- Does learning in Kindergarten help with learning in Grave Five?
- Does learning in Grade Five help with learning in Kindergarten?
- Is it easy for teachers to quickly grasp the competencies students enter their classrooms with?
- Is it easy for teachers to quickly grasp the knowledge and understandings students enter their classrooms with?
I think these four questions shed light on an educator’s perspective as to whether learning, and what types of learning are reciprocal or linear. Questions 3 & 4 specify the extremely broad notion of learning into to competencies (question 3) and knowledge and understandings (question 4):
- competencies, in BC’s new draft curriculum, could more fully be described as Core Competencies (Thinking, Communication and Personal & Social) as well as Curricular Competencies (skills that allow students to “do” a subject).
- Knowledge and understandings in the draft curriculum could be described as the Big Ideas and content and concepts in the Learning Standards.
I think many educators would answer questions one and two differently if learning was separated into these two areas. Learning in Kindergarten and Grades One to Four definitely helps students learn in Grade Five. For example, students in primary grades learn how to read; students in Grade Five use reading to learn. Question two is different. Being a strong writer in Grade Five does not make a student better at letter formations in Kindergarten so in this way, learning in Grade Five does not help learning in Kindergarten. In this way, learning could be seen as linear.
The same is not true if the learning we are referring to is knowledge and understandings rather than competencies. The experiences and learning a student has after Kindergarten will enlighten some of the experiences they had while in Kindergarten that they simply did not have enough experience or knowledge to comprehend at the time. In this way, learning knowledge and understandings is reciprocal: not only does our past experience help us understand our current learning, our current learning can help us understand our past.
Two commonly used metaphors in education include the tree and the rhizome. The tree is an appropriate metaphor for the development of competencies. In the tree metaphor, there is a starting point – the seed – from which growth occurs in many directions in the form of branches and roots. The branches and roots divide and further divide and are only connected to each other where this division occurs, but not again. The second metaphor of the rhizome which has no beginning or end, only a middle. In the words of Dave Cormier, who writes on Rhizomatic thinking here often , “A rhizomatic plant has no center and no defined boundary; rather, it is made up of a number of semi-independent nodes, each of which is capable of growing and spreading on its own, bounded only by the limits of its habitat (Cormier 2008).” This metaphor suggests learning is linked not from beginning to an end, but that the brain complexly makes connection of learning from subject to subject, grade to grade, and all of the experiences beyond school into an interconnected and ever-increasing web where connections do not have to happen at defined intersections (as in the tree metaphor) but between any points. This metaphor validates past experience as rather than viewing it solely for the benefit of present understanding, it connects with and illuminates past learning as well.
For teachers, this interconnected web of knowledge may make it challenging for teachers to answer question 4. It is fairly easy to know a students’ competencies including literacy and math skills., but it is far more challenging to know what they know and understand. But educators can try.
The new curriculum anchors content and concepts to four to six big ideas per subject in each grade. Teachers in BC using the draft curriculum will have a great opportunity to connect learning not simply between big ideas within a grade, but between big ideas across grades. Doing so may jog a student’s memory to assist them with acquiring knowledge and understanding by making connections with what they already know and perhaps even provide a framework or at least some context to synthesize this understanding. Further, it provides an opportunity to honour what the student already knows and perhaps even develop their learning in previous grades. In this way, learning is truly reciprocal and interconnected. Not only does Grade Five benefit from Kindergarten, the learning that occurs in Kindergarten benefits from the learning of Grade Five and beyond.