In our first post I made a comment suggesting that there is some kind of "race to the finish line" in the way schools approach the 13 year journey of formal education. Schools discuss students as being either "ahead" or "behind" their peers. They talk about helping kids to "catch up" and treat every passing year of schooling as a measure of distance remaining to the "end" (which for most schools is year 12 or the finish line). I know that many parents are buying into this race analogy because when they come to us for tuition the most common request is to "help my child catch up to their classmates".
I get it. Working within the education system we have in place, means that schools have a set period of time to deliver the vast scope of a national curriculum. Progress through this curriculum must be metered out over a period of 13 years from Kindergarten to Year 12. So there has to be some kind of pace established to achieve this.
What I, and many others, working within the system and just beyond it's very high walls would like to suggest is that schools are not pacing their students correctly for the style of race they are running.
While I'd love to drop the race analogy at this point, let's stick it out for a few more lines. My nephew is an aspiring 400m sprint athlete. He's fast. He's smart and he has a big future in athletics. Many people describe the 400m as the greatest foot race on earth because athletes need to run pretty close to flat-out for the entire 400m. But as my nephew, and other well-trained athletes understand, the 400m isn't a race you just go out and run. To win, you have to have a strategy around how to pace your run.
The same is true of any race. But every race has different and sometimes multiple strategies for how they can be paced out. It also varies depending on each athlete's strengths and weaknesses. So as I near the end of the race analogy bare with me for just a little longer.
Formal education is not currently running a smart race. This is evident by the fatigue of its "runners" which is caused by a drain on their resources occurring around the middle-school years. The students we see coming in for tuition are scrambling for cognitive resources because they haven't been trained in how to use the resources they have efficiently (or sometimes at all) during the initial stages of the race (Years K - 3).
The race is being run too hard and too fast in these early years and the athletes (students) are not being given the opportunity to train the cognitive skills, build the cognitive muscle or develop the cognitive strategies to run the rest of the race to their greatest potential.
So enough of the race analogy now.
My proposal is this, and I know many of early childhood colleagues will shout "Amen" at this suggestion regardless of their religious persuasion.
How about we just slow down (pace ourselves) a little in the early years and spend a bit more time, energy and focus on getting the foundation skills of learning right. Let's take a moment from Kindergarten to year 3 to make sure that every child has the opportunity to not only practice, but MASTER the following skills:
1. Attention - Yes, it is a skill that can be taught and it is absolutely essential to learning.
2. Foundation Reading Skills - Because there are these things call words and they are made up of sounds (phonics) and these sounds can be manipulated to make new words.
3. Foundation Writing Skills - This is the visual and motor systems related to reading, writing and spelling (and the rise of the computer has not alleviated the necessity to write...nor will it).
4. Fine Motor Skills - The number of 9 year-olds I see in my tuition classroom that can't hold a pair of scissors or grip a pencil correctly is excruciating...but they can touch type on an iPhone with their thumb at an impressive speed (insert *sigh*).
5. Foundation Math Skills - Developing an understanding of numbers and counting is essential to the later development of more involved mathematical skills (Computers also have not released us from the joy of mathematics... thank goodness).
6. Problem-solving skills - Closely linked to both reading and maths skills and essential in everyday life, problem solving must be explicitly instructed in the early years. Give children the opportunity to sit with a problem and work it out...please.
5. Listening Skills - Strongly correlated to comprehension, attention, reading, spelling and speech development is a child's capacity to listen. It is a skill that needs to be trained specifically for these purposes.
7. Communication Skills - The capacity to speak clearly, accurately and fluently is absolutely critical to the development of any literacy and social skills. Non-Verbal communication is also a huge part of every child's capacity to relate to other human beings.
9. Social Skills - Don't get me started on the very weak social skills of many of the gorgeous souls we tutor, not to mention the lack of resilience and grit.
And by no means the least important...
10. Creativity - For all is naught without it.
There is no finish line to learning. It is a life long process.
So if there is no finish line to race towards, who are we trying to catch up to?
At Wings Tuition, we put the focus on PROGRESS not grades. We do not simply instruct students, we coach, mentor and encourage them. We celebrate progress no matter how small and we believe that learning is lifelong and continuing journey that is not limited by time or the sole property of institutions.