Thursday, May 05, 2016

Spot-On, Developmentally Appropriate Lessons

Earlier this week, on the bus ride home from a field trip, a couple of us got into telling jokes. One guy was taking particular delight in some of the corny ones I recalled from my own childhood, so the following day I pulled out the classic, Bennet Cerf's Book of Riddles, a copy of which I've retained since my own childhood.

I brought it to the playground and read it to whatever kids chose to gather round, then handed it over to our resident riddle master, who proceeded to re-read it to his classmates. Most of the children in our 4-5's class, of course, don't read, nor do we expect them to, but there are always a few who have taught themselves because that's how learning to read usually works: everyone figures it out at his own pace, just like walking and talking. Most are still a couple years away from hitting what we must learn to consider a developmental stage (as opposed to something that needs to be drilled into them), but there are always going to be outliers on both ends of what can still be considered normal. Many researchers, for instance, put the "normal" window for starting to reading between 5 and 10 years-old.

As I stood back and watched the children politely surround their friend who was reading to them, I noticed that they were following along on the page, focusing far more intently, it seemed to me, than they do when I read to them. Another of our early readers stood over his shoulder, occasionally helping out with a word. It was team reading, with children of all abilities participating at exactly the right level, each taking from the experience what she needed to take from it.

Of course, in traditional school we're so often scolded to "do your own work," but in a play-based curriculum, this is how learning is meant to happen: children coming together of their own volition to pitch in where pitching in is needed. And shouldn't it always be this way? Indeed, it's what most of us spend our lives doing whenever something needs to be done, be it at work, church, neighborhood, or home. When CEOs of corporations are surveyed, they always place "teamwork" and "collaboration" at the top of their list of attributes they look for in employees. When something needs to get done in our neighborhoods, concerned citizens come together to make it happen. When political change is necessary, we the people come together, each doing our part. It might not always work that way, but we all know it's the way it should work.

Even as one clutch of children gathered around our book of riddles, there were others collected around a girl who was not afraid to pick up a spider, holding it gently, but in such a way that her friends could see it. As they let their "brave" friend handle the arachnid, they shared their knowledge of spiders with one another, telling stories of other spiders they had known, discussing plans for this particular spider, spontaneously putting together a spot-on, developmentally appropriate lesson on spiders.

This is the way learning looks when we allow it to happen according to our god-given education instinct, which is, after all, made manifest in our urge to play. It's how we are made to learn: I wish we could just trust that.

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1 comment:

Miss Carole Stephens said...

OH what a discovery! YOUR BLOG, Teacher Tom! I teach EC Music and Movement, both in the classrooms and via workshops for teachers and caregivers of children 6 and younger. I'm not a reading teacher, but I teach early literacy skills through music - kids pick up the skills when their brains are ready! I love your thoughtful, experience-based approach!
I've been blogging for almost 5 years on - on the 16th of each month (it's a cooperative blog). I would love to share my music with you if you'd be interested. Check out my website:
The "Sticky Bubble Gum" lady!
"Miss Carole" Stephens