Rethinking the beginning

Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) CEO Geoff Masters, recently identified some of the challenges we face in closing the achievement gaps in schools. He writes:

Schools continue to be organised on traditional lines with students being assigned to year groups, and teachers delivering the curriculum specified for each year group. If teachers treat all students in the same year of school as equally ready for the same curriculum, then some lower-achieving students are likely to be left behind and some higher-achieving students are unlikely to be challenged and extended.

While every attempt to personalise learning is made, schools remain hamstrung by traditional structures. As Masters writes we ‘prejudge students’ learning needs based on their age or year group’.  We continue to process students through the factory model and it is no more obvious than in Kindergarten when students are assessed and categorised.

What if in deconstructing these traditional lines and structures of schooling, we re-conceptualise Kindergarten based on what we now know about the importance of play, the diversity of learning needs, backgrounds and interests of each child in the context of today’s world.

Teachers will often say children can’t sequence when they start school but if they can toast bread, then they can already sequence. What if the first year of ‘formal’ schooling was focussed not on what students couldn’t do but what they had already achieved?  What if we could slow Kindergarten down by extending it across two years?

This would certainly provide more opportunities to explore, play and create and for children to build their confidence as learners.  It would also give teachers more time to connect with and understand each learner, to develop trust, encourage curiosity and foster deeper relationships.

Rethinking Kindergarten is the tip of the iceberg in what needs to be a larger debate on the whole pre to post schooling experience.  As Geoff Masters says, one way we may close the achievement gap is to move away from the group-think and group-solutions that have influenced schooling for more than a century.




2 thoughts on “Rethinking the beginning

  1. Greg your ideas are possibly very sound, but the system has what it has (I work in a large government senior high school) because that is what it resources. You cannot keep squeezing teachers and stretching them to do things when they are resourced on a certain number of students per class, depending on learning area. I find this country spends very little money developing teachers professionally.

    1. Thanks for the comments Chris. It can seem like a chicken/hen argument because current (traditional) structures place constraints on how teachers’ work. Teachers who work in contemporary/ flexible spaces say it has influenced their practice for the better. We need a coherent approach across sectors and within schools to create cultures as Helen Timperley says ‘ of genuine curiosity about what is happening for learners and a systematic process to engage in deep inquiry” that leads to direct improvement in student learning. Not only implementing an inquiry cycle but helping teachers understand what it means in terms of their own needs and their students will create greater agency for change in terms of learning, structures and eventually policy.

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