Unspontaneous Spontaneity

Throughout the open plan workspace you could hear a pin drop. Every head was bowed studiously over their desks, the only sounds the clacking of keyboards, phone calls or the shuffling of papers. As the clock clicked on to the hour a bell sounded. At that moment, all the workers simultaneously stood up from their desks and rushed to move around.

Some crowded in to the pantry, all trying to get themselves a beverage in a big rush. Others stood around in clusters, sharing a joke, chatting in hurried voices. A few went outside and ran around a bit. All too soon, the electronic buzz of the bell sounded again. Every conversation stopped, the pantry emptied with many left disappointed that they never got the drink they had been looking for. Those outside quickly rushed back in and sat down at their desks, a bit hot, sweaty and out of breath. All the heads bow down and immediately get back to work under the domineering scrutiny of the supervisor.

Sounds like a scene from 1984, or Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World? Or, just another day of unnatural experiences for children in schools? We’ve become so habituated to the ritualised habits of our schools that sometimes it’s considered radical when someone changes even the smallest factor. This was my first thought when I read the following article:

KQED News – Mindshift – More Playtime

The radical idea here is schools moving from one daily recess/ playtime period of 20 minutes to four 15 minute periods and the positive benefits for the children in terms of better concentration, focus and academic progress.

Well, the first thing is I’m completely unsurprised by the positive benefits. here has been so much work and research that has shown positive benefits of physical movement for concentration in schools with positive benefits on behaviour and all sorts of other issues. I recall reading some time ago of Japanese schools that basically took a short recess after every class!

However, my stronger thought is whether this is still a change that stays too rigidly within dogmatic adherence to practices that are a poor reflection of the real world that our children will grow into. As adults, we break off from our work when we need to, when it helps our concentration, fits with the natural flow of the work and is consistent with deadlines and the volume of work we need to get done. So far, during the writing of this article, I’ve got up from my seat and gone off to do other things twice – once to get a cup of coffee. There was also one other stop when i didn’t leave the chair, but checked a mail that came through that I had been waiting for.

Yet, I believe if we had learned these habits constructively as children in school, we could be evn better at them. There are times when we ought to take breaks but don’t. We feel that becaue there’s a deadline on our work and we need to get through a certain volume we will be guilty of slacking if we get up and walk away. however, all too often, that brief trip away from the work would lead to more (not less) work and of a better, ore creative and mentally effective quality.

What if we taught children in school to take breaks in their work in more natural and effective ways? What if we changed the whole relationship with time by breaking down the ‘batch processing, factory model’? Courageous educators need to be ready to re-explore our relationship with time and control in schools.

Right, time to end this piece of work. I’m off to do something physical, responding to the messages of my body.

Structured School Breaks or Free Time

This is a very interesting issue which comes up for debate in educational circles from time to time, but rarely with any real clarity or resolution.

The choice as described in this well-articulated article from the New York Times is between free, unstructure break times when students are essentially left to ‘do their own thing’ vs organised, structured breaktime activities where all children are expected to participate, but in a ‘fun’ way.

New York Times Article

My own personal feeling is that it is not as simple as just an ‘either-or’. I believe that there are children who struggle to achieve the levels of harmony, co-operation, creativity etc. easily on their own to fill the time. As a result, it can become a dangerous time for such children, involving themselves in risk-taking behaviours and other inappropriate or at least unproductive ways of passing the time. On the other hand, i agree that for a lot of children the break from structure is a welcome relaxation that can enable them to be more ready for learning afterwards.

i believe that choice should be there. There should be enough ‘patrolling’ so that there are adults moving about, available to the children should they require their intervention, to ensure that behaviour stays within acceptable bounds and children and property are safe. There can be some optional lightly organised activities provided for those children who want them. i believe you would find some children who opt for them regularly, some who never do and some who drift in and out according to mood and state of peer relations on that day.

The element of choice and opting in would be crucial. I have even seen a very nice pilot where a group of volunteer older students provided these activities for younger ones. This left some teachers to have their own breaks while a small number of others were around to interact informally with children who had chosen not to join in and to see that nothing untoward is happening.

i would be interested to hear others’ views on this.

%d bloggers like this: