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.