One of the most profound impacts I have observed in the introduction of National Standards is the impact they have made on evidence-based teacher practice. By introducing chronologically based levels of attainment, today’s current education system has, in effect, discounted the myriad of historical and ongoing research that cannot be disputed when it comes to knowing how children learn and what works best in teaching.
Of course I wanted to understand how to teach children and how to help them make progress with their learning – but hearing about what these old guys thought back in the early part of the 20th century did not particularly seem relevant to me at the time.
As a young teacher-trainee I despaired during my lectures on Human Development and Education 101 when all we seemed to hear what theorist after theorist on how children grow….milestones….scaffolding….stages and schema. What I wanted to know was how to have kids do what I wanted them to do when I wanted them to do it……and how to call the roll and write on the whiteboard (yes it was on the cusp of ‘white’). Of course I wanted to understand how to teach children and how to help them make progress with their learning – but hearing about what these old guys thought back in the early part of the 20th century did not particularly seem relevant to me at the time.
And yet, now, years on and proficient at roll-calling and white-board writing, I draw on these theories to inform how I support teachers to best meet the individual needs of the students before them. No more now than ever have the work of Piaget, Bronfenbrenner, and Vygotsky have been so important in reassuring teachers that they do really know best when it comes to planning for, teaching and generating learning in their classrooms. Of course, there are other theorists of considerable note, but to me, these ‘founding fathers’ still have significant relevance to today’s education system.
And yet, National Standards, teaching to arbitrary levels, trying to ‘fit’ square children in round holes goes against everything that the work of these 3 theorists had accomplished prior to being implemented. Their work highlights the importance of developmental stages – that children need to work through these logically and accomplish milestones within each before they are ready to move to the next stage.
Piaget indicated these are like building blocks – with the one under supporting the one on top and so on. Vygotsky, most famously, talked of the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ – and how teachers can be best positioned to support children in their learning with this knowledge. Finally, Bronfenbrenner highlighted what we all know as teachers – the impact on the child from the multitudes of environments they live within.
So the dilemma now occurs for teachers – ignore the work of these well esteemed founding fathers, fruitlessly work against the stages of development by trying to push a child through their learning when they are simply not ready for it, and have unrealistic expectations on both the student and oneself as the teacher (we are good….but we aren’t miracle workers). Create stress for ourselves, stress for our students all with the intention to make our children ‘fit’ simply where they are not developmentally ready to…
Or, stand firm and justified that teaching practices reflective of appropriate developmental learning stages, responsive to student need and supporting children to move to the next appropriate level come with a significant amount of evidence and research supporting them. Moreover, recent brain research serves to support, not conflict with the research conducted over 50 years ago regarding how children learn best.
But we must continue to speak loudly in the face of policies that are not reflective of sound educational practice.
We must advocate for our children who are working outside of the box and will struggle, or far excel of the ‘standard’ they are expected to reach.
As teachers we know how children learn best. Yes, we can always look for new and innovative ways to support their learning and improve our practice. Yes, we should and do, strive to be the best teacher we can be in front of our students. But we must continue to speak loudly in the face of policies that are not reflective of sound educational practice. We must advocate for our children who are working outside of the box and will struggle, or far excel of the ‘standard’ they are expected to reach. We cannot beat ourselves up or lose sleep if our students, despite our very best efforts do not ‘fit’ a standard. We just cannot ignore the research of 3 old guys while working in today’s education system.
~ by Sarah Aiono
Sarah Aiono holds a B.Ed (Dip Tchg), PGd.Dip.Ed (Dist) and a Master of Education and has worked for over ten years with children exhibiting challenging behaviour. She is an Accredited Incredible Years Facilitator and Peer Coach. She is currently employed as a Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour and is a Company Director for Little Ninjas Ltd, a service for parents and teachers in understanding children who work outside the ‘square’.