My daughter’s school in Canada is like many others – or so I have heard from other parents and educators. From the outside, things look fantastic. The school has a beautiful and newly constructed playground, the library is stacked with books, the classroom spaces are well-maintained, and the staff is amazing – they are warm, caring, and dedicated individuals and your child would be lucky to be in any of their classrooms. And then you dig a little deeper, unfold the layers and take a look at what is actually happening education-wise – and what makes the school look great slowly begins to fade away.
Let’s start with consistency across the grades and between classrooms. At my daughter’s school there are 3 distinct divisions of teaching philosophies:
a) The Reggio Emilia Approach: In the lower grades – kindergarten and grade 1, you have a team of teachers who are very much inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Children learn through inquiry and play. The spacious classrooms are set up with large tables and plenty of materials thus inspiring children to explore. The environment is very nurturing and children’s independence is encouraged.
b) A Teacher-led Approach: Then you move on to grades 2 and 3, where you have a group of teachers who are strongly opposed to this philosophy. And so, you have young ones moving out of an environment of self-directed htarning and thrown into a teacher-led environment, which happened to my daughter this past year as she entered the second grade. The abruptness of this transition was harsh not only for her but also for many of her classmates. Worksheets, printing practice, and limited time for centers and exploration became the norm. Although the second and third grade teachers all followed more of a teacher-led style, it was unclear what the common bond was, other than their teaching method. Some gave homework and spelling tests, others didn’t, some preferred to set up the room with large tables, some preferred to have the students in desks, etc. There were inconsistencies in curriculum covered, for example, my daughter’s teacher felt that instead of teaching social studies one term, she would devote extra time to teaching reading. My daughter was already a top reader in the class, so I wonder what she missed in socials and how this will impact third grade ….
c) Understanding by Design (UbD): Moving upwards to grades 4 - 7, you find teachers using Ubd as the common link in their teaching philosophy. Even though this group of teachers is linked by Ubd, there are still significant discrepancies in classroom setup, methods of discipline, amounts of homework given, and some teachers are into experimenting with various teaching methods such as genius hour, while other aren’t.
Basically, as your child moves from one year to the next, there is no consistency. Their journey is solely dependent on the teachers they get and not the school as a whole because there doesn’t appear to be a school-wide agreement on how things should be.
As for grading and testing, again, it seemed up to individual teachers – everyone seemed to be on different pages as to how to evaluate the students. Some preferred assessing through projects and samples of work, others relied more on quizzes and tests. Rubrics appeared to be pulled off the Internet, and from all this teachers needed to cohesively (as a school) discern on a four-point scale whether a child was Emerging, Developing, Proficient or Exceeding in their abilities, which made me wonder if from teacher to teacher and year to year, if there even was consensus….
And lastly, several support programs were being offered – ELL (English Language Learning), Learning Support, Speech Therapy, etc. and my daughter’s school was fortunate enough to have a fantastic team; however, they were completely disconnected from what was happening in the classroom. I watched as individuals would pop in and try to catch what was happening in the classroom to support students on the fly – it was a blind leading the blind situation as they didn’t know any more than the student did about the activity they needed to support. Alternatively, if an Educational Assistant (EA) wasn’t in the class, students would be pulled out; for example, those ELL students needing language support. During those sessions, it appeared that what students were being taught were lessons separate from those happening in the classroom.
As I mentioned previously, what I observed is what so many other parents and educators have witnessed at their schools. A mishmash free-for-all where there is a lack of consistency for the students in terms of teaching philosophies and assessments/grading, and where learning support operates on the fly and doesn’t always connect to learning in the classroom. And I wonder, as I am sure many do, what the impact of this hodgepodge on student learning is … and if we continue down this path, what will education for the next generations to come look like?