3 Future-Ready Strategies for Early Learning

As we think about the future of teaching and learning, we imagine classrooms that foster creativity and critical thinking. We envision groups of students collaborating with one another to imagine and construct. We see a world in which students develop a strong sense of self in parallel with a respect for those around them in both their classroom and in their world. We visualize students utilizing their social-emotional skills to lead and listen.

As we grow to understand the instructional shifts and reforms necessary to update our schools for the future, we can take heart in knowing that our earliest learners are, more than ever before, native to personalized learning. They are ready to excel in project-based environments, develop cultural competencies, and strengthen their social-emotional understanding. But to accelerate these learners into the future, we must raise the bar for what can be done in primary classrooms. Here are three good strategies:

Excel in Project-Based Environments

In the early grades, students are already practicing the skills necessary to excel in project-based environments. Students draw and write with few restrictions on their work, and teachers respond with excitement to new thoughts, ideas, and questions. This unrestricted thinking, supported in an environment of curiosity, evolves into creativity. Additionally, in the primary grades, students receive explicit instruction on taking turns. They learn to listen, and they learn to add to conversations, learning to effectively communicate and collaborate. Students also practice asking and answering the question of why, planting the seeds for critical thinking.

Moving It Forward:

Utilizing the same principles of creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking, teachers can further prepare early learners by adding in elements of innovation.

  1. Students can continue to imagine new ideas and new concepts, but learn to make their ideas come to life with the use of devices. Teachers might try ABCya Animate, a creative tool for young children to make and share animations on iPad.
  2. Students can continue to communicate and collaborate, but form relationships with students beyond the walls of their classroom. Teachers might try Flipgrid, a video tool for social learning.
  3. Students can continue to think critically with one another, but do so in a space with unique and interesting tools. A Makerspace is a unique learning environment where students are encouraged to design, experiment, and construct.

Develop Cultural Competencies

In the early grades, students come together with others, often different from themselves, to learn. Teachers have opportunities to show students how to work effectively with others. They use books and stories as platforms to drive students’ social, emotional, and academic development. Instructional materials provide familiar representations that help students formulate their own identity as well as understand the world beyond their neighborhood.

Moving It Forward:

As schools become more diverse and the economy becomes increasingly global, students must expand their worldview to develop cultural competencies founded on respect for all people. Being culturally competent does not mean having all the answers, but rather, that questions precede a feeling of comprehension.

  1. Videoconferencing can connect classrooms in a powerful way by allowing learners to both see and hear students from around the world. A simple conversation can have a significant impact on students’ understanding of their world. Commonly available tools already in schools include Skype, Google Hangout, and Facetime.
  2. To learn more about the physical world around them, students can travel to faraway places using tools such as Google Expeditions, a tool that allows students to take virtual field trips.
  3. To broaden students’ worldview, we can further expand libraries by utilizing resources available online to include stories that represent a wide spectrum of cultures, experiences and perspectives. Digital learning resources include Newsela, Khan Academy, and icurio; library resources include the Library of Congress Digital Collections, Smithsonian Digital Library, and Digital Public Library of America.

Strengthen Social-Emotional Understanding

Students in the early grades develop social-emotional skills naturally and organically through play and exploration. Skilled primary grade teachers focus on social-emotional learning in tandem with academic learning. Behaviors like listening to one another, self-initiative, follow-through, and working with all types of people, are explicitly highlighted and encouraged.

Moving It Forward:

As students move into environments defined by collaboration and creation, being able to persevere, lead, listen, and work with one another will be even more important.

  1. In order to be successful in high-energy, project-based environments, students must be able to regulate their behaviors and learn to utilize their strengths. Technology has enhanced our ability to help students better understand behavioral expectations. Watching videos of themselves or other students modeling appropriate behavior can be transformative in students’ metacognitive processes. Video self-modeling can help students develop and improve skills.
  2. Additionally, to better prepare our students for schools of the future, we must incorporate family engagement under the social-emotional umbrella. Using family engagement apps and tools that allow for two-way communication, such as SeeSaw, allows teachers to extend conversations with students and families beyond the classroom. It also gives teachers a platform to model and teach age-appropriate expectations and the common language used in the classroom to target those skills. When teachers and parents utilize the same expectations and language, our students benefit.

Enhancing Learning for our PBL Natives

In order to help our young students excel in project-based environments, develop cultural competencies, and strengthen social-emotional skills, we must continue to encourage curiosities rather than compliance, questioning rather than silence, and play rather than excessive structure. Furthermore, we must incorporate digital tools that have the potential to enhance learning for our project-based learning natives. We must design learning experiences that build on the historical early learning emphases and natural inclination of young children to learn by doing and approach the world with a curious rather than judgmental eye. In many ways, young students are the most ready for institutional shifts toward 21st-century learning environments, as they are, in fact, natives to the 21st century.

For more, see:

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.

Kristen Thorson

Kristen Thorson is a Getting Smart Columnist. She is known for her experience as a teacher, interventionist, and curriculum and assessment developer

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.