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Posted by on in What If?

Cute baby reading stock photo

Leher Singh is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the National University of Singapore. She conducts research on early phonological development in the infant and preschool years. In view of a growing trend towards early reading instruction, she co-wrote this blog with Dr. Roberta Golinkoff to share the science behind this movement.

Winning the battle but losing the war? Behind the science of early reading instruction.

As parents, we can find ourselves drowning in advice about how to position our children well for their future. One example of this is the increasing pressure to teach children to read earlier and earlier. Is this pressure justified? Are early readers better readers? Should we be pushing our kindergarteners to learn to read or should we wait until elementary school?

Reading in today’s kindergartens

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angry child

Let’s be truthful; teaching would be a lot easier if kids never acted out -- if they didn’t come to school with problems of their own that resulted in challenging behavior. But that’s an impossible wish; there will always be children who display challenging behavior and it’s part of a teacher’s job to know not only how to handle it but also to ensure that these children aren’t excluded from activities or from the learning.

Because that is so very much easier said than done, I invited Barbara Kaiser, co-author of Challenging Behavior in Young Children, and early childhood specialist Amanda Morgan to join me on Studentcentricity.

The discussion touched on a number of themes near and dear to my heart: the premise that we should be preparing schools for kids and not the other way around; the premise that all children are not the same and we need to respect their differences; the need to teach about and respect personal space; and cooperation vs. competition! Also covered was the need to create a caring, compassionate classroom environment that prepares all children to become successful members of society – a caring, compassionate society!

That, I believe, is one of the greatest purposes of early education.

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multicultural classroom2

Gone are the days when all of the children in a classroom are speaking the same language. Nowadays it’s not unusual to have several different languages spoken among your students – and that of course presents a number of challenges. Among them are forming relationships with these special students, making them feel welcomed into the classroom, and helping them form relationships with other students. But beyond those issues is the teachers’ very real challenge of helping dual-language learners succeed academically.

To learn more about this process, I invited experts Jennifer Chen and Karen Nemeth to Studentcentricity.

Connecting Right from the Start WEBFollowing our conversation, which included much helpful advice, Jennifer offered the following strategies for helping dual-language learners (DLL) acquire academic language proficiency:

Teacher modeling.  This is one of the most effective ways to enhance student learning.  The teacher can model academic language use, like how to articulate one’s viewpoint.  For instance, the teacher can model saying, “I agree with the main character in the story ...” 

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engaged students

I don’t have to point out that today’s teachers are frustrated – that they’re too often forced to teach content, and in ways, that’s not at all helpful to kids and their future. As they prep students to meet standards and pass an endless number of tests, teachers frequently lament the fact that there’s no time to get the “good stuff” into the curriculum.

Well, teacher Justin Minkel asserts that it’s not an either/or scenario between passing on the basic skills meant to be tested and the important things – like higher-order thinking, creativity, design skills, and inquiry. The latter, he says, don’t have to be an “extracurricular bonus.”

To explore this further, I invited Justin, along with educator Jason Flom, who told me he loves this topic, to join me for an episode of Studentcentricity.

During our discussion Justin talked about some of the projects that allow him to weave basic skills and the important stuff together. But he added that projects aren’t always the vehicle. Afterward, he sent me the following:

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The regional rail station was the first stop on my 2-hour journey to Washington where I would deliver a talk on the art of conversation. Twelve people sat spaced on various benches, wrapped in warm winter garb that would shield them from the impending 2 feet of snow due to visit the Northeastern corridor of the U.S.. My rail station sits behind a little shopping village in a small town outside of Philadelphia —in a town that considers itself a tight knit neighborhood. But in this place on this day, 8 of the 12 present were fairly aloof — looking down at their phones, engaging in no eye contact with one another, with no words to fill the silence. No one even kvetched about the weather.

I gave the speech I was about to deliver the somewhat provocative title, “Talk Back” to demonstrate, in a punnish kind of way, that talking back and forth is a basic human trait that is critical if we are to help children develop a strong foundation for literacy and formal schooling. Language is central to our narrowing the 30-million word gap between middle and low-income children, is important for early reading success and is a cornerstone for high quality preschool interactions. Science tells us that having conversations with children will help them build rich vocabularies that are nested in meaningful narratives. Our challenge is to nurture more conversations in our homes and schools as we build foundational language skills.

I was mentally rehearsing my message from my new perch in the Ardmore train station and it suddenly occurred to me that this was not merely a problem of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, but of everyday people who are living their lives in 2015 glued to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds. My talk was centered on young kids, but perhaps one answer to the questions raised in my talk was blatantly evident at the train station. Parents are not talking to kids because no one is talking to anyone! We have lost the art of conversation between real people who occupy a common space.

I had certainly noted this phenomenon before. My 20-something son intermittently gazes down during our dinner conversations when he hears the faint “ding” of a text message. Always alert to the digital heartbeat, he can promptly respond to “friends” even if a life-sized waiter is standing patiently expecting his order. Our email addictions compel us to sneak a peek several times as we wait in line to pay for our groceries. Eyes gaze down when we are crossing busy streets, traveling to never before seen sights, or walking quickly through crowded corridors. We literally bump into people and see right past them. It’s as if living, breathing, sentient humans in our orbit are invisible. What are the consequences of being social online, when we are not social offline?

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