In a prior blog post, I wrote about real learning and not-real learning in high school English classes. In writing about real learning and not-real learning in kindergarten classes, I found the intellectual processes for both age groups to be remarkably the same. Children in kindergarten and adolescents in high school are either asked to construct their own knowledge and create their own personal meaning or they are not. When either five years olds or fifteen years olds construct their own knowledge and create personal meaning, they are engaged in real learning. When they are told information and expected to remember it, they are recipients of not-real learning.
Here are two checklists you can take with you when you visit a kindergarten class of your child or of another child you love:
CHECKLIST FOR REAL LEARNING IN KINDERGARTEN
Children are active, involved participants in the classroom community. Children are encouraged to ask their own questions and explore possible answers. They are taught, through their play, to problem-solve, to think divergently and innovatively, to broaden and deepen their thinking by being in conversation with others, and, most of all, to learn how to learn as new situations and problems present themselves. Children create personal meaning and construct their own knowledge from meaning-making, interactive activities.
If you can check all of the following boxes, this classroom is a good place for young children to grow and learn.
☐ Children are engaging in hands-on learning experiences.
☐ Children are learning through their play.
☐ Children are surrounded by and immersed in rich literature.
☐ Children are learning through activities and projects with others.
☐ Children are demonstrating social and emotional capabilities.
☐ Children are questioning, exploring, and following-through on their curiosity.
☐ Children are asked to stretch their imagination.
☐ Children figuring things out and drawing conclusions.
☐ Children are deeply involved in activities they find relevant to them.
☐ Children are using skills of literacy and numeracy in authentic learning experiences.
☐ Children are wondering about lots of things.
☐ Children are taught to persist in their learning challenges.
CHECKLIST FOR NOT-REAL LEARNING IN KINDERGARTEN
The teacher conveys information to the children. Children answer the teacher’s questions. Children work by themselves and demonstrate individual mastery of specific skills. All the children in the class are expected to learn the same content and skills in the same way at the same time. Children are not asked to create their own personal meaning or construct their own knowledge.
If you check all of the following boxes, children in this class will need other kinds of learning experiences in order to grow as learners and thinkers.
☐ Children are practicing discrete literacy and numeracy skills with worksheets.
☐ Teachers are asking children questions for which the teacher has the answer.
☐ All of the children are being given reading instruction with the expectation that all of them will read by the end of kindergarten.
☐ Children are working individually to master skills.
☐ Children are listening to the teacher and gaining information.
☐ Children are having more “seat-time” than active, hands-on learning.
☐ Developing children’s social and emotional skills is limited or absent from the curriculum.
☐ College and career readiness is the purpose of instruction and the focus of the curriculum.