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  • A Teacher Clarifies 7 Common Misconceptions About Progressive Schools

    "A progressive school is a place where they can be happy while learning."
    by Thumby Server-Veloso .
A Teacher Clarifies 7 Common Misconceptions About Progressive Schools
PHOTO BY iStock
  • As a teacher who has been working in progressive schools for decades, I find myself passionately preaching about the beauty of this type of education. It's almost impossible to change minds -- I've come across a lot of people who are worried it's a just a fad or families that have a lineage affinity to certain schools.

    But for parents looking for a different way of educating their children, I want to share the talk about progressive schools that I had the honor of giving at the "Learning Caravan" organized by South PiNanays, a group of proactive moms living in the South of the Metro, at the Alabang Town Center.

    There are a lot of misconceptions about progressive schools. Let's dispel them one by one.

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    Misconception # 1: Progressive schools do not teach any academics.

    Why people think that: The classrooms are full of toys and children spend a lot of time playing, chatting, and laughing while they work.

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    The truth: Research tells us that children learn more when they are having fun and when they are happy. Young children need to play to learn about the world and develop their skills in all areas of development. The teachers plan lessons and meet educational standards in engaging and meaningful ways.

    Real-life example: While playing with dinosaurs, we noticed the spikes on the Stegosaurus' tail and talked about how animals defend themselves from predators. Then, we looked at other spikey animals like sea urchins and porcupines. Afterward, we got balls of clay, rolled the dice, and put the number of toothpicks on the clay according to our roll. From that activity, we learned words like defend, predators, and prey. We connected dinosaurs to other more familiar animals and practiced counting skills as well as turn-taking.

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    Misconception # 2: Progressive schools lack structure.

    Why people think that: No rows of desks and chairs! Progressive preschool classrooms have learning centers for blocks, math and manipulatives, reading, writing, science and sensory exploration, and dramatic play. Elementary rooms may have bean bags, lap desks, low and high tables, sofas or rugs.

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    The truth: In preschool, learning areas are thoughtfully prepared environments with materials that have been carefully selected by the teacher. Elementary rooms allow for flexible seating so students can work in big or small groups, pairs, individually, or one-on-one with a teacher. They are given the responsibility to choose where to sit and who to work with, and it motivates them to work with a sense of purpose. They find a space conducive for focusing and being productive.

    Real-life example: When working at home, where do you work best? While some prefer sitting behind a desk in a quiet room, others opt to sit on the sofa with the television on. Both people may have different seats and stimuli, but they each can work more efficiently in their chosen spots.

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    Misconception # 3: Teachers in progressive schools are too lax.

    Why people think that: Misbehaving students are not punished. Teachers sit with them and continue to include them in class activities instead.

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    The truth: Because of low student-teacher ratios, most progressive school teachers are better at managing their classrooms since they have more time to build trusting relationships with each child. The goal of discipline is to help children learn to regulate themselves and keep everyone in the classroom safe.

    Teachers avoid disciplining students using fear, anger, humiliation or punishment, as we find these counter-productive in instilling self-regulation. We want students to make the right decisions, not because of fear of getting caught, but because they know it is the right thing to do and it makes them feel good to do good.

    Real-life example: A 2-year-old was not ready to share the tower he made. When a classmate approached to take a block, the first boy who wasn't good at talking yet pushed his friend away. We gave him tools to use: he was taught to say, "Wait" with words and hand gestures. Then he patted his friend gently on the arm to show how sorry he was. Afterward, they happily built towers side by side.

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    Misconception #4: Since progressive schools don't give out grades or report cards, they don't assess children thoroughly.

    Why people think that: Many progressive schools do not give numerical report cards, especially the preschools.

    The truth: Due to Department of Education regulations, progressive grade schools and high schools have to give numerical report cards. Progressive schools typically offer assessment reports that provide a much bigger picture of the child's progress not just academically, but also in terms of socialization, language skills, motor, and moral development.

    Because progressive schools don't focus on rote learning, teachers don't rely on quizzes and tests to tell them what their students have learned. Teachers want to find out what other ideas their students can connect or relate their lessons to, and how they can use it in their lives. Assessment activities could include projects that combine creative expression and critical thinking, where students are allowed to give input into the direction they want their project to take.

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    Grades also take into consideration how children are progressing not by comparing them to their peers, but to themselves. Seeing how far they have gone and planning with them how much more now they can go.

    Real-life example: While doing reading assessments with my student, one of my 2nd graders read only 40 words in a minute. Instead of giving her a low mark, we talked about what she needed to do with a goal that she reads 100 words. A few days later, I timed her again, and she did 87 words. She got excited and told me how hard she had been practicing. The following week, when I re-tested her, she read 106 words in one minute, and we were both so happy!

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    Misconception #5: There is no way to find out if your child in the progressive school learned the DepEd required learning goals.

    Why people think that: When parents hear about the homework, tutors, and tests that children do in traditional schools, they wonder if their children aren't learning enough.

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    The truth: Students from progressive schools learn more or less the same concepts as students from traditional ones. But they do get to learn it in more engaging, hands-on, and fun ways. They have the luxury of delving deeper into a topic because their class sizes are smaller, and there is more time to discuss and explore the lessons. 

    Progressive schools give less homework because they want students to have time for themselves so they can relax, spend time with the family, help with chores, or pursue hobbies in sports, arts, and music.

    Real-life example: To appease parents, many progressive schools hire a third party testing center to conduct a standardized test to measure students' knowledge of grade level standards. So far, our students are performing well with many of them scoring at the proficient to highly proficient levels in different subject areas.

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    Misconception #6: Students from progressive schools are rude.

    Why people think that: Many students from progressive schools talk to adults with confidence and have a broad base of knowledge, which tends to make them sound like smart alecks at times.

    The truth: Many children from progressive schools are kind and caring. Because their schools are much smaller than others, the school family is tightly knit with everybody watching out for each other. The children grow up feeling comfortable around the parents of their friends and talking to them as part of their extended family.

    Students from progressive schools seem confident because their schools put a lot of importance on developing soft skills, such as self-confidence, flexibility, leadership, independence, and critical thinking. These are formed when practiced regularly through interaction and collaboration with peers and teachers. 

    Real-life example: Our students joined a young entrepreneurs event that was open to other children. There was a speaker who gathered all the young participants to give a business talk. I noticed the hands that kept shooting up to answer, comment and ask questions were our students. They seemed quite confident yet also respectful to the speaker and other participants.

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    Misconception #7: Progressive schools are best suited for students with special needs or those that cannot thrive in traditional schools.

    Why people think that: Many progressive schools accept children with special needs. Schools that follow the Developmentally Appropriate Practice are ideal for all types of learners, whether they are successful learners, neurotypical, or challenged. It's also no surprise that students that have been struggling in traditional schools become happy learners and grow in confidence and skill in progressive schools.

    The truth: Sadly, however, not all progressive schools can accept children with special needs. Those that do often need to limit the number they take to make sure they can give attention to all students. Some excellent progressive schools have a learning support department for challenged students.

    Progressive schools also work for students that are neurotypical as well as gifted. Because teachers can modify and tailor-fit lessons, they can give children of different capacities intellectually invigorating activities!

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    Real-life example: Work is more fun but not necessarily easier. When our grades 4 and 5 students studied the dioramas in Ayala Museum, they each had to pick a moment in history to research and write a historical fiction story. They enjoyed working on their stories and helping each other. Because it was an English Class assignment, they were also graded on the proper use of dialogue and paragraph structure. 

    There are more misconceptions out there, and I could go on. I love talking about quality progressive schools because I have seen how children are so happy to be in school and how they take this love for learning wherever they go. I know traditional schools work for many students and their families, but as a progressive school advocate, if there is one takeaway I share with parents, it's that childhood is a time for learning and a time to be happy. These two things should not be exclusive of each other.

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    Barbara Server-Veloso is known as Teacher Thumby in her preschool, Toddlers Unlimited, and Ms. Thumby in her grade school, Thinkers Unlimited, Alabang. She is also a partner in Spark Discovery Center in Jupiter Street, Makati where she teaches the Baby and Me Class. Teacher Thumby has a Masters degree from the University of the Philippines in Family Life and Child Development. She has been teaching since 1993. She is also the mother of Lucas and Verena.

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