LEARNING: How to Be Better

Collaborator: Brittany Harlow
Published: 12/28/2020, 9:26 PM
Edited: 03/11/2021, 10:22 AM
(TULSA, Okla.) “We need a change.” Those four words sum up the sentiment VNN has received over the last three months, speaking with educators and experts across Oklahoma. “I know someone who did her dissertation in Texas where she looked at the number of minutes of recess and compared it to test scores,” child development specialist Dr. Barbara Sorrels told us. “Guess what? More recess, higher test scores. Because we know that gross motor movement actually stimulates brain growth and development.” The COVID-19 pandemic may have changed the location of where many Oklahoma children are learning and how, but the goal is still the same. State standards are still a requirement, and state standardized tests are still on. Despite a mountain of evidence supporting play-based and social emotional learning in the classroom, the mountain that is traditional learning structure and measurement hasn’t budged very much. “Traditional models tell us that we change behavior through reward and punishment, power and control, coercion and threat,” Sorrels said. “We know that that's not true anymore. Our power comes from our connection to that child.” “Unfortunately, those who know nothing about children make the rules and those who know something are asked to comply.” Until now. “It’s not any of the teachers’ fault. It's a system.” Jacob Rosecrants (D-Norman) taught 7th grade Geography in Oklahoma City before being elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2017. He said he became a lawmaker to change the current system. Rosecrants told us classrooms are becoming joyless places. And with mandated reading tests starting in third grade, of which failing scores could mean being held back, they’re full of pressure, too. “First thing’s first is, as a parent of children, very inquisitive children who were they love to read,” Rosecrants said. “They had imagination. All of that kind of went away as soon as they got to school. The joy of learning and teaching. We don't see a whole lot of that anymore. I promise you, it's a really sad thing.” Rosecrants said, like most other teachers, he learned the importance of play-based learning in college. But when teachers get into the classroom often times the play... goes away. Even in Kindergarten classrooms. “I rebelled immensely whenever I was a teacher, against that,” Rosecrants said. “And probably was called into the principal's office more than my own kids.” “I want to make sure and protect the teachers that are out there that are, I guess I would say, doing play-based learning behind closed doors type idea, you know what I mean? In 2019, Rosecrants formed a work group of 30 educators, parents and medical professionals. Their ideas birthed the Oklahoma Play Based Learning Initiative, House Bill 2794 in 2020. “The whole point behind it was to empower teachers to do exactly as they know they need to do in these early childhood education grades from pre-K to third grade,” Rosecrants said. After Rosecrants ditched the bill’s price tag for training, the bill passed the House almost unanimously. But it ended there. “That bill unfortunately died in the Senate because of the rise of COVID here in Oklahoma,” Rosecrants said. “Everything's shut down except for bills that were deemed essential. And I didn't put this on the essential bills because as much as I think it's essential, we had bigger fish to fry at the time.” Rosecrants kept the momentum going. During his interim study in September of this year, multiple educators spoke about how they have been forced to bench play-based learning in favor of accommodating other state mandates. Children learn through play, but aren’t facts and figures necessary to make children smarter? Experts say, not so much. “That higher part of the brain that learns letters, numbers, colors, sounds and shapes is the easiest part of the brain to change,” Sorrels told us. “What we need to be focusing on in the early childhood years is the capacity for self-awareness, the capacity for self-regulation, focused attention, social skills, dispositions toward learning, and all that comes online through play, not sitting at a desk, coloring my worksheets or bubbling answers to tasks, or being skilled and drilled on letters and numbers and colors and sounds. That's the easy stuff to teach children. When I have this developmental part in place.” In addition to play-based learning, Sorrels said smaller class sizes, outdoor learning, and rhythm and movement need to be the standards for truly effective teaching. While those goals aren’t nearly as achievable in a pandemic-altered setting, Sorrels said educational focus and assessment should still be on the ways in which children actually learn. “So, what if they had nine months of play? What if we had nine months of connection?” Sorrels said. “I really think we would be coming out on the other side better for it than if all we think about is, oh, my goodness, all the academics that they're going to lose. Like I said, that all that cortex stuff can be recovered.” Teachers and schools are getting some kind of a break as a result of the pandemic. Earlier this month, the Oklahoma Department of Education announced they were suspending the state’s A-F school grading system for the 2020-2021 school year. In a press release announcing the suspension, Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said in part: “Our priority is to now provide schools with as much information as we can on how students may have been impacted when compared to grade-level expectations, with an emphasis on the impact to students most at risk of falling behind academically.”  Rosecrants said the A-F school grading system needs to be abolished altogether. And that’s not all. “My big goal in my 12 years here would be to sunset the RSA, the Reading Proficiency Act,” he said. “But that’s going to take some time.” Standardized tests are still on for this school year; English language arts, mathematics and science for grades 3 through 8, and the ACT or SAT for high school juniors. Meanwhile, the movement to improve Oklahoma’s education system is growing. The Facebook group “Oklahoma Play-based Learning Initiative” has now swelled to more than 5,000 members. And although the pandemic has thrown a wrench in Rosecrants’ plans to help kids and teachers through the legislative channel, but he has his toolbox open for the next session. The 2021 legislative session kicks off February 1. Rosecrants said his bill, returning as the “Oklahoma Play to Learn Act”, will be filed by the state’s January 2020 deadline. The Oklahoma Media Center is a collaborative of 18 Oklahoma newsrooms that includes print, broadcast and digital partners. The OMC’s first project is Changing Course: Education & COVID. This story is part of that effort. Missed parts 1 and 2 of VNN’s LEARNING series? Click the links below. LEARNING: What Has Happened (1) https://app.verifiednews.network/articles/share/1475 LEARNING: Old Methods vs. New (2) https://app.verifiednews.network/articles/share/1511


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