I would like to start by saying that I was very hesitant to write a guest post for this book club. I am, after all, a preservice teacher with limited experience attempting to make intellectual connections with a group of very experienced, and probably outstanding, teachers. So what can I possibly offer?
To add to this, just days before the planned opening, the Canadian Class Afloat ship, Concordia, sank off the coast of Brazil. This was a GREAT story. They were students, they were Canadian (many even from our city), and they all survived because of their successful training (working on the hard parts) and courage.
In reading chapter five, I was left with the question: What is the hidden game in this unit, and did we uncover it? Throughout this learning process, students discovered the importance of shape in a boat. This happened initially in their discovery that plasticine would sink unless they changed its shape, and then later in their boat building. Shape is the mechanism by which the boat stays afloat. However the anomaly weather system that struck Concordia overcame the physical capacity of the shape to exist in its upright position. The probability of this weather system was extremely low which leads to the complexity of the interaction patterns in weather systems. The agency goes all the way back to the boat builders and the complexity of their task to combine shape with masts, sails, rudders, etc. In answering my question, no, we did not get into the complete realm of the hidden game. However, I like to think that we played a successful junior version by discovering the importance of shape.
As an early childhood specialist, I had an appreciation for Perkins’ Kindergarten example in this chapter. The teacher notices her students beginning to dwell on one topic, in this case animals, and directs them to open up new ideas. This reminded me of how my class began to dwell on racing boats. The way O’Hara’s students are able to participate in this flowing dialogue speaks to her disposition and how these class experiences are regularly lived out. Furthermore, Perkins touches on the very important topic of developmentally appropriate practice. To what extent do teachers need to become experts on human development? This is a very important question in ECE in particular, where the rate of development is generally really fast (i.e. you can see massive differences between September and June in the lower grades, which are not always as apparent as you move up the grades). Perkins’ example provided me with a great model of how critical pedagogy can live in ECE. This will include a lot of junior versions, priming students for a future of intriguing ideas that they can approach with a critical, self-aware eye. Not an easy task.
Perkins speaks a lot to intentional teaching in this chapter. When describing an example, he states that “the particular anomaly is calculatedly chosen to push the learners further along the dimensions of complex causality”. That is, the teacher knows where the students need to go and is intentional in guiding students toward this discovery. The discovery itself, perhaps even just by being a hidden game, leads learners toward a more universal understanding. At the very least, students will discover that hidden games exist and things are not always as they seem. In moving away from teacher-centered pedagogy, this is a crucial step because it asks students to question their own discoveries, leading to more robust understandings.
As adults and teachers we can often fail to notice universal understandings that we now take for granted. They have shifted into our unconscious (tacit) knowings about the world. This is clear in Perkins’ words, “it’s easy to imagine that these sorts of distinctions are obvious, but they are certainly not”. I was intrigued by Perkins’ section on tacit knowledge. An example of this occurred this morning when my son questioned why I had to close the bag of bread. This is common sense to me. Obviously if I left the bag open the air would dry it out. So I began to try and explain this and it proved to be much more complex knowledge than I realized. Not only did he have to understand that air makes the bread dry and it doesn’t taste as good, but when I put my hand up in the air and said “air” he was looking for the thing I was referencing. Then we had to have a conversation about what air is! This leads us to a relatively difficult scientific concept (he’s three after all) that had entered the realm of my inert knowledge –or so I think. There is a complex causality for the bread drying out and this is the hidden game.
Ultimately, I think that Perkins refers to a level of self-awareness in teachers to the extent that we can take on student perspectives relative to our own. With that understanding, we can guide students to more complexity. If I had planned to teach my son about this topic, I could have well predicted the difficulties he would encounter with it and scaffold the steps accordingly. Indeed I probably would have concluded this information is beyond his realm of readiness, outside his zone of proximal development, and not developmentally appropriate. So what’s the junior game of drying out bread?