Why Can't High School be More Like Kindergarten?

Last week I had the opportunity to visit some of the elementary schools in my district. These schools are all Waukesha One schools(1:1 iPad) and the Instructional Technology Coordinator team wanted to get a feel for what is happening across the four schools that were part of the first wave of student’s having iPads.  

Admittedly, I am not in elementary classrooms very often.  My focus has been improving teaching and learning at the high school level.  So, when I was given the opportunity to learn more about what elementary teachers and students do in a day I jumped at the opportunity.

I had a lot of great ah ha moments. Elementary kids are so polite, they all seem to adore their teachers, and the pace of the building is much different than in a high school. But, here was my major takeaway from a great day of learning, why can’t high school be more like kindergarten?

 It is a question I find very interesting. Think about the learners at the elementary as they compare to their high school counterparts...now strip away the obvious developmental differences. Are these two learners all that different? Next, think about the elementary classroom/school vs. the high school classroom/school and you see major differences in how the schools, are run, staffed, and what they look like from a design perspective.

Have you ever heard the saying, or seen the poster, that boldly states, “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten”? Well, I modify it somewhat and proclaim “ The way I want to see all classrooms I saw in Kindergarten”.

Here is what I saw in Kindergarten classrooms at two great schools:

1.  Students were focused on learning.  It seemed to me that they were excellently trained in the "art of routine".  There was a certain buzz to the classroom that made me feel like learning was the top priority in class.

2.  Stations rule.  For most of the time that I visited Kindergarten students were working in learning stations.  They had a specific task and were working with purpose, but were also given a choice on which and where tasks were to be completed.

3.  Physical space was used to enhance learning.  These classrooms were not rows, but they were designed in a way that learning in smaller, more personalized groups could happen naturally.

4.  Relationships were key between students and adults.  I had to ask one of my colleagues who the teacher was in the classroom.  There were at least three adults in all of the classrooms I visited.  Who were these adults?  Aids and volunteers that were critical to learning.

5.  The teachers and students were not phased by our presence.  I felt almost invisible in a Kindergarten classroom.  

6.  Manners ruled supreme.  Treat others how you want to be treated is called the golden rule for a reason, and it was on display in Kindergarten.

7.  Kids wanted to learn.  There was a deep curiosity attached to learning in Kindergarten.

The question I keep coming back to is how can we see more of this in the high school classroom?  Certainly, we do see some of these things at varying levels at high school, but I was so impressed that ALL of these things were in all of the Kindergarten classes I visited.

I am sure many of my high school colleagues will quickly come back and say things about content, rigor, and seriousness of the high school classroom that simply are not a part of Kindergarten.  To them I would say this:  Look at the list.  Tell me why we can’t adopt ALL of these things in the high school?