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Process vs. Product: A False Dichotomy?

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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ying yang wallpaper by rstovall

I love listening to to Rae Pica’s BAM Radio program, Studentcentricity, during my commute to Northern Virginia Community college to teach. Thank God for Bluetooth! Last night I listened to a program about enjoying process over product in education. I totally agree with Amanda Morgan. Teachers shouldn’t do toddlers’ art for them, or give cookie-cutter art projects to preschoolers. They should know, by now, that asking for the right answer shuts off the process of learning to think. But they still do these things, with good, if misguided, intentions. Parents love the cute. Children love to be praised by their teachers and parents. Our culture mandates the great finished product. This cultural bias invades our efforts to teach young children how to solve problems, find creative solutions, and pursue worthy projects.

But wait a minute! Solving problems? Finding Solutions? Projects? Isn’t that about product?

Years ago in education, we discussed the importance of divergent, vs. convergent thinking. Divergent thinking was elevated, as well it should have been, because for too long convergent thinking (getting the “right” answer) was seen as the sole indicator of intelligence. Brainstorming, mind-mapping, and webbing became symbols and tools for divergent thinking. Creativity depends on divergent thinking! We need it in order to converge on something cool! Diverging to different creative ideas eventually leads to answers, products, which lead to more thinking, more creating and—yep—more final products.

Today we elevate process over product, just as we did divergent over convergent thinking. In doing so, we perpetuate a false dichotomy. As the old song goes (even though its premise was not true), “…you can’t have one without the other.” Amanda discussed allowing children to make mistakes in order for them to learn. Mistakes are not bad. They are necessary bumps on the road to learning. The cognitive process involved is invaluable to the child. They learn to learn. Process leads to product, which leads to…well, you know! A false dichotomy is where there is either one right answer or another. The two ideas compete. There should be no competition between process and product. Like the colors in the Yin/Yang sympol, there’s a little bit of each in the other.



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Gail teaches Early Childhood Education as an Adjunct Associate Professor for Northern Virginia Community College, one of the largest community college systems in the country. She is a popular trainer in the DC area, leading workshops on such topics as Engaging, Arts-Based and Outdoor Learning, and Guiding Behavior. She is a member of the Virginia Community College Peer Group which collaborates with the Virginia Department of Social Services to train and license childcare professionals throughout the state. Her blog on BAM's EdWords is referenced in several arts websites, and is used in Early Childhood courses throughout Virginia. She is also a member of NAREA, the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. You can contact her for more information about Professional Development opportunities. 

Gail lives and works in Northern Virginia. Her special interests include arts-integration, play, Reggio Emilia, music and yoga. 

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Guest Friday, 22 February 2019