail C. Rampersand).
  2. Emphasize learning, not testing. Too much of the school day is devoted to test prep, and subjects that don’t appear on state-mandated tests are being dropped from the curriculum (art, foreign language, science, history). (Diane Ravitch, Paul Tough)
  3. Teach 21st century skills. Emphasize long-term projects; use technology to solve problems; make classes multidisciplinary (Will Richardson).
  4. “Flip” the class. Students watch short videos of lectures at home, and then spend class time engaged in interactive labs and discussions.
  5. Say “Yes!” to recess. Taking breaks enhances the effectiveness of learning during the rest of the day.
  6. Get Creative! Creative pursuits engage different parts of learners’ brains, and contributes to problem solving and critical thinking skills.
  7. Go longer-and better. The school day should be expanded to match the long work days of two-career couples–up to ten hours a day (as at Hilton Elementary in Baltimore) but you can’t do the same old-style instruction all that time. The day should include eating, exercising, creative work, as well as core subjects. And one additional benefit: This can close the achievement gap, because affluent students are already getting a broad variety of after-school classes.

Kudos to reporter Michael Brick! I hope this article is widely read.

*Michael Brick, “Building a better school day.” Parade Magazine, August 11, 2013, pages 8-13.

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