Monday, March 9, 2009

What some research tells us...

There were two news items in the media today.  The first is that children need more physical activities.  In fact a couple of days ago, an editorial (somewhere--I'm sorry I forgot to save it) said that we need to keep recess in our schools because of the need to exercise.  Anyway, the research over the past fifty years has been that children who exercise in some manner do better on the 3 Rs.  I think I could write a book reviewing all the research programs about kids and physical play. It pretty much says that if children get enough physical movement that they will do better in the academic subjects.  Okay, let's generalize a bit.  Something about moving about with abandon seems to do something in the brain that allows the transmitters to do more work.  Perhaps more blood is available to the brain, maybe more oxygen.  Whatever, something seems to happen in the brain because of the exercise. That is a generalization so I caution you about the cause and effect stuff.  With me?

The second bit of news is that schools are having a hard time making their budgets.  Although the number of children has not dropped, the budget has.  Therefore what you see happening is that certain teachers will be laid off.   Some staff and perhaps an administrator or two will also go in some school districts.  It is a tough time in our economy and also in the school districts, particularly since they probably will have the same number of students.

And let me tell you now who in the teaching ranks will get released.  Music teachers, particularly the elementary music teachers will be gone from the scene. Also, any art teachers.  We haven't had many art teachers in the past couple of decades but a few schools still had them.  I think the handwriting is on the wall for them.  The third group of teachers to be released will be the librarians.  

A few years ago one school district (north of Seattle) made the announcement that there would be no librarians in the schools except in the high school and high school libraries would be reduced to one person.  The next thing that happened was that the teachers all met (remember those dreaded teacher associations or unions?) and requested that their salaries be reduced in order that a librarian would be able to remain at each school.  Teachers felt that the increased reading derived by the library was essential to good learning.  This decision by the teachers did not make most newspapers.  

And so to my point for today.  What we seem to know about learning is that physical exertion, different types of reading, music and art skills increase student learning.  Take those activities away from the kids and learning goes down.  Now here is a strange juxtaposition.  With the push of "No Child Left Behind,"  in recent years, many schools got rid of the art and music teachers, including a few librarians. The big push was to teach to the test--the reading, writing and Arithmetic that was being measured on those tests.   If our research is correct, those children would have done better had those teachers remained on the staffs.  We want out children to learn more effectively and then we take away those items that would help children achieve those goals. Strange isn't it.  

Being a music teacher turned classroom teacher I use to get my class singing about every other day--maybe every third day or so.  Generally it was to fill up time going from one subject to another or for waiting for the busses to arrive.  I didn't measure the outcome for grades nor did I write a lesson plan.  My principal would have gone nuts trying to evaluate me.  Tough.  This was a time when we didn't have a music teacher--I was it for this one class.

But I do remember one song that I taught the class.  Unfortunately I may never get it out of my mind.  It was an Appalachian folk tune called, "There's a hole in the bucket, dear Willy, dear Willy."  First, I wanted the kids to learn a little bit about the music that our ancestors sang and a bit about music that came west with the wagons.  The problem with the song as I soon learned is that it is a music joke.  Really.  Somebody wants some water but there is a hole in the bucket.  So what to do?  Go get something which begets getting something else which.....after about twenty verses begets getting some water which starts this song all over again.  Well, I thought it was a cute song but my class literally loved it for the humor of singing all those verses and ending up where you started.  Once they learned the song it was on their hit parade just about every time I suggested we sing.  I'm sure it rivaled Ninety-nine bottles of Beer on the Wall..... (which we didn't sing).  I got so sick of that song.  And as we traversed through all those verses, the class would get louder and louder--definitely not better.  In years to come I never taught that song again.  

And yet.  I think it was a release and it did something for their learning.  Appalachia and the western movement had a different ring in my class.  

My wife and I had dinner the other night with good friends and I found out that he had been trained as a music teacher.  Both he and I played the trumpet but he never found a job--schools were laying off when he went looking for a job.  But here is an interesting note (cute, eh? music, note.....sorry), both he and I went into computers with some success--he has more success then I do but still.  I wish some sociologist would do a study of the number of musicians that have gone on in the programming world and have done so successfully.  

I like Margaret Mead's statement which, I'm sorry I will not quote exactly, however, "We need to teach our children to walk down paths that we do not know exist."  It is my opinion that music, art, and PE may well help our children with those new paths that we haven't encountered yet.

If I've made any sense today, please go thank a teacher for making you think.

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