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Two Lessons From the World for American Schools: Movement and Curriculum


Lillie Marshall

Though I agree with Rick Hess that we shouldn't work ourselves into a froth about the recent PISA data, we do have much to learn from how other nations approach education. Here are two practices from abroad that I think America should adopt.

Embrace Movement

During my travels in China and other countries in Asia, school groups doing outdoor calisthenics were a regular sight. Each morning, hundreds of children stood in rows, reaching their arms to the sky, touching their toes, and jumping up and down. The sight always made me happy. When I took a class in Thailand, myself, we started each day with flowing movement and stretching, and it made a huge difference in my well-being. American schools need more of this movement!

Exercise doesn't need to look like calisthenics in rows, however. While teaching in Ghana in West Africa, I loved how dance was incorporated throughout the school day. For example, one long academic assembly had a dance intermission during which music was played and the kids could weave around the desks in joyous movement. When they got back to work, they were smiling and focused. I immediately realized what a difference this would make for my squirmy students back home.

Recent research on the positive effects of exercise on the brain is shocking. Movement may be the magic pill to boost test scores and health and improve behavior. There are many reasons people give why exercise "can't be done" regularly in American schools, but if schools implement it early enough, kids will get into the groove and be used to it by the upper grades. The results of adding  more movement to American education would be powerful.

Embrace the World

"I had no idea some places in the world don't have access to clean water!" exclaimed more than one of my 7th graders this year. The most wonderful new element in my ten-year teaching career has been a global shift in our curriculum so students can learn about what is really going on around the world. While conducting interdisciplinary research projects on different countries, students have gained a global perspective on culture, poverty, education, and the environment. As a result, they are far better equipped to navigate the year 2013 and beyond.

The importance of a global curriculum became evident to me when I was working with an NGO in Ghana and observed a "Cross-Culture Class" in which young Ghanaian students (most of whom were living in poverty) learned and debated about the United Nations Millenium Development Goals to end world poverty and its effects. (The inspiring Ghanaian teacher of this class has since tragically passed away in his early 40s due to a preventable disease.) Observing this class made me realize: Why do we shelter American students from what is really happening in other parts of the world? Young people ache to learn about other countries and to effect change. If learning in Ghana can be globally focused, learning in our country can be, too. Curriculum in American schools must embrace the world.

There are countless other lessons we can learn from other countries, but these are the two that stand out to me the most. Have you seen either of these elements implemented well, either in America or beyond? What else would you add to this list? I look forward to reading your responses.

Lillie Marshall has been teaching in Boston Public Schools since 2003. Follow her on Twitter at @WorldLillie and at her Global Education websites, www.AroundTheWorldL.com and www.TeachingTraveling.com.

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