Talk-ED: Clear the decks, here come another group

 

“Coming Ready or Not!” was the cry whenever we were playing hide and seek or “tiggy” as it was known back then.

And it has become something of a familiar cry at the start of each year as cohorts of about 35,000 all move up one class. Back then when tiggy was popular, the final line on a final school report for the year was Class for next year ____.   It was at that point that it was known to child and parents whether the student would proceed onward and upward or whether it was thought to be in their interests that they remain in the level they were in.

Nowadays its blow the whistle and everybody goes up. “Sooo long, it’s been gooood to know ya’”

This is because we have little idea of what constitutes readiness for the big transitions (home to ECE, ECE to primary, primary to secondary) let alone the transitions that take place within institutions at year’s end.

The old system of standards (Standard 1, Standard 2…….) has been replaced by the rather meaningless Year 1, Year 2, ….and so on. In fact ask many students what class they are in and they reply “Room 7!”

In 1989 President Bush in the fervent excitement that no child would be left behind declared that “by the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn.” The only problem was that there was no shared understanding of what that meant. But parents perhaps intuitively do have a sense of readiness for you often hear a parent say that their child is “ready for school”. I wonder sometimes if they mean that they are ready for him/her to go to school!

What has to be understood is that transitions are a process and not an event and that the three parties to the process – the group from which the young person is farewelled, the group into which the young person is being received and the student/ caregivers from home – each have a vital role to play in this process.

The Receivers need to help the other two groups understand what they mean by “being ready” while the Farewellers need to reflect on what that means for them in the provision of a programme that will achieve a substantial number of the skills, aspects of knowledge and dispositions that have been identified.

This is no easy task, that is probably why it hasn’t been done. But it is arguably the most important way of helping everyone give meaning to their respective roles in the process called a transition.

Excellent work is coming out of the United States in the area of College and Career readiness. David Conley has developed a useful overview of the process and what we learn from that work is that readiness is not a single dimensional factor but rather a collection of features that develop and mature at different rates. Some of these characteristics spike early while others take more time – and the good news is that it varies from student to student.

National Standards perhaps had the potential to be helpful in leading people to an understanding of at least curriculum levels that are appropriate but all that got lost in the noise. But a readiness statement will encompass more than just academic preparation standards, although they are important.

And agreeing on them is no easy task. When they set out to do this in the US for the start of schooling there were some clear differences between parents and teachers.

Parents thought that the following were important while teachers did not give them much importance:

 

  •          can count from 1 to 10;
  •          knows the letters of the alphabet;
  •          able to use pencil, paint and brushes;
  •          sits still and pays attention;
  •          takes turns and shares.

 

On the other hand teacher ascribed importance to the following which parents did not mention at all:

 

  •          is sensitive to other children’s feelings;
  •          is not disruptive of the class;
  •          can follow directions.

 

The points about which teachers and parents ran the risk of almost agreeing were:

 

  •          enthusiastic and curious in approaching new activities;
  •          communicates needs, wants and thoughts verbally (in the child’s primarty language);
  •          physically healthy, rested and well-nourished.

 

It is not at all clear just what readiness statements could helpfully look like. But unless we start working on them we shall never know!

 

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