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A Third Grader’s 10 Ideas for School Improvement

Guest blogger

Published in ChicagoNow, December 1, 2014

Remember the old Dr. Seuss book If I Ran the Zoo? In it, young Gerald McGrew fantasized about what he would change to make the zoo more interesting. Well, I wondered what a child would change about her public school if she could. So, I asked my 8-year-old granddaughter if she would like to be my guest blogger on the topic of If I Ran the School. What follows are her suggestions for school improvement.

I have to note that she loves her school and her teacher, who is awesome. Her frustrations have more to do with the way we “do school” these days. These ideas are her own thoughts about how school in general could be even better.

Let’s get the silly ones out of the way first:

 Being allowed to bring sweet food for birthday snacks

 Being allowed to choose your own partner ALL of the time

 Pets allowed in school

 Being in a class with ALL of my friends

 Skip middle school to go to Hogwarts instead (Grandmother’s/Editor’s note: Maybe not such a bad idea.)

Now for her serious 10 ideas for improvement:

1. More recess – right now, she only gets one short recess and must finish her lunch very quickly to have any time for play. In cold weather, she stays inside drawing, watching movies, or playing board games. No matter the weather, there’s not much time for movement. I’ve seen how restless she is trying to do homework right after school on days without outdoor play or a walk home. Not a pretty picture.

2. More writing and reading – By writing, she means time to compose her own stories, what we used to call creative writing, or to write about topics that interest her. By reading, she means actual reading of fiction, which she loves. She does not mean the readings in her third-grade anthology, most of which are nonfiction this year. She would also love to learn cursive writing, a staple of third grade instruction in the past. Thus far, there has been no time for this. The kids must be prepared for analyzing nonfiction on standardized tests coming this spring.

3. More projects – She loves to work on projects, either alone or in a group, that incorporate every aspect of learning around a high interest topic. In second grade, she got to make a culture box and spent hours researching her Korean and Jewish heritage. The preschool she attended believed in the project approach in which kids identified a high interest topic and brainstormed together about what they wanted to learn. I’m sure this would work in grade school as well. Sadly, there is no time for this either.

4. Music and Drama should be more musical and dramatic – It seems like these so-called “specials” are not as special as they used to be. They too must be somehow tied to the third-grade academic curriculum. Part of the Value-Added Growth Score for teachers of specials is based on how well their students perform … in reading and math. She would love to be in a play or musical like her mother was at the same school. Alas, there is no time for this anymore.

5. No PARK [sic]– she means PARCC – or ISAT tests to worry about – Being a good student does not immunize her from worrying about these tests. She wants to do well on all tests and please her parents and teachers. So, the notion of taking a new test (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), on which she is sure to find the questions and computer skills required frustrating, is not something she looks forward to this spring.

6. Math groups – Problem is, her school’s current math curriculum doesn’t seem to allow much latitude for teachers to do significant differentiation. Everyone in class doing the same math lesson at the same time, and her teacher is only able to differentiate the homework. I know ability grouping in grammar school is out of favor, and there are some educationally legitimate reasons for this. On the other hand, teachers need more freedom to teach math in ways that meet the learning styles and abilities of their students.

7. Choices in gym (dance, gymnastics, soccer, basketball) – OK, she hates sports that involve balls. But in her experience, that’s all gym entails. If the point of gym is “physical education,” she wonders why she can’t choose things like dance or gymnastics or yoga or running.

8. No bullying – This one speaks for itself. But I think she would like to see the school step in more often to resolve incidents of bullying. Her current teacher does this, but that has not always been her experience. It is especially a problem during lunch and recess, times of the day not supervised by teachers.

9. Do more science – She would love to learn more about science and do experiments, but there does not seem to be enough time for this either. Despite all of the emphasis on STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – it seems like math takes up most of the time allocated to this goal. Could that be because it is a huge focus on standardized tests? Just asking.

10. Have social studies projects and learn stuff about history and cultures – In preschool, the children spent a lot of time learning about one another’s cultures from one another. Aside from the second-grade culture box project, the kids are getting this through PTA sponsored events like the School Culture Fair. History? This is a topic that rarely comes up. Again, not on the standardized test, so no time.

Thanks to my granddaughter for today’s blog post. She was pretty serious about her ideas for school improvement. I just wish the grownups in the room who are responsible for determining what kids learn and how they learn it would ask children what they want to know. They might be surprised by the answers.


by Laurie Levy
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