I spent a happy chunk of time with Lisa S in her kindergarten classroom Saturday afternoon– stapling book orders, ooh-ing and aah-ing over her kids’ work, and scrolling through my Twitter feed. I followed a link to a blog post entitled “Insanity in Education: 52 Mistakes We Make Over and Over Again”. I thought, “Oh, this might be interesting…”
I read the 52 mistakes aloud to Lisa S as she stuffed the student work envelopes that she sends home on Mondays. As I read, our mood turned dark. Lisa and I had already experienced or witnessed all 52 of the mistakes on the list, but two of the mistakes on the list really poked us in a very sore spot. These two mistakes are destroying the integrity and purpose of kindergarten.
The two mistakes that are destroying kindergarten
#13. Prioritize uniformity and expect creativity.
#47. Celebrate uniformity and teachers being on the “same page,” but expect great teaching.
Lisa and I agreed these two mistakes (and many others on the list of 52 mistakes) are connected to a pair of delusions that have become pervasive in education.
Delusion #1. Curricular and instructional uniformity is the best way to ensure equitable access to the curriculum for all students.
Uniformity is seen as the best way to make sure every student is “getting” exactly the same thing. But why would we want every student to get the same thing? Would Lisa S force every one of her kindergarteners to read books at Level 16 (the benchmark for the end of first grade in her district) just because one student in her class can read Level 16 books? Of course not. Should every kindergartener in Lisa’s class— including the student who reads Level 16 books—be practicing letter sounds? Nope. Only the children who are ready to learn their letter sounds should be working on letter sounds. Striving for uniformity makes no sense in the context of kindergarten.
Uniformity is not only impossible, it’s undesirable. What we really want is for all students to be working on tasks and activities that are challenging, achievable, and interesting to them. This approach—seeing each child as an individual with a unique constellation of strengths and areas for growth—is especially important in preK/TK – Grade 3, when the developmental variation among the students in any given classroom is pronounced and obvious.
Equitable access does not mean “everyone gets the same thing.” Equitable access means teachers meet their students where they are and work to ensure that every student gets the learning experiences and opportunities that he or she needs to continue on a positive growth trajectory. Daily learning for every child is what we mean by “Every Student, Every Day, No Exceptions.”
Delusion #2. Giving every teacher the same manual or Teachers’ Edition will ensure that every student has equitable access to the curriculum.
A group of teachers can sit together in a professional development training session and learn about a new instructional approach or curricular resource. They can examine the material together, talk about how they might use the material with their students, and think about how this new approach or resource will mesh with their existing materials and routines.
But when these teachers go back to their classrooms, each teacher takes away his or her own interpretation and understanding of the material and how it should be used. Those different interpretations and understandings lead the teachers to design lessons that reflect their own unique understanding of the new resource or approach. And this means the students in these teachers’ classrooms are not “getting” the same thing.
Teachers are neither trained monkeys nor space-age robots who can only do what they’re told to do. We are professionals. Each teacher has unique and idiosyncratic understandings of their work that reflect their personal beliefs and their experiences with teaching, learning, children, and content. Every teacher’s professional practices are different from the practices of every other teacher, just as every human is different from every other human.
Human variation and variety are inevitable and desirable. When will our field recognize that uniformity is a mirage?