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Teachers unite for smoother transitions from pre-school to school

The transition to school is recognised as a milestone for young children and their families. National and international research has found that a positive transition to school is important for feelings of belonging, positive self-identity and good attitudes towards learning and future school success.

The research literature supports strength-based approaches to transitions to school, the recognition of learning prior to school and the continuity of pedagogical approaches between learning prior to school and the first years of school.

Teachers in pre-school and school settings teach and learn with children of similar ages; however their expectations of children and their approaches to pedagogy can be vastly different. In earlier settings there is a longstanding tradition of using play as a mechanism for learning and an emphasis on social and emotional development. This is affirmed within the Australian Early Years Learning Framework: Belonging, Being and Becoming. In the first year of school, however, more traditional pedagogies, assessment practices and formal relationships with families typically prevail. For example, in that first year of school (kindergarten in NSW), the pedagogical focus is more strongly associated with learning content and realising outcomes related to key areas such as English and mathematics.

Such differences in teaching and learning create pedagogical discontinuity for children and their families. This discontinuity seems to be increasingly apparent with greater teacher accountability and the emphasis on literacy and numeracy performance that now dominates the educational agenda.

Ensuring pedagogical continuity by integrating the Early Years Learning Framework into pre-school settings and the first years of school is a challenge for both prior-to-school and at-school systems. For example, one problem for teachers is how to integrate the play-based focus of the early-learning setting with kindergarten’s outcome focus. Addressing this problem is a first step towards articulating a process for pedagogical continuity that can be expected to support children in their transition to school.

To do this, a collaborative research project was undertaken in 2013–14 by the Australian Catholic University, the NSW Department of Education and Communities, the Catholic Education Office Sydney and a number of early learning providers in Sydney’s inner west.

The Working Together to Bridge the Divide research project united 13 teachers from early-learning settings and 13 from kindergarten in school settings for professional learning and paired shadowing visits. The shadowing visits involved the teachers from early learning spending two full days in kindergarten classrooms and vice versa. All of the participating teachers also engaged in a series of professional learning days. The teachers were supported in engaging in collegial conversations about their professional learning, as well as their experience of shadowing. Each teacher implemented a practitioner inquiry project within their early learning setting or classroom or across their school.

The results indicated a transformation of teacher practice in both prior-to-school and school settings, which had positive effects on the learning and wellbeing of children and teachers. The project supported the effective integration of play-based into kindergarten settings in schools. It also facilitated greater awareness and intentional teaching of key areas in early-learning settings. These changes supported a positive transition to school for children and families, assisted teacher planning and contributed to the literacy and numeracy outcomes and wellbeing of the children.

Dr Cathie Harrison is a senior lecturer at ACU’s faculty of education and arts.

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