In progressive education, the child plays a more active role in his or her own learning than in traditional education, so teachers focus on the characteristics of each learner in addition to the quality and scope of academic content.
Park Day School adheres to a progressive educational philosophy. Several decades of research and professional experience inform the progressive education view of how children learn. This view differs in very basic ways from the more traditional view of learning held by most educators in this country. In the traditional view, children learn primarily by having knowledge or skills transmitted to them in an ordered sequence, using uniform methods, by adults who have already mastered the knowledge or skills and who serve as the experts.
By contrast, the progressive view is that each child learns best not by passively consuming knowledge, but by actively constructing his or her own understanding of material based on prior knowledge, skills and experience. In progressive education, the child plays a more active role in his or her own learning, so teachers focus on the characteristics of each learner in addition to the quality and scope of the academic content.
The Traditional Educational Approach In the more traditional approach of transmitting knowledge – usually by “telling” or lecturing – the interests, talents and learning styles of the individual child are relatively unimportant. What is important is that all children achieve the same academic mastery, at about the same time, using the same methods. The ability to answer the teacher’s questions is valued over formulating one’s own questions. Mistakes are viewed as problems that signal the need for a child to work harder. Evaluations of children's progress are based on standardized tests. Extrinsic rewards such as grades, awards, gold stars, and public recognition are valued over intrinsic motivation.
How Progressive Education Differs In the progressive approach to learning, the individual child’s interests, abilities and learning style are viewed as important factors in designing and assessing learning. Children are encouraged to follow their interests, pursue problems in a way that makes sense to them and defend their conclusions by explaining their thinking. Formulating one’s own questions is valued equally alongside answering a teacher's questions. Mistakes are viewed as important opportunities for the teacher and child to assess how a child understands – or misunderstands – the topic at hand. Though grade-level norms are a point of reference for evaluation, each child’s evaluation is based on his or her progress over time, and often includes a self-evaluation. Intrinsic motivation to learn and individual learning goals are emphasized over grades, test scores or doing better than other students.
A Common Misconception A common misconception about progressive education is that it involves no teacher-generated learning goals, curricula or skills development – that the content, approach and pace of learning are left mostly up to students.
Progressive philosophies of education, like more traditional philosophies, recognize that children cannot spontaneously generate a knowledge base without being systematically exposed to new experiences, facts and ideas. Likewise, progressive educators know that solid learning of both facts and skills often requires repetition, practice and reinforcement. However, progressive educators are less likely to rely on memorization and repetitive drills and more likely to require children to use higher order thinking skills to make sense of the facts and ideas they encounter, whether in literature, art, science or mathematics. Children in progressive classrooms are more likely to have their understanding of ideas, facts and skills reinforced by applying them in complex projects, not by cramming them into short-term memory for tests.
If you would like to learn more about progressive education and Park Day School, please contact our director Tom Little.