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Little Birdies Develop at Different Paces

February 8, 2011

Little birdies develop at different paces and so do children.  In general, pediatricians, early educators, and other informed professionals talk about developmental steps and milestones rather than finite skills that simply must happen by a certain date.  However, our national stance has become heavily weighted toward measuring children against standards and ignoring the development of the entire child’s intellect for fear that she will not be “proficient” and that she, her teachers or perhaps her school will be subjected to punitive measures. We’ve become a nation of Chicken Littles, shrieking about the sky falling while we allow ourselves to be driven into the fox den.  The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has more than a few things to say, but I’ll use just a few excerpts from a 2009 document “Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8”.

Many early childhood educators are already quite concerned about the current climate of increased high-stakes testing adversely affecting children in grades K–3, and they fear extension of these effects to even younger children. Even learning standards, though generally supported in principle in the early childhood world,are sometimes questioned in practice because they can have negative effects.

When state standards are not comprehensive, the curriculum driven by those standards is less likely to be so, and any alignment will likely address only those few curriculum areas identified in the standards.
Such narrowing of curriculum scope is one shortcoming that can characterize a set of standards; there can be other deficiencies, too. To be most beneficial for children, standards need to be not only comprehensive but also address what is important for children to know and be able to do; be aligned across developmental stages and age/ grade levels; and be consistent with how children develop and learn. Unfortunately, many state standards focus on superficial learning objectives, at times underestimating young children’s competence and at other times requiring understandings and tasks that young children cannot really grasp until they are older. There is also growing concern that most assessments of children’s knowledge are exclusively in English, thereby missing important knowledge a child may have but cannot express in English.

There is also concern that schools are curtailing valuable experiences such as problem solving, rich play, collaboration with peers, opportunities for emotional and social development, outdoor/physical activity, and the arts. In the high-pressure classroom, children are less likely to develop a love of learning and a sense of their own competence and ability to make choices, and they miss much of the joy and expansive learning of childhood.

Who else is concerned about trends of this nature?  Pandora, of course!  This is how it might look in the avian world.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Kristina permalink
    February 8, 2011 9:00 pm

    YES!! AND YES!!!

    Where are the developmental researchers and scientists in this debate about standards and ignoring developmental milestones?
    Almost anyone can tell you that no two people developed in the same way at the same time.
    Sigh.
    I can’t wait until we quit punishing children, schools and teachers.

  2. mariasallee permalink*
    February 9, 2011 6:55 am

    Hmm. you raise an excellent question, Kristina. Where are they? Maybe we should forward the question to groups of people who are not raising enough of a voice in the debate. Maybe I’ll forward this post to a few ECE and pediatricians groups…Are you with me?

  3. Kristina permalink
    February 9, 2011 9:56 am

    I am totally with you!!
    This science/health based voice has been missing for the last 10 years at least, maybe longer.
    I would love to hear what they think and/or what brain/developmental research demonstrates.
    Thank you!!

    I will try to ask my most fabulous pediatrician about this also. He has been around a long time and may have great perspective.

  4. February 10, 2011 6:55 am

    The pressure of high-stakes testing on preK and K: the pressure that robs children of recess, demands that all children read, mandates age-inappropriate fine motor skill, kills inquiry, denies opportunities for social-emotional growth and teaches children that competition is more important than working and playing with others is fueling the opportunity gap.

    The stakes are higher at high-needs schools, so those testing mandates fall more heavily. The children at those schools are learning that reading isn’t fun, writing is about letter formation and that getting along with others isn’t important. We aren’t developing future scientists, authors and artists – we’re making automatons.

    …which is why I need to get to work and get ready for some good open-ended crafts time.

  5. Kristina permalink
    February 10, 2011 9:46 am

    Me too E.Rat! We are working on Valentine’s Day gifts today.
    Using sculpy to make magnets of the kid’s face. This is what the kids remember about school– not the MAP test, not the drill and kill, but the doing of stuff: hatching chicks, snail races, painting, clay projects, masks for Lunar New Year, field trips and friends.
    And that’s the way it should be!

  6. mariasallee permalink*
    February 10, 2011 5:17 pm

    I remember once feeling like I had to justify taking the day for discussion & celebration of the Lunar New Year. It is a shameful trend that makes teachers sideline all of the wonderful things that make kids eager to come to school and want to learn more in favor of the rote stuff. E. Rat, I love the remark about automatons, I’ve been looking for more words to describe this dehumanizing process.
    Kids aren’t going to remember time they spent learning with us because we taught them the alphabet or how to count but they will remember watching caterpillars turn into butterflies, making puppets, role-playing with teachers and friends. Early Educators Unite!

  7. Frederika permalink
    February 10, 2011 7:09 pm

    Have all of the developmental experts and specialists and researchers been steam-rolled or hoodwinked? My background includes early childhood learning, even though I am a middle school science teacher. I started out in ECE. I am convinced that many of the problems that some of my lower- achieving 6th graders exhibit are results of developmental delays or even a skip in developmental sequence. Little ability to delay gratification, a serious inability to deal with issue involving conservation (Piaget), serious lack of processing of number sense and logic. Magical thinking. Hard to teach inquiry science with these missing or msialigned processes.

    One more thing: There is little to no diagnosis done any more of reading or math difficulties. In an early life, I was trained to administer very productive diagnostic testing that seems to rarely be used any more. Do we no longer care WHY Susie or Johnny are struggling so? Do we have any perception as to why they are failing? I do not believe that we do. Just more lessons and more testing.

  8. February 13, 2011 7:56 am

    I have a free reading day each Friday in my classroom (high school English), and at the beginning of the year, students are rather shocked that they are expected just to read something for fun. But they quickly get into it and most come with a book excited to have the time to enjoy it. Great post!

  9. February 13, 2011 9:56 am

    Frederika, I agree on diagnosis issues. I feel like part of the issue – at least at high-needs schools – is the admirable desire not to label children. I teach in San Francisco USD, where children of color are overrepresented in special needs classrooms at levels that lead the state. So moving away from the diagnosis of special learning needs is important.

    And I think this is complicated by the ethos of certain school reform efforts that place incredible burdens on the teacher to educate each and every student to grade level or beyond, no matter what difficulties that student has or how far behind that student is. It is hard for teachers to seek assistance with students who are struggling when all they will hear is that if they’d just try harder, everything would be fine.

    The end result of this is a disinclination to assess for any needs whatsoever. So we no longer find out why students fail – and they keep failing.

    Moreover, children at high-needs schools who do need additional assistance and some testing for special needs are being left behind by our ethical rigor about over-representation. One year, I had a student with obvious and severe needs: clear visual perception issues, major delays in fine motor skills, oversensitivity to visual and auditory feedback and insensitivity to tactile and proprioceptive feedback.

    When I attempted to request an OT screen for this child with the goal of getting some concrete suggestions on how to help him, the school psychologist told me that if I just tried a little harder, everything would be fine. Four months later, testing revealed serious delays and learning differences requiring a special education classroom. Two months after that, the child was placed in a classroom environment in which he could be successful.

    That’s six wasted months of learning for that child. Nor did it do much for the other children in my class, since a child with such serious needs will need more of the teacher’s time. So all of our good values – to not label children carelessly and to work hard as teachers to provide differentiation so that all students can learn – led to a horrible outcome.

  10. mariasallee permalink*
    February 13, 2011 10:31 am

    I share your frustration E. Rat. A maddening aspect of the debate on intervention, labeling, RTI, etc., is that despite clear evidence of the importance of early intervention we spend so much time waiting to get obviously needed additional support for small children. Perhaps this is material for another post…

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