By Alex, Tolerance Day Ambassador
School uniform is an outfit that your school has told you to wear. 22% of schools have school uniform but should the number be raised?
1: They can break down class barriers between students.
When students don’t wear school uniforms it can be easy to spot the most privileged kids based on what they wear to school. One argument used in favor of school uniforms is that when kids wear uniforms visible class markers between rich kids and poor kids are decreased or eliminated, which may lead to more social mixing.
2: They can increase student focus.
Another argument that’s often in favour for uniforms is that they may increase student focus. The evidence for this seems to be thin, but many supporters of uniforms argue that when students don’t have clothing to notice, comment on or respond to, they can spend more energy on learning, this increases discipline in the classroom.
3: They can increase the sense of community in a school.
Uniforms may also build community in a school as students of all ages. children bond over the outfits they all wear on school days. When schools debate about whether they should have uniforms or not previous students have been in favour of keeping uniforms.
4: School uniforms can promote safety.
In areas where students may be gang-involved, uniforms can increase safety by preventing students from wearing clothing that inappropriate. Some people in favour of school uniforms argue that uniforms can increase student safety in school and outside of school, as well as increasing students’ ability to blend in and focus on learning without having to worry that their clothing choices.
1: They can be expensive for parents.
Keeping a child in school uniforms may be more expensive for parents and guardians than buying regular clothes would be. Often, uniforms are only available from a limited number of suppliers keeps prices high. Or, a uniform will include pricier items like blazers and dress shoes, which some families might struggle to afford.
2: Uniforms limit student self-expression.
Another argument made against uniforms is that they limit students’ self-expression. Teenagers in particular are famous for needing to express their emotions and their tastes in music, fashion and art through clothing, hair and piercings. School can be tough on kids and teens as it is, without taking away one of the few areas where they can exert some control and express themselves, say opponents of school uniforms.
3: Uniforms may be sexist.
Some uniforms may strike students and parents as sexist. For example, if a uniform requires girls to wear skirts and trousers are not allowed, some students and parents may object, leading to conflict with the school administration. Not all girls want to wear skirts and some may resent being told to wear traditionally “feminine” garments.
4: Uniforms lead to more policing of students.
If a school has a uniform policy, it generally tries to enforce that policy by monitoring students’ clothing and punishing students for violating uniform requirements. Of course, even schools that don’t require uniforms may police student clothing that’s deemed too revealing or offensive, but uniforms may add to the attention focused on student dress. This can make students feel that they’re being judged and punished for their appearance, which could have negative effects on student self-esteem or attitudes toward the school. And if students are sent home for uniform violations, they will miss valuable learning time. Plus, policing student uniforms takes time and effort on the part of teachers.
If we want to put questions at the heart of teaching, how do we do that without adding to teacher workload, or opening up the class to the dangers of disruption?
We know that small children ask hundreds of questions a day when they’re little. The number of those questions peak though, at around 288 a day by the time they’re four years old. By Year 5, they are down to about 3-4 questions a day, and by senior school that number gets even lower, as they become increasingly concerned about getting things wrong and looking stupid.
Given that research shows that teachers ask about 400 questions a day, could it be that children’s potential for questioning, for owning and guiding their own learning is being squashed by a teacher’s need to work through the curriculum?
The current educational system rewards correct answers rather than encouraging questions. It’s a reflection of society, where we value being expert and ‘right’, and as a culture we don’t like looking like we don’t know something. Unsurprising then, that teachers are the ones asking all the questions.
Given the importance of questioning in developing resilience and independent, critical thinking and decision-making skills however, we need to ask - why isn’t more being done to encourage it?
Some teachers believe that student questions can be disruptive or take the class off -topic and that, as a result, they won’t cover all the work that they need to get through. They want to maintain control of the class and its questions.
At the Learn2Think Foundation we are developing a range of methods for teachers to use to get pupils generating their own questions as part of the day-to-day running of lessons. The goal is to ensure that questions aren’t distracting, but rather an integral part of the learning process. A simple, easily integrated step, yet a significant leap in how teachers orchestrate learning.
It is a framework to get children asking questions at the beginning, middle and end of topics. Each topic begins with a question-storm -a take on the traditional brainstorm- in which pupils have a limited amount of time to come up with as many questions as possible. In the research phase of a topic, they get to devise their own questions as jump-off points for research. At the end they are encouraged to delve deeper, practise critical thinking skills and come up with the creative questions that reveal the fundamentals of the topic.
Question-stems or cues are provided to pupils as a prompt to get them into good questioning habits. The stems take them from simple to complex, moving them from volume generation of simple questions, to making connections and reasoning, through to creative and problem-solving questions. Games such as Jeopardy and Question-catch make it fun.
With this approach, the onus moves from the teacher to the student to do the thinking work of coming up with questions. The learner gets to play out their own curiosity.
A question is a precious thing. It provides insight into a person - their concerns, their passions, their dilemmas. We all need to be allowed to own them, to be comfortable asking them, and to have other people value them. If we don’t practice this within our educational system, our children will be LESS curious when they leave school than when they joined.
Picasso famously said: “Computers are useless. They can only provide answers”. Let’s not allow the next generation to leave an answer-driven education system incapable of questioning for themselves. They will be unable to solve the problems that the new world throws at them, and any knowledge they do leave school with, may well be made redundant by the likes of Siri and Alexa.
This article first appeared in the January 2019 issue of Education Today.
Why does an outstanding school ticking all the right boxes - with exceptionally well-trained staff, using all the technological bells and whistles- still fail to engage pupils with their own learning?
This was the question we were asked by a school we worked with recently, whose SLT had shadowed individual pupils for a week, hoping for a new perspective on their classroom culture. The teachers noticed one skill absent from their superficially capable cohort: they were not asking questions.
Why does it matter? What is so important about students asking questions?
Looking at the latest cognitive science, it appears that the act of asking a question not only plays a valuable role in the brain’s learning process, but is also a measure of engagement and depth of thinking.
The wonderful thing about a question is that it is generated from personal curiosity: to find out more about something new and interesting, to fill in a gap in understanding, or to challenge something that conflicts with an existing view. Ashwin Ram, computer and cognitive scientist, calls a question a ‘knowledge goal’, a personal driver and engager of a pupil’s short-term memory. Curiosity has been shown to have its own neural signature and occurs in the ‘zone of proximal learning’ or when we think we almost know something.
Competing for attention in the pupil’s potentially overloaded sensory register is the first hurdle many teachers face. Can your topic stimulus win the day against the day-dreaming, the pencil fiddling and the stomach rumbling? The more dissonance we create, the more surprising, the more heart-racing the stimulus, the more likely the brain is to begin processing it in short -term memory.
The next step for learning is the active processing of information, as the short-term memory can only hold something for 30 seconds before it is lost and your fabulous stimulus has gone to waste!
Information needs to be filed in long-term memory, otherwise it will not be available for later recall and use. This filing happens when the brain is actively engaged in thinking. This is hard and requires effort. It is only through the interplay between a students’ short-term and long -term memory (prior knowledge), that learning occurs. And it seems that generating their own questions is a powerful way of facilitating this interplay.
On the non-cognitive side, questions also have considerable psychological value. When examining student motivation, Columbia University Teacher’s College identified intrinsic factors, coming from within the student themselves, as far more powerful than external factors such as praise, grades or rewards. Amongst the main motivators they found were autonomy and purpose.
A question is a marvellous thing. It guarantees our attention, rewards us and then helps us make connections and lay down and reinforce neural pathways. In cognitive science terms it ticks all the boxes for effective learning. In psychological terms it is highly motivational, being personal to the asker, and showing purpose in the asking.
So why aren’t we cultivating and teaching questioning as a skill in its own right?
This piece originally appeared in the December 2018 of Education Today.
This year the Department for Education committed nearly £8m to the Curriculum Fund, to help teachers deliver the more challenging National Curriculum introduced in 2014, while reducing the unnecessary workload burden associated with curriculum planning and resourcing. A laudable ambition.
The pilot programme is focused on three elements: a knowledge-rich curriculum, whole-class teaching and teacher-led instruction. What’s important in the Government’s approach, however, is ensuring that ‘teacher-led’ doesn’t minimise the importance of the need for children to take ownership of their own education. The Montessori approach for example, perhaps the antithesis of ‘teacher-led’ has produced exceptional outliers such as Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. It’s important to recognize that there is no ‘one-size fits all’ methodology, so why not make sure we take the very best bits from all approaches?
So how do we take useful child-led elements from the likes of Montessori, apply them to existing classroom methods, and not overburden teachers with more work?
Best-selling non-fiction author Christopher Lloyd has launched a new initiative to raise awareness of the importance of an interconnected, cross-curricular approach to knowledge and education. He says, “Only by connecting knowledge back together again can children learn to think out of the box, develop critical thinking skills and become their own self-learning systems.”
As the Institute of Education’s Ruth Dann says, “Recognition of the importance of curiosity is evident in policy directives and regulatory frameworks governing both the teaching profession and the curriculum”. And now a pilot based on Lloyds latest book Absolutely Everything, the ‘Curiosity Curriculum’, gives pupils the opportunity to develop their own learning journey along a world history timeline that spans 3000 years. As they travel on six subject lines, rather than being told what to learn, students choose from a library of hundreds of Challenges spread across the timeline. The lines intersect, and the pupils must constantly hop between the different subjects in order to progress.
Taking another approach, at Learn2Think we are developing a way for pupils to cultivate their critical thinking through questioning skills, whilst working within existing lesson formats. Questioning can be seen as a measure of engagement and of depth of thinking. By pupils asking the questions they get to own their own ‘knowledge goals’. A. Ram, whose background is in computer science, states: “The ability to ask questions is central to the process of learning, reasoning and understanding,” supporting Choinard’s claim that, “The content of children’s questions parallel their conceptual advances.”
It is telling that levels of questioning fall off from the age of 5, and continue to diminish as children move through the school system. Is this because they’ve just stopped asking questions or because their motivations and engagement have plummeted?
Is it because we assume that asking questions is something children are born with, so we don’t need to teach it? Is it just a thing we do naturally? Does asking questions imply a degree of ‘not knowing’, which pupils are reluctant to admit to? Do teacher’s find the asking of questions disruptive?
Learn2Think believe that if teachers are given a framework for question generation at certain points of the lesson, and pupils learn to use questions to further their own learning, questioning can be a powerful tool for teachers to increase levels of engagement whilst still leading the process.
And don’t forget, if you want to encourage your children to engage in some questioning, enter your pupils in the Learn2Think Young Journalism Competition, part of Tolerance Day 2018. For more information http://www.toleranceday.org/young-journalist-prize-2018.html
Further detail of the Curiosity programme can be found at www.gocuriosity.com