Almost everything in society today is entertainment-loaded, and far too many of our schoolchildren are being exposed to a social diet of unlimited and unedited non-academic, discipline-free enjoyment. The nonproductive effects of such reality meander directly into the classroom. Unfortunately, to arrest and grab the attention of today’s student is quite a challenge.
The classrooms in present-day schoolhouses have to be loaded with adequate amounts of respect, learning and enjoyment – appropriate academic-related amusement, and the strategic sprinkling of occasional fun is appropriate for today’s students. I am clearly cognizant of the need to avoid the setting of a dull learning environment.
There is something good to be said, celebrated and resurrected from the old-school approach. Here is what I mean when I say old-school approach: Children were expected and required (first by their parents and then by their teachers) to sit still in the classroom. They were required to sit in traditional desks and chairs, give full, undivided attention to the teacher and learn the teacher-presented lessons. Period.
Learning is not always going to be fun. Every piece of knowledge cannot be tucked into a musical chant or game-like experience. Once the learner leaves the pre-primary and early-elementary grades, academic challenges ratchet upward to a new level of cognitive demand. This new level of learning requires a more serious exertion of effort on the student's part, as well as a more concentrated level of monitoring and accountability on the part of the parents.
The teacher’s part is to know the content so it can be presented in a pre-calculated fashion, with appropriate mixes of interest-provoking elements, ensuring that the opportunity to master a given objective is in the student’s cognitive reach.
As soon as children are ready to interact with parents and follow parent directives – generally at or near the age of 1 or 2 – the expectation to follow directions can be introduced. If this early skill of following directions can start with the parents and other caregivers, such as grandparents and the like, the child will enter school ready and able to follow directions, and learn.
Contrary to the popular belief by some scholars who advocated for new methods of teaching, children can sit composed in the classroom setting, ready to learn. Rhythm-and-movement should not become a standard association for children – especially African-American children – to engage purposefully in the learning environment. There are theories in circulation in education circles that the insertion of dance-like movement into the teaching and learning process can improve learning for African-American children.
While movement can enhance cognitive engagement, it is not a prerequisite for learning to take place. My personal and professional studies have shown that underperforming and below-level students (behaviorally and academically) tend to behave and learn at higher levels in highly structured classrooms. Many students cannot regulate their own good behavior when opportunities to become engaged in activities that resemble play or fun. In too many instances, these situations transition into unproductive behavior, diminishing learning opportunities.
Let me hasten to assert that dance, which is a very important component of the fine arts curriculum can contribute positively to a student’s cognitive health. Perhaps, the most appropriate environment for music-inspired movement to occur is in a dance or music class. As indicated, studies have shown positive links between music, memory and overall effective brain function.
Studies on human growth and development have not produced new revelations that children have changed to the degree that today’s children have to be entertained by the parent or the teacher as a pre-condition for them to sit and learn. We are at a place in the understanding of the growth and development phase of young children where appropriate behaviors can be taught to children by adults, and learned by children, rather than allow inappropriate habits to evolve unaddressed into permanent, non-alterable behaviors.
Such a reversal in parenting and teaching would require all relevant partners – parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers – to be persistent and consistent in their expectation toward the behavior of children at home and at school. The heaviest lifting to achieve this behavior-altering measure in children resides with the parents and guardians. Some parents may need support in this area. A number of schools and churches have programs in the area of highly effective parenting skills. To reach out and tap into these programs is not an admission of weak parenting skills. The reaching-out is a simple, but powerful, acknowledgment of the parent’s dedication to do whatever it takes to carve out a bright future for their children, behaviorally and academically.
Perhaps, the greatest challenge to students’ readiness to present themselves as learners is tiredness, not boredom. Parents should monitor closely their children’s activities between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m. This period of time can be full of major distractions to children. Unfortunately, the undesirable habits children collect during this period have lasting impacts. They have the harmful effect of snuffing out what could be a very bright future. The beginning of a bright future lives in the scholastic and behavioral habits of the student at this moment in time.