Friday, December 27, 2013

Thoughts after a first term teaching in Early Years

Figuring it out

"Mr McLaughlin, when I came into your class I couldn't read really good but now I can read really good"
A child in my class told me this during the last week of my first term in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). I started teaching EYFS in September having only ventured into the age group previously as either a visitor or observer. When I was offered the opportunity to teach in EYFS back in May I jumped at it as I had always wanted to teach in this age group. My expectations have been surpassed as I have found teaching in EYFS to be the best learning experience I have had as a teacher.

Children enter EYFS at 4 years old, some have just turned 4 whilst others are just turning 5. The age difference may seem minimal but in terms of life and learning experiences it is vast, much more apparent than in other age groups I have taught. From holding a pencil using the preferred tripod grip to writing their name, sounding out a letter to reading a simple sentence, recognising numbers from 1 to 5 and being able to add 1, the level of ability that I found from the onset was huge and scared me. These children had started to challenge my assumptions that I was a good teacher and it was only week 1.

Background to the current EYFS Framework in England

"Sure, all they do in the Foundation Stage is play!" A comment I've heard thrown around by teachers that should know better. So here's a short background to EYFS.
There are 7 areas of learning and development which make up the EYFS environment both inside and outside the classroom. Children learn through challenging and engaging activities which can be adult led/initiated or child initiated yet also meet the individual interests of every child. Play is important and forms a large part of learning in the Early Years setting but it isn't all play. It may look chaotic from the casual observer but once you go deeper you will see how free play is intertwined with adult focused activities which are essential if young children are expected to meet the 17 early learning goals by the end of their EYFS year.

Play or Teaching?

It is hard to disagree that play is essential for any child; play forms an integral part of the EYFS environment and as an EYFS teacher you have to leave time during the week open to child initiated play, where children choose what they want to play with. This can't be planned for and as such there are blank areas of my planning that indicate this, but this 'blank' time is used to observe children and help build their learning profile, discover their interests and inform individual planning for the following week. However, teaching is just as important as play, without teaching skills you can't hope the children in your class will pick up reading, writing and number work through play. The EYFS teacher treads a fine line between play and adult led and/or adult initiated activities and I found myself questioning whether I should lead an activity or leave them to it. So it was with great relief that I came across the "Learning, Playing and Interacting - Good Practice in the Early Years Foundation Stage" document which answered all my questions and more.

A continuum of approaches - from the Learning, Playing and Interacting document
The central band is considered a best fit with the teacher dipping using highly structured activities to teach specific skills (phonics, number work, pencil control and writing). As well as using this document and asking my experienced EYFS colleague for Early Years teaching advice, I searched online for information and asked questions of other EYFS practitioners on Twitter. There were numerous answers but all pointed towards the same conclusion - a good mix of play and focused learning. Some preferred more highly structured activities whilst other adhered to more child-initiated play. I myself have found I based my approach on a mix of child-initiated and focused learning with highly structured teaching on a daily basis. I also believe that, as term 2 progresses, more highly structured teaching activities will form a larger part of my daily approach. 

I have struggled at times to ensure my teaching was of the highest quality but this struggle has led me to discover more about effective pedagogical approaches with younger children. In the next posts I will look at these approaches and how they have shaped my teaching in the classroom, I will also be looking at reading and early number work.