So many of you have written to ask me if I ever heard from Sarah, the young teacher who was upset and overwhelmed by the data-driven curriculum her administration was forcing on her, her colleagues and her students. Well, I did hear from her this week and I thought that I would share her second email with you.
What are your thoughts about Sarah’s interpretation of the job that colleges are doing in preparing (or not preparing) students for the teaching work ahead of them? I do have my own thoughts on this, but before sharing them, I’d like to hear your opinions.
Here is Sarah’s email to me:
I wanted to reply and tell you thank you! I am so sorry that I have not had a chance to respond to your email or write on your blog!
Thank you truly from my heart for your and your colleagues for their words of inspiration! I am leaving the school where I work. I am also moving home to Cincinnati! I am originally from Cincinnati.
I’m really looking forward to reading more in your upcoming blog posts! It will certainly be helpful as I begin the next phase in my career. I’m still not sure what type of work I will be doing next. I love learning about reading and the learning process. Maybe a master’s degree so I can become a little more knowledgeable so I can tell those policymakers to stop telling us what to do! Being out in the real world and discussing with other teachers and instructional coaches has made me realize though how so many of our colleges are not competently preparing students for teaching. I think if teachers were more competently trained in the background of what goes on while a child is learning to read and write and even what goes on inside the brain when a child is learning math they would be more confident to stick up for the art of teaching. Does that make sense? How do we change this? How do we relay a message that teaching is a science and art and both are needed to educate our children? Not only do we need to change our attitudes. We need to change our environments. How much difference the environment can relay to one as they enter it. Some environments respect children and some respect the law. I think those are two clearly different perspectives.
Again thanks so much for taking the time to respond. It was an honor to be on your blog post…I certainly don’t mind at all!
Thanks so much! Have a great weekend!
P.S. My kids will be breaking out the watercolors next week : )
Yesterday, Julie Diamond and I met with a few members of an early childhood team at the New York City Department of Education. They’re adding resources to Department of Education’s Common Core Library website. They heard that we, along with some other kindergarten teachers, have been working on materials for kindergarten and thought that we might share some of our resources with them.
Kori Goldberg, Bill Fulbrecht, Susan Kotansky and Chrissy Kouklotis, all dedicated and knowledgeable kindergarten teachers in New York City public schools, have been meeting with Julie and myself to see if we can put together a developmentally appropriate alternative to the rigid and unrealistic programs that are recommended on the DOE website. We decided that we would not ignore the common core standards for kindergarten. Instead, we would look at them with some common sense.
Our intention is to show that most of the standards can be addressed when children have opportunities to play, explore, act, build, run and…. well, basically have a well-rounded, developmentally suitable kindergarten experience. In the case of standards that seem inappropriate, we will show how the kindergarten curriculum can build the foundation for meeting those standards in the future.
It’s unclear whether or not the decision-makers at the DOE will accept our work but we are going to keep working on our project nevertheless. At our meeting yesterday, we firmly made it known that we only would allow our curriculum plans to be posted on the Department of Education website if it was explicitly written that they are presented as an alternative to other recommended programs and NOT as a supplement to them.
Perhaps we are being unrealistic in hoping to have the Department of Education share our work. However, we feel too passionate about teaching, too depressed about what is happening to the profession and definitely too upset about how children are being harmed by the present state of early childhood education to give up on this project.
Our work addressing the common core through a developmentally appropriate lens is not yet ready to be shared with you, but I would like to give you a chance to read Bill’s wonderful introduction to the project. This is in a first draft state and doesn’t contain the footnotes that will be added when it is in the final state.
We would all love to read your feedback! Here’s Bill’s introduction:
Common Sense and the Common Core
As educators of young children, we have become increasingly concerned over the direction our schools have taken in seeking to improve student outcomes in relation to standardized testing and meeting the New York State Common Core Standards. More and more, we see classrooms for young children that do not meet the developmental needs of young children. Kindergartens that are not places for kindergarteners. Opportunities for young children to explore, experience, and wonder about the world have been replaced with pencil and paper drills and a focus on rote learning with a hyper-awareness of one’s place within a rubric. In many classrooms, block building, pretend play, and outdoor recess have been all but eliminated. Discipline issues for young children are on the rise and teacher morale is low. We firmly believe these changes will not result in lasting improvements. On the contrary, there is increasing evidence that these changes may result in a further erosion of student outcomes and may increase the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students that the Common Core Standards seeks to narrow. We do not believe, however, that the Common Core Standards are necessarily to blame. Rather, we feel that there has been a failure to apply what we know about young children to our implementation of the standards. In implementing the Common Core Standards we need to apply Common Sense.
In the following pages we will outline a course of action for administrators and teachers that will demonstrate how kindergarten classrooms can be filled with intellectual rigor and joyful learning. We intend to show that activities like block building and pretend play, when implemented with thoughtful planning by involved teachers, provide children with critical thinking skills, opportunities for social growth, and practice with oral language skills that are crucial for literacy development. Studies and articles that support our arguments may be found in the footnotes.
Who is a kindergartener?
It may be useful to be reminded that the average kindergartener has only been alive for four to five years. In that time they have had to acquire an enormous amount of information about the world. Their brains have been growing exponentially since birth and are still creating intricate neural connections at a break-neck pace. They will, in fact, transform in a myriad of ways before our eyes over the year they will be with us in kindergarten. Of primary importance in the hierarchy of development are language skills. Kindergarteners are moving from a world of pure sensation toward a world that is filtered through human language, where every object, action, and feeling has a name, a history, an explanation, a culture, and a cause. Mastering this growing universe of words and ideas requires practice, and, of course, a constant flood of new experiences. Add to this the demands of a growing body that is developing its own set of neural connections and you may begin to get a sense of the flux, motion, confusion, elation, excitement, frustration, wonder, and thrill that make up the world of a five-year-old.
As teachers of four- and five-year-olds, we need to keep in mind the following key characteristics that define this age.
• Kindergarteners are not good listeners. This is not a criticism – they simply are not equipped at this stage in their lives to attend for very long to adult talk. They are still trying to master basic linguistic rules (think of how often a five-year-old will mix tenses and misuse pronouns, or how many false-starts they will make when attempting to give explanations or retell events). It takes a lot of mental energy for a five-year-old to process language successfully, and like all of us, they have a limited supply.
• Kindergarteners have a need to talk. In order to master spoken language, it must be used and practiced. Children don’t think about practicing their language skills, however, they simply use them. The need for practice and repetition is natural and a big part of learning. They also need to practice their oral language skills in meaningful, real life situations that involve lots of give-and-take with their peers. And, of course, oral language is the basis for written language – children will only write as well as they can speak.
• Kindergarteners learn best through “doing.” Five-year-olds are endlessly curious about the world and they have a need to interact directly with it. They learn better through the use of their hands, eyes, and ears during active engagement in meaningful activities than they do from listening to adult explanations. Active engagement sparks curiosity and fosters questioning – the basis for creativity and problem solving.
• Kindergarteners have a need to move their bodies. Sitting still for more than five or ten minutes at a stretch does not feel natural to a five-year-old. Growing bodies demand to be exercised and the demands of the body cannot be ignored. If these demands are denied, children who are unable to comply will often be seen as “oppositional,” “defiant,” “distracted,” or worse.
• Kindergarteners are just beginning to develop a sense of shared community. For many children, pre-k and kindergarten will be their first experience of a larger shared community outside of their homes. How they negotiate within that larger community will play a large role in their future success, not only in school, but in life as well. The social life of school is real and becomes an increasingly important factor in learning as children grow older. The things we learned in kindergarten truly serve us well as adults. Sharing, caring for others, learning to take responsibility, and learning how to work within a group are skills we use throughout our lives and often determine our ultimate success or failure.
If, as educators of young children, we can keep this vision of the child in our minds as we plan our curriculums, we should be able to design classrooms and activities that respect the nature of five-year-olds. We should be able to create classrooms that are places where five-year-olds feel welcomed and safe to explore, create, question, negotiate, discuss, experiment, and grow. And, as we hope to demonstrate in the following pages, we should be able to do all of this while meeting the Common Core Standards. We simply need to apply a bit of Common Sense.
Today, when I opened up the administration site on my blog, I found the saddest note from a new teacher. I have no idea of how to respond to her. Perhaps one of you might think of something to say. I have to think deeply about how to respond. Maybe it’s because this is the end of a long day, but somehow I’m having a very hopeless feeling. I have a great desire to scream.
I truly welcome any of your thoughts and suggestions.
Here’s Sarah’s comment:
I am 37 days away from finishing my first year of teaching first grade! My whole life I have dreamed of being a teacher. It wasn’t until college that I fell in love with the Reggio style of teaching. I was blessed to visit Reggio Emilia during the summer going into my senior year of college! It was AWESOME!
I was hired a week before school started back in Mid August of 2012. I was so excited! The school I teach in is the epitome of a data driven school. We have a data wall and data meetings and each child is colored red, yellow, or green. In fact, the principal is talking about displaying quotes regarding specific data data data on the wall next year. The more I become engrossed in the data driven mentality, the more discouraged I become. It’s so sad that watercolors were requested on our supply list but have stayed in the closet due to the high demands of test after test after tests. Not only do these children have to take the test on paper and pencil, but also log them into the computer.
Is their any advice you can offer? As a first year teacher I feel trapped by numbers. Have we forgotten about creativity and student choice? I yearned to be mentored by a Reggio or Reggio-inspired educator.
Thank you!! Your blog is so inspiring!