Academic Nourishment

Recently, I lost 25 pounds.  (Yay Me!  Clap three times! (Anyone with a child who likes Disney will understand that reference.))  I have noticed in the last few weeks, since I started observations, that the pounds are starting to creep back on and that is bothering me.  So, after a quick analysis, I realize that:

  • I’m not eating as well as I was before
  • I’m not getting enough sleep
  • My exercise time has been compromised because of work and driving to the high school.

It’s time to make some changes.

OK, so what does this have to do with academic nourishment?  Are you saying that student teachers are heading toward obesity?  No.

What I am saying is that when I stopped paying attention to my eating and exercise habits, that lack of attention started to show on my waistline.  The same is true when students are not paying attention to their academic habits: it starts to show in their academic achievement.

As much as we would like to think that we are responsible for the development of students, the main responsibility lies with the student.  We cannot do anything to get them to exercise their brains if they are not interested.  Just like you could not pull me off the couch with a crowbar if I do not want to go for a walk, you are stuck if the student does not want to try.  However, there is no need to just give up.  You just need to come at it from a different angle.  Rather than force-feed a kid content, you need to get their interest first.  You need to somehow convince them that it is in their best interest to do the work.  How?  By ensuring that the content is relevant to their lives or by helping them make the connection.  Just like I was finally convinced that I need to evaluate my eating habits by seeing the results in my clothing fit, sometimes students need that type of push from their teachers, to see that what they are doing is having a negative impact on their intellectual development.

But wait, there’s more!

Empty calories? Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows the term ’empty calories.’ It refers to that caloric input into your body that has no nutritional value whatsoever, like that which my son gets from sometimes eating one of his favorites, Swedish Fish.  Others might refer to a Snickers bar as empty calories too, but I submit they are wrong there.  A Snickers does offer some sustenance, even if it does taste incredibly good.  By the same token, are video games empty calories for the mind?  Can video games offer any academic nourishment?  I submit that video games are Snickers bars for the brain.

How do we get students to convert the energy from video games into academic muscle?  By asking them to workout with the video games.  (No, I’m not talking about Wii-Fit, although that is a great concept.)  If that is what they are interested in, have them write about them, tell us and the class why they are so good, and what they do to make life enjoyable.  Tap into that interest, sustain it, validate it, and then ask them to make the connection between it and academic achievement by writing about it.  Use their interest to further their achievement with writing, grammar, and style.  Harness that energy and put it to use.

Skill-and-drill is the fast food of education. Just like we run through the drive-thru to get that quick burger or chicken sandwich, teachers tend to rely on skill-and-drill to get kids to better their reading comprehension and basic writing skills.  The fact is, that nourishment is basically just as good as eating that burger.  Yes, we are sustained by that burger, but we are also accumulating fat stores by eating it.  (Yes, I know, we do the same with the Snickers, but give me a minute to explain.)  Unless we then do a workout in order to get those calories in play, the fat will just stick to us.  We all know that when we run through the drive-thru, we are not likely to be on our way to the gym.  We all know that students are not likely to run through the academic drive-thru of skill-and drill and then head toward the computer to start the next great American novel.  They are heading out the front door of the school to do what?  Play video games.  There is nothing in skill-and-drill that is remotely interesting for students.  The exercises are, basically, educators’ response to the need to provide as much ‘sustenance’ as possible in the shortest amount of time.

My suggestion is to take the time to make a decent, whole-food, non-processed meal.  Skip the frozen lasagna and make a fresh lasagna instead with 98% lean meat or turkey.  Add a salad.  To convert that to academic-speak, provide the students with authentic activities that challenge them.  Ask them to edit either their work or someone else’s.  Ask them to evaluate an article in a magazine or online and determine the author’s point of view or the message they are sending.  Use a tradebook to aid in comprehension.  Let them pick their own book and write a review of it.   The standardized testing agenda only helps one group of people: the administrators.  It does next to nothing for the students and creates harried, frightened teachers who feel they have to provide burgers and fries when they could be providing Chicken Soup for the Soul.

How sad.  What can we do about it?  Well, if administrators would listen to teachers instead of circumventing their participation, perhaps they would see that it is better to let teachers do what they do best: teach, instead of acting as line cooks.

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