Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"The Bargain" and what it means for school design

In the Blog - What would happen if we let them go? posted in Education Week by the Futures of School Reform Group, Richard F. Elmore of the Harvard Graduate School of Education offers bleak observations of what he finds as he observes high school classes.  Most notably he sites "The Bargain" a phrase coined by Michael Sedlak, et al. (1986) in Selling students short: Classroom bargains and academic reform in the American high school. New York: Teachers College Press.  The Bargain is between students and teachers and says you give me order and attendance and I will give you minimal homework and passing grades.  It is a sad commentary about the disengagement of both students and teachers in too many schools. 

Many of the comments are worth reading especially the one by earthnfyre which tells about his son's achievement only occurring when he was out of school.

To me this is just more evidence that we need to work harder to engage students.  How you teach, the relationships you build and the interests of students are of course key to this engagement, but I believe that the physical environment you teach in also has a key role in supporting engagement. There is not much research on this subject and it is notoriously difficult to isolate the role of environment in engagement let alone measuring engagement itself, but a few conclusions are self evident. 
  • It stands to reason that students will not be engaged if they are physically uncomfortable.  If due to poor conditions, isolation or the possibility of bullying students are reluctant to use restrooms they will avoid drinking water to avoid the restrooms.  If they don't drink water they will become dehydrated.  If they become dehydrated there learning suffers.
  • It stands to reason that students that can't hear well do to a poor acoustical environment will be less engaged.
  • It stands to reason that students with attention spans ranging from 5 minutes for elementary students to 10 minutes for high school students in a windowless room with no visual relief will have attention difficulties.
  • It stands to reason that students working on projects in the wrong size room, and with the wrong furniture will be less engaged.
There are many more examples of how facilities influence engagement and so is it any wonder that facilities are complicit in "The Bargain?"

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