What does the word “challenging” mean for students and education? I recently read an article in The School Administrator that discusses the change in the philosophy behind the way schools teach Kindergarten kids. For those of you unfamiliar with Kindergarten today, let’s just say “it is not your grandma’s kindergarten”. Kids are reading small booklets and many schools have entrance requirements to kindergarten that can prevent students from enrolling. (Ridgway does not prevent students from enrolling no matter how poorly students may perform on the enrollment screening) The authors are concerned that the strategies being used to “drill” reading strategies into children in all early grades simply do not work. In fact, the authors claim, the schools are doing harm to children when you consider what is taken out of the school day to make room for these strategies----namely play. Play is important for cognitive, social and emotional development. Play is also the first casualty of increased “drill” in schools. On the other hand, supporters of a more drill oriented curriculum like to talk about the fact that “their way” is more “challenging”. The word “challenging” is what I would like to discuss.
First of all, making sure that all students have the foundation for reading proficiency in kindergarten through third grade is paramount. The biggest disservice a school system can do to a child is NOT to prepare them at this critical time to be able to read. The false dichotomy is that a school must choose between a “drill and kill” approach that is “challenging” and a total “play” approach that is not “challenging”. Here is what I would like to see in a reading curriculum at the primary grades
1. I want to see a curriculum at this age level that is challenging for students to be creative.
2. I want to see a curriculum where students are challenged to think critically. Does “drilling” reading strategies promote critical thinking and creativity?
3. I want a curriculum that challenges the schools to make reading instruction relevant to students in kindergarten and the primary grades.
4. I want a curriculum that challenges teachers to use research based approach to instruction and curriculum that is holistic and addresses the entire child’s needs.
I do not think that the preceding wish list is unattainable. The word “challenging” should apply to everything that a school district uses to help children learn regardless of whether it is “drill” or “play”. In other words, the words “play” and “challenging” can (and should) be used to describe a good, well thought out reading curriculum. I know that is what the Ridgway Area School District is striving for.