If you will be in New York City…
Save the Date!
September 6, 2016
Book Release Event
CHOICE TIME-How to Deepen Learning Through Inquiry and Play
Foreward by Kathy Collins
The Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Join me for
- A presentation with photos from NYC classrooms
- A reading from the book
- A conversation with Anna Allanbrook, principal of the Brooklyn New School.
We will discuss the potential of progessive education in our public schools.
- Q & A
- wine and cheese
- Book signing (Books will be available for purchase)
Publication date: August 25, 2016
To read more about the book, go to Heinemann- http://www.heinemann.com/authors/productsByAuthor.aspx?id=100093
I intended this letter for you personally, but don’t mind if you share it/post parts of it if you think it is relevant. -H
Dear Mrs. Dinnerstein,
I discovered you last Sunday while doing research for my own book about play based centers! Over the last week I have looked through entries from your blog and find myself enthusiastically agreeing with your thoughts. I am always so thankful to come across a like-minded advocate of play! At first I was unsure if I should contact you, but I decided to go with my instinct. It has seldom steered me wrong. And although our paths are different, we have many experiences in common.
In 1998, I finished my undergraduate studies at a small, liberal arts, “Great Books” school in Annapolis, MD called St. John’s College. Although completely unqualified, or so I imagined, I was offered a position teaching middle school science just outside of Baltimore. In 2000 my first daughter Emily was born and I was able to stay home as a full time mother. We struggled financially, but somehow made it work! For most women now, it is not so much an option to be a stay at home mother, as it is a luxury. The privilege of motherhood . . .
I was suddenly single in 2007 and needed full time work as quickly as possible. So I reluctantly began subbing and soon accepted a position teaching high school math. A little older, single, and with three young children (my youngest daughter, Miriam was one at the time,) I re-entered the work force. A La Leche League Leader and advocate of a more natural approach, I had at one time been considering homeschooling my own children and had recently discovered Montessori and Reggio-Emilia. Those first years back to work were overwhelming and I questioned whether I even really liked teaching! But I needed work, and the hours matched my own children’s schedules. I moved from high school to middle school math and then six years ago was offered a position teaching kindergarten. Jumping down 8 grades was a bit of a shock at first! But as I discovered what it meant to be in a kindergarten classroom, I was increasingly surprised and concerned.
I had imagined young children coming together for a happy gathering, but found the daily kindergarten class menu contained mostly multi-vitamins and water. It was clear that my job was to make sure they had the required minimum dose of academic rigor. There seemed to be no time for play. How much more difficult it must be for the veteran teachers who remembered when there used to be a daily kindergarten feast . . .
My first year was not pretty and I try not to think about it too often! There were a lot of worksheets involved. . . but I was determined to grow as a teacher. I read a lot and asked the “master teachers” a lot of questions. I was restless and dissatisfied with the endless paper and pencil tasks. There had to be a better way. But the question was: “how?” Truthfully, I didn’t have a lot of room to make changes. I am currently working in a “good” public school district with a (mostly) supportive administration. I teach a blended kindergarten. So next year I will start the day with 21 students , but at 11:30 ten of them will leave for the day. Five of my incoming kindergartners have IEPs. Our district has mandated certain benchmarks, curriculum, and assessments that are non-negotiable. Some of the curriculum (especially math) is highly scripted. There are no field trips.
My kindergartners (even those that are 1/2 day students,) are required to master 80% of 100 sight words, to be reading at a minimum of a DRA Level 2, and to successfully complete Eureka Math (you might know it- also known as Engage NY). We are also a “STEAM” school and I am asked to incorporate this as much as possible. Here are the current required assessments: district determined measures twice a year (DDMs), Eureka Math Module Assessments (6 mid module, and 6 end of module), Wilson Fundations Unit Assessments (x6), AIMSWEB online assessments (letter naming fluency x3, nonsense word fluency x2, phonemic segmentation x2), and lengthy DRA (developmental reading assessments), We also have several report card assessments. Most of these tests can only be administered one-to-one. I am also required to use the data from these assessments to create daily RTI Tier 2 groups. Our union reps have reassured us that the assessment data will not be “officially” used in our teacher evaluations, at least for this upcoming year. I have a great love for my little students, and a strong motivation to become the best teacher I can, but I am not a superstar teacher. I cannot work 12 hour days creating meaningful, developmentally appropriate standards-based lessons. So I have thought (almost obsessively sometimes) about a better way. A way to balance what I am required to do with what I know is best for my students. For me, the key to this balance is what I’m calling Play Based Centers.
So here is the interesting (or maybe miraculous) thing- with few exceptions my students have exceeded my district’s mandated standards. And, here is the important part- it is in fact because I have implemented free-choice, play based, open ended centers. Every day. For at least 45 minutes, first thing in the morning. And this is why, even though I am definitely not a writer, I am writing this book. I think I have a good enough idea that other teachers might want to use it. I believe my idea allows teachers a freedom to truly differentiate and really focus on each individual’s needs.
My idea is not perfect, only a candle in a dark room where there should be a chandelier. But it is a start. I have had surprising success and I’m hoping that it could be a small guide toward a more enlightened time.
I’ve been writing (slowly) for about a year now. My goal this summer is to begin submitting book proposals to six different publishers. I know very little about the process, only what I’ve read online. I have heard it can take awhile even to get rejected! But I will persevere, it is a kind of mission for me at this point.
In closing, thank you for your insights and your years of advocacy! I look forward to your book coming out in August! As individual teachers, our paths are different, but we are all travelling through the same forest. Thorny, overgrown standards choking the once sunlit, joyful path of early childhood classrooms. Dedicated teachers race through the forest at break-neck speed, pushing and pulling students along, knowing that even if “no child is left behind,” childhood will be. And with it joy, wonder and curiosity. A sad childhood sacrifice.
But I do believe that the pendulum is swinging. Change is occurring, though slowly. And while wiser and more powerful decision makers, researchers and advocates debate the issues, I wanted to do something now. In my own little classroom, I want to do the best I can for the children in my care.
Peace and Blessings-