Harris Cooper, a psychologist at the University of Missouri, researched how much children forget over the long summer break. The long summer break, along with other holiday patterns are largely hangovers from an agricultural age when harvests had to be gathered.
We know enough about memory to predict that a long period in which there is no reinforcement will lead to decay in what is known. Now we have some research that quantifies that decay.
1 to 3 months lost!
The results were staggering. Children typically forgot between 1 and 3 months of schooling during the summer break. The two areas that suffered most were numeracy and spelling, two primary educational targets. This massive drop in productivity shows that we should spread learning more evenly across the year. More terms with more, but shorter, holidays is the clear solution to poor standards in these areas. It would also help parents get better holiday deals. Unfortunately, any attempt to modernise the timetable is met with predictable and stiff resistance from teacher unions.
I would suggest that this is an indication that the children have not truly assimilated the principles they have been taught. In this age of instant access to knowledge, we should be less concerned about memory and more concerned about understanding. It has been my biggest bugbear that the current system of assessment within the compulsory education years (and beyond) seem to be all about memory and not about understanding. This is not in keeping with the current view of what it means "to know".
Good point, we now have good evidence about how we need 'less' knowledge and more 'skills' in the workplace, yet we continue to use a 19th century knowledge=based curriculum.
Here's a few examples of what my kids are currently experiencing:
Latin - still being taught in some state schools and almost all private schools - a COMPLETE waste of time.
Music - long waiting list to learn guitar and drums in the school - yet loads of places for Bassoon, Oboe, Violin etc.
French - almost no realistic immersion and on recent trip to paris almost no french spoken or taught - they went to Disneyworld!
History - had to build a medieval castle out of cardboard, wood etc -huge amunt of work, no guidance, no feedback from teacher at end, no real sense of purpose.
Maths - mostly taught abstractly with little 'real-life' modelling. They find it excrutiatingly dull.
Despite livng close to a huge observatory (what better way to introduce physics and astronomy) and close to london (some of the finest museums in the world)the kids are forced to sweat it out in packed classrooms being taught in the same old Victorian way.
Michael Stevenson (now ex-DfES) had the cheek to claim that Whiteboards had been the DfES's greatest achievement in the introduction of e-learning in schools. It's a 'blackboard' Michael! They were introduced in 1870 - same old pedagogy.
On your point about understanding, even deeper skills, such as metacognitive skills and the application of learnt rules (one deeper form of understanding) still need reinforcement and practice. This is still poorly understood in education and training.
The fact remains that the agricutural calendar, along with 'no-change' attitude of educational professionals, continues to prevent sensible ideas around spaced practice and productive learning from taking root.
I think that summer vacation is a good thing. Kids are constantly being pushed too hard by schools because of tight shedules. If we want a real solution I think the year round school year would be the best. It provides vacations frequently through out the school year so that students don't waste a way in classrooms with no heat all winter.
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