Identifying the deliberate acts of teaching that make learning effective.

bl - black, pl - plane

bl – black, pl – plane

I make a wide range of developmental ‘play’ activities available to my class of 5 year olds. I also provide as many opportunities as possible for the children to engage independently with these activities. I have already explained the critical contribution of developmental play in enhancing learning. Needless to say, these activities are very popular and motivating.

Over the years, I have used the children’s feedback to help determine the types of activities that interest them the most and provide the best learning opportunities. I have had to find a way to make this time valuable for the students but also sustainable and manageable – from a teacher’s perspective. We’ve had to come up with some effective rules around engagement, sharing and tidying up. These rules are designed to allow the children to be self managing. Fortunately, most students achieve this goal with ease. If students aren’t there yet, they are on the way.

However, despite the availability of these popular activities, it is not uncommon to see students choosing to do independent ‘academic’ tasks instead. The child in the photo, was deeply engrossed in a reading task – identifying and matching blends. I have also documented previously how children use the time to write independently; letters to parents declaring their love, lists of birthday party invitees – all meaningful learning – and self-driven. This is a critical observation from a teacher’s point of view. It contradicts the view that children need to be coerced to learn; that they will always take the path of least resistance. They will only just want to play – (and said as if ‘play’ was a bad thing).

The ‘sweet spot’ in effective teaching is when students become their own teachers. That this child deliberately and independently chose to do this reading activity, indicates to me that this student wants to be a better reader and takes reading seriously. But nor was it an accident that this child chose this activity. From trial and error, over many years, I have learned what activities 5 year olds are interested in and/or how to get them interested. It’s a dynamic process and it doesn’t come about by accident.

The ‘sweet spot’ in effective teaching is also when teachers are reflecting on the impact of their teaching. My teaching day is full of deliberate acts of teaching – whether that be through direct teacher instruction or providing self-directed learning activities. Increasingly, I am more and more comfortable with the latter.

And the thing is, for the first time in my teaching career, I can identify the deliberate acts of teaching that are having a positive impact on the students’ learning. The learning has become visible. No longer are the children simply learning in spite of me, or despite of me. I now do the things that work. I’ve stopped doing things that don’t work. I now do things because they achieve the desired results. I am a problem solver.

I know, those are bold statements. But please, trust me on that.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

What a difference a day makes to a child turning 5 in New Zealand.

Children at work.

This is what children look like when they are at work.

Watching children engaged in meaningful, unstructured play is a sight to behold and is something that needs to be valued and encouraged more, in our schools. But for some strange reason, from the moment a child starts school, we deem it inappropriate for them to continue with ‘play-based’ learning – the learning model that is the foundation of the New Zealand early childhood curriculum.

I have come to the conclusion that our education system, as it currently operates, puts too much emphasis on formal learning, too early on. But not only that. I think the system is too rigid and narrowly focused, and does not give children the comprehensive education they need and deserve. In a desire to create smart, intelligent learners, we have inadvertently ignored the human and creative aspects of learning that will help children be resilient and emotionally prepared for the post-school world.

Our school system needs to be designed to fit around the needs of students rather than requiring students to fit into the system. A play based education system that is fun and encourages creativity, is the foundation of effective learning. Play is a means by which children are able to develop their physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and moral capacities. And I would suggest that this approach to learning applies equally to people of all ages – not just young children in their early schooling years.

What may come as a surprise to some, is that there is a mandate for making learning broad and focused on the holistic needs of children. The two curriculum documents that are the basis for the NZ education system are exemplary in the way they take a broad and humanistic approach to learning. Unfortunately, the introduction of National Standards has not helped because now, all year 1-8 students are required to be formally assessed in the three core subjects of reading, writing and mathematics. The introduction of these standards has added a layer of complexity and contradictory pressure on teachers. Nonetheless, I still believe that we can manage those pressures. In fact, it is essential that we do.

As a matter of interest, while the majority of children in New Zealand start their formal education at 5 years old,  in Finland, formal education starts at 7 years old. That does not seem to stop their students still managing to rank highly in international student survey rankings. Go figure!

So, what is developmental play, why should it be encouraged and why will I make sure that the children in my class get lots of opportunities to play?

Play is an essential part of early childhood. Exploratory play and inquiry based learning encourages children to learn, develop and grow whilst they have fun. Through play, children are encouraged to explore, investigate and develop ideas and hypotheses. They can test their ideas and find new ways of building, creating, drawing, thinking. The use of open ended resources promote exploratory and investigative play as well as inquiry based learning. Creativity and imagination is developed through new ways of thinking. Social skills are learned through collaboration with others and language and communication skills improve. Perseverance is developed as children keep exploring and investigating their surroundings. Children will become more confident and develop a stronger sense of identity through play.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Check out the article below from the World Economic Forum. It argues for the need for kindergarten age children to be playing.

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