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October 20, 2017

From rowdy to ready to learn: The cognitive, physical, and social-emotional benefits of daily recess

Any teacher knows the signs. It starts with a rustle here, a giggle there—and suddenly, the whole class is off task. Hopefully, the restlessness will kick in just before recess, and the kids will be able to run off some energy before returning to class refreshed. But many teachers across the country have had to find another approach—for many classes, recess may mean just a short break, or may only be scheduled on certain days of the week.

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As schools have emphasized the importance of literacy and mathematics in recent years, many schedules have been adapted to accommodate increased time devoted to tested subjects. Along with oft-lamented cuts to arts and music programs, daily recess has faced challenges of its own.

This month, experts have weighed in to reiterate what teachers already know to be true: recess is good for kids. It supports cognitive and social-emotional development, and helps kids return to the classroom ready to learn.

A study out this month adds more evidence to support the belief widely held by teachers that students will be more focused after taking a ‘brain break’ at recess. The study’s authors tested third-, fourth- and fifth-graders and found that the children had significantly higher measures of sustained attention after recess than before. Even students who did not participate in intensely active play and instead used recess as a time to socialize showed cognitive benefits, suggesting that the mental break away from the classroom is perhaps the most significant aspect of recess. Additionally, students build social-emotional skills by playing and socializing at recess in ways that complement their learning in the classroom. Active games and sports, role playing and imagination, and even chatting with friends develop skills like cooperation, problem solving, and sharing—all valuable skills that may not be directly taught in the traditional classroom.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also expressed clear support for daily recess: not only is the mental break beneficial for students to recharge and process their learning throughout the day, but active play also comes with clear physical benefits. The CDC recommends that children get 60 minutes of physical activity every day, but few students meet this guideline. This level of activity helps build strong bones, muscles, and hearts, and improves memory and concentration. Because many students are not sufficiently physically active outside of school, providing an environment during the school day where students have the opportunity to play during recess helps every child meet their daily physical activity goals, encouraging them to build and benefit from a healthy body.

Teachers already know it, and the evidence supports it: kids are more able to focus after recess. But the benefits don’t stop there. Recess helps kids develop cognitively by allowing them a break to process what they’ve learned. Students who participate in active play build healthy bodies, and even students who choose to socialize during recess develop important social-emotional skills. When students start to become antsy in class, the mental break of daily recess can help them internalize what they have already learned and prepare to absorb new material.






September 7, 2017

PDK Poll: Public school parents highlight value of interpersonal skills, career preparation

The 49th Annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, released last week, highlights a shift in public opinion away from standard measures of school quality based solely on academic achievement. Instead, today’s parents favor alternate measures—including instruction in skills like cooperation, respect, and problem solving—that reflect the changing role of the public school. This shift is accompanied by a near record high opinion of the nation’s public schools, with one in seven respondents giving their local public schools an ‘A’ grade. This is the highest level since 1974, and reflects a significant jump over the past decade, with the portion of ‘A’ grades up 9% since 2007. Parents of students attending a public school—those most familiar with the quality of schools today—are even more complimentary, with 62% giving their local public schools an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade.

Throughout the poll, respondents continually indicated the importance of nontraditional measures of school quality. As the role of today’s public school has grown to include resources and instruction outside of traditional academics, Americans have begun to perceive these offerings as measures of school quality. Parallel to this trend is the fact that nearly half (49%) of public school parents polled no longer feel that standardized tests measure the things that it is important for their child to learn. Respondents to PDK’s polling diminished the overall importance of standardized tests, with just 6% identifying student performance on standardized tests as the most important factor in school quality. Instead, parents expressed a shift toward valuing skills outside of the traditional academic curriculum, citing the availability of technology and engineering classes and instruction in interpersonal skills as particular indicators of school quality. Respondents showed especially broad-based support for providing students with instruction in interpersonal skills, with 82% of respondents saying that teaching skills like cooperation, respect, and persistence is very or extremely important.

Parents’ enthusiasm for nontraditional measures of school quality extends outside of the traditional classroom environment, with approximately 7 in 10 respondents highlighting the need for extracurricular activities and art and music classes. Respondents also placed high value on preparing students for life after high school through instruction in practical job skills not covered in the standard curriculum. More than eight in ten Americans (82%) support classes focused on job or career skills, and 86% support local schools offering certificate or licensing programs to qualify students for future work. Today’s parents recognize all that can be learned in the public school setting through career training, arts education, and extracurricular activities, and value those interpersonal and other nonacademic skills highly when evaluating school quality.

Americans’ support for nontraditional offerings encompasses more than just instruction in interpersonal and career skills. The vast majority of respondents supported wraparound support programs, which expand the role of the public school to meet the needs of the whole child. Nine in ten respondents (92%) expressed support for after-school programs, with strong majorities also supporting the provision of mental health (87%), general health (79%), and dental (65%) services in public schools. Notably, about three-quarters of Americans said that public schools providing these wraparound supports should be able to seek additional funding. The majority of respondents recognized the value of additional wraparound supports in public schools that go beyond the traditional curriculum. Along with other nonacademic factors like interpersonal skills and job training, wraparound supports are becoming part of Americans’ increasingly positive image of the local public school.

Throughout this year’s PDK Poll, Americans emphasized the importance of the factors outside of traditional academic achievement in their perception of school quality. Today’s public school offers many services beyond traditional classroom instruction, and parents are embracing the expanding definition of a public school community. As more Americans recognize the value of a public school education, the local public school now receives an ‘A’ grade at the highest rate in more than 40 years.






June 27, 2017

The importance of social and emotional learning Part II: PISA results

The most recent report from PISA 2015 results is about findings regarding how the United States compares to other countries on social emotional learning.  These questions were answered by 15-year-old students based on their home and school life.

OECDSELThe first question was about general life satisfaction of the students.  The students from the United States were close to the OECD average for all 72 countries involved.  One interesting note was some of the higher performing countries, like South Korea, reported very low levels of life satisfaction among their students.  On the other hand, students in Northern European countries, like the Netherlands and Finland, reported the highest levels of life satisfaction.  These European countries were also some of the best academic performers with above average scores, although less than some East Asian nations. Researchers found students feel higher levels of life satisfaction when they report meeting friends after school, having the support of teachers and parents and engaging in physical activity.

Another indicator that they measured was bullying.  Students answered questions about a range of different types of bullying they may experience in school and how often this occurs.  Compared to other countries, the US students reported slightly more bullying than average.  One characteristic that helped lower the bullying rate in a school was when students reported that they felt their school had a strong disciplinary climate.

The third indicator the OECD gathered data on was school anxiety.  Students in the United States reported feeling more anxious about doing well in school, taking tests and preparing for exams than most other countries.  This is interesting because the United States is actually tested less than most other countries, and the tests students take here do not have as significant of consequences as those in other countries.  So the question is, why are our students so stressed?

While there are many factors that go into answering this question, researchers found that one reason could be tied to student motivation.  The students in the US reported some of the highest levels of motivation compared to other countries.  95% of said they “want to be the best, whatever [they] do” compared to the 65% OECD average and 85% said they “want to be one of the best students in [their] class” compared to the 59% OECD average.  While high student motivation is a good thing for student achievement, the types of motivation seen by students in the US could be related to higher anxiety levels.  US students have a competitive motivation.  It is more extrinsic than intrinsic where they want to do well to get into a good college or get good grades, rather than having intrinsic motivation to do well because they are interested in the subject.  Researchers could not confirm a causal relationship but they found that intrinsic motivation is related with lower levels of anxiety and extrinsic with higher levels.  So while it is great that students want to do well in school, it is important to know that reasons behind this desire to succeed.

Filed under: CPE,International Comparisons,PISA,research,SEL — Tags: , — Annie Hemphill @ 8:00 am






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