Monday, June 9, 2014

Wasting our time and our enthusisam...

Right.. I guess this post is going to be another one of my rants!
Last April, I started a course entitled "Literacy and Numeracy in early years".. I didn't need the qualification to meet the new qualifications requirements. I just did it to maybe improve my teaching methods and for the benefits of the children in my care.

I don't know if you are aware but for the past year in Ireland, the early years sector has been in turmoil since bad practices in big crèches were televised. This created a huge debate on the need for further qualifications for all workers in the sector. Needless to say that the media made it look really bad, generalising the poor professional practice of certain crèches to all childcare practices. This is not a fair picture and definitely not the reality. One of the main argument is the lack of qualifications for may childcare workers.

Anyhow, the course I took was organised through an organisation working to promote Adult Literacy. I don't know the course ended up being offered to early childhood practitioners. There are a lot of politics at play here. And I am sure it started as a good idea. I was very excited about the module and couldn't wait to start. There were limited amount of places and I had advocated my case to make sure I could get in.

What a disappointment it was!! What a waste of my time!! The course lasted 42 hours altogether. I reckon about 24 hours would have sufficed to go through everything the organisers had planned. We wasted hours playing games to get to know each other, hours reading hands out during the session (while this should have been done in own time at home). By the way, we were handed 3 photocopied hand outs and there was no further reading recommended. The whole course was based on the 3 learning theories: maturation theory, behaviourism theory and constructivism theory. We were asked to see how they applied in our environment and what we could do to enhance literacy and numeracy through these theories within our setting. We had  2 lesson plans to organise and 1 collage and rationale in terms of our own journey as a learner. That was it!! I simply couldn't believe it.  As I left the course, I reflected on what I had learnt. What did the course bring me? The answer is simple: NOTHING! And many of my colleagues felt exactly the same way, though some of them couldn't say it out loud as they needed the module to reach the new requirements of qualification. Many felt they came to the course just to tick another box on their list. Where is the quality here? The Board which organised the course boasts about Quality Standards. What quality I ask again? The course lacked substance and definitely didn't bring any quality back into the sector.

When I committed to this course, I expected to receive an in-depth training that would provide me and my colleagues with the latest research-based information on how to teach children fundamental literacy and numeracy skills. We were not offered any guidance at all. I expected the course to help us develop skills, strategies and thinking processes to help children become successful pre-readers, listeners, speakers and pre-writers. We were offered no access to research based, balanced frameworks and there were no concrete illustrations of how all the elements of effective literacy/numeracy development could be incorporated and developed into effective plans. The focus remained on the environment. There was no recommended further readings for any aspect of the course. I expected to be given various examples of best practice with links to a wealth of online resources, websites and literacy programmes. We were provided with a couple of photocopied chapters by the tutor, which we had to spend reading in class for nearly an hour.  The course completely failed to offer a thorough overview of key cognitive strategies children need to acquire in order for them to become more proficient in numeracy and literacy within ECCE settings. Our tutor was not even an expert literacy practitioner for early years and her lack of knowledge in the field failed to provide all of us with an on going guide and resource. She was completely unaware of the different methodologies used across the globe to develop literacy and numeracy, limiting the learning process and reflective journey of all participants in the course. For example, she had no knowledge of how counting, pre-writing and pre-reading skills are being taught in settings using the Montessori, High Scope, Reggio Emilia or Head Start approaches. Furthermore, the course did not provide any guidance or learning on how to support literacy and numeracy learning outcomes across the developmental stages of children within the ECCE sector. This is another huge let down. Nor did the course tackle obstacles to the promotion of literacy and numeracy such as learning disabilities (dyslexia and dyscalculia), developmental disorders, the dynamics of poverty and disadvantaged areas etc.. It barely brushed the topics of parental involvement and assessment tools. The course has been very unsatisfactory and lacked substance.
The delivery of the course itself has also been extremely disappointing due to its lack of organisation and its lack of guidance. The method used by our tutor was very poor, while the attitude of our tutor was questionable. On one occasion, she had one of my colleagues in tears. She was very patronizing and we were treated like children. She was extremely disorganised and didn’t seem to master the ins and outs of the module. For instance, we were asked to provide hand-made resources less than a week before we were due to hand in our assignments!!!!! Participants had been led to believe until then that photographs of the resources were sufficient. Many of my colleagues based their lesson plans on proper Montessori materials belonging to the settings. They were told the materials had to go in with their portfolio. As the material was used daily in the classroom and belonged to the setting, they had to go and make up a similar equipment from scratch, 7-9 days before the due date! The tutor had been talking with them for weeks and never ever mentioned that the material had to be taken away too!! Needless to say that some of my colleagues were under extreme pressure at the very end, due to no fault of theirs! This is unacceptable. The contents of the course could have been taught within 3 session at the most, the rest of the sessions being completely redundant.
I have written to the organisers of the course to let them know how I feel. I asked them to  revise the contents of the course or to lower the level of the course. As it is, it is not worth a FETAC level 6. I also reminded them that we need courses which will bring quality and value back into the childcare sector. Courses should not be run just to hand out qualifications. Qualifications are needed but they need substance and quality and need to be tailored exclusively around childcare with input from experts in the sector..

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