At my school in the USA I introduced a program that I had also promoted in Australia. It was called “Real Men Read”. Aware of the research that is described in this article in Essential Kids, I had pondered why it was that boys seem to turn off reading. A series of questions pretty much answered it for me.
When do our lifelong habits start to form? When we are very young.
Who most frequently reads the bedtime story or stories throughout the day? Mum.
Who reads the stories at the day care centre? Women.
Who teaches in the first grades of school when children are learning how to read? Mostly women.
So it dawned on me that perhaps boys think reading is really some kind of “secret women’s business” and not really for them.
It was then that I decided to bring men into my school to read books to the kids and to tell them how important reading was to them.
We had policemen, athletes, the mayor, fire fighters, members of the clergy, builders, politicians, school board members, all sorts of men.
It’s eight years since I left that school district and I understand that the program has continued. In fact I was surprised a few years ago to discover that someone was making money out of it. They had turned it into a commercial success, of course with no reference to the person who started it all. Another good educational idea turned for profit!
I have just watched a very interesting News Hour report on a school district in the USA where project based learning is being introduced district wide. There has been a lot of learning for teachers as well as students, and some teachers have moved out or been moved out because it simply wasn’t for them.
One of the trickiest aspects has been finding a way to focus on this kind of learning where depth of understanding is what is valued, while at the same time managing to do well in the State’s ‘bubble tests’ which seem superficial by comparison. How to do both?
But what really intrigued me was the obvious engagement of the kids as they moved around the classrooms, handled materials and were generally physically active.
How much of their engagement was because they were free to move?
Obviously that’s not enough on its own, but just how critical might it be?
I remember a third grade boy I taught years ago. He would drive the class and me crazy by constantly kicking the legs of his table when sitting down to do work. I was inexperienced. I tried asking, rewarding, growling and grumbling but nothing worked until one day I told him he could stand up or work on the floor if he would prefer to. Eureka! Problem solved. He just needed to be able to move.
Young children in particular need to move and get their bodies involved in their learning. Lots of boys need to move a lot of the time. That doesn’t mean they need to swing from the classroom fan. They just need acceptable wriggle room, a way to get the bubbles out of their joints.
Take a look at your classroom. Here are a couple of easy, rule of thumb guides.
1. Don’t expect your kids to keep still for more than one minute per year of age. A seven year old needs a wriggle after seven minutes. A fifteen year old can keep it together for a quarter of an hour before a stretch or a stand up/sit down might be called for.
2. Watch for the classroom fidgets and find a way to help them fidget in ways that don’t distract or irritate the others.
Let the kids move. They’ll learn better.