Joshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)
The DEVIL in the Early Years.
If we asked you about your ‘image of the child’ will what you say match what you do? For those of you that are interested or believe in the Reggio Emilia philosophy you may say children are ‘strong and capable’.
What does this mean?
How does this image of children translate into practice?
For this article we are going to explain the DEVIL in the early years, a way of working with children that goes against the image of children being strong and capable.
What does the DEVIL mean?
Distraction: The D is for Distraction! A way of working with children to keep them busy but without the freedom to explore, learn and use materials in a variety of ways. In these classrooms teachers often use the TV, to watch cartoons or “educational videos” daily and for large periods of time. This allows the teachers to have a break and keep the children in one place. Teachers in these classrooms often like to block their windows and keep the doors closed in order to stay hidden from others. They also use reward systems to distract children from their interests to that of learning outcomes. For example, "if you do the math center game you can get 1 sticker or point!"
Entertainment: The E is for entertainment! Teachers who follow this method work hard but unfortunately their hard work doesn’t have as many benefits for children as we would want. For example, teachers prepare lots of activities and experiments for children to do but they are often unrelated to their interests or they must passively watch the teacher show them something. Often the focus is on giving children new fun things to do that are not connected or building on from their interests.
Teachers should strive to be engaging over entertaining which requires a deeper connection to children and their interests rather than something fun to watch and look at.
Vain: The V is for vain! Some classrooms do a lot of work in vain where the work being done can often be ineffective, pointless, and unproductive. These classrooms run a lot on making children’s work look better. It could be showing them step by step how to draw a flower or making their artwork look better. The children make some markings on a piece of paper and the teacher helps make it look better by finishing off the coloring or re-cutting the work so it looks neater. They spend lots of time making "cute" displays for the classroom and focusing on teacher led/directed work. They teach a subject or skill the same way every time and so the children learn to solve the problem one way without really understanding it. For example, when learning sight words, the teacher uses the same worksheet every time. The children learn to write the word in a sentence or colour the word etc. without really understanding what they are doing but following the same process each lesson. This gives the illusion of comprehension.
Ineffective: The I is for Ineffective! Ineffective teaching methods can look good in the short term but fall short in the long term. For example, focusing on memorization of words or content and testing children on it at the end of the week. Once the week is over moving on to the next thing to memorize. We could teach children 5 sight words per week, test them at the end of the week and say they have learnt it. Will they still know it next month, semester or year? When research shows that traditional academic training doesn’t have long term benefits and children from play-based programs catch up or excel by grade 4 focusing on it in the early years is ineffective.
Limitation: The L is for Limitation! Classrooms that focus on limitation take away many varied resources for children to use. Often this done out of fear of mess or injury. Paints, oil pastels, glues, scissors, play dough as well as materials like glass jars, and metal are locked away unless a certain activity requires them. Limitation also looks like children being told where to go each day, “today you are in the literacy corner”.
On their own some of these individual DEVILS aren’t an issue especially if used infrequently. Every now and then a bit of entertainment or distraction might be needed. Together though they can be very harmful to development, and some are more problematic than others. Over relying on VAIN and INEFFECTIVE methods under the guise of such excuses as “parents want this” is a mistake.
Has the DEVIL entered your teaching or school?