"Early Childhood is Pushing It UP!"
"Imagine that one morning .... In your own job as a teacher, instead of teaching students, you stand in front of an empty classroom talking to a video camera. The meaning of your work is gone, and increasingly, you feel bored, restless, apathetic, and even lazy. " (Allen and Allen, 2010)
To quote the article, "Young children are curious, enthusiastic learners, with immense potential. There are ways to teach early literacy and math content to young learners so that it's engaging, fun and really helps them get a head start." The key take-away here, and throughout the article, is that our efforts toward child-centered learning, developmentally appropriate practices, learning through play, differentiated instructional strategies including individualization, motivational methods, and the big movement toward S.T.E.A.M. project work is, in fact, what we should be doing. We are on the right track!
Children soar and potential is unleashed when children are motivated and engaged in learning activities. It's like the veggies that went through the food processor and were thrown into the pizza sauce, before the preschooler helped make their own pizza for lunch! If the learning is embedded in a project that suits the child's age, developmental level, and interests, they will strive and they will succeed...we have a win-win situation....Every Time! I can say this because I see children learn in this fashion daily in my own classroom, the evidence is luminous, and the assessment opportunities are immense, because skill levels are evident throughout the process.
Okay, so let's connect this to the grading issue that I last posted about. Well, I have also worked with high school students, and I conducted my master's thesis research on the topic of Motivation, because of my observations of motivation issues and negative attitudes about school work in that population. I had seen some of this in the elementary grades, as well, but it appeared to be much more intense at the secondary level.
The upper grades need a push back from Early Childhood Education! While our education system is so busy Pushing Down the Academic Skill-Building, we need to be Pushing Up the Concept of Developmentally Appropriate Practice. Elementary and Secondary Students are experiencing the same pressure and discomfort of the Push Down that Early Childhood Students are feeling. Advanced Placement lecture classes are not developmentally appropriate for high school students. They can handle the content, it's the inappropriate strategy of imparting the information that creates the issue. Accounting classes that involve book work only and no authentic experience is not appropriate for secondary students. Studying History with the most frequent assignment being developing outlines of text book chapters, and Advanced Literature courses requiring pages upon pages of highlighting literary elements that equate to two hours of highlights at home after school and sports practice is virtually absurd! Not to mention math that is not applied in a real-world context. "Why do I need to learn this, Mom? I'll never use it again!"
The solutions come from Early Childhood Education! All students need authentic experiences, connections, opportunities to bring value from their own inner selves...opportunities to "own" the learning. This appears to be an emerging concept in higher education, brought about by the STEM movement; it is an established understanding and practice that all are striving to master in early childhood and even in some elementary and middle school classrooms. However, in so many classrooms, regardless of grade-level, these appropriate opportunities are not there, and it is virtually impossible to buy into the idea that we are assessing true knowledge or talent if we have disengaged learners. Do you put your best foot forward when you don't believe in or connect to what you are "stuck doing"?
Early Childhood Education is Pushing It UP! We can absorb the pressure of pushing down academics, because our expectations will remain in a place that is developmentally appropriate for each individual child, and we will monitor progress as we put best practices into place to encourage the learning. No student of any age should have to adhere to a teacher's style, a district's demands born out of test-score funding issues, a publishing company's learning design, nor a "college-like experience" in high school of lectures and notes aimed at a test. A great article that hits this issue hard is The Big Wait by Allen and Allen.
Allen, J. P., & Allen, C. W. (2010). The big wait. Education Leadership, 68(01), 22-26.
Mirroring our early childhood students who want to pretend to play adult roles, explore the world around them, engage in experimentation and feel a sense of importance, are our older students, living in a "twilight zone", as Allen and Allen describe it so well for us:
Imagine that one morning you wake up to find yourself in a twilight-zone world. Walking outside, you see your neighbor across the street, a surgeon, who remarks that, instead of operating on live patients, he spends his days just cutting up cadavers to practice his craft. As you move through your day, you realize that lawyers argue only mock cases, plumbers practice repairing fake leaks, and airline pilots fly only on flight simulators. In your own job as a teacher, instead of teaching students you stand in front of an empty classroom talking to a video camera. The meaning of your work is gone, and increasingly, you feel bored, restless, apathetic, and even lazy. Then it dawns on you -- you're now experiencing the life of a typical high school student!