Research: The World Happiness Report was released last week with the purpose of assessing quality of life to measure national progress and inform future policy making for the well-being of society. It dedicates a chapter to the well-being of children and concludes that emotional development—not academic achievement—is the best predictor in determining whether a child becomes a satisfied adult. It recommends that schools focus on well-being to nurture children’s emotional health by developing trust, practicing empathy, stressing the use of praise, and emphasizing mutual respect, kindness, and play.
Practice: At Chrysalis we know that the foundation for learning is based on two very important things: (1) individual well-being, and (2) engagement. When a child isn’t well, they cannot perform at their potential, despite their capacity. When a student isn’t engaged and doesn’t buy in to the work they’re doing, they achieve less. Our goal is to provide a safe, positive, and stable environment for kids to assure their happiness in school. When kids are happy and engaged we are given the opportunity to stretch their abilities, deepen their learning, foster their success, and provide joy in learning.
Research: Neurologist Judy Willis argues the importance of eliminating stress from the school environment to promote learning. Just as the brain needs stimulating input, it also needs rest to be able to process it. Overstimulation can lead to burnout, which engages filters in the brain that limit the flow of information and inhibit learning. Neurologists often subscribe to the saying, “the brain downshifts under stress.” By contrast, the brain works at optimal levels in positive emotional states.
Practice: At Chrysalis we know we need relaxed brains to work with, so we create conditions that allow for it: allowing students to work at their “just right” level of challenge, reducing competition, creating a positive social culture, allowing students a say in their scheduling, and giving them time during their day to process what they’ve learned and prepare for their next task.
Research: Two new studies on homework pose concerns about schools’ misuse of the practice. The first study surveyed teachers across the nation and concluded that high school students are assigned an average of 3.5 hours of homework per night. The second uncovers the ramifications this practice, finding that these heavy loads take an emotional toll on both students and their families. The faulty assumption that heavy homework loads lead to success encourages tensions between parents and their children, increases stress, leads to sleep deprivation, and discourages other developmentally appropriate life lessons.
Practice: At Chrysalis we recognize that time spent outside of school is extremely valuable in the development of a child. It’s important that children nurture their relationships, explore their interests, and engage their passions outside of school. Out of respect for this time, the amount of homework we assign a student is directly related to their individual learning goals. Furthermore, we view homework as a measure of a student’s independence. While Chrysalis parents may need to help create a space or time for homework to be completed, they are dissuaded from active participation in the homework process.
There are many things we do in our program to prepare our students for college. Instead of filling their day with the traditional, typical, intense instruction and homework, we model our program after colleges.
1. First, like most colleges, our classes do not meet every day. There is time between classes to do research and complete assignments independently rather than sit in class with other students and the teacher.
2. The time between classes is important for processing information, forming opinions about the concepts, and considering the relationships of new information and prior knowledge. It doesn’t look like much is happening at this stage but it is critical for long-term memory, understanding the subject in depth and the ability to thinking critically about the subject.
3. Students have a choice of the classes they want to take, the teacher, the time of day, and how they will cover the required material. They can choose textbooks, movies, games, computer simulations, field trips or field experiences to complete their coursework.
4. They learn to be independent and prioritize their workload. Once in college, students have to know how long it takes them to do an assignment, how well they can do on a given style of assignment, and manage their time and resources accordingly. Our students have a lot of practice with this type of work.
5. College students need to see their teachers as partners. Our students are used to that relationship because of our one-on-one instruction. This allows our students to feel comfortable seeking out college instructors during their office hours for critical assistance, giving them another advantage over students who see teachers as adversaries.
6. What college student doesn’t drop courses when their progress is suffering? As Kenny Rogers sang, “Know when to hold them and know when to fold them.” Our students learn to evaluate a teacher’s style and know if it is a strong style for them or weak style for them. You may have to drop that one impossible class in college to make the others work well. We encourage students to evaluate why a course is or is not working for them.
7. A rigorous curriculum is one that allows the learner to study a concept in depth and at a complex level. It doesn’t mean more homework.