Time, Relationships, and Learning

This week, I was working with one group of high school teachers looking at the need to differentiate teaching strategies. I was working with another exploring how to make the most effective use of a 90 minute block schedule. I also worked with an entire K-12 district looking at learning communities. During the entire week, the structure of schedules and groupings of learners was a constant focus.

So, as often happens, my quick reading of headlines and online postings caused me to ponder connections.

An article in the Washington Post,
Quality Time Stacked in Favor of Firstborns, explores a report by Joseph Price, “Parent-Child Quality Time: Does Birth Order Matter” in the Journal of Human Resources. I recalled that several years ago at a conference on the brain I had heard scientist list things that occur prior to birth and in our early years that influence how our brain forms helping me understand why a class of 23 students was really 23 unique brains. One point they mentioned was birth order; as firstborns are disproportionately represented in the enrollments at Ivy League universities. The suggestion was that parents responded differently to firstborns. This is highlighted in the definition of to sterilize: If it’s your first child, put in boiling water for 5 minutes. If its your third child, pick it up an blow on it.

“Price found that in two-child families, firstborn children got about 30 percent more quality time from their parents. Birth-order differences were largest in activities Price considered most important, such as reading and playing together. Secondborns prevailed in one category: watching television with parents. Price did not count this as quality time.” Why parents spend less time with children as a family ages was not studied, but Price offered some reasons, including fatigue, age and a waning novelty. In his family, he recalled, the firstborn had an elaborate scrapbook right away, but the scrapbook for his fourth child, 14 months old, has not been started”.1

I am a firstborn and am pretty sure my 4th born sister wouldn’t be surprised by the scrap book example.

The second article I found in USA Today-
Size alone makes small classes better for kids.

“New findings from four nations, including the USA, tell a curious story. Small classes work for children, but that’s less because of how teachers teach than because of what students feel they can do: Get more face time with their teacher, for instance, or work in small groups with classmates”.

“Small classes are more engaging places for students because they’re able to have a more personal connection with teachers, simply by virtue of the fact that there are fewer kids in the classroom competing for that teacher’s attention,”2

This article reinforced other studies I’ve read, identifying that frequently teachers did not take advantage of smaller class size to change instruction. What is different is that it suggested that students still gained from the smaller size. My guess is connected to relationships… being better known …maybe receiving more attention.

What structures should we be considering to best capitalize on time and relationships for learning? Looping, Small Learning Communities, Block Schedules, House Structures for multiple year relationships, Advisories…I recently worked with an alternative high school in Idaho where students are scheduled to take one course at a time-all day.

Lots to ponder.

1 Washington Post, Quality Time Seems Stacked in Favor of Firstborns, Donna St. George,Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, March 22, 2008; Page A01

2 USA Today, Size Alone Makes Small Classes Better for Kids, Gregg Toppo

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