My recent post “If You’re a Teacher Who Denies Recess…” raised some questions about what a teacher could do if they couldn’t use recess as a bargaining chip to get students to complete their work and/or behave. I thought it was important for me to address these problems.
My attempt here is to show that all children deserve recess, and to look for other ways to deal with troublesome behavior so teachers don’t punish children by withholding recess.
I will provide suggestions for teachers (and parents), but please know that I am no know-it-all. Behavioral difficulties with students in ever increasing class sizes can be most challenging. But I will give some suggestions in three short posts. And if any teacher wants to join in and give their own solutions, please feel welcome.
First, I would never keep a student from recess for not completing work at school or homework.
The testing craze has made teachers push students to work faster. But faster doesn’t always mean better. Some students just work slowly. Students who try but don’t finish their assignments might also have a learning problem. Some parents and teachers might say, they know their kids and they are just lazy, but I would argue it is difficult to know that for sure.
I have never met a child, and I have known a lot of students with behavioral and learning disabilities, who didn’t want to do a good job in school. If they bubble Christmas trees in on test forms, or procrastinate doing their work, or even act out, it isn’t because they are saying, “I love to get into trouble.” It is because they have a problem. Acting out is almost always a defense mechanism to save face. So missing out on recess for these students exacerbates the problems they most likely already have with learning.
So my suggestion here is to look for the learning or some other problems, allow for more time, and maybe shorten the assignments. But still give these students recess. By the way, some gifted students work slowly on purpose. You may want to consider this issue too.
Second, dealing with students who have behavioral problems is more difficult. It seems natural to withhold recess if students act out or don’t behave in class.
But the research shows that these students need recess too! All children should get breaks from schoolwork during the day. Here is what pediatricians say about the importance of recess.
I think teachers might consider an attitude adjustment and I am not being glib. I think the pressure of high-stakes testing makes every assignment seem critical—like students will miss out on the skills of a lifetime…that they will fail the test. But there is also a point of diminishing returns where students no longer learn but might actually backslide.
Anthony D. Pellegrini, Emeritus Professor in School Psychology from the University of Minnesota, looked at students and recess in both the U.S. and the U.K. in his book Recess: Its Role in Education and Development. He compared attentiveness and performance between programs with and without recess. The book answers many questions about the connection of play to school performance. In looking at recess and cognitive performance, Pellegrini states:
One longitudinal study and three experiments were conducted to examine the extent to which recess was related to children’s cognitive performance. Basically, children, but especially boys, exhibited signs of inattention as length of deprivation increased. In short, having recess boosts attention.
Pelegrini found that with recess children’s attention increases, meaning they will focus more on the work. Without recess, students are more likely to lose that concentration and be distractible.
So I recommend an attitude adjustment for teachers if they think students will work harder without recess. Slow down if you can. Chances are, with a break children will do better.
Also, there is much to learn about a child’s behavior and interactions on the playground. School administrators and teachers should look closer at the work of Pellegrini and the benefits that can be derived for children and their success when it comes to recess.
Next: What About Behavior Modification in the Classroom?
Pellegrini, Anthony D. Recess: Its Role in Education and Development. (New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 2005), 153.