Paul Tough, educational writer and broadcaster, has recently published a new book entitled Helping Children Learn: What Works and Why. In this book he explores recent research around trends in low-income schools in the U.S., as well as what is working and what is not. What he discovers is that students who attend schools in low-income neighbourhoods are often “bored.”
My experiences both in the classroom and with research have revealed a similar finding. Students from low-income neighbourhoods tend to do a lot of remedial work, test prep, and fill out an immeasurable amount of worksheets. Often lacking are opportunities for students to explore and discuss topics of interest, move around the classroom, and extend the classroom into the community.
In an interview with Salon.com Tough comments on how “boring” classrooms often are for students in low-income neighbouhoods:
Some of the basic principles we have, in terms of discipline, in terms of pedagogy and how we run our schools are not advantageous to kids who are growing up in adversity. This research on just how boring school is really resonated with me, especially the research about how when you’re growing up in a low-income community, school is more likely to be repetitive, boring and unmotivating. I hadn’t really picked up on that as being a significant problem before doing this reporting, but this research was really persuasive to me, not only that it’s true for a lot of kids but that it really matters in terms of their motivation.
Classrooms are often boring and worksheet driven in low-income schools because the perceived need for classroom management is high. From my own experiences teaching in an urban school, the expectations were that our students were always quiet in the classrooms, walking down the halls, and even outside. Students were expected to walk down the hall from class to class in a line organized by size, shortest to tallest. This school-wide norm was always a tension for me. I thought it felt so militaristic and so unnecessary. I felt it made the assumption that our students needed more discipline that their counterparts in more affluent neighbourhoods. Tough comments on behavioral management approaches in low-income schools:
There is a lot about the way we punish and discipline kids that the research increasingly shows just doesn’t work, especially for non-violent offenses. The idea that all kids need is no excuses schools and strong discipline to succeed is clearly not supported in the research.
I haven’t read Tough’s new book yet, but I do look forward to reading it this summer.