Previous studies have shown that these schools schedule much shorter recess time than more advantaged school districts. This may reflect the fact that these schools are trying to address academic weaknesses by increasing instructional programs, but has raised concerns about the impact of lost play time on students.
The study evaluated a program called Playworks, which is designed to structure recess to help schools help students in six key areas: school climate, conflict resolution and aggression, learning and academic performance, recess experience, youth development and student behavior.
Using Recess to Promote Cooperation
The Playworks program uses recess time to address social and emotional development issues. The nonprofit group, in research sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, placed full time coaches in low-income schools to provide opportunities for organized play during recess and class time.
The coaches helped engage fourth and fifth graders in physical activity and gave them the social skills, such as using the tried and true rock-paper-scissors technique, needed for better cooperation and conflict resolution, so they spent more time playing and less time arguing or fighting. Playworks also trained junior coaches to help students develop leadership skills themselves and serve as role models for other students and offered an after-school program.
Playworks aims not to prevent conflict, but to help students manage it better.
The researchers, from Mathematica Policy Research and the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University, were interested in how well the Playworks program could be integrated into schools, how it might improve the schools' atmospheres, and how it was perceived by students and staff.
The program was initiated in 14 elementary schools during the 2010-11 academic year, while 11 schools had their usual recess activities and served as a control group. The principals who elected to participate in the Playworks program were motivated, many indicated, by the hope of better organization of recess time, improvement of school climate, improved safety, and reduction of conflicts as goals motivating their participation.
The idea behind the fully implemented program is that recess becomes both more structured and more organized, thus prompting students to practice their social skills. According to the report, "Rather than striving to eliminate all conflict, Playworks aims to give students the tools to better manage conflicts when they arise."
Guidance on the Playground
The researchers evaluated the program based on onsite observations and feedback from 1,982 fourth and fifth grade students, 247 teachers, and 25 principals, as well as the 14 Playworks coaches who participated in the study. They also looked at how difficult it was to integrate the Playworks program into schools and found that the Playworks implementation was strong in seven of the study schools, and moderate in five.