Why student attitudes toward school change -- Willingham
By Daniel Willingham
Occasionally someone will ask me: “What is the most surprising thing you see when you visit classrooms?”
What has surprised me most has also disheartened me most; it’s the difference in attitude between first graders and sixth graders.
First graders are all basically happy to be in school. Sure, they get frustrated or bored by what they’re doing, but when they do, their response is generally “I don’t like this. What else can I do?” They are still game, still ready to go.
Ten minutes of observing a sixth grade classroom makes it clear that some students believe they do not belong there. They don’t see school as a place of excitement and opportunity. They see school as a place where they fail and are made to feel ashamed.
These are the students who will drop out. These are the students who may graduate, but will do so functionally illiterate.
Many things happen between first and sixth grade that might contribute to students concluding that school is not for them.
One in particular strikes me. Students get one, perhaps two, chances to feel academically successful in lower elementary school.
I say that because studies show that show most academic time is devoted to Language Arts: in first grade, about 67% and in third grade, 55 %.
So what happens to the student who is having a hard time learning to read? He spends most of the day working on something that is unpleasant, unrewarding, and at which he feels a failure.
Suppose that student would really like science, or history. He won’t know that, because the average third grader spends only about 6% of their academic time on each of those subjects.
It’s no wonder that, by late elementary school, such a student would conclude that he doesn’t belong.
I’ve previously argued that we need a broad curriculum in early elementary school in order to support reading comprehension in later grades. We also need a broad curriculum in elementary school to maximize the chances that students will find school engaging and rewarding.
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| May 10, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories: Daniel Willingham, Guest Bloggers, Learning | Tags: Daniel Willingham, about first graders, about sixth grade, guest bloggers, learning
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