Through Charlaine St-Jean, University of Quebec at Rimouski (UQAR); Marilyn Dupuis Brouillette, University of Quebec at Rimouski (UQAR); Naomie Fournier Dube, University of Quebec at Rimouski (UQAR) and Thomas Rajotte, University of Quebec at Rimouski (UQAR)
New university graduates in preschool and elementary education are called upon to teach children between the ages of 4 and 12, from toddlers to almost teenagers. These age differences necessarily have an effect on the educational practices of teachers.
Can teachers easily move from one level to another? This question has been around for several years.
In Quebec, teachers must hold a teaching certificate after obtaining a four-year university bachelor's degree. Their initial training (a bachelor's degree in preschool education and primary education) includes preschool and primary. At the end of his baccalaureate, a student can teach either level. However, the experience he will have during his first contracts will be decisive. Specialization therefore leads to different practices, despite a common baccalaureate.
We were first teachers at the primary level. Then we became university professors in education and didactics, with a sensitivity for preschool education. These two hats therefore allow us to analyze the differences in practices.
The developmental approach
Pre-school education differs from primary education insofar as it not only has an educational aim, even instruction, but first and foremost a socialization aim.
This materializes in particular with the developmental approach advocated by the preschool education cycle program. Indeed, the kindergarten class is generally designed as a transition and a first step in the educational path. It allows the child to socialize, develop a taste for school and flourish before arriving at primary education where disciplinary requirements have a more important place in the training program.
This developmental approach “targets the overall development of the child, while respecting his rhythm, his needs and his interests. It advocates the integration of child-initiated activities, such as play and exploration," write Krasimira Marinova and Roxane Drainville. These two Quebec researchers are interested in the pressure that some teachers may feel to use schooling practices when learning written language in preschool.
This developmental approach is central to the philosophy of kindergarten. It guides all the interventions of the teacher and puts forward the place of the child as the main actor of his learning.
She emphasizes student initiative and their learning, while remaining accompanied by the teacher. For example, when returning to class, the teacher listens to the students wondering about the rank. Why is such a student in front of another? The teacher can take this questioning on the leap in order to introduce the notion of measurement and compare the height of the students by positioning them back to back or according to another process. Learning here is based on the children's interests and according to their own initiatives, all with the support of the teacher.
In reality, there is no teaching related to specific knowledge that should be done in preschool education. Nor by heart. For example, a teacher might ask, "Is it possible or impossible for you to have a banana for your snack this morning?" » with the children during the talk, in order to awaken their probabilistic thinking. However, it is not like teaching probability with specific expectations of the skills to be developed by students (as is the case in elementary school).
In the context of kindergarten, knowledge and mathematical concepts are present, there is no doubt, but learning takes place more in the context of play. Expectations vary from one child to another.
The issue that concerns us here is the coexistence of so-called "developmental" practices in the face of so-called "educational" practices which are inconsistent.
“Schooling” practices are in fact the opposite. They aim to transmit certain key knowledge or skills for learning, in this case at primary level. The role of the teacher is quite different: to direct instead of to accompany. A posture that ignores a majority of children's initiatives.
Let's take the example of a teacher who organizes a teaching activity during the planting of sunflower seeds. It will give step by step what the students must do. The schooling approach advocates varied activities directed by the teacher. Ultimately, this approach has the role of guiding children towards predefined learning ".
So what are the recommended approaches? Are there pedagogical directions that teachers could put into practice from preschool to the end of primary school?
Exploratory learning puts the learner (whether the preschooler or even the university student) at the center, knowing that they must be active and engaged in their learning. It is relevant because it is consistent with the developmental approach and is not part of a schooling approach.
Learning by exploration is oriented towards the active construction of knowledge by students. Reflection, research and the development of thought by students promote the creation of new knowledge. As such, the role of the child is absolutely central in the development of his thought.
In a learning situation that promotes learning by exploration, student initiatives drive their learning, as do the different experiences that are essential to the development of their thinking and their understanding of knowledge. Manipulating and being questioned promotes understanding. Moreover, the the child's rhythm is respected. Indeed, it is the child who explores the problem situation, reflects and tries to respond to it: the teacher does not dictate the pace of learning.
The roles of the teacher in exploratory learning
By using exploratory learning in their practice, the teacher sees their role as that of a coach. Thus, the activities are planned and controlled by the teacher taking into account the interests, needs and pace of the students.
Some activity guidelines can be planned, but the teacher adapts them to the situation and the needs of his group. Its place is quite other than in an educational approach.
He supports the efforts of the children, observes them, accompanies them and questions them while they are in action. It promotes trade. The student has a lot of latitude since he is allowed to question himself, to reflect, to take initiatives: he is responsible for his learning. This requires a great deal of skill on the part of the teacher since he must be ready to respond quickly to the needs of the pupils.
Could exploratory learning in preschool classes be found in elementary school? Isn't it the fundamental role of the teacher, to observe, to accompany and to question pupils who take initiatives, make experiments and all this according to their own rhythm?
The active construction of knowledge by students is essential for teachers. It is about not receiving knowledge passively in order to push the reflection while promoting the creation of new knowledge. It therefore remains to wonder how to find the right balance between accompanying and guiding the student while allowing him to build his learning.
By Charlaine St-Jean, Early Childhood Education Teacher, University of Quebec at Rimouski (UQAR); Marilyn Dupuis Brouillette, Professor, University of Quebec at Rimouski (UQAR); Naomie Fournier Dube, , University of Quebec at Rimouski (UQAR) and Thomas Rajotte, Professor of Didactics and Orthopedagogy of Mathematics, University of Quebec at Rimouski (UQAR)