This is a sort of antidote to the subject of a previous post about how EYFS assessment wrongly labels children according to ability when what is being assessed is mostly the outcome of parental input. The result is that disadvantaged children are at risk of being almost allowed to fall behind under the guise of ‘not ready’, thus setting up every single teacher that follows with a requirement to differentiate massively. Here’s how I think it could all be changed for the better:
- getting those parents more involved
- being proactive about giving disadvantaged children the knowledge and skills (and then ensure sufficient practice) that advantaged children bring with them to the EYFS reception year classroom
- applying evidence-based practice and what we know about cognitive load theory to the EYFS experience
At the end of the last post, I produced a quick list of some of the home experiences that advantaged children received (that disadvantaged children tend not to):
- Hearing and taking part in intellectual conversation which includes subject-specific vocabulary as well as providing general knowledge about our world, culture and history
- Hearing interesting music
- Singing nursery rhymes
- Hearing stories every day
- Receiving the undivided attention of an adult who wants them to get ahead in life, who then teaches them their letters and numbers
- Being taught that their behaviour affects others and may lead to consequences; learning that it is better to be well-behaved and polite in order to be happy and have good friends
- Being taught good manners and social scripts
- Being taught the habits of automatic focus and perseverence through daily practice of musical instruments, reading, handwriting, ballet
- Being taught work ethic by taking on chores, contributing to the efficient running of a household
- Receiving adequate sleep and nutrition
Old-fashioned stuff. Still as relevant today!
The rhetoric of EYFS is very much about reacting, given that it is child-led. How about turning it around with a proactive approach that closes gaps in home learning as soon as a child steps foot in that EYFS reception year classroom? Firstly, I would instigate a very specific baseline test that not only gave me an indication of how much vocabulary and general knowledge the child is bringing to the table, but also gives me information about enunciation, hearing, ability to focus and concentrate, even degree of understanding right and wrong; it should be possible to quantify all this by creating a multiple choice questionnaire for the teacher to do with the child as well as an observation checklist. This should also result in a national data set that could be analysed by cohort etc.
The second stage would be to decide on all the knowledge that is needed to be given to children in their first year: anything from nursery rhymes, counting songs and well-known stories (you’d be surprised how much of this has been lost from some communities) to how to hold a knife and fork and conversation scripts for how to interact with strangers (v. important for those children living in single parent households who don’t hear much adult conversation). Although I bang on about not taking on the parents’ role because it leads to more abdication of responsibility, I now think that we have got to the stage where we need to reverse this great towards lost culture, conversation, social niceties and knowledge of the past. You’re probably thinking that many reception classes already do this, but I think it is rather incidental, ‘Oh this would be nice to do for X, Y or Z topic’. I’d also love to see those counting songs help a few more children learn, off-by-heart, their early number facts.
Of course, this would mean more whole class teaching, but this doesn’t mean that everyone needs to sit down and write all day long. There are a variety of high leverage and joyful activities that the whole class can do together – the key word is ‘together’. When everyone is doing the same thing, you can see who is trying to opt out. It’s also a very efficient way to impart knowledge and when you think about the sheer numbers of children who have glue ear these days, provides that vital quiet background and a chance for the child to hear a clear adult voice. It always saddens me to hear from early years teachers and professionals ‘Oh that’s not noise, that’s the learning buzz, you just get used to it’ and I wonder how these children are able to take their first steps amidst such a din. How about the Far Eastern approach of having more play breaks interspersed throughout the day and shorter, more frequent lessons that can be really varied: number time (whole class number bonds teaching), slow art, story time which is planned to include stories with good vocabulary and leading to performance off by heart, speaking/enunciation/interesting vocabulary and phrases lessons, handwriting, music appreciation and even ballet to help strengthen children’s bodies so that they can walk tall and sit up straight. How about we go for the Japanese way of teaching humility and kindness through having the children serve each other lunch in class and then clean up afterwards?
Some may argue that actually teaching children all this life knowledge is some kind of indoctrination that must be avoided because it is better for them to discover it for themselves (through carefully planned continuous provision) but what they are really saying is that some children who are taught all of the above at home should be allowed to steam ahead, leaving those disadvantaged children behind, labelled ‘less able’ and ‘not ready’. I think this is unfair and the real reason why certain sections of the young population end up achieving hardly anything at all – think about the habits of not concentrating or not choosing to do the hard challenges (such as writing) that might be inadvertently reinforced in the reception year classroom. Who is more at risk of having these unfortunate habits reinforced?
To get the parents more involved, I would be ready with some facts about where their child is in relation to the average. Quantifying vocabulary and general knowledge acquisition and retention, then giving this information to parents would help, as would encouraging reading at home by providing information about how exactly lack of reading practice leads to children falling so far behind.
Core knowledge for EYFS: who’s with me?