Whatever differences we may read in the PISA results that were released today, here's a sampling of quotes from the U.S. report (PDF) from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to put things in perspective. Each could be a blog post on their own and each serves up some interesting pieces of information.
As we wrap up the month looking at education for our youngest learners, there are many pieces of the equation to grapple with. Like most of you reading this, I cringe at the politicization of education issues that we often see online, on TV, or in other media formats. After all, there is no magic wand to wave for our systematic education woes. On the other hand, there is overwhelming research that shows early education and intervention work wonders on preventing bigger issues down the road.
Human beings are born to learn. During the last few decades, developmental science has exploded with discoveries of how, specifically, learning happens. This provides us with an unprecedented window into children's minds: how and when they begin to think, perceive, understand, and apply knowledge.
Education begins in preschool and kindergarten for a reason. These are important formative years where students build skills and develop behaviors to carry them through many years of learning. As a kindergarten teacher, I make it my goal for students to leave my classroom at the end of the year as capable, confident learners.
"The healthy development of young children in the early years of life literally does provide a foundation for just about all of the challenging social problems that our society and other societies face," says Jack P. Shonkoff, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This video from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University looks at the brain science behind early childhood development.
"When we talk about preparing children to succeed in school, we cannot separate cognitive development from social and emotional development. You can't have one without the other," says Shonkoff. He goes on to explain how a young child's brain is shaped by his experiences, and how interactions with adults, both positive and negative, affect the development of a child's brain. Learn more with ASCD Express.
Thomas Armstrong, education expert, author, and Whole Child Podcast guest, just can't say enough about the importance of play. The chapter "Early Childhood Education Programs: Play" is excerpted from Armstrong's ASCD book Best Schools, which looks at not just best schools, but also best practices for teaching and learning. In this chapter, Armstrong points to early education practices that actually hinder young learners rather than helping them to get ahead.
What does "education" mean for our youngest learners? The first years of school are as important for an educated population as any other period, perhaps more. Additionally, research shows that implementation of high-quality preschool programs can be beneficial for the lifelong development of children in low-income families and that an upfront commitment to early education provides returns to society that are many times more valuable than the original investment.
With the current focus on standards and academic achievement, is learning and testing coming too early? Curriculum and assessment should be based on the best knowledge of theory and research about how children develop and learn with attention given to individual children's needs and interests in a group in relation to program goals. Join us throughout October as we look at the importance of early childhood education and the specific social, cognitive, and emotional needs these learners have that are different from those of older learners. If early childhood is where we begin to build skills and behaviors such as persistence, empathy, collaboration, and problem solving, are we teaching in developmentally appropriate ways?
The whole child movement, in my view, is weighed down by society's current inability to conceive of children as whole beings. Instead, we dissect them. Academic learning is distinguished from social-emotional learning, as if brain and heart operate in isolation. The brain itself gets divided into forebrain, hindbrain, mammalian brain, limbic system, and so on, furthering the mistaken assumption that the brain performs its miracles through isolated modules. A steady diet of units, pacing guides, and curriculum strategies reinforces this skewed view by taking a narrow aim at stimulating a child's cognitive apparatus rather than their inner life.