What We Can Learn about Preschool

An article from 16 March 2011 by Dr. Alison Gopnik examined the rationale for re-thinking recent changes in preschool education. The findings she shared within the article, not to mention her conclusions, really are food for thought for all of preK-12 education. The conclusions she draws, based on two studies with young students?

Direct instruction really can limit young children’s learning. …it also makes children less likely to discover unexpected information and to draw unexpected conclusions.

Put another way, from the article:

While learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution.

Gopnik cites a discovery by a computer learning expert who has suggested that before we can learn from teachers, we learn something about teachers. We understand they have authority with information, and they are very likely to tell us what we need to know. That assumption about the teacher’s role shuts down our motivation for the discovery of new information.


Gopnik is not anti-teacher, as she says “it’s more important than ever to give children’s remarkable, spontaneous learning abilities free reign.” The teacher’s role remains important, as “affectionate, supportive grown-ups” who can provide “lots of opportunities for exploration and play.” In words I have echoed, it sounds like she is calling for inquiry and support for engagement from teachers, or a “student-centered” classroom.