What are the Benefits and Challenges of an Integrated Foundation Phase Curriculum in terms of Developing Childrens Learning?
CS2 Assignment – G106372
What are the Benefits and Challenges of an Integrated Foundation Phase Curriculum in terms of Developing Children’s Learning?
The Foundation Phase, launched in 2001, is the new approach for learning aimed at children aged three to seven years, replacing the Key Stage One and Early Years Curriculums. Whilst there are no single curricular subjects for the children to learn, there are 7 areas of learning, which are taught through an holistic approach; Creative Development, Mathematical Development, Physical Development, Knowledge and Understanding of the World, Language, Literacy and Communication, Personal and Social Development, Well-Being and Multi-Cultural Diversity (PSDWBMCD) and Welsh Language Development.
‘An appropriate curriculum for young learners in the Foundation Phase in
Wales should be made up of integrated and overlapping areas of learning.’ (WAG, 2003, p.9) This means that during a single activity a child may gain several different skills at once and that the areas of learning should not be taught in isolation (See Appendix 1). The means for implementing this style of teaching is through topics and themes rather than subjects such as English, Maths and Science. Using themes allows teachers to provide opportunities for developing skills in many if not all of the areas of learning. The cross-curricular areas also enable children to advance their logic, problem solving skills, perceptive thinking and conceptual skills. As a result, each child will proceed to develop their skills and their personality in an holistic manner.
Both work and assessment in the Foundation Phase goes beyond the textbooks of the old curriculum. Observation of young children in this system of learning shows progression in all aspects of the child development, not just their academic ability. The child’s personal and social skills are assessed, along with their ability to become more self-reliant, independent and active learners. Children’s skills and knowledge of how the world works (Knowledge and Understanding of the World) are not developed merely as a demonstrable amalgam of the sciences, geography and history, but as applicable skills in logic and adaptation of prior knowledge and experiences.
As an integrated curriculum, the Foundation Phase is dedicated to developing each child in an holistic approach. Great emphasis is placed on the child’s personal and social well-being and is seen as “a central concept” (WAG, 2008, p.5) in order for them to become confident and independent learners. This will be discussed in further depth below.
This essay will examine the holistic and integrated nature of the Foundation Phase curriculum with particular reference to its benefits and challenges that may be present in participating schools involving the staff and pupils.
One of the key features of the integrated Foundation Phase is the focus on the child’s stage of development and not their age. Additionally, it can be argued that ‘when the program at each age level is developmentally appropriate, children’s transitions between programs or groups will be smoother and more successful.’ – a positive perspective provided by BREDKAMP (1997, p.122).
The central tenet of this idea is that children are the centre of their own learning, whilst the role of adults is to guide and facilitate the learning process, not to teach directly. The purpose of this framework is to emphasise active involvement which allows the child to develop a positive attitude to lifelong learning and achievement through pursuing their own interests and actively increasing their own motivation and developing skills for communication, creativity and social awareness. These skills are expanded in experiential learning through play and focused activities appropriate to an individual’s stage of development which are relevant to every-day living.
Learning through experience or play is an ‘essential ingredient’ (WAG, 2008, p.5) in the Foundation Phase, but also to teaching an integrated curriculum successfully. ‘It is in their play that children show their intelligence at the highest level of which they are capable’ (BRUCE, 2001, p.112), thus providing more reliable evidence of an individual’s progress or development. The idea of learning through play is not a new one. Even Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Johann Pestalozzi agreed that education of children should be according to the child’s nature, which is of course, to play. Freidrich Froebel’s writing was one of the first influencing a major step forward toward experiential learning as it was he who suggested that “children should be encouraged to do something instead of being told or shown”. (POUND, 2005, p.15) An additional key theorist is John Dewey, whose theory agreed with Froebel in that children should learn by doing and that activities should be relevant to real-life experiences.
This is a preview of the whole essay
In accordance with Rouseau’s ideal of “let children be children” (POUND, 2005, p.6) children are able to learn about what interests them and focus on progressing in those areas through their play. This does not mean that other areas are neglected. Language, literacy communication and mathematical development are given a high priority and through focused tasks are given a ‘solid foundation’ (WAG, 2008, p.8). On the contrary, the result is that the children are able to learn and develop these skills whilst learning about a topic that they find interesting and are naturally curious about. The skills that are emphasised in the Foundation Phase are arguably more relevant to experiences and situations that the children will come across in everyday life because the subjects are integrated in the themed approach to teaching. It is also considered ‘imperative that all children learn how to communicate their experiences and discover how to listen and interact with others’. (WAG, 2008, p.8) This, therefore, equips them with the ability to apply that knowledge when it is needed without the need to interpret it from the context of an uninteresting and uninspiring textbook exercise. However:
‘Plato’s revolutionary idea was that education should not be concerned primarily with equipping students to develop the knowledge and skills best suited to ensuring success as citizens and sharing the norms and values of their peers. Rather education was to be a process of learning these forms of knowledge that would give students a privileged, rational view of reality. Only by disciplined study of increasingly abstract forms of knowledge guided by a kind of spiritual commitment, could the mind transcend the conventional beliefs, prejudices and stereotypes of the time to come to see reality clearly. (EGAN, 1997, p.13)
It is argued that the integrated curriculum represents a complete “loss of structure and therefore quality in children’s learning” (KELLY, 2004, p.71). Without structure, children cannot position or associate their knowledge with the relevant areas of the curriculum that they will be expected to conform to when they reach 7 years of age. The likelihood for children to conform to expected behaviour is also questionable. When children are free to pursue their own interests as in the Foundation Phase, can it be proved that they are constantly learning and progressing their knowledge? Is it really possible to ascertain whether a child is learning about capacity and volume, or just how to physically pour liquid from one container into another? There are some theorists that see any learning during play activities as coincidental, such as MEADOWS AND CASHDAN (1998) who consider play to be “often brief and desultory, not amounting to anything fruitful” (MACINTYRE, 2001, p.5). Not all play has to be free of structure. The integrated curriculum can be implemented by providing a predictable outcome to a fun activity or challenge for the children. DCELLS suggests that ‘Structured play should not be a rigid set of rules that are imposed on children. It should be planned to allow children opportunities to choose and extend the activity according to their interests and knowledge’ (WAG, 2008, p.43). Control can be maintained in a free yet structured play-zone.
However, this balance could be difficult to maintain; giving the children too much freedom or choice of play and not enough structure for example. In that instance, it could be argued that the choices of play do not provide the children with any educational stimuli but merely occupation and entertainment. The neglecting of story-telling, role-play, and writing activities would undermine the purpose of both the integrated curriculum and the Foundation Phase and prove damaging to the children’s developmental progress.
Although freedom of choice for the children allows them to construct their own curriculum based on their own interests and generates inspiration and self-confidence, there may be specific children for whom this will invite disruption and defiance created through adamant choices. Children who constantly shout, do not participate in class activities or refuse all instructions or requests from staff are difficult to manage. It is not desirable to relinquish their independence, yet classroom and behaviour management needs to be accomplished.
In contrast to Meadows and Cashdan, BRUCE (2001, p.92) claims that ‘The themes which children develop in their play scenarios contribute to their personal, social and emotional development’ which is central to children’s learning in the integrated curriculum. The centre of the Foundation Phase being the child ensures that the child’s well-being is the most important. If a child is unhappy, they are not going to be motivated or interested in learning. “If a child is happy, well nourished, contented and relaxed the effect on learning will be positive” (WAG, 2008, p.7). The conventional method of assessing children’s sense of wellbeing is the inclusion of Circle Time and/or the SEAL scheme (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) in the timetable. This is an opportunity for the children to explore and communicate their thoughts, ideas and fears. When integrated with play activities, ‘childhood play helps children to learn that different people have different ideas’ (BRUCE, 2001, p.93) thus developing their social skills and encourages acceptance of others, regardless of similarities and differences. On the other hand, children’s ideas of where they would like to proceed next in pursuing their interests can still be ignored as planning may have already been completed and preparations made. Activities such as circle time can also be unproductive or challenging due to the shorter attention span of younger children along with the additional needs and support of SEN pupils such as physically and /or mentally underdeveloped children, selective mutes, etc.
The integrated curriculum of the Foundation Phase generates an abundance of opportunity for children to initiate their own structure for development. Children are no longer under pressure to keep up with their age group and are therefore exposed to a greater quality of learning and are fairly assessed according to their present stage of development.
“The disposition to learn and motivation to persevere with a learning activity will depend on the effect of the learning stimulus, which may not be the same for each child. Depending on previous knowledge and experience, a child may not want to pursue a particular activity but may choose a different interest if given the opportunity. This is acceptable as the same outcomes can be achieved in different ways”. (WAG, 2008, p. 6)
There are schools existing today whose curriculum is dedicated to the works of such researchers as Montessori, and Steiner-Waldorf. These schools put into practice the theories of fostering social development, learning through active involvement and practical experiences, learning the relevant skills as the children showed an interest.
However, in contrast to her support of children’s need for concrete experiences to learn, Montessori’s method “cannot be easily adapted or updated” She believes that “seriously disadvantaged children…needed to learn through meaningful tasks and that imaginative play would distract them from the real world. She did not see play as an important part of learning.” (POUND, 2005, p.31) Montessori also came under criticism from Susan Isaacs, who was sceptical of the phonic approach to reading that was advocated in Montessori Schools.
Loris Malaguzzi also brought his philosophy to the Reggio Emilia nurseries and pre-school centres around 1963, which were based on the works of Dewey, Piaget and Vygotsky. Children have the opportunity to represent their experiences and ideas in visual, creative and aesthetic ways. This portrays important links to the new Foundation Phase curriculum where children are able to use their own abilities at whatever level to express themselves and thus develop their whole being.
Later theorists such as Plowden were influential to the educational system before the implementation of the National Curriculum in 1988. Plowden’s report in 1967 proved the great significance of the early years and the importance of understanding the development of young children and not just a method of instruction (THOMAS, 2005, p.10)
Preparation and planning for teaching an integrated curriculum is very different from the ‘ceaseless quest for a better way to force feed information to children’ (MEIGHAN, 2001, p.44), also known as the Key Stage Curriculum, which is rather more subject specific in its direct approach to teaching. In the Foundation Phase in particular, teachers need to plan and prepare resources for continuous provision of children’s play, enhanced provision where a resource is made relevant to a theme or topic and the focused tasks facilitated by a qualified member of staff. This manner of planning and preparation is time consuming because of its wide variety, however, ‘when adults provide a varied play environment with opportunities to learn in all different ways, they enable children to achieve some of the early learning goals.’ (BRUCE, 2001, p.76)
Furthermore, as ‘the learning environment indoors and outdoors needs to be organised to provide a wide range of differentiated play experiences daily’ (WAG, 2008, p.39), there is often a greater need for resources in the Foundation Phase such as toys, educational stimuli and space (indoors and out) or even a Forest School Environment . This costs money and is again, a further use of time to achieve the highest standards and using the most appropriate modern equipment as an advantage. Having acquired the necessary resources, there are then safety implications to consider. Although the curriculum emphasises the need to encourage some degree of risk taking during tasks and play, these risks need to be accurately assessed and documented and any potential dangers averted. This is particularly important for resources to stimulate outdoor play.
It seems that one of the most apparent issues for staff working under the framework is a lack of time. As the areas of learning are integrated, and desk-time is reduced to a minimum, teachers and support staff in the Foundation Phase classrooms need to find time to assess each individual pupil’s progress regularly. Great care has to be taken to make sure that no child is left out of any planned assessment. Time is also a key challenge in keeping up-to-date with all the necessary documentation that needs to be kept and evidence of the child’s achievements or progress in every assessment. Much emphasis is placed on the impact of children’s pre-school experience on subsequent development and the appreciation of parents/carers as the initial educators. Therefore, time must also be dedicated to liaise with parents or carers of each child so that progress of learning may be continued at home.
The implementation of the integrated curriculum dramatically changes the role of the teacher. In the Foundation Phase, the adult’s role is no longer to instruct, but to officiate and facilitate learning. Planning and teaching is transferred from telling and showing towards enhancing the provisions of resources and organise enjoyable, focused tasks through which they will support the child and assist if necessary to achieve something specific to either assess the child’s progress, or to progress their skills in multiple areas of learning as the chosen theme dictates when linked across the curriculum.
Furthermore, as the implementation of the Foundation Phase requires a greater number of staff to reach the one adult to eight children ratio, the adults’ role is dictated by the choices of the children and the activities they wish to participate in. This saves the teachers from creating a separate curriculum for each child and allows the children to have general access to more attention. However, the demand for a greater number of staff is not always supplied due to lack of funding or training. If they are supplied, the staff also need to be managed – a further use of time. It is also arguable that the children with special educational needs (SEN) are not as well attended to because they are included in the smaller groups and not as likely to be given one-to-one attention and support they may need.
The integrated curriculum does have challenges that need to be met. In an ideal world each child with SEN would have the one-to-one adult support they needed that was separate to the adult in charge of their group. There would be enough hours in a day and funding for all establishments to successfully build the perfect educational ad safe environment. However, as ANNING (1995, p.154) argues, the environment that has been created for easier and healthier learning ‘…restricts them [the children] to a ‘baby safe’ learning diet characterised by Disneyesque sentimentality… the exact equivalent to intellectual contempt’. Has the system been made too simple or too safe? Is it really possible to follow the curriculum that allows children to undertake some risks and yet fulfil the satisfaction of a society dominated by an obsession with health and safety?
Despite this, the integrated curriculum clearly enables children to relate more easily to one another. Whilst all children have different ideas and opinions, they would arguably find more in common with their peers by enjoying the same topics and themes in different ways than by enjoying entirely different isolated subjects. For example, two children could both find enjoyment and interest in a Nature Detectives of the Woodland theme yet have nothing in common or the opportunity to relate to one another if one enjoyed English while the other Science. Both could enjoy different aspects of the same topic such as literacy activities for the one and activities exploring different animals for the other.
The integrated curriculum is very different from what MEIGHAN (2001, p.8) deemed the ‘Hijacking process’ of the Key Stages. Conclusions have been drawn that the integration of the subjects into seven areas of learning (within the Foundation Phase) is beneficial to the children enrolled in such a program because they are happier for it. (‘Indirect teaching behaviours appear to generate more positive attitudes to school and schoolwork.’ (BENNETT, 1976, p.22)) The information that the children assimilate is more relevant to their everyday experiences and adaptable to continuation at home. The amount of information retained into adulthood within the Key Stage curriculum is much smaller because of the way it is all separated into different subjects with no bridges in between. ‘Latest inspection reports and anecdotal evidence from head teachers indicates the play-led strategy has raised teachers’ performance and vastly improved pupils’ all round communication skills. (PORTER, 2009)’ Exam results for the teenagers of the future could well be improved because of the child-centred, integrated curriculum.
As for the method of implementation; playful and exploratory learning, BRUCE (2001, p. 76) claims that ‘childhood play will turn into adult creativity and imagination, but only if it is encouraged. It can be extinguished or diminished if it is not supported or extended.’ As the children progress into education for older children (Key Stage two) they are more likely to ask questions and be more independent and willing participants in their own education.
It is clear from this discussion that there are many challenges and benefits to the integrated Foundation Phase curriculum in terms of developing children’s learning. From John Comenius to Janet Moyles, theorists have supported and debated the idea of experiential learning and play for centuries. Although there are some setbacks to the time, dedication and organisation, the framework emphasises the importance of the children and not the need to push knowledge towards class after class of pupils. Overall, integrating the seven areas of learning has so far proved to increase enjoyment and relieve pressure on pupils to achieve in academic statistics. There are issues that can be addressed depending on the organisation of each establishment such as the supplies and financial implications of staff and resources. However, learning through an integrated curriculum and developing the children holistically are already showing positive results in performance and well-being of both children and staff. However, we won’t know whether the benefits of the Integrated Foundation Phase curriculum have truly outweighed the challenges until the children who have been educated within the system reach adulthood.
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The Integrated Foundation Phase Curriculum in Wales
(WAG, 2003, Appendix 2)