Play seems so controversial when applied to the school setting, yet there seems to be a growing movement in the direction of play-based learning in primary schools in New Zealand. Why? And why does such a shift seem so threatening to some, yet is so readily welcomed by others? Continue reading
Building blocks to literacy was introduced to me in 2015. It focuses on identifying foundational literacy skill and teaching these rather than diving head first into the things kids ‘ought’ to be doing. Presented as a framework rather than as a programme, it is a useful tool for ensuring that the bucket is ready to hold water, or spotting the leaks (so to speak). To this end I mean that it is very well and good making a child learn to read because they have turned five, but matters such as oral language, reasoning, pattern recognition and visual discrimination also need to be considered. If these are lacking how much harder will it be for the child learning print literacy? Is it not wiser to teach foundational skills that will ‘plug the holes’ so to speak rather than pouring water in and wondering why the learning doesn’t stay? Such a statement of course, connects with the readiness, age and stage debate. The trick is letting go of ego and recognising that you might not be the one to get the credit in the academic year…it might take time for those results to happen. This also requires trust and support from those in management and your parent community. In the interim however, strong foundations are built which will support students’ life long learning and sense of self.
As we reach the end of this decade we are becoming more informed about the neuroscience of learning. This has been particularly highlighted in a resurgence of interest in play based learning.
Like Barbara Brann’s building block, play based learning addresses the underpinning structures of learning…the soft skills or key competencies as they are known in the NZ curriculum. A skilled teacher can notice and utilise these opportunities to access the breadth and width of the curriculum…or the academic curriculum within this context.
In short I believe that the two can work together, with Branns work providing access to a wealth of knowledge which will support the enactment of play based learning. It is not an easy balance to find and will be affected by teacher knowledge, where you are in your experience, your school and community ethos and by sheer adult to child ratios. It is well worth it!
What constitutes the difference between play and work for children? Georgeson & Payler (2015) posit that it is all about perception. At the heart of the matter, they say, is the perception of freedom versus constraint. Also of note is the impact of teacher discourse on signalling which is which.
Georgeson and Payler continue by listing some of the objects that children tend to associate with play such as blocks, paint, construction materials, computer/board games etc. This begs the question – if one of these were used in a constrained activity would it then become work?
I am reminded of a student who was an incredibly talented (and young) artist. Normally engrossed for significant lengths of time in an art project of their design, this student was taken into an art extension class. The student’s behaviour was reported back as being ‘disruptive’ and ‘just mucking around’. Now in this context students were being taught a particular art technique. Had this student’s ‘play’ become ‘work’?
Georgeson, J., & Payler, J. (2015). Work or play: How children learn to read the signals. In J. Moyles (Ed.), The excellence of play (4th ed., pp. 159–172). New York, NY: Open University Press.
Here’s a website I put together with some useful resources. The site includes brief evaluations of each tool’s usefulness. The tools can be applied from young to old. I have included a couple of snapshots below.
As a part of my lecture this week, I encountered the notion of a learning-centred classroom. This differs from current educational language which talks about shifting from a teacher -centred classroom to a student/learner-centred classroom. Well what about changing the language to a learning centred classroom?
It is a subtle shift in language, yet quite powerful.
A learning-centred classroom seems like a ‘well, isn’t that what the point of education is?’ kind of thought. Yet in a time of cramped curricula, ‘good’ educational opportunities and high accountability, it is all too easy for learning to take a back bench to curricula coverage, getting through the list, achieving results and ‘teaching’.
Well as we all know, teaching does not necessarily equal learning (nor does it necessarily preclude it). Results can be achieved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean learning has occurred. Students can look engaged but again, this doesn’t mean learning has happened.
So what prompted this thinking? I know you have been dying to ask. As usual, this does not come from me. I have included below an extract from a useful website which addresses this topic. The site can be accessed via this link: Link Alert!
“Many of the ways we have of talking about learning and education are based on the assumption that learning is something that individuals do. Furthermore, we often assume that learning ‘has a beginning and an end; that it is best separated from the rest of our activities; and that it is the result of teaching’ (Wenger 1998: 3). But how would things look if we took a different track? Supposing learning is social and comes largely from of our experience of participating in daily life? It was this thought that formed the basis of a significant rethinking of learning theory in the late 1980s and early 1990s by two researchers from very different disciplines – Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger. Their model of situated learning proposed that learning involved a process of engagement in a ‘community of practice’.”
As I look back I can see myself as a practitioner who has had both a teacher-centred and then learner-centred classroom. I have certainly tried to promote learning (achieving both success and failure). But, can I definitively say I have had a ‘learning’ centred classroom? Can you?
I’m signing off now to do some more reading. Enjoy!
Over the years I have repeated met the ‘I’ve got nothing to write about’ kid, the ‘stare at your page for the whole writing session’ and the ‘start crying because my page is still blank and it’s nearly playtime’ kid. It has been with some frustration that I have carefully scaffolded the child’s writing, provided a variety of prompts, guided the child through a plan and conversation only to leave their side and come back to find a page that has nothing more on it than when I left. I have also tried taking away part of their playtime where I thought it was mucking about (often with the same result) and even once having a student record their ideas using an iPad then transcribing it.
The children in this scenario are not necessarily mucking about, developmentally delayed in an way shape or form and sometimes are fluent writers of dictated text. They have ranged in age from five to 14 years of age. So I am seeking to understand why this is happening.
I am still working my way through a variety of articles for my assignment on this topic, and will provide more detail at a later point in time. So far I have found four common themes in my reading which impact on these; Continue reading
This week semester one at university began. I am doing a paper based around engaging with families. One reading I had to do was the BES (best evidence synthesis) on the complex nature of influences on achievement from community and families. It was a long read, but worthwhile. If you don’t have the time to read the whole thing (I just skim read most of it) it is worth looking at the summaries of influences right at the beginning (a couple of pages long) and the table 8.1: ‘Synopsis of conclusions from evidence about what major influences and their degree of impact on children’s achievement.’
The paper highlighted the challenges of separating out what factors caused what, Continue reading
A year ago our school implemented Barbara Brann’s framework – building blocks for literacy – which looks at identifying and addressing the skills necessary to be ‘curriculum ready’. This means that a student is ready to take advantage of the school curriculum, and has the skills necessary for this. Any gaps that existed prior to the programme have been addressed, similar to plugging the holes in a bucket before trying to fill it with water.
This framework was started in its entirety by a very talented teacher at my school, after some PLD was provided to myself and her courtesy of the RTLB (resource teacher of learning and behaviour) service. I incorporated aspects of the programme with the older children I mainly focussed on, and tried to implement it later on in the year when I shifted to working with younger students.
Now, a year later, the framework is still in use, although less intensively than it was a year ago. It has been incorporated far more naturally into our daily programme, with key aspects still being applied.
- Blocks for teaching spelling
- Blocks/counters to help young students hold a sentence in their head as they write it
- Blocks/counters to help students visualise a target number of sentences for writing
- Casey Caterpillar – teach letter shapes and the order they go in to turn into letters – when kids are ready
- Casey Caterpillar – Use a means of teaching skills such as differentiation and patterning
- Have physical objects handing as prompts for writing (and let the children handle them as they talk and write)
- Develop fine motor skills and oral language – these are essential to success in writing
- Explicitly teach oral sentence structure and questioning techniques – in a practical context
- Shore up the foundation before adding to the building
- Look at the stage not the age
Has it been successful?
This depends on your view of success. In terms of academic achievement gains it has a two year span, so the jury is still out. It has definitely not harmed/limited the students’ learning. In terms of teacher gains, it has been an outstanding professional development tool which has vastly improved my understanding of how students develop their literacy and what potential blocks or ‘holes’ are preventing their learning for moving forward. From that view alone, the training is worth goin through.
Am I convinced?
The jury is still out on that one too. The framework is absolutely valuable and worthwhile. I would be interested to see the results further down the track.
I think adopting the framework in its entirety is outside my current headspace of working with year 0-3 students (pre-k to 2). In a situation where students were of a closer age/stage I can see myself implementing this in more detail. However halfway through last year we introduced play-based learning, which I believe complements this framework and has provided a means of covering the framework more authentically than previously.
The Casey Caterpillar leaves me with no doubt whatsoever of it’s benefit. I wouldn’t want to teach it any other way (unless it was a rose by any other name).
I hope that this has been of some help to you if you are interested in building blocks. Even getting the giant chart which identifies all of the skills would potentially be helpful as a PLD tool.
Among other things I have been rereading Ken Robinson’s & Lou Aronica’s book : Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that’s Transforming Education. As part of my course I have been reading this that and everything paradigm and research methods/methodology related (with a current focus on questionnaire design at present)with a of John Hattie’s meta analysis work and a few bits and pieces on literacy (and another fantastic book about killer bananas rising up for dessert…moving on quickly).
These, along with my wandering thoughts, have brought me back once again to the learning revolution. What constitutes a revolution? Is there one happening? Should there be?
The key word that pops up in literature is not revolution but transformation. John Dewey transformed our understanding of education by putting the child at the centre. Vygotsky transformed our thinking with the ZPD (zone of proximal development). Freire transformed thinking with the notion of the banking pedagogy: deposit, deposit, deposit. Literature surrounding digital technology use (write back to its birth) discuss how it will transform education. But where is the evidence of that transformation?
Yes, in New Zealand we teach in groups. There has been a shift to MLP (modern learning practice e.g. team teaching in open plan classrooms). Learning is more individualised and child centred. We have newer, flasher whiteboards and computers – portability, wifi and indoor-outdoor flow. Amazing people break the boundaries of possibility with these tools. But is this consistent? Has education transformed or has it just been those pockets of individuals and teams? It has changed, but change is not transformation.
The ever reliable Google defines transformation essentially as a form of change. However when the word transformation is entered into a thesaurus, synonyms such as metamorphosis and transfiguration appear. This implies not just a shedding of a skin or donning a new top but a complete and irreversible change. And it is with this view in mind that I would argue that education has not transformed. Simply changing an appearance or the language is not enough when the core of education remains the same.* At the core of education is politics, economics and culture. Yet the rhetoric is that children are at the centre, that the people are at the centre.
*I am not referring to core subjects such as learning to read, write and do maths, rather the notion of what counts, or rather, is discounted. What kind of world would we live in if we could all read, write and do maths but could not manage ourselves, our behaviour, our impulses, our relationships or understand the consequences of your actions? These are extremes – it does not have to be one or the other. The trouble is it is almost presented as that dichotomy – this or that, and that the core subjects are the be all and end all. They aren’t. If they were, a child could have their entire learning programme presented by a computer with very intelligent, adaptive AI. But then we would be putting out machines not people and aren’t people the most important thing at the end of the day? How have we come to think that being good at literacy and numeracy is all that matters? I have heard the argument that that is what home is for – to teach those other things. And if that happens in your home fantastic! But what about all of those people who are not in a home where they have those are opportunities. Yes, some will survive and thrive despite their circumstances, but others won’t. Others will become yet another statistic, something which doesn’t seem so bad when its positive. The trouble is that people aren’t statistics.
The current globo-political climate (in the West anyway) calls for evidence for what seems like everything. We need evidence for climate change, evidence for new medical treatment, evidence of the best ways to raise children, evidence of the best ways to teach, evidence which proves that what you are doing works and even evidence to find a person guilty!
Evidence in of itself is not bad. Do I want to take a medicine that is not proven to be safe? Not particularly (although there may be times when it is necessary). Do I want to remove the requirement of evidence from the justice system or the education system? Absolutely not. Evidence has its place in many facets of life. I become frustrated when I feel required to find evidence for evidence’s sake or when there is no obvious point to it, now or in the envisioned future.
Denzin (2009, p.142) puts it quite well:
“And evidence is nevermorally or ethically neutral. But, paraphrasing Morse, who quotes Larner (2004: 20), the politics and political economy of evidence is not a question of evidence or no evidence. It is rather a question of who has the power to control the definition of evidence, who defines the kinds of materials that count as evidence, who determines what methods best produce the best forms of evidence, whose criteria and standards are used to evaluate quality evidence?“
It is amazing how much comes back to power – how much frustration powerlessness (perceived or real) causes.
Denzin’s article is written in the context of the qualitative v quantitative paradigm debate. Continue reading