The Relentless Monotony of Schooling
During those long Chicago winters, there would be those days where heavy snow falls would begin during the school day. As I walked through the building during changing periods, you could feel a palpable excitement in hallways and commons area. I would be bombarded with the question on the minds of teachers and students: “are you calling school off tomorrow?”
What is it about snow days that transforms the daily routines of schooling into a magical Disneyland? The answer to that question is best answered by John Goodlad’s study of classrooms over thirty years ago, which he termed, the “relentless monotony of schooling.”
..The teacher explaining or lecturing to the total class or a single student, occasionally asking questions requiring factual answers; the teacher, when not lecturing, observing or monitoring students working individually at their desks; students listening or appearing to listen to the teacher and occasionally responding to the teacher’s questions; students working individually at their desks or reading or writing assignments; and all with little emotion, from interpersonal warmth to expressions of hostility. (Goodlad, 1984, p. 230).
The Four Impulses of Children and Adolescents
Announced Snow Days offer a brief respite from the “relentless monotony” (Goodlad, 1984, p. 335) and enforced conformity of crowded classrooms. But, Snow Days, offer more to children and adolescents than relief from the daily grind of schooling. Snow Days provide student bodies with the time and venues to connect to the “four” impulses of children described by John Dewey:
- THE IMPULSE TO CONVERSE: meaning conversation and communication
- THE IMPULSE TO BUILD: a child’s impulse to construct and be creative instead of being passive and conforming.
- THE IMPULSE TO INVESTIGATE: the way children like to do things and watch to see what will happen.
- THE IMPULSE TO CREATE where children tell or make to express and represent.
The Foiling of the Four Impulses
Schools are specifically designed to foil all of the impulses described by Dewey. The impulse to communicate is constrained by classroom configurations and school rules blocking any form of unregulated communication. The impulse to make is constrained by projects and activity structures composed of contrived school projects or problems that exhibit little resemblance to real world projects or problems. The impulse to investigate is constrained by the “one right answer” mindset. The impulse to create is constrained by assessment formats prescribing acceptable school products.
Everyday Should be a Snow Day
If schools are serious about creating engaging learning environments, they should turn the snow day mindset on its head. Instead of deeming snow days as a waste of valuable instructional time, they should be examining pedagogies and organizational structures that make every school day a snow day.
What does a Snow Day Classroom Look Like?
Each of the activity structures and instructional moves listed below fulfill all of John Dewey’s four impulses of children and adolescents. All of the impulses make every school day, a snow day.
- Teachers elicit students’ ideas and experiences in relation to key topics, then fashion learning situations that help students elaborate on or restructure their current knowledge.
- Students are given frequent opportunities to engage in complex, meaningful, and problem-based activities.
- Teachers provide students with a variety of information resources as well as the tools (technological and conceptual) necessary to mediate learning.
- Students work collaboratively and are given support to engage in task-oriented dialogue with one another.
- Teachers make their own thinking processes explicit to learners and encourage students to do the same through dialogue, writing, drawings, or other presentations.
- Students are routinely asked to apply knowledge in diverse and authentic contexts, to explain ideas, interpret texts, predict phenomena, and construct arguments based on evidence, rather than to focus exclusively on the acquisition of predetermined “right answers.”
- Teachers encourage students’ reflective and autonomous thinking in conjunction with the conditions listed above.
- Teachers employ a variety of assessment strategies to understand how students’ ideas are evolving and to give feedback on the processes as well as the products of their thinking.
(Source: Mark Windschitl, “Framing Constructivism in Practice as the Negotiation of Dilemmas,” Review of Educational Research. Summer, 2002, Vol. 72, No. 2, pp. 131-175)