Hardly anyone read my previous post about how EYFS assessment labels children able/less able when ‘ability’ really means ‘degree of parental input’. The most serious concern here is that disadvantaged children are labelled ‘less able’ when they really don’t have as much input from their first teacher (the parent) and then they go on to have that disadvantage entrenched because the rhetoric of EYFS ‘teaching’ is to brand them ‘not ready’. Are secondary educators even aware that EYFS actually allows disadvantaged children to fall behind, thus setting up every single teacher that follows with a requirement to differentiate massively? Despite this lack of awareness and interest, I’m still going to march on with the next post which is a collation of ideas and thoughts about how I would give disadvantaged children a leg up right from the start of their school career by:
a) getting parents more involved
b) mitigating lack of parenting as much as is feasibly possible by being proactive about giving the youngest scholars the bits and pieces of knowledge and skills that advantaged children bring with them to the EYFS reception year classroom
At the end of the last post, I produced a quick list of some of the home experiences that advantaged children received:
- Intellectual conversation that is infused with extensive, subject-specific vocabulary, idioms and phrases as well as providing general knowledge about the world, our culture and history
- Wonderful music
- Hearing interesting and varied stories, nursery rhymes and songs
- The undivided attention of an adult who hears them read daily and who teaches them, explicitly, how to count, form letters and to read by sounding out
- Understanding that certain behaviours affect others, making them angry, upset and leading to consequences; that it is better to be well-behaved in order to be happy and have good friends
- Being taught good manners and social etiquette
- Being taught to focus and persevere through daily practice of musical instruments, reading, handwriting, ballet
- Early understanding of how ‘society’ works by taking on chores, contributing to the efficient running of a household and feeling good about working hard to help others
- Adequate sleep and nutrition
The rhetoric of EYFS is very much about reacting, given that it is child-led and ideally play-based. I propose turning that rhetoric on its head and devising a system of teaching and learning that is proactive about closing 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 class table, but also 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. Some of the questions might even be ‘Do you know what please and thank you means?’ because there are some children who come to school without even the most basic of conversation scripts being taught or modeled in the first years of their lives. Again, why would they naturally know all this?
The second stage would be to decide on all the knowledge that is needed to be given to children in their first year, and this is truly wide ranging: anything from nursery rhymes, counting songs and well-known stories (you’d be surprised how much of this has been lost from our culture) 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). Yep, 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 Titanic of lost culture, conversation, social niceties and links to the past by attempting to revive traditions, handing them back to their rightful owners: our youngest children who will inherit the future. 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’. Personally, I’m pretty keen to revive the lost tradition of many counting songs and even creating a few more to help children learn, off-by-heart, their early number facts.
Of course, this would mean more whole class teaching, but why not have a teaching sequence that ends with, instead of written practice, play-practice? As an example, a half hour English speaking lesson whereby a script is taught (while 100% of the class is quiet, looking at and listening to the teacher) where children ask for and give each other items politely, as if they were at the shop and then the challenge at the end would be to try it out for themselves? We could go for ‘ping-pong’ style teaching (my favoured approach) with the teacher modelling a ‘worked example’ and then the children doing something almost the same. We could also ‘problem solve’ by listening to a script that is missing some key words. As the year goes by, the children would be taught how to use certain idioms and phrases in conversation.
What about the school day? I would have a lot of whole class teaching; I really cannot think of any other more efficient way that children can learn, particularly when you consider that many children come to school with chronic glue ear and really need to be able to hear what the teacher is saying. It always saddens me to hear from early years teachers and professionals ‘Oh it’s so noisy, you just get used to it’ and I wonder how these children are able to take their first steps as young scholars amidst such a din. I quite like 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), art (proper slow art, where the paintbrush is held properly), storytime (planned to include stories with good vocabulary and general knowledge), speaking/enunciation/interesting vocabulary and phrases lessons, handwriting, music appreciation and ballet to help strengthen children’s bodies so that they can walk tall and sit up straight. I would also 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. In fact, most EYFS educators don’t believe in teaching the youngest children at all, 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 patently unfair and the real reason why certain sections of the young population end up achieving hardly anything at all. Young males, for example, all have little egos, so why not teach them all to read properly so they can feel good about themselves as readers rather than by acting as class clowns?
To get the parents more involved, I would be ready with some cold, hard 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?