3Give Every Teacher a Microphone
It almost sounds too simple: Studies show that if you give every teacher a lapel mike, a transmitter and a couple of speakers, it can make all the difference in the world for the kids' ability to absorb what they're saying. That is, if the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association is to be believed (assuming it's not just a front for Big Microphone). The association has been keeping track of some of the 160,000 classrooms using sounds systems, and the results are impressive. In one New Jersey school district, for example, the number of first-grade students scoring at grade level jumped from 59 percent in September to 89 percent in May, with the only difference in classroom instruction being an added sound field system.
Soiled underwear incidents went up 300 percent.
Students also reported an increase in the incidences of teachers saying, "Is this mike on? But seriously ..." before repeating jokes they heard on Leno the night before, but that really had nothing to do with the study. There has also probably been some middle-age beat boxing here and there.
"One, one two, two two, two ... WHY ISN'T ANYONE WRITING THIS DOWN? MATHS!"
Why Does This Work?
It's not as simple as "kids can hear them better." Though that's part of it.
Just like their misplaced sense of entitlement, children's auditory systems are not mature until they reach 13 to 15 years of age. A speaker in an auditory-based learning environment (such as an escape rocket carrying a superhuman baby to Earth or a typical school classroom) is going to have to not only compete with a hosts of background noises, like AC units, shuffling chairs, gabby talkers and armpit farts, but also make herself understood to kids whose little ears aren't even fully functional yet. And for those of you who've never tried to make yourself heard over 25 5-year-olds, six hours a day, five days a week, it's exhausting.
Three seconds later, their eardrums ruptured.
According to teachers who have tried microphones, the sound systems prevented vocal fatigue, throat infections and overall stress for both teachers and students. And most teachers didn't want to give their sound systems up once they got them. Even more importantly, classes with mics reported fewer absences than in previous years, probably due to the less-stressful classroom environment.
Or the sick rhymes the teacher couldn't resist spitting into the mic. One or the other.
2Make Kids Think Positive
This one is strange, yet there are multiple experiments that show it works: Writing a huge letter "A" at the top of their papers before doing an assignment makes kids score better. Conversely, writing the letter "F" causes students to perform worse.
"This was 'ucking aw'ul. But don't be too disheartened!"
In one study, over a hundred students were instructed to write one of the following letters at the top of their tests: "A," "J" or "F." Those who wrote the letter "A" at the top of their tests did better than those who wrote the letter "F." Those who wrote the letter "J" (used as a neutral letter without inherent meaning to grades) scored in between the two. Even though students had no idea what the experiment was about -- they just thought their tests were randomly lettered -- just the act of writing those letters on their papers programmed them to succeed or fail. And not just once, but in three different experiments.
Why Does This Work?
In the same way that seeing a picture of the late Patrick Swayze programs us to have the time of our lives, seeing an "A" primes young brains for success. According to researchers, "Exposure to the letter 'A' made the students non-consciously approach the task with the aim to succeed, while exposure to [the] letter 'F' made the students non-consciously want to avoid failure."
Exposure to the letter "B" resulted in a conscious effort to do better, and also wild flailing.
Obviously, the broader point isn't just to make the kids scrawl "A"s on everything; it's that confidence and a positive outlook seem to play a huge role in kids' ability to do their best work. And also, that kids' mushy little brains are not difficult to prime in this direction. Researchers suggested that teachers decorate their classroom with "A+" posters and other symbols of achievement. We suggest playing that speech from Braveheart before every test. Whatever works.
"And if you don't do well, I'm positive I'll behead each and every one of you."