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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in kindergarten

Posted by on in Early Childhood

I've had several anguished conversations with friends in the past few weeks.  These are people with young children, particularly boys, who are watching their kids disengage from school, start to feel anxious about school, begin to dislike school.  Whereas backpacks and shoes used to fly on in the morning, now they have to coax and cajole to get their kids out the door.  They feel powerless to change the classroom environment and they are desperate for their kids to feel successful and happy at school. They are at their wits' end.

What's happening?  I have one word: assessment.  Assessment is happening to these kids.  Assessment is the reason that teachers have all kids sitting at desks doing the same task at the same time in the same way.  Their success on that task is assessed based on whether they're doing it the 'right' way.  This is the way assessment gets done in many classrooms.

So let's talk about assessment for a few minutes.

How do you assess student learning?  What tools do you use?  What data do you consider relevant and what data do you exclude?  Does assessment information only count when it comes nicely packaged on a piece of paper?

Here's an example:

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Posted by on in Education Policy
Ginn's Dick and Jane Big Book 1948
What should Kindergartners be expected to know? Ginn's Dick and Jane Big Book, 1948

What should kindergarteners know about reading?

Dick and Jane taught a lot of kids how to read, even though not every yard had a pony. We've come a long way with rich literature and real life writing. But there is a chasm between what kindergarteners know and Common Core 'K' Standard, which may surprise you with its rigorous expectations. There are four major standards in this "strand: "Print Concepts, Phonological Awareness, Phonics and Word Recognition and Fluency". Phew, a lot for kindergarten.

Kindergarten children are my favorite little learners. First they figure out how the classroom works and how to get along with each other, then learning begins. Kindergarten teachers are unsung heroes and sheroes. Spend a day in kindergarten and you'll know what I mean. Not all kids coming into kindergarten are ready for challenges above their developmental level and that's what's happening. I worry about teachers as much as the kids.

As principal I once told a.m. and p.m. 'k' team I would take their classes so they could do extra planning. At that time, kindergarten teachers lived in a very isolated world. Well, that was brave of me- 64 squirrelly kids playing store, with fake food and shopping carts flying around. Since I am a firm believer in learning through play, my plans were shattered and my ego took a trouncing. BUT those two teachers got time together to plan and that's what it was all about. We are now all in the middle of a different, important collegial conversation, involving many stakeholders.

Children are not cookie cutter kids. One size does not fit all, and class size matters. Of the CSSS 'K'standards, it makes sense to teach print concepts, of course. Also phonological awareness (sounds of the language). In my opinion, most of the next two levels belong in first grade. Children who didn't go to preschool may not know how to hold a book or which way the print goes. It may take awhile to teach that sounds make letters, letters make words, etc. That's why Language Experience still works for these kids. Kindergarten is a time to look for patterns in language and savor the beauty. Policy makers must listen to kindergarten teachers who know best and say good-bye to data driven instruction. Kids drive instruction.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Maintaining a steady stream of engaging math activities is difficult. Math can become monotonous if there’s a lack of variety, yet children need to practice many skills repetitively before mastering them. So, my job as a teacher is to regularly embellish basic skills lessons in unique ways. I must experiment and adapt regularly, because different groups of children have different interests.

A few years ago, as part of this tinkering, I decided to try a new game, wherein we pretended to negotiate the prices of classroom objects. The children loved it immediately, and it’s been a hit with every group of students I’ve had since.

I use only a pile of coins, a number line, and whatever objects I choose to purchase. I begin by discussing the number line, focusing on three points: the numbers are in order, from left to right; each number we count is one more (one bigger) than the number it follows; and the numbers are less (smaller) if we move backwards on the number line (to the left). Number lines are tools that I expose my students to regularly, so our discussion for the purposes of this activity is usually very brief.

Next, I pull out an object (it can be anything), choose a student and say something like, “I want to buy this from your store. Now, you want to get a lot of my money, so you want me to pay a really big number. I don’t want that. I want to give you less—a smaller number of coins.”

Then the negotiations begin. I scaffold it heavily at first, saying things like, “I’ll give you one penny for this. Is that enough? Or do you want me to give you more pennies?” I point to the numbers on the number line after each offer. When we use comparative language (i.e., bigger, smaller, more, less), I gesture toward the left or right side of the number line accordingly. After each agreement is reached—most children accept my second or third offer, if not my first—The group helps me count as I pull out the appropriate number of pennies.

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Posted by on in Education Policy

Before, when I would hear the word 'grit' I would think of John Wayne. A strong, silent figure standing in solidarity with a cigarette and a 5 o'clock shadow; this embodiment of grit refuses to smile and takes no prisoners. Tough and strong, grit is essentially a cowboy. So how did my association of the word grit evolve from The Duke to the resilient five year old that still raises her hand after offering an incorrect answer? Let me explain... Duckworth says:

"Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.Grit is having stamina.Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out,not just for the week, not just for the month,but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality.Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint." 

Students with Grit

The hot topic in education as of late is teaching students to be more gritty. We are slowly backing away from adhering to each student's intelligence modality and guiding them to think outside their neurological comfort zone. Encouraging students to make mistakes and pick themselves up afterwards will build a more resilient and courageous child. Rather than driving towards a product of high achievement, we are now putting more thought into the process itself. To me, this enables students to learn from their mistakes and adapt to the post-education world with more ease. Angela Duckworth, the pioneer in 'grit research,' highlighted in her TED talk that grittiness is tied to endurance. 

In her research, Duckworth also noted grit to be a stronger indicator of success than IQ score. Students that refuse to give up or shut down after a failure are more likely to follow through on their goals and dreams. Embracing a growth mindset will also help students achieve more grittiness; when they understand that intelligence is not fixed, but can be developed, students are more likely to invest in their learning (and thinking).

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Posted by on in Studentcentricity

 A teacher wrote to me recently to say she’d just spent a week subbing in a public school kindergarten classroom where worksheets were used every day, all day, for every subject. She reported that the kids were “bored, tired, and unable to focus” and that there were quite a few behavior issues.

Shocking, right?

Not! This one falls squarely in the category of “What are they thinking??”

kindergarten worksheetThe first thing that popped into my head was the opening paragraph I wrote in an essay called “In Defense of Authentic Learning,” to be published in my forthcoming book, What If Everybody Understood Child Development? (Corwin Press, June 2015). Here it is:

As I started to write this piece, it struck me that the title I’d chosen is an interesting one. I mean, why would authentic learning have to be defended? If authentic means “real or genuine,” as it’s defined in the dictionary, how could anybody object? Who wouldn’t want children to have real, genuine learning? 

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