Thursday, December 4, 2014

Extend Extending Extensions

DISCLAIMER: I shall have to preface this post and probably every post I write from now on with: I do not subscribe to the Assessment and Rating process. I am down with the NQS and QIPs and the EYLF – for the most part. I am a reflective practitioner and I love learning and improving.  I think A&R is a colossal waste of money that could be spent many other ways – research, educational support for current and future educators ... funding for services etc. I’m a teacher, an educational leader’s educational leader, a mentor, an educator, a weaver of curriculum. I do my own thing, as I was educated to do and I do it with pride and knowledge and experience sitting behind my pedagogical choices. I am a professional and I don’t need to be asked to prove it to others repeatedly.

Anyway, let’s start the show ... 

The inspiration for this article is from online forums where over and over I see educators asking about extension ideas for experiences or activities that they have observed children engaged in. I believe that the idea behind this is that these educators will then know what to plan for the child. I struggle with this notion for a few reasons. One of which is - a bunch of strangers on the internet do not know the child, nor do they know the learning that you are trying to foster for that child. They also don't know the learning that you have observed, unless of course you have articulated that - simply asking for an extension activity idea based upon another activity isn't the point of planning. Even when it is interest based.

It seems to me that by planning from one activity observed to another activity provided we are missing a critical element or two  - learning being the major part. We are missing the learning observed and identified through thoughtful analysis or reflection. And we are missing the potential learning we wish to foster. Activities or experiences do not equal learning. 

I have to acknowledge that I have a few personal professional issues with extensions as they are used in the early childhood education field today (I find "follow-ups" abhorrent).

I'd like to make a few points in regards to "extensions"  and I know I’m repeating myself a bit, but I so want to make these points. Repeatedly. 
  1. An ‘extension’ or ‘extension of learning’ is not an obligatory blanket requirement of the NQS and EYLF nor is it a ‘must do’ for the ‘what’s next.’
  2. We are the educators, we have the knowledge, experience, and the position to be able to choose what to extend upon, as well as how and when we extend it. We should own our professionalism. Like a boss. You earned it. (This is not to detract from the rights of children).
  3. Where do children's rights fit into all of this? When do they get to choose their own extensions? And for how long they extend their own interest in learming? Why must the educator have all that power?
  4. We don’t need to extend everything.
  5. An extension does not need to be a separate activity or experience.
  6. An extension can be something that we do in the moment - a sneaky little intentional teaching strategy.
  7. An extension is not a follow-up. A follow-up is not an extension. Yet the two are often used interchangeably. 
Just so we're all on the same page,a follow-up and an extension can be defined as:

  •   A follow-up - is “the act or an instance of following up” or “something that follows up
  •  An extension - is “the action of extending:  state of being extended” or “a part constituting an addition”

I hate follow-ups (like, heaps) -- it's not a secret -- and I think that using “extensions” as the new “follow-up”  isn't the direction we have to go in. Who decided that this was the cycle of planning for early childhood services anyway? Who decided that this was quality and then started to perpetuate that myth. 

You observe a moment in time, analyse, plan a follow-up activity, implement that activity and then 'tick that box' - all to say that you've completed the cycle of planning for the (each) child? And if you do 40 of these, two times a month, then each child is sufficiently included in the planning cycle?!?!?!?! 

Go away. That's so superficial and not sustainable! How overworked and worn out and tired are you? Seriously? How much planning do you have to do at home because you cannot do the panning at work because you're too busy trying to catch up with the follow-ups/extensions/extensions of so called learning?!?!?!

Some of you are doing (are required to do by your Educational Leaders or your Managers) five of these a month per child - sometimes regardless of the child's attendance pattern!... I feel for you. I really do. It is beyond ridiculous. RIDICULOUS! I'm all about being genuine, human, and authentic. It's about relationships, connections, conversations. Learning and teaching is complex. It CANNOT be simplified into one learning story observation whatever the hell you want to call it and a follow-up-extended-extending-extension-of-learning. 

The NQS requires us to have a planning cycle which is informed and guided by our assessment of children's learning and development: "Element 1.2.1 Each child’s learning and development is assessed as part of an ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation."  We can plan using the broad learning outcomes, child developmental theory and our knowledge of each and every child in our care as a guide. There are of course so many other elements we can weave into our plans that I could explore here, but I'd run out of room. And honestly its difficult enough for me to maintain one train of thought, let alone 10. 

The NQS indicates that we should use teaching strategies intentionally to support and extend children’s learning potential. The NQS doesn’t tell us how. We work that little gem out for ourselves. The NQS does not demand that we extend everything we observe, everything we plan, everything we see. The NQS does not demand a follow-up activity attached to each and every written document. It just doesn’t. If you are convinced it does, please point me to where it says so... If an Assessor told you so (and I know that some have) ask them nicely to support you in understanding this, and could they please show you where - in the Early Years Learning Framework? In the Regulations? In the Law? In the Standards? WHERE!? it says so!?

It is my belief that 'follow-ups' and the current interpretation of 'extensions' as follow-ups is a leftover or residual understanding from the times before. The boxes. The Monday to Monday, Tuesday to Tuesday type of planning. Activity to activity. All those little boxes, little boxes ... Let's have a little sing-a-long shall we?

Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
- Malvina Reynolds - 

I love a good protest song ... 

I'd like to explore point number six further: “extension can be something that you do, such as a sneaky little intentional teaching strategy.” I mean we can support the child in the here and now. A word of encouragement, resources to extend the time the child engages in the play or resources that add a new level of complexity to that play, some open-ended questions that prompt the child’s thinking, a sustained conversation between educator and child, or a group of children... All these are teaching strategies. Teaching strategies, used intentionally to extend the opportunities for learning in the moment that the child is actively engaged in - that is an extension – I think that this should be our definition of an extension – the little thing or the big thing we did to support the child at the time which facilitated the learning potential further. 

An extension can be another experience flowing from the original moment - which may seem unrelated but is in fact quite related - Aunt Annie explores that in her blog article "Extending children's play, and the joy of red herrings" - so if you can do something in the moment, do it. And realise that it might not be 'like to like' or 'same to same'  - as Aunt Annie explores in her writing it can be 'like to different to very different'. 

If you can’t see the learning potential in that moment for the children or that particular child, then move onto another moment and devote some brain power to that. Be gentle with yourself. Don't belittle yourself or feel inadequate. You don't have to have the 'one answer' or the 'one right activity' - the perfect solution follow-up-future-extension-of-learning-idea.

If you know the child, know their development, their needs, their strengths, their gifts and their challenges then you should know what to do. Know the child. Plan for the child. Don't plan for an activity. An activity is not learning.

If you know what learning you’re trying to facilitate then you might have a better idea of what you’re going to do to promote opportunities for further learning. [Did you note that I said 'opportunities'? As in plural? As in not just one?] Keep in mind that not all children will want to learn the same thing at the same time in the same way OR that all children are capable of learning the same thing in the same way at the same time ... Children are individuals who have unique learning interests and needs and speeds. Just like us. Children are people too. Don't forget that.

I would like us all (well, mainly them, the them that annoy me, the them that are the system) to embrace the fact that not all learning can be planned or forecast. 

Sometimes the best learning just happens.

- G

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