Are you ready or what?

When thinking about schooling and education there is always a lot of discussion about readiness and the things that must be done to have a child ready for school, ready for the next class, ready go to college or university . . .

While I agree that a learner must be ready to take the next step, to broaden understanding of a concept or to grasp the complexity of deeper issues; just what that readiness requires is often up for conjecture.

Back in the early days of my teaching experience workbooks of ‘reading readiness’ exercises were frequently used with students in their first year of school. These activities generally required children to identify the one that was different in a group of objects. The exercises, such as those shown below, progressed through various levels of difficulty with the aim of preparing children for reading.
reading readiness exercises

Fortunately our understanding of how reading is learned has progressed since then and it is now recognised that exercises such as those did little to prepare children for learning to read. We now know that the best preparation for reading is to be immersed in language through conversations, with adults especially; to be read to frequently; and to develop a love of books and interest in print by sharing with others. The role of parents in preparing children for reading cannot be underestimated.

This week I watched a video of a presentation by Yong Zhao about a type of readiness he referred to as “Out of basement readiness”. I admit I hadn’t heard the term before but the concept is definitely familiar.

I do recommend you listen to Zhao’s talk. It is interesting, thought-provoking and humorous. I think I enjoyed listening to this talk as much as to Ken Robinson’s on How schools kill creativity which I have mentioned in previous posts here and here, amongst others. However at 55 minutes some of you may not be willing to commit the time. For me, it is 55 minutes of my life I’m very happy to not get back!

I will not attempt to share all the content of the talk; there is too much of value, but here are just a few snippets that resonated with me:

Zhao explains out of basement readiness this way:

out-of-basement readiness - Yong Zhao


Zhao says that students are being mis-educated, that they are being educated for something that doesn’t exist, and suggests that we should remove several phrases from the language we use to talk about education, especially

  • Under-performance
  • Evidence based
  • Data driven


His description of the traditional education paradigm will be familiar to any frequent readers of my blog. He says that it is “about forcing people to do what some other people prescribe them to do” and that we reduce it to just a few subjects that can be tested.


He talks about the “homogenisation” of schooling, and explained that homogenisation was the best way of getting rid of creative people and innovative thinkers.


He mentioned kindergarten readiness tests, and suggests that the only test should be whether the kindergarten was ready for the children and parents.


He recognises the uniqueness of every student, with different backgrounds, motivations and talents; and stresses the importance of effort. He says, “You cannot be born to be great. If you do not put effort into it you can never be good at it.” He explains it this way:

 “If you put ten thousand hours into something you are good at, something you are interested in you get great talent. But if I force you to spend time on something you have no interest in, you hate and something you are not good at, you at best become mediocre.”

He says that countries that produce high test scores, score low on confidence and interest.

He says,

“Everyone is born to be creative, that’s a human being, that’s our gift: to be able to adapt, to learn and relearn and do new things. But school has typically tried to suppress it (with) . . . short term learning. . . Direct instruction may give the short-term gain but cause long term damages Studies show that if you teach children how to play with the toy, they lose creativity, lose curiosity and if you allow children to explore more they may not test very well but they maintain creativity and curiosity.”

American schools _ Yong Zhao

Zhao says that “our students do not fit into a future world, they create the future world. This is why we need a different type of education.” He says that “education is to create opportunities for every individual student, they are not an average, they are not a probability, they need to be improved as individual human beings.”

our students do not fit - Yong Zhao

I couldn’t agree more. What do you think?


I was led to Zhao’s talk via Diane Ravitch’s blog which is about the education system and situation in the US. Much of what she writes has applications further afield and I recommend it to anyone wishing to stay informed of current issues in education.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts on any aspect of this post.



16 thoughts on “Are you ready or what?

  1. Sarah Brentyn

    I think you’re right, Norah. The “teach a child how to play with a toy…” comment cannot be applied as a blanket statement. It would have to depend on the type of toy, age of child, etc. I don’t think it takes any creativity away at all. I’ve had to teach my children a lot of things you wouldn’t expect to have to teach. Well…I guess there’s a difference between teaching a child (showing them) and forcing them to play with it the “right” way after they know how to use it.

    I don’t understand this: “If you put ten thousand hours into something you are good at, something you are interested in you get great talent. But if I force you to spend time on something you have no interest in, you hate and something you are not good at, you at best become mediocre.” Hmm. There are many people who are great at things they aren’t very interested in and many who aren’t so good at things they love. I think the hours put in, interest, and love/hate are three issues, not one.

    I absolutely love this quote of his, though: “Our students do not fit into a future world, they create the future world.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      My interpretation of what Zhao was saying about ten thousand hours: talent alone isn’t sufficient, it requires persistence, hard work and interest; if children are forced to spend a lot of time doing things that they have no interest in then it is probably unlikely that “talent” will develop (I translate this to children in school being forced to learn things they are not interested in, things devoid of meaningful context or purpose, and the expectation of regurgitation for tests). That may not be what he meant, but it was my interpretation, and I have probably not explained it any better in these few words than you thought he did!
      I appreciate the clarity you have added about the play and toy issue, and the complexity of the issues regarding talent and interest.
      As far as the students creating the future world goes, I hope they make it a good one! We need those creative spirits to see new ways of doing things rather than keep doing things the way they have always been done. And I know that is glib. There isn’t much that has ‘always’ been done a particular way, but some changes are definitely needed.
      Thanks for your very thoughtful, and thought provoking, comment. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bec

    Zhao sounds very insightful and inspirational! I like the out of basement readiness concept very much. And I can see why the ideas here appeal to you! Thanks for sharing some of the highlights.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carol Hedges

    In the UK, we install milestones very early…my little granddaughter (13 months) his just had her first REPORT…with TARGETS. I stand in the middle here. As a teacher, I know more than my students, and so it is my job to enlighten them. As students, they are free standing individuals with a variety of approaches, talents and limits of reasoning and understanding. Where the system HERE goes badly awry, is to measure everybody by a set of arbitrary ‘hoops” …eg exams, through which they have to jump. We are more than a set of letters or numbers, and if we fail t see that, we are creating failure at an early age. Don’t think Michaelangelo, Dickens, Shakesepeare ever met any ‘targets’ ther than their own internal ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Carol. I can’t believe your 13 month granddaughter was given a written report. While we know there are milestones for children to reach, we also know that there is some flexibility with the age at which they are reached and at what point we may need to start to worry or, better yet, seek support. The thought of a long list of items being presented with a check or a cross is quite horrific to me. This is definitely a situation where it should be marked with a ‘not yet’ and ‘don’t worry’. But even then one probably would. I dread to think what would happen if Michaelangelo, Dickens and Shakespeare were schooled today. Might make an interesting story. Then again, I wonder what happened when they were schooled in their days. Might make interesting reading! 🙂


  4. Annecdotist

    I haven’t listened to talk, so might be coming at it from the wrong angle, but I really didn’t get his concept of “out of basement readiness” – what on earth can it mean to be independent in all these areas AND a contributing member of society? What about societal interdependence?
    Or maybe I’m just picking on because I’m still traumatised by our election results.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Anne. It’s okay for you to have a pick occasionally. The election results were rather surprising it seems.
      For me what Zhao meant about “out of basement readiness” was readiness to live independent lives (out of the parents’ basement) making a positive contribution to the society in which they belong. He seemed, to me, to be reflecting on the (perceived?) way that young people “these days” stay at home longer while engaging in longer and longer study programs that are constantly preparing them for something in the future. However only a couple of generations ago young people tended to stay at home until they married, and if they didn’t marry they often continued to live in the family home throughout their adult lives. I know of many who have done this. I guess, like most things, his interpretation of the situation can be interpreted a number of ways and, as we have often discussed before, the way we interpret them depends on our already established viewpoints.


      1. Annecdotist

        Thanks for your patience in illuminating me on the meaning behind the quote. I do see how that is useful for young people actually, whether or not they partner up and, of course, different kids will be ready to leave at different times.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Marigold

    This is so relevant to what we’re studying at the moment: catering for diversity in the classroom and how a homogeneous system of schooling just doesn’t work for everyone. I don’t see how we could change our education system at the legislative level (asking politicians to think in abstracts? It’d be impossible: their lives are numbers!) but in my own naive inexperienced way I think there’s still a lot we can achieve in our own individual classrooms, and you’ve definitely encouraged that hope in me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Marigold. I’m pleased that I have encouraged you to thinking hopefully about the difference you can make in your own classroom. That is definitely the one place you can ensure you make a positive impact on children’s lives and attitude to learning. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. TanGental

    If you teach child how to play with a toy they lose creativity. While I agree with this it is easy to muddle ‘play with’ with ‘use’. I am a creative writer and have worked out many things for myself but also I have benefitted from learning techniques from those who came before me and which has enhanced my creativity by allowing me to short circuit the learning process. Does that apply to young children as well? A balance between teaching the mechanics and allowing experimentation?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Norah Post author

      A balanced approach is often good. I think there are times for show and times for free exploration. It sometimes depends on the age of the child, the toy, and the possible consequences of exploration. However I think opportunities to explore and discover for oneself (such as finding your own voice as a writer) are essential for the development of creativity. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person


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