Monday, 31 December 2012

Is children's behaviour worse when it's windy?

It’s windy today, with gusts up to gale force predicted. This is the sort of weather when primary teachers will solemnly say in the staff room, ‘the children are going to be awful today’. I remember that when I was training to be a teacher, one of the trainees said in a behaviour management seminar that behaviour was worse when windy, and other trainees nodded in agreement as if it were a well-known, established fact that the more the anemometer spins the faster children leap from table to table. The tutor raised his eyebrows, and prevented the discussion going further by suggesting that it was probably the teachers’ expectations that led to children misbehaving.

It’s not just a British theory. This is from a Montessori school blog in the USA:
Beth commented to me about how chaotic the classroom seemed one morning.  With one look outside I turned to her and said, “Windy day outside”.  I explained to her I can tell the type of day we’ll have at school based on the wind.  She was impressed and agreed with me, she never made that connection.
At the first couple of schools where I worked, the view that windy weather causes misbehaviour was often expressed. However, I then worked at a school where no one mentioned it at all, so there were no expectations communicated to the children. One very windy day I decided to make an informal investigation, based unscientifically on my own observations. I was on duty at playtime, and there were no more negative incidents than normal. I went past other people’s classrooms, and there was no more noise than normal. My own class seemed no different even though the view from the window showed horses and sheep trembling while vegetation sped past.

While there is some scientific evidence (such as this 1999 study) that all humans (not just children) can be slightly affected by changes in the weather (not just wind), it is broadly an old wives’ tale. Teachers who think that the children are going to play up may unconsciously cause this by their own expectations which they communicate to the children (“just because it’s windy outside I don’t want anyone to use this as an excuse for being naughty”), or perhaps they are more alert to misbehaviour because of their assumptions. Or they have had a rotten journey to school in the bad weather and are more touchy than usual.

The only element of truth I can discern is this: where there is an increase in the noise of pupils talking in a classroom, there are certain children who cannot stop themselves from either humming, singing or rhythmically tapping. Perhaps when the white noise increases outside, there is an increase in classroom noise generally. But that is the limit of it.

What is the origin of this notion? Perhaps it has its roots in the nineteenth-century origin of universal primary education, at a time when people were more familiar with the daily sight of animals. Anyone who has a cat will know how agitated they become when there is windy weather, and dogs respond to drops in the barometer. The same with farm animals. Maybe this is because the wind confuses their senses: local smells vanish, the white noise of rushing wind dominates the sound. Teachers often humorously compare children to animals: does the theory of poor children’s behaviour contain the vestige of a nineteenth century teachers’ joke? The horses are neighing, the cats are bristling, the dog is running wildly down the street and the children are going to be a nightmare today.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

What should you do if your primary pupils are on Facebook?

Perhaps the most flagrantly breached rule on the Internet is the age limit for using social media. The age is usually 13 (simply because that is the age in the USA above which websites can legally ask for personal data).

The risks of Facebook (FB) include children sending bullying messages, posting labelled photographs of themselves and their friends, and of course strangers making contact with them.

So as a teacher what should you do if your pupils are using it?

First of all, be careful. How do you know they are using it? Have you searched for your pupils online? If so, who authorised you to do that? Obviously, the point I am making is that what for you is an act of concern, is for another person an act of interference in what should be a matter between child and parent (and maybe for another person what you did was just short of stalking).

Secondly, if your aim is to get these illicit users off FB, you won’t win. If children are using FB they will not stop because their teacher said so, and telling them to close their accounts will result in less respect for you. Bear in mind that although the children will have lied about their age to FB, this of itself is not in breach of any UK law, and they may have done it with the support of their parents.

Deletion of accounts is not likely to be an option. Anyone finding a Facebook page belonging to a child under 13 is encouraged by FB to report it, and FB will then remove the account. However a teacher is on uncertain ground in making such a report, and in any case a child can set up another account immediately.

I'd suggest the following three-pronged approach.

1) Inform parents that the school advises that children not be allowed to have FB accounts. The school will be unable to support in the event that a child who has such an account, in contravention of FB and school regulations, is bullied using this medium. Words to this effect could be part of your school cyber-bullying policy.

2) But far better than talking to parents, deal with FB membership through educating the children. Repeatedly explain to the children (from Y5 upwards) about the potential for hurting people. Warn them that, although hurtful and bullying comments don’t leave scars and bruises, anything they write on FB leaves a permanent record. Harrassment, slander and verbal abuse are illegal acts, and children of 10 upwards are considered responsible for their own actions. Warn the more savvy ones that even if they have maximum privacy settings, a court can order FB to hand over any posts.

3) While making it clear that the school does not condone FB accounts, educate children in the risks of having accounts completely open. Address the issue directly by making up an imaginary child’s unprotected FB page and showing it on the board or handing out as hard copy. Ask the children what they know about the owner of this account, what the child likes, what they dislike, what their habits are, where they ‘hang out’. Through role play show how easy it would be for them to be fooled into a meeting with a stranger. Hopefully this will shock them into adjusting their privacy settings, but follow it up with a letter home anyway.