Thursday, 18 May 2017

Teaching - First Do No Harm

This is not directly about Number Agents and is taken from my professional inquiry blog

It is has been entrenched in me that as a new entrant teacher one of my main roles is to teach children to read and write.  In fact I often feel like a failure when I pass children on that are only at emergent level...don't know their alphabet or recognise words.  I worry when they can't write, I feel like I have failed them...I wonder what I could have done differently.  Yet I know how far they have come, I know that when they started that couldn't speak in a sentence, hold a pencil, draw a picture, share with others, take turns, even wipe their bottom in some cases.  So why do I continue to do this, to worry, when all research says it is needless worry.

Even after all of the research I have done, after everything I know about the brain, after everything I have read this is still a battle that rages in my mind.  Within the professional discourse I have with myself, it is a real juxtaposition.

There is one reason for this and it is compliance.  National Standards force us into thinking children need to be at a certain point at a certain time...this is simply not true.  National Standards force parents into thinking that their child has to be at a certain point and if they are not, there is something wrong with them, or perhaps the school are not doing their job, or perhaps the teachers are simply not working hard enough....or perhaps they are playing too much!

Well you know is not the children that need to change, it is us.

I have found loads of overwhelming research that points to the fact that our system is wrong...perhaps we need to be brave and follow our instincts more often.


Copied and Pasted From The Full Article Here

The Evidence on Early Reading Instruction To report on the question of early reading, Sebastian Suggate summarized his own studies and those of others that shed light on the issue. Suggate is a professor of psychology from New Zealand who teaches at the Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences in Bonn, Germany. In 2007 Suggate began to study childhood reading, which became the topic of his doctoral thesis. His studies raise serious doubts about the effectiveness of early reading instruction. In his doctoral thesis Suggate concludes that there is no solid evidence showing long-term gains for children who are taught to read in kindergarten.14 In fact, by fourth grade and beyond, these children read at the same level as those who were taught to read in the first grade. Suggate has continued to study the question of why children should learn to read at five when those who learn at six or seven do just as well by age 11. He also considers what harm is done by focusing so much kindergarten time on reading instruction, leaving little time for other much-needed activities.15 Dr. Marcy Guddemi, executive director of the Gesell Institute, reports: 4 Defending the Early Years • Alliance for Childhood Reading Instruction in Kindergarten Dr. Arnold Gesell found that all children go on the same path of development; however, some go faster, some go slower, and all have spurts and set-backs along the way. The obvious example is the age that children learn to walk. Some children learn to walk as early as nine months, some as late as 15 months. But that is all normal and we all agree that the early walker is not a better walker than the later walker. A similar example is the age that children learn to read. Some children learn to read at age three or four years, others not until seven years or later. That range is quite normal. The most compelling part of the reading research is that by the end of third grade, early readers have no advantage over later readers. Some later readers even go on to become the top in their class. Reading early is not an indicator of higher intelligence. In fact, children at the top of their class in kindergarten only have a 40 percent chance of being at the top of their class at the end of third grade.16 While it is true that some children in kindergarten and the early elementary grades do need specific kinds of extra support in learning to read, the kind of support needed and when it is given is highly individual. It is competent, skilled teachers who can best recognize whether a child needs specific support or is progressing more slowly and simply needs more time.

A number of long-term studies point to greater gains for students in play-based programs as compared to their peers in academically-oriented preschools and kindergartens in which early reading instruction is generally a key component. Findings from HighScope’s Preschool Curriculum Comparison Study, for example, suggest long-term harm, especially in the social-emotional realm, from overly directive preschool instruction. In this study, begun in the late 1960s, 68 children from low-income homes were randomly assigned to one of three preschool classes. Two were play-based and experiential. The third was a scripted, direct-instruction approach. Interestingly, there were very similar short-term gains among the children in all three programs at the end of year one. But the children were followed until age 23. By that time, there were significant differences in social behavior.17 School records indicate that 47 percent of the children assigned to the direct instruction classroom needed special education for social difficulties versus only 6 percent from the play-oriented preschool classrooms. And by age 23, police records showed a higher rate of arrests for felony offenses among those who were previously in the instructional program (34 percent) compared to those in the play-based programs (9 percent). Rebecca Marcon found negative effects of overly directed preschool instruction on later school performance in a study of three different curricula, described as either “academically oriented” or “child initiated.”18 By third grade, her group of 343 students — 96% African American with 75% of the children qualifying for subsidized school lunch — displayed few differences in academic achievement programs. After six years of school, however, students who had been in the groups that were “more academically directed earned significantly lower grades compared to children who had attended child-initiated preschool classes. Children’s later school success appears to have been enhanced by more active, child-initiated early learning experiences.”19 A study with similar outcomes was done in Germany where play-based kindergartens were being transformed into early learning centers in the 1970s. The study compared 50 kindergarten classes using each of the two approaches. The children were followed through grade four, and those from the play-based programs excelled over the others on all 17 measures, including being more advanced in reading and mathematics and being better adjusted socially and emotionally in school. As a result the German kindergartens again became play based.

How Young Children Learn
All aspects of the child — cognitive, social, emotional, and physical — are inextricably linked in learning. Through engaging in meaningful experiences in the real world, including in creative play and interactions with caring adults, children build skills and knowledge onto what they already know. Within the overall patterns of development, each child’s trajectory is unique. Children develop at different rates and come from a wide variety of cultural and language backgrounds; they build new ideas onto their prior understanding and experiences. Thus, any child’s learning in any given situation is distinct. Children learn best when they are engaged in activities geared to their developmental levels, prior experiences and current needs. As they construct their ideas through play and hands-on activities that make sense to them, children’s knowledge builds in a gradual progression that is solid and unshakable. They build a foundation of meaning that provides the basis for understanding concepts in language, literacy, math, science and the arts. In active learning, their capacities for language development, social and emotional awareness, problem solving, self-regulation, creativity, and original thinking develop, transforming them into effective learners. Children learn through playful, hands-on experiences with materials, the natural world, and engaging, caring adults. How does experiential, play-based learning create the foundation for print literacy? Our written language is a system of abstract symbols that represent the spoken word. Young children take years to build the foundation they need to be able to make sense of print. An important aspect of this process is being able to understand these abstract symbols. Children learn that real things can be represented by symbols when they play and use hands-on materials. For example, a toddler might pretend that his wooden block is a phone to call daddy, a preschooler might turn her mud pie into a birthday cake, and a kindergartener might draw a picture of his family. Children engage in symbolic activities like these throughout the early years of childhood. Very slowly, especially in a print-rich environment and with the guidance of a skilled teacher, children begin to find meaningful ways to bring letter symbols into their play scenarios. This progression is gradual and very important; the great many ways that children use symbols in their play with materials builds the strong foundation for understanding the abstract symbols in our print system. Being able to read well will also depend on the strength of a child’s oral language development. Active, play-based experiences in the early years foster strong oral language in children. As children engage in active learning experiences and play, they are talking and listening all the time. They attach words to their actions, talk with peers and teachers, learn new vocabulary and use more complex grammar. As they build, make paintings, and engage in imaginative play, they deepen their understanding of word meanings. As they listen to and create stories, hear rich language texts, sing songs, poems and chants, their foundation for reading grows strong. Early education can also provide children with a wide range of life experiences that enrich their understanding of the world and help them comprehend the content of books. For children who have not experienced gardens or farms, forests or parks, supermarkets or a host of other public spaces, references to them in books can be puzzling. But teachers can help children plant seeds and tend them, name animals and care for them, visit parks and streams, and broaden their first-hand knowledge of the world around them. Through classroom activities, projects, and field trips, teachers strengthen children’s background knowledge for making sense of print.

Interesting - Children will teach themselves to read

And this article is just gold!

This extract is great:
We know that our little ones walk and talk on their own timetables. No rewards or punishments are necessary to “teach” them. Yet children are expected to read, write and spell starting at five and six years old as if they develop the same way at the same time. Academics are pushed on young children with the assumption this will make them better students. This approach is not only unnecessary, it may be contributing to problems such as learning disorders, attention deficits, and long term stress.
Studies contrasting reading instruction at age five compared to instruction at age seven find earlier lessons may damage reading development. By the time children reach the age of 11, students who were instructed earlier show poorer text comprehension and less positive attitudes toward reading than children whose instruction started later.
Literacy isn’t easy. It requires children to decode shapes into sounds and words, to remember these words correctly in written and spoken form, and to understand their meaning. Allowing reading to develop naturally or teaching it later tends to create eager, lifelong readers. Why?
So what, what does this mean for me and my practice?
In an environment that expects children to learn to read from five, it is breaking quite new ground.  What can we do in our classroom?
-We already delay the start of formal reading in our class for up to three months.  For most, this is just the right amount of time for them to display readiness.  But what about the rest?  What happens when we get to three months and they are not ready yet?  How do I communicate this to parents?  At the moment I have just been beginning individual reading....but what is the point?  Based on the research about, I am doing a disservice to the child.
-I think the key is to start a 'reading to' group.  This group will come to us to have a book read to them....they will take a book home, but it will be clearly communicated to parents that because their child is not quite ready to kick off with reading yet, that they book is intended for them to read to them.  So a slight step up from nursery rhymes...but still not formal reading.  I will trial this and see how it goes.  Perhaps sharing some of these articles with those parents would also be useful.
An interesting point to ask ourselves is who is more worried about a child that does not read or write in their first year. Is it us or the child?  I think in a lovely gentle, play-based environment that it has to be us.  We are worried because the gap is large, we have to then cater in year 2 and 3 for a wider range of need...or would we?  How can we change or view of what learning is, so that children can teach themselves to read and write when they are ready?  

How can you be boosted or accelerated if cognitively you are not even ready to read or write...and what is the point...who is it for?

Something to think about.  Maybe instead of the term below...we could have a column that just says, not ready yet...:)

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