If a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health is valid, the vast majority of elementary classrooms in this country sound like pretty dismal places, instructionally speaking.
Researchers followed 2500 first, third, and fifth graders through “typical” days and found that the kids spent most of their time in large group instruction, working on a very narrow curriculum.
- Fifth-graders spent 91.2% of class time in their seats listening to a teacher or working alone, and only 7% working in small groups, which foster social skills and critical thinking. Findings were similar in first and third grades.
- In fifth grade, 62% of instructional time was in literacy or math; only 24% was devoted to social studies or science.
- About one in seven (14%) kids had a consistently high-quality “instructional climate” all three years studied. Most classrooms had a fairly healthy “emotional climate,” but only 7% of students consistently had classrooms high in both. There was no difference between public and private schools.
While some might point at No Child Left Behind as the reason for what the researchers saw in these classrooms, there are far too many factors at work here. NCLB is only part of the picture.
The entire study is locked behind a pay-per-view page at Science magazine but I’d be interested to see if the researchers mention anything about the use of technology in the classrooms they observed.
Not that computers are the magic bullet that leads to a “high-quality instructional climate”, but that particular aspect ties into a long standing discussion in our group.
Like many others, we are struggling with the dual challenges of helping teachers learn to use technology for something other than lecture/demos, and to use their computers for something other than test preparation activities.
And those changes will require major revisions to their approach to teaching and learning, not just hardware and software.