Sunday, 11 June 2017

What does ready look like?

School readiness is a hot topic at the moment.  In can be a hard one to lock down actually.  Many children start school quite 'compliant' they are willing to have a go, willing to try....but often they are a mystery because the don't seem to make the same progress as their peers.  Some are obvious they come into school operating at a 3-4 year professionals why would we expect these children to suddenly be able to read and write?

In a play-based environment it is now really easy to pick up social can be a little more difficult to pin down what exactly is going on in terms of learning readiness. I am really not liking calling it learning ready, because from day dot they are learning...I guess in this case I am referring to the academic readiness we have all become so preoccupied with, in a system that feels like a pressure cooker.  In fact in my opinion a traditional new entrant classroom is often slowing down and narrowing learning...but that is a blog post for another time, perhaps when I am feeling braver.  Learning should not be defined by what is measured by standards.

Over the years we have had a number of children who have been mysteries...they just don't seem to be able to make progress and while I am not overly preoccupied with this in the first year especially, I have often wondered if there was a way of picking up these children early and laying the foundations that may be lacking, the bits of their puzzle that are not quite there yet.

This usually comes back to gross and fine motor skills, two things you may not notice unless you really hone in on them.  In fact I had a group of boys one year that just desperately needed to develop their gross motor skills.  They couldn't hop, skip, crawl etc.  We basically had a workshop on this each day and low and behold their progress academically improved.  These skills are so vital in developing the cognitive connections for learning and if they are lacking will stall progress.

Children with limited fine motor skills will be reluctant writers...can you imagine wanting to use a pencil for a long period of time if this was physically difficult for you?  Can you imagine wanting to write at all?  It is like people that can not they choose to type for a period of time...?

Vocab development in my opinion is the new crisis in education.  Never before have I seen children entering school with such a lack of oral language.  Our classrooms are now full of children with immature speech, with many children not able to name everyday items.  They are our new ESOL children, would we expect 'normal' progress in language from an a child that had english as a second language.  How can you possibly read or write if you can not even name everyday objects.

With vocab as a huge area of need, then an awareness of phonics is just asking too much.  All the building blocks shown on the diagram below need to be in place for a child to achieve with 'happiness' at school.  I have learners who still need to stick their tongue out to perform everyday tasks, how can we expect them to be making what we would define as academic progress?  I am not saying this diagram is the be all and end all, but for myself in a play-based classroom it is a good place to start.

From my perspective as a teacher I will find this diagram as a useful starting point to 1)Assess readiness for even more learning and 2) Pinpoint an area that needs extra support before further progress can be made.  

This is just a starting point and my initial thoughts based on my research over the last couple of years, but it will form one of the assessment documents that is important in my play-based classroom and will be placed in each child's scrapbook for tracking purposes.  In my opinion this is real assessment, it really informs us, it is purposeful and of use to me in guiding a child's next steps cognitively.  Obviously within each section there is a lot of learning behind this and a lot of ways to get there.

Just as an aside, I am not saying that academic progress is impossible without these things in place, but I am thinking two to three years ahead..I think many of our learners that hit the wall and are tagged as 'reluctant' or needing 'recovery' or 'acceleration' can be traced back to one of these foundations lacking.  If we can slow down and ensure these foundations are in place in the first year, then we are doing them a great service later on!  Learning should be learning and enjoyable, not something that is a source of frustration.

Of course my answer for all of us is to embrace play-based learning.  In a classroom based on play these foundations become so much easier lay.  

My advice, slow down, embrace play, view children as individuals with individual needs...our children deserve it.

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