How can you defend play to your school administrator?

We received the following question from a friend and former student who is now a kindergarten teacher:

 “I am public school kindergarten teacher, who is trying to convince my principal to let there be play in the kindergartens in my school.  Can you recommend books to give him to help convince him that this can do positive things for the children’s skill learning, especially in social studies and science areas?”

Below is what we suggested…what would you add??

Here are a few quick ideas we culled from our recommended reading/resources page at DEY http://deyproject.org/recommended-reading-and-resources/:

book: A Mandate for Playful Learning in Preschool: Applying the Scientific Evidence by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Laura E. Berk and Dorothy Singer, Oxford University Press – (this book includes many references to kindergarten as well as preschool)
paper: The Crisis in Early Education: A Research-Based Case of More Play and Less Pressure by Joan Almon and Ed Miller (Alliance for Childhood states: “This four-page article succinctly makes the case for play-based education.”)
 
article/blog: Education Reform is Malpractice by Steve Nelson, Huffington Post on July 22, 2015
 
article: The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents by Peter Gray, American Journal of Play, volume 3, number 4. © 2011 by The Strong. (a .pdf)

article: The Serious Need for Play, by Melinda Wenner for Scientific American Mind, February/March 2009

video: The Role of Play in the Overly Academic Kindergarten by the Gesell Institute. This seven and a half minute YouTube video is well worth your time and is easily shared with others. “Play is being banished from kindergarten classrooms across the U.S. Learn how this is impacting the nation’s youth. Narrated by Marcy Guddemi, Executive Director of the Gesell Institute”
video: DEY’s video Lively Minds
What other resources would you use to advocate for play in your kindergarten? Let us know so we can add them to our list!

Tell Congress: Keep Federal Accountability Mandates Out of a New Education Law

The following message from our allies at FairTest is a critical one:

Now is the time to make sure a new federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the best possible replacement of “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) that we can win at this time.

The House and Senate conference committee to reconcile their respective versions of ESEA will begin work soon. A new law that ends federally mandated accountability will be an important step forward, even though neither house reduced the test-every-kid-every-year mandate.
There’s still a real danger that diehard test-and-punish proponents could insert destructive “NCLB-lite” accountability provisions into the compromise bill. We need to stop that threat in its tracks! At the same time, we need to protect the right to opt out and encourage better assessments. Your letter will help ensure victory on these critical issues.

Send this letter or call or fax your Senators and Representative today. (For Senate phone and fax numbers, go to http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact; for the House, go to http://www.house.gov/representatives/).

Send your letter to Congress using this link: http://www.fairtest.org/tell-congress-keep-federal-accountability-mandates

Why are our CCSS concerns ignored?

On Twitter this week, a teacher asked DEY why our concerns regarding the Common Core State Standards and young children are being ignored. One big part of the puzzle is money. The Gates Foundation has spent $200 million dollars creating and promoting the Common Core State Standards. And corporations such as Pearson are laughing all the way to bank. Political commentator/comedian John Oliver described Pearson has having a “shocking amount of influence over American schools” in this scathing report on standardized testing. And POLITICO reports that Pearson “has reaped the benefits: Half its $8 billion in annual global sales comes from its North American education division. But Pearson’s dominance does not always serve U.S. students or taxpayers well. A POLITICO investigation has found that Pearson stands to make tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and cuts in student tuition from deals arranged without competitive bids in states from Florida to Texas. The review also found Pearson’s contracts set forth specific performance targets — but don’t penalize the company when it fails to meet those standards.” Read more.

It is incredibly difficult to break through all the money that is flowing in support of the Common Core, in order to get our message across. This recent letter to the editor of the Boston Globe by DEY’s director Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin helps illustrate what we are up against (published July 21, 2015 under the title A David-Goliath clash over what’s best for young kids):

CHRIS BERDIK does an excellent job outlining Defending the Early Years’ arguments against the Common Core standards for kindergarten in the June 14 Ideas piece “The end of kindergarten?” He also reports on the support for the Common Core from another nonprofit, Student Achievement Partners.

Here are some important additional notes for your readers: Student Achievement Partners was founded by David Coleman, Susan Pimentel, and Jason Zimba, lead writers of the Common Core. In 2012 Student Achievement Partners was given $6.5 million in grant money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In fact, the Gates Foundation has spent more than $200 million to implement the Common Core.

Defending the Early Years was founded, in 2012, by a coalition of concerned early-childhood educators who saw the writing on the wall and wanted to fight back. Last year our operating budget, all from donations from our supporters, was about .006 percent of what Student Achievement Partners received from the Gates Foundation in 2012. Our mission is clear, grounded in research, and based on what is best for young children.

 

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin

Director, Defending the Early Years

 

It is true that here at DEY we have a tiny fraction of the budget that the CCSS promoters have, but what we DO have is early childhood expertise, experience, and decades of research on our side. The only thing we are working to promote is what is in the best interest of young children. And we are concerned that this entire focus on the Common Core has become a distraction, based on fallacy, from the underlying inequalities brought on by poverty. In fact, the CCSS has created another layer of stress in the lives of children – many of whom are already growing up with toxic stress.

With our limited budget, we have already reached millions of people with our three research-based advocacy papers published this year. We are making some noise and are pushing the conversation in the right direction. We want to do more and we need to keep going. For example, we are starting to translate some of our work into Spanish. We know this is important and we are committed to making it happen. If you are moved to support DEY with a tax deductible financial contribution, now is a great time. We have actually have a summer special (see below). We also urge all of DEY’s friends and supporters to continue to fight the good fight and to speak out with well-reasoned arguments in defense of developmentally appropriate curricula, standards and assessments for our young children.

SUMMER FUNDRAISING THANKS!
 
This summer we are offering a special thanks to all donors:
DonateNow
  • Donate $50.00 – we will send you a copy of Lively Minds!
  • Donate $100.00 – we will send you two reports – Lively Minds and Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose
  • Donate $200 or more – we will send you all three reports! Lively Minds, Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose PLUS Kamii’s paper on the CCSS math standards K-3!
  Please check out our donation page. Thank you!

 

 

 

Defending Play with Nancy Carlsson-Paige

Bob Greenberg of Brainwaves Productions has interviewed many thought leaders in education: Noam Chomsky, Diane Ravitch, Sir Ken Robinson, Linda Darling-Hammond, and more. This week he gave Nancy Carlsson-Paige the opportunity to add an early childhood perspective to these voices. Her talk is titled “Defending Play” and is available on YouTube. “Play is at the root of learning, ” Nancy explains. However…

“In this era of focus on testing and accountability, and emphasis on standards, we’ve seen this increasing pressure in the early grades in elementary schools, kindergartens and even preschools to get children up to speed to learn specific skills and sub skills that are identified by standards. This has led to much more teacher-led instruction and much less play in school and there is a dramatic disappearance of play across the country.” 

Testing in K: too much, too soon

Today’s blog post is written by a guest – Phyllis Doerr – a kindergarten teacher from South Orange, NJ. The original article was published in her local paper on July 2, 2015. We publish this updated version here with Doerr’s permission.

Testing in K: too much, too soon

Point of View

By Phyllis Doerr

As we wind down a year of tremendous controversy in the realm of education in the United States, I thought I would share some of my input given in January to a New Jersey Board of Education panel on testing led by Education Commissioner David Hespe.

As a kindergarten teacher, I find the trend to bring more testing into kindergarten not only alarming, but counter-productive and even harmful.

In the kindergarten at my school, we do not administer standardized tests; however, hours of testing are included in our math and language arts curriculum.  In order to paint a realistic picture of the stress, damaging effects and colossal waste of time caused by testing in kindergarten, allow me to bring you to my classroom for our first test prep session in late September for 5-year-old children.

The test for which I was preparing my students was vocabulary. I say a word that we had learned in our “nursery rhyme” unit.  Then, I read a sentence containing that word. If the sentence made sense, using the word correctly, the student would circle the smiley face. If the word were used incorrectly, they would circle the frown. This task requires abstract thinking, a skill that kindergartners have not yet developed — a foundational problem for this type of test.

My first sample vocabulary challenge as we began our practice test was the word “market,” from the nursery rhyme “To Market, To Market.” After explaining the setup of the test, I begin. “The word is market,” I announced. “Who can tell me what a market is?” One boy answered, “I like oranges.” “Okay, Luke is on the right track. Who can add to that?” “I like apples. I get them at the store.”  We’re moving in, closer and closer. A third child says, “It’s where you go and get lots of things.” Yes! What kinds of things?  “Different stuff.”  Another student chimes in: “We can get oranges and apples and lots of other types of food at the market.” “Excellent! Everyone understands market?” A few nod.

“Now, I will give you a sentence with the word ‘market’ in it. If the sentence makes sense, you will circle the smiley face, but if it is a silly sentence and doesn’t make sense, you circle the frown.” A hand goes up. “Mrs. Doerr, what’s a frown?” I explain what a frown is.

Next, I read the sentence: “‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ Now, does that sentence make sense?”

The students who are not twisting around backward in their chairs or staring at a thread they’ve picked off their uniforms nod their heads. “Please, class, listen carefully. I’ll tell you the sentence again: ‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ That makes sense? Remember we said a market is where we shop for food.”

A hand goes up. Terrell says, “I like soccer.” “Okay, Terrell, that’s great! But did I use the word ‘market’ correctly in that sentence?”   “I don’t know.”

Another hand. “Yes? Ariana? What do you think?” “My dad took me to a soccer game! He plays soccer!” “Thank you for sharing that, Ariana.” The students picked up on something from the sentence and made what seems to be, but is not, a random connection. “Girls and boys, look at me and listen. I want you to really think about this. Would you go to a market and play basketball?”  At this point everyone seemed to wake up. Finally! I was getting somewhere! “YES!” they cried out in unison.

Of course! It would be a total blast to play basketball in the market!

So here we find another huge problem with this vocabulary test: a 5-year-old’s imagination. A statement that uses a word incorrectly sounds OK to a child whose imagination is not limited by reality. It is the same reason Santa and the Tooth Fairy are so real to kindergartners — unencumbered imagination.

After explaining why we might not play basketball in the market, I called on a volunteer to come up and circle the frowning face. She went straight to number 3 on my giant test replica, skipping 1 and 2, and circled the frown. Why? She’s 5 and has never seen anything like this. Give the same student a floor puzzle of ocean life and she and her friend will knock it out in 10 minutes, strategizing, problem-solving and taking turns with intense concentration.

The rest of my “test prep” for the 5-year-olds went about the same.

Then came the real thing.  As testing must be done in small groups since the children cannot read instructions and need assistance every step of way, I split the class into two or more groups to test.

The results of the administration of the test on the first group were mixed. Despite being the higher level students, their very first test was definitely not an easy task. Instructions for anything new in kindergarten are painstaking, but for a developmentally inappropriate task, it is nearly impossible. For example, making sure my little test-takers have found their place on the page requires constant teacher supervision. I cannot just say, “Number 2” and read the question. I must say, “Put your finger on the number 2.” Then I repeat, “Your finger should be on number 2.” Then repeat it. And repeat again, since some have difficulty identifying numbers 1 through 10. “Let me see your pencil ON number 2. No, Justin, not on number 3. On number 2.”  I walk around and make sure that each child is on the right number – or on a number at all. If you’re not watchful as a kindergarten teacher, it is common to have a 5-year-old just sit there, and do nothing test-related — just look around, or think, or doodle.

Next, I tested a second group. During testing, I walked around to see that a few students had nothing written on their papers, one had circled every face — regardless of expression — on the whole page, another just circled all the smileys and one, a very bright little girl, had her head down on her arms. I tapped her and said, “Come on, you need to circle one of the faces for number 5.” She lifted her head and looked up at me. Tears streamed down her face. I crouched down next to her. “What’s wrong, honey?” “Mrs. Doerr, I’m tired,” she cried. “I want my mommy.”  It was a moment I will never forget. I took her test and said, “Would you like a nice comfy pillow so you can take a rest?” She nodded.  I exchanged her paper for a pillow.

So this is kindergarten.

We force children to take tests that their brains cannot grasp.

We ignore research that proves that children who are 5-6 learn best experientially.

We rob them of precious free play that teaches them how to be good citizens, good friends and good thinkers.

We waste precious teaching and learning time that could be spent experientially learning the foundations of math, reading and writing, as well as valuable lessons in social studies, science and health.

I support and enjoy teaching much of our math and language arts curriculum. Teaching vocabulary is a valuable practice. However, I contend that testing in these areas at this age is not only meaningless, since it does not accurately measure a child’s academic ability, but it is actually counter-productive and even damaging.

Further, I contend that my students are no further along at the end of the year than they would be if we eliminated most of the testing. In fact, they might be further along if we eliminated testing because of the time we could spend engaging in meaningful teaching and learning. Finally, I believe that a child’s first experience with formal education should be fun and exciting, and give them confidence to look forward to their education, not full of stress and fear because they did not measure up.

Parents and educators must speak out against harmful trends in education so that they can be reversed immediately.

Phyllis Doerr of South Orange is a kindergarten teacher.

 

Spanish Translations and Summer Reading Recommendations

DEY SPANISH TRANSLATIONS HAVE BEGUN!
 
Many thanks to our colleague and friend Ruth Rodriguez for helping us to begin our journey in translating DEY materials into Spanish! Our first piece LO QUE TODO PADRE DEBE SABER is now available on our website for downloading and sharing. This is a translation of “What Parents Need to Know: 6 Reasons to Reject the Common Core Standards for K – Grade 3.” And thanks to Blakely Bundy for the layout work! (translation was updated on 7/14/15)
 
SUMMER READING!
 
Here are some suggestions for great summer reading…  Each of these books has a special connection to DEY, and we are thrilled to recommend them here:
 

Susan Ochshorn’s
  

“This remarkable book manages to pinpoint the critical issues in the care and education of young children with up-to-date research, and all of this in a pleasurable and lively style. This needs to be read widely, and right away.” – Deborah Meier

 
“Rae Pica understands children.  With her wisdom and insight, she helps us know how to do right by kids in a world full of conflicting pressures.  Thank you, Rae, for this valuable book.  We need it now more than ever!” 
– Nancy Carlsson-Paige
“In today’s world, it is easy for us to forget how important contact with nature is for children’s emotional and spiritual development. This profound and beautiful book reminds us and shows how contact with animals can foster children’s compassion and enlarge their humanity.” 
– John Robbins 
 
Play from Birth to Twelve: Contexts, Perspectives, and Meanings 3rd edition  Edited by Doris Pronin Fromberg & Doris Bergen. This book has chapters by Diane Levin, Constance Kamii and so many more…
In light of recent standards-based and testing movements, the issue of play in child development has taken on increased meaning for educational professionals and social scientists. This third edition of Play From Birth to Twelve offers comprehensive coverage of what we now know about play and its guiding principles, dynamics, and importance in early learning.” – Routledge website

A Letter to Lucy Calkins from a weeping 2nd grade teacher

Today’s blog post is an open letter to Lucy Calkins written by Angie Sullivan, a second grade teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada. We are helping to share her thoughts far and wide. Writer’s Workshop is one of the many tools that have shifted – and not for the better – under the Common Core State Standards. Does Angie’s experience strike a chord with you?

WritersWorkshop

I’m doing some homework.  I currently teach 2nd grade.  For a couple of decades I have taught grade levels K-2.

I love writer’s workshop. Used it throughout my career having learned about it initially as an undergraduate at BYU in 1987 – a realm of whole language at the time.  Writing was impressed on me as integral in reading literacy and I never forget the basics of that theory.

That said – and to the point – I view common core as a political manipulation.

It is very difficult for me to embrace it – since I consider it malpractice at the K-2 level. I use it because it is mandated but it would be difficult for me to even pretend that common core does anything but harm my at-risk language learners as applied in the state of Nevada. Scaffolding is not enough when there are not enough hours in the day and children need time to learn English.  I teach in spite of common core which is disjointed and bizarre.
There is one writing common core writing standard for Kindergarten students in Vegas – write a fact and opinion paper.
Yep.
And that is all.
Children who have never picked up a pencil have one global standard – write a paper.
I’m weeping as I read through these pages in your book up to 13 as you describe fine tuning your writer’s workshop research and somehow expressing a loving common core at the same time.
I’m having a very difficult time thinking something as beautiful, powerful, and developmentally appropriate as writer’s workshop works smoothly with the terribly inappropriate, developmentally gross common core.  I appreciate that this program is an attempt to try your best to fill in the holes with solid examples and sample lessons, but question why we would accept this as professional educators.
While common core meets the needs of a few – in my experience it ensures the failure of the many.
Bad standards – are still bad – as we try to spackle best practice in layers over the top of them.
So as I teach my kids to do – I will write you now through my tears and weep for the best practice writer’s workshop bundle that shoved into the cavernous hole that is K-2 common core writing.
What have I learned?  We are all victims of the monied lobbying that became standards for most every state.
Even the stalwarts of the finest practice like yourself.
And that makes me weep some more because I understand but it is still a travesty.
Angie Sullivan
2nd Grade Teacher
Las Vegas, Nevada.

Angie also sent us this –  When researchers have to put disclaimers like this right in their product – something is wrong:

WWexcerpt