Saturday, 16 June 2018

Food For Thought - Why are we so worried about what children are NOT doing?

I continue to come across thinking around school entry and learning readiness that worries me.  There is so much information out that about how the brain develops and the time that this may take, yet it seems to be largely ignored.  I am not going to go back through this research as I have posted about this before.

Firstly let me get it out there again...I hate the word acceleration.  I don't believe we need this word in order to understand that some children just need extra support.  All learners should have the benefit of being known on an individual level, not just those targeted for acceleration.  As teachers I feel it is our responsibility to know each and every child for who they are as an individual and do our absolute best to support them wherever they are up to.  This may be children technically thought of as struggling, those at an 'expected' level and those children working above expected level.  In fact my view of acceleration is that in order to best support children we actually have to slow down, not force more learning down their throat.    If we were to apply the thinking of Te Whariki, we would no longer apply deficit thinking, but it would be obvious how far they actually had come.  Just because children enter primary school this doesn't mean they should move from the wonderfully open curriculum of Te Whåriki into a narrowly focused learning environment academic acquisition.  I love this paragraph from Te Whåriki on an inclusive curriculum

"Te Whåriki holds the promise that al children will be empowered to learn with and alongside others by engaging in experiences that have meaning for them.  This requires kaiako to actively respond to the strengths, interests, abilities, and needs of each child and, at times, provide for them with additional support in relation to learning, behaviour, development or communication."

What a fabulous statement for all levels of education!

How do we do this?  Well it starts with actually knowing how learners develop, how the brain develops and how we can tune into this development to best assist children. Nathan Wallis speaks about this in terms of building a wouldn't put the roof on before laying foundations and building the walls necessary to support the roof would you?

So why is it that the minute children enter school we leap into learning the alphabet and maths, why do we foist them into an emergent reading group (where for those that are not ready, will sit for months and become more and more frustrated by learning to read.)  Why do we treat children like they are produce coming into the factory and being put on the conveyor belt of learning that travels at the same speed for each and everyone?

Why an earth are we still applying deficit thinking for the poor little individuals that walk into our room?  How does this serve their learning journey, for us to think of them as not being up to par the moment they walk into our classrooms. 

What if we were to flip this thinking on the head, to look at these children through a different lens.  What is it that they do know, where are they up to developmentally and what will we do next to help them on their learning journey.

Something I have found out is that we are doing a great disservice to all children by not looking at them as individuals and considering developmental needs.  Not only those that shock horror, don't know any letters or recognise numbers, but actually also to those that do.  We have children that walk into our room with a huge amount of knowledge...and it is just that, knowledge, not understanding.  If we were to think of them academically, many of these children would be reading and writing straight away...what I have actually discovered is that many of these children lack gross and fine motor skills along with emotional and social understanding.   They need these skills, because obviously in their house the roof is already being installed....only to come crumbling down when their foundations are not strong enough to hold it up any longer. 

Thinking of children as play experts and allowing them time to build these foundations does not hold them back.  In time they build the foundations, in turn their house is strong, robust and able to weather any learning storm it may face.  I have not got any 'data' on this yet, but our learners who have been allowed time to work through this approach are more resilient, flexible, enthusiastic and interested, able to challenge themselves...they have not been held back, in fact completely to the contrary, many of them are doing far better academically now than their peers who would have gone through a more academic based approach.  They are also so much more advance socially and emotionally.

Please pause, think about the research, think about the why of what you are doing and consider each child as a competent individual.  We have the power to make a difference for these children and to also make this teaching gig a lot more rewarding, how fantastic is that!

My diagram about learning readiness based on what I am learning about brain development

My goals based on what I am learning about the learning process.

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