Thoughts on Early Learning

On Facebook, I saw a link to this post: How Early Academic Training Retards Intellectual Development  by Peter Gray, Ph.D. The discussion from women on the post centered on not sending children to preschool. And it made me think of how I treated the same issue with my own children. And how learning works in the public schools I have had experience with as a parent and as a teacher. My oldest two children didn’t go to preschool and my youngest had to go to day care so I could work. However, I made a point of picking a day care where children played and avoided those that billed themselves as preschools. When my girls were in Kindergarten and 1st grade, I would throw their homework away and have them go outside to play. (They would hide their homework from me and do it at school so their teachers wouldn’t be upset with them!)

My favorite quote from the aricle is the following:

Moreover, when the procedures are learned by rote, especially if the learning is slow, painful, and shame-inducing, as it often is when forced, such learning may interfere with the intellectual development needed for real reading or real math.

I find this to be true in my experience as a teacher, students hate math, becuase math has been taught as an endless set of procedures and it is supremely boring to drill or do most of the sets of problems found in textbooks. One of my first years teaching, I was able to attend a NCTM conference (whatever year it was last in Atlanta). At that conference I attended a session where the instructor asked us to reflect on homework and challenged us to do our own homework before we gave it to students. He suggested that we not assign anything that we couldn’t complete in a fourth of the time we expected it to take our students. Given a 15-20 minute guideline for homework problems, I could only give what I could complete in 4-5 minutes. Consider that you have to start cold (without out knowing the problems before hand) and with the tools you expect the students to use. Do the students get calculators? No? Then the teacher doesn’t either. As the presenter said I would do, I assigned much less homework after implementing this guideline.

My least favorite part of this article, not because I disagree, but because I do agree and it is heartbreaking and frustrating as a teacher.

“In standard schools it is important to learn how to read by the schedule that the school dictates, because if you fail to do so you will be labeled as ‘slow,’ or worse, and may develop a self-image as stupid.  You may fall forever behind.”

We know that there is a range of normal development, but there is no allowance for this range of normal as we advance, label and mark students throughout the school system I am part of. I do several things in my classroom to allow for credit for growth rather than pure achievement, (accept things late without penalty, retakes for assessment, having a summative assessment override formative ones) but no matter what I do, I have to put in a number grade and then all many students (and their parents) is that number and not the efforts and growth of the child behind it.

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