Jan. 4, 2019
NORTH ADAMS, MASS. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) Professor of Education Dale Borman Fink, Ph.D., published two articles this fall on the value of elementary school recess – one that highlights the experiences of children, and the other on the perspectives of elementary educators.
Both articles focus on a strategy that is used by many teachers; denying recess to individual students as a way of enforcing academic and behavioral goals in the classroom. According to a 2010 Gallup survey, 77 percent of principals or other building administrators reported that some or all of their teachers used the withholding of recess as punishment.
The articles grew from research Fink conducted in Berkshire County schools. His co-author on both articles, Catherine L. Ramstetter, Ph.D., extended the data gathering methods he designed to school districts in other states.
Their first article, “Even if They’re Being Bad, Maybe They Need a Chance to Run Around: What Children Think about Recess,” was based on interviews Fink conducted with third- and fifth-graders. This marks the first time the voices and opinions of children have appeared in a peer-reviewed study on this topic. It was published in November 2018 by the Journal of School Health, a monthly peer-reviewed academic journal published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the American School Health Association.
Among Fink and Ramstetter’s findings was that the withholding of recess was inadvertently undermining respect and trust between teachers and many of their students. Through interviews, as well as drawings and writings, most children expressed that they wanted more and longer recess times.
A second article was published in the Winter 2018-19 edition of American Educator, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Federation of Teachers. “Ready for Recess: The Elementary School Teacher’s Perspective,” aims to promote a deeper, more complex understanding of the challenge that “recess time” poses for educators.
After surveying teachers in three Massachusetts school districts and two Ohio districts, Fink and Ramstetter broke the numbers down from the Gallup survey to the level of individual teachers. They found that 100 percent of teachers checked off their belief in at least one benefit of recess—usually that it promoted “health and well-being” or “social development.”
However, in spite of this belief, 68 percent of those surveyed had used the tactic of withholding recess at least once during the current academic year. Two-thirds of them used it because “students’ words or actions violated behavioral expectations.” Others withheld recess because students did not bring in homework, failed to complete work during class, or other reasons.
Fink and Ramstetter found that, based on survey responses as well as teacher interviews – even among educators who do withhold recess – many worry that the strategy is at best a weak and imprecise disciplinary tool that could backfire. Most teachers seemed to feel that if they were denying a student recess as often as four times a month the strategy was not having the desired effect.
Fink’s interest in this subject was sparked when MCLA teaching candidates began telling him of their experiences in field placements. “They told me that the students who needed recess the most were the ones most likely to be kept inside, and that it seemed to be the same ones, week after week.”
When his own son entered first grade and had his recess taken away, the issue became even more personal and pressing to Fink. A topic that was seeded by those experiences over 10 years ago now is flowering into a series of publications.
Fink is in his 13th year teaching in MCLA’s Education Department, as well as the College’s creative arts core. Ramstetter is a certified health education specialist in Ohio, and lead author of a position statement on the importance of recess adopted a few years ago by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
For more information about “Even if They’re Being Bad, Maybe They Need a Chance to Run Around: What Children Think about Recess,” go to https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/josh.12704.
For more information about “Ready for Recess: The Elementary School Teacher’s Perspective,” go to https://www.aft.org/ae/winter2018-2019/ramstetter_fink.
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) is the Commonwealth's public liberal arts college and a campus of the Massachusetts state university system. MCLA promotes excellence in learning and teaching, innovative scholarship, intellectual creativity, public service, applied knowledge, and active and responsible citizenship. MCLA graduates are prepared to be practical problem solvers and engaged, resilient global citizens.
For more information, go to www.mcla.edu.