Ok, I may be late to the party on this one, but I came across this article today while following up on some of the ideas emerging from a Professional Network Centre gathering yesterday. One of the groups present was reporting on the work that they are doing to increase self-regulatory behaviour in students that are part of their Full Day Kindergarten Program (FDKP). The suggestion from the group, and from the Toronto Star article is that kids that are less focused and who may not be good at self-regulation in the early years of school may not be as successful later on.
I’m all for nurturing the attitudes and dispositions in our children that will allow them to become happy and well-adjusted members of their families and communities. But I don’t feel at all comfortable with the articles main thesis that attention span in Kindergarten is an effective predictor of work habits later in life. Now, don’t get me wrong (I seem to be saying that quite a bit lately), I don’t disagree that a child that has trouble focusing in the early years of school might have trouble remaining engaged and interested in school several years down the road. In fact, it’s probably true. In some cases, there may even be a physical or neurological reason to explain the lack of attention. If so, it deserves our full attention.
But check out the words of Linda Pagani, the lead researcher on the project that followed close to 1500 kindergarten students as they made their way from JK to Grade 6:
“For children, the classroom is the workplace, and this is why productive, task-oriented behaviour in that context later translates to the labour market”
What? Did I really just read that?
While I’m not in a position to criticize the actual research (I will find the original journal article later today), I’m in a very good position to criticize the implication that we need to treat lack of attention in all students as a disease to be cured, a problem to be solved or a predictor of future success. Instead of trying to focus my child, let’s listen to him. Instead of trying to getting her to pay attention to what we think is important, let’s spend some time trying to understand where her focus actually is! Where is the somewhere else to which she is attending?
The student that has trouble focusing in Kindergarten could very well have more trouble with engagement later on in school because he’s a divergent thinker, a creative artist…a dreamer. If our schools continue to hold a view of the child that discounts these dispositions, then engagement and focus in school will continue to be a problem for some. But, as so many are beginning to suggest, perhaps the goal should not be to change the child but, rather to change the environment in which we compel our children to be actively attentive for six hours a day. If we want our children to be engaged, let’s make sure that they’re in an engaging place, doing engaging things, with engaging people.
If the 21st century workplace skills of creativity, collaboration and critical thinking are so important, why are we worried about attention, self-regulation and compliance at such a young age. In fact, it could turn out that many of the students that are disengaged with school at early ages turn out to be our most successfull, creative and entrepreneurial citizens.
I’m not comfortable with the idea that school become a place where our youngest children are rewired to fit into a working environment somewhere down the road. I don’t send my children to school to be altered. I send them to school to be inspired, to have his passions ignited, his interest piqued and his mind challenged.
I’m concerned about where this type of research is leading, but before going off on too many rants, I’m going to do some more reading, some more listening and some more thinking about this talk of focus and self-regulation in our 4- and 5-year olds. I would love your perspective on this. As a kindergarten teacher, what are your thoughts? As a parent, how does this sit with you? As a thinker about school and schooling, what say you?
Is attention on attention going to improve the lives of our children, or is it merely going to improve the working conditions for our teachers?