All Work, No Play – And Other Things All Teachers Want Schools to Change

All Work, No Play – And Other Things All Teachers Want Schools to Change

The American public education system is in constant change. Every few years there are new strategies, new mandates, new buzzwords – all promising to crack the code of America’s lagging test scores – and it’s not working. What are schools doing wrong?

In 2019, U.S. test scores showed no significant improvement over the last couple of decades in either math or reading, with American children scoring just above the international average in reading and just below in math. Does this mean things are hopeless? Are American children simply doomed to mediocrity? Have we yet to discover the technology, teaching methods, or test preparation strategies that will finally tip the scale? Or is it possible we’re overthinking it?

What if rather than massive reform, all that is needed is a little common sense and a few simple changes? Here a just a few adjustments that could make a big difference.

1. Children (and teens) need more recess.

The desire to see kids have more time for play and socialization isn’t about wishing for the good old days or for simpler, more carefree times. It’s about science. According to the American Pediatric Society, recess is a crucial component of students’ cognitive, emotional, and physical growth. Children need unstructured time for play and movement. Going to P.E., sitting on bouncy balls, and installing pedal desks are not solutions. Without adequate time to move, children develop sensory issues that make sitting still and focusing much more difficult. Recess also gives kids the chance to play, socialize with friends, and decompress. In short, giving kids more recess would lead to better learning, better behavior, happier kids, and less-stressed teachers.

2. We need to stop expecting kids to read too much too soon.

Some schools and teachers like to boast about the high reading levels of their youngest learners. After all, it’s impressive to see a five-year-old reading well and with confidence. Yet, there is consistent evidence that pushing early reading might be counter-productive. In fact, numerous studies show that over time, students who attend play-based kindergartens do better in school and have fewer emotional and social problems. In other words, schools could produce more well-adjusted middle and high school students who are prepared for learning just by allowing them to experience play-based instruction in their first year or two of school. 

3. We are overusing technology to the detriment of other important skills.

Teachers will be the first to admit it – from digital record-keeping to Google Classroom, technology is (usually) our friend and (mostly) makes our lives easier. But for kids, it can be a major distraction. It can also prevent them from developing other important skills like note-taking, handwriting, and the ability to spell or do math in their heads. And digitizing everything might be making it harder for some kids to focus on old-fashioned books or regular pen-and-ink writing.

In today’s world, the ability to navigate technology is a crucial life skill, yet the very things that make technology wonderful – convenience, fun, and ease-of-use – are the things that could be making some kids lazy and unfocused.

4. We need to remember our introverts.

With the rise of educational trends like collaborative learning and project-based learning, students are spending more time than ever in lively, talkative learning environments. And while this is great for some students, it’s not ideal for introverts.

A common misconception is that introverts are shy or socially anxious. As a result, teachers sometimes feel compelled to help introverted students overcome their quieter tendencies. But introverts aren’t necessarily shy or anxious. They simply have a different, more heightened response to stimulation than extroverts do. They might feel confident in and even enjoy group work or heated class discussions. But unlike extroverts who are energized in such an environment, introverts feel drained and exhausted. An entire school day of interactive, collaborative learning is hard on introverts and not the best learning environment for them. Like so many things in education, balance is the key. All students, regardless of personality type, must learn to interact and speak in a group. But all students, particularly introverts, could benefit from time and space during their day for quiet down-time. 

5. We do not put enough emphasis on reading for pleasure.

The statistics concerning literacy in this country are troubling. Not only do more than half of Americans read below a 6th-grade level, but a 2019 Pew Research poll found that over one-quarter of Americans hadn’t read a book in over a year. Why does this matter? Why should teachers care about what other adults do in their spare time? Because readers raise readers, and readers tend to be better writers and thinkers. They often have better imaginations, better vocabularies, more empathy, and less stress. Not only that, but literacy is directly tied to income and even physical health. By making not just literacy but reading for pleasure a top priority, educators help ensure the next generation of students will be ready to read and ready to learn.

6. We need to elevate CTE programs.

In part because of the strong emphasis placed on college enrollment over the last few decades, America is now in desperate need of tradespeople and skilled workers.  One obvious solution for this is to offer more in the way of technical training for high school students. But considering the high priority American educators have consistently placed on preparing students for college, simply offering an alternative isn’t enough. We have to recognize and celebrate the specific skills that are necessary to be a successful tradesperson in the same way we recognize and celebrate students who excel in math, science, writing, or athletics. We need to treat CTE with the same respect, dignity, and sense of urgency that we do college prep courses and sports, not just as a fallback for students who aren’t “cut out for college.”

When it comes to fixing the problems that plague American education, there is no silver bullet and no one-size-fits-all solution. But there is common sense. By giving kids time to play and be kids, by instilling in them a lifelong love of reading and a sense of pride in both academic and vocational pursuits, and by holding them to higher standards in both big and small ways, we could see big changes and a more hopeful future.

Also Check Out:

All Work and No Play (And Other Things Schools Get Wrong)

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Laura Hudgens

Veteran Member

Laura has taught ELA and communication in grades 6-12. She also enjoys writing and taking care of her little flock of chickens. Her little flock of children have all grown or are mostly grown, but she still enjoys taking care of them too.

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