Saturday, May 19, 2012

One Difference

At a recent school day concert I was able to observe, right before my eyes, one of the differences between early childhood educators and elementary educators.  Within 50 minutes there were two examples of different approaches that may reveal a great deal about the way that these professionals look at their work with children.

The concert involved preschoolers, kindergarteners and first graders at the school.  All of the children joined in with enthusiasm: clapping, dancing and guessing the silly rhymes that would complete phrases in my songs.  Overall it was a great event and what I am about to describe were small incidents that did not interrupt the concert in any way.  This sort of thing happens many times during the course of a school day. I only noticed all of this because I was facing the teachers and students as I led my concert.

And I have a knack for observation.

About half way through my concert, I noticed that two girls in one of the first grade classes began to chat. Soon, rather than clapping and singing along with me, they were engaged in their own games: poking at each other, giggling, etc. 

This is common, of course.  Young children can be easily distracted.  (Adults can too.  Instead of poking and giggling, adults text.)

I watched this develop over a couple of songs and then noticed a first grade teacher walk over to where these children were seated, scold them a bit, and, after that, return to her chair on the far side of the room.  Almost as soon as the teacher walked away the two young girls were at it again.  The teacher returned after a few more minutes and, once again, scolded the children and pointed towards me, indicating that they should "pay attention." She then walked, again, to her seat on the side of the room.

After another song the children began their poking and giggling again.  When the teacher returned a third time the two girls were brought out in the hallway.  They were gone for a few moments and, when they returned, they were separated.  Each girl had tears in her eyes. For the rest of the concert these two young girls sat in a slump and pouted. And, for them, the singing, clapping and rhyming was over.

There was nothing unusual about this incident in any way.  It is standard practice for elementary school teachers to monitor children's behavior and, when needed, correct it.  In fact, many teachers would say that this type of management is expected of them.

Almost as soon as the first graders were separated, however, near the end of my concert, two boys from one of the preschool classrooms began talking to each other and laughing - even tussling a bit.  They were no longer facing me, but facing each other as though they were unaware that my concert was still in progress.

The preschool teacher, sitting on the floor in close proximity to the children, noticed this right away.  She scooted up a bit and redirected the two boys by demonstrating the movements in the game I was leading.  Almost immediately the two young boys were engaged once again and playfully participating.

There was nothing unusual about this incident either.  It is standard practice for early childhood professionals to redirect young children rather than punish them.  By sitting right near the children and joining in the games, the teacher was able to help these two distracted preschoolers remain engaged. 

The preschoolers missed only a moment of my concert before the teacher helped to keep them involved. After her redirection, they actively participated until my concert was over.  There were no tears.

I want to be clear that both teachers were very professional, in their own way, and doing their jobs as they understand them.

It is likely that most people watching might not have even noticed the preschool teacher's intervention, but would definitely have witnessed the first grade teacher's repeated corrections.  That being said, I can't imagine anyone reading these accounts, as I have described them, would disagree with me that the more effective practice was carried out by the preschool teacher. 

My question is why is there such a difference between the two approaches?  First graders are only, at the most, two years older than preschoolers.  Do these small incidents tell us anything about the different ways that early childhood educators approach their work with young children and the way that elementary educators approach their work......with young children?