DEY endorses excellent, intentional literacy experiences in kindergarten

Reading Instruction in KindergartenToday’s post is written by DEY’s Senior Adviser Nancy Carlsson-Paige. She just posted the comment below on Diane Ravitch’s blog, to help clarify our message in the report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Much to Lose and Little to Gain.

When we issued our report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten, we had a concern that our main message might be misunderstood.  That message is that research does not support the Common Core requirement that all children must read with purpose and understanding by the end of the kindergarten year.  But we did not want this message to be interpreted to mean that children should just play in kindergarten and that maturity would take care of skill development.  We want to make clear that we do support providing children with an excellent, intentional early literacy curriculum.  For this reason, we included two sections in our report that specifically describe what such a curriculum should look like.  However, it seems, based on the blog comments by Bill Honig, that the full message of our report has been misunderstood, despite our efforts.

First and most important, Mr. Honig states that we should teach foundation skills for reading in kindergarten and we entirely agree.  But building foundation skills and expecting children to read with purpose and understanding are not the same thing.

Children build a strong base for learning to read and write in kindergarten through the many activities good teachers present.  In addition to oral language experiences such as story telling and story acting, and opportunities for using symbols with a variety of materials, teachers provide myriad opportunities for specifically engaging children with print. Teachers read big books, poems and charts using pointers and props that isolate letters.  Children are encouraged every day to draw and write with invented and conventional spellings.  Teachers take dictation from children and help them write their own stories. In organic and meaningful ways, teachers use print throughout the day to label block structures, cubbies, and interest areas, write recipes, and transcribe the children’s stories.  They make charts for attendance and classroom jobs and review these daily with children.  Teachers understand the developmental progressions in early reading and writing and encourage skill development based on each child’s level of mastery.  This ensures that the skills children learn develop a solid and meaningful foundation for making sense of print.

The Common Core standard requiring children to read in kindergarten has resulted in an erosion of excellent early literacy experiences such as those just described.  Many kindergarten teachers are now resorting to inappropriate didactic methods of instruction in order to meet the requirement of this Common Core standard.  Every contributor to the discussion on this blog shares the same goal: to ensure that every young child learn to read and achieve success in school.  Our grave concern is that the Common Core standards for kindergarten are harming and not helping us reach this goal.

First Grade Teacher Speaks Out Against CCSS

Today in the Albany Times Union, first grade teacher Peter Rawitsch from New York shared his powerful reflections on the negative impact of the Common Core State Standards. Rawitsch has decades of classroom experience and is a Nationally Board Certified teacher. He is an expert in the field and he knows what he is talking about! We applaud his courage and share Rawitsch’s words here, with his permission, to inspire other early educators to stand up and speak out.

 “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Depending on the day, my six and seven year old children might answer: “soccer player,” “princess,” or “veterinarian.” Sadly, most of them will have to put their dreams on hold because they’re too busy working on someone else’s dream of them becoming “college and career ready.” I think it’s a nightmare.

 Six and seven year old children are active learners. They use all of their senses to learn in a variety of ways. Each child learns at their own pace. Play is their work. Using materials they can manipulate helps them think about how things work, use their imagination, and solve problems. They construct knowledge through their experiences.

As a 1st grade teacher with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, National Board Certification in Early Childhood, and 37 years of classroom experience, I’m deeply troubled by what is being demanded of our young learners.

For the past 2½ years I have been trying to help the children in my classroom become proficient in the 1st grade Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Because the children are at different places in their development, some have been successful with the new standards, but for too many, these new expectations are inappropriate and unfair. They’re being asked to master material they simply aren’t ready to do yet.  Among the flaws of the CCSS is the assumption that all students in a given grade are capable of learning all of the same grade level standards by the end of a school year. But many of the current 1st grade standards were, just a few years ago, skills that 2nd grade students worked on.

 The Gesell Institute of Child Development has studied the cognitive development of children three to six years of age since 1925. In 2010 it reported that young children “are still reaching developmental milestones in the same timeframe,” meaning, that while the learning standards have changed, the way children learn has not.

The fact is, no experts in early childhood education worked on the development of the CCSS.  There were no early childhood educators on the Board of Regents when the CCSS were adopted in New York. The result has been, that in order to help my students meet the CCSS, I’ve had to create longer blocks of time to teach reading and writing, prepare them for similar looking answers on multiple choice math tests, and help them practice locating and bubbling in small circles on answer sheets. Students are also required to keep up with the “pacing” calendars and curricula many school districts have adopted because they are synchronized with the reading, writing, and mathematics testing that is now given throughout the school year.  This means that there is much less time for Science, Social Studies, exploration, and play.

It’s time to take action! Parents need to ask teachers about how the CCSS have impacted their child’s school day. How much more sitting are the children doing for reading and writing activities? How have additional paper and pencil tests affected when and how things are taught? Which activities and experiences that once enriched the school day and fostered a love of learning have been pushed out? Teachers need to talk about child development and appropriate academic standards at School Board and PTA meetings. Together we need to speak up and advocate for an education that celebrates and honors our young learners. Our children’s dreams matter.

Our New Report! Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose

Today, in conjunction with the Alliance foReading Instruction in Kindergartenr Childhood,  we are thrilled to release our new report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose. In the report we concluded that Common Core reading requirements for kindergarten are inappropriate and not well-grounded in research. Under Common Core, students are expected to be able to read before entering first grade.

The report maintains that the pressure of implementing the reading standard is leading many kindergarten teachers to resort to inappropriate drilling on specific skills and excessive testing. Teacher-led instruction in kindergartens has almost entirely replaced the active, play-based experiential learning that children need based on decades of research in cognitive and developmental psychology and neuroscience.

In an effort to shift back to a developmentally appropriate, child-centered curriculum, Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood call for the withdrawal of the kindergarten standards from the Common Core so they can be rethought along developmental lines.

Please check out our video for more information! 

 

Follow on Twitter and join the movement: @DEY_Project @4Childhood #2Much2Soon

Help us spread the word via social media. Here are some sample tweets:

1) #EarlyEd experts @dey_project @4childhood conclude #CCSS Kinder reading requirement is #2much2soon  http://youtu.be/DVVln1WMz0g

2) Why @dey_project @4childhood call for withdrawal of kinder standards from #CCSS http://wp.me/p2bgV6-gl

Happy New Year!

Screenshot 2014-08-31 09.26.14This year DEY has been working hard to mobilize the early childhood community to speak out with well-reasoned arguments against inappropriate standards, assessments, and classroom practices.  We created our on-line resources including our Early Childhood Activist Toolkit, Mobilization Kit and Action Mini Grants. Our article The Common Core State Standards, Are They Failing Our Kids? was featured as the cover story in the back-to-school edition of Boston Parents Magazine. And we gathered early childhood activists in Dallas, TX for our second annual organizing meeting to share resources and build connections nationwide.

As 2014 comes to a close, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to DEY. Your generosity will help us continue our work in 2015, including the January release of our advocacy report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose. Please remember, you can now show your support to DEY through online donations. Check out our donation page . Thank you so much!

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The Rise of Kindergarten-Readiness Testing

We know that a big topic in the new year will be kindergarten readiness assessments. These time-consuming and often computer-based assessments are raising concerns with teachers across the country. This fall we began hearing stories of resistance building. In Maryland, where 9 out of 10 kindergarten teachers surveyed said the lengthy assessments would not help improve instruction, the Maryland State Education Association is calling for a suspension of the Kindergarten Readiness Assessments. At DEY we are offering support however and wherever we can – updating our online resources,offering Action Mini Grants, attending and speaking at organizing events and more. Experiences vary from state to state, district to district, even school to school. If you are a kindergarten teacher or administrator, let us know how the rise of kindergarten-readiness testing is affecting you, your work and your students. For more on this topic you can watch a recent EdWeek webinar featuring DEY’s Stephanie Feeney.

Are the Common Core State Standards failing our kids?

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Please read and share DEY’s feature article, Are the Common Core State Standards failing our kids? in the current issue of Boston Parent’s Paper.

Here is a snippet of our article – which outlines our concerns as well as action steps that parents can take at home and at school:

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Are the Common Core State Standards failing our kids?

by Geralyn McLaughlin, Diane Levin & Nancy Carlsson-Paige

If you are the parent of a young child, chances are you have seen firsthand that kindergarten has changed dramatically since you were young. There has been a well-documented, though highly controversial, push-down of academics into the earlier years. If your child is just now entering school, you may not have experienced this change – though you may have heard much debate about the Common Core State Standards.

Even comedian Louis C.K. added his ideas to the debate when he tweeted, “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and Common Core!”

Our organization, Defending the Early Years, is deeply concerned about the current direction of early education in the United States. We hear stories all the time from teachers who are struggling to balance the reform mandates with what they know is best for young children. One teacher told us with regret, “I am being forced to shove academics down the throats of 4-, 5- and 6-year-old children. I used to be proud of my teaching – now I feel that I am being forced to do wrong by my students every day.”

Click here to read the full article on the Boston Parents Paper website.

Our article noted some local parent actions that are happening – and we are wondering what actions parents have been taking in your community. We would love to be able to pitch the article to other Parents Papers around the country – with your local examples included. Leave a comment here or contact us at deydirector@gmail.com if you have thoughts about this and want to help us spread the word through the Parents Paper in your community. Thanks!

Common Core Pushes Abstract Topics Too Early

Many thanks from DEY to William Crain for publicly saying what needs to be said!

William Crain, author of Reclaiming Childhood: Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement-Oriented SocietyProfessor of Psychology at The City College of New York and DEY National Advisory Board Member, wrote the following letter to the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York:

Letter in the Poughkeepsie Journal, June 21, 2014

“Common Core Pushes Abstract Topics Too Early”

The Common Core sets its sights on children’s future needs.  Specifically, it wants to ensure that all children are “college- and workforce-ready.”  This goal seems worthwhile, but the Common Core also needs to consider the ways in which children grow and develop.

Seeing that children will need “high order” conceptual thinking in college and the workplace, the Common Core introduces such thinking early on.   For example, it introduces mathematical place value, an abstract topic, in kindergarten and the first grade. But before the age of 7 or so, children’s minds aren’t inclined toward such conceptual matters. Young children are more naturally motivated to develop their powers through the arts, play, and the exploration of nature.  They are enthusiastic about these activities, which enable them to develop their imaginations and sense of wonder.

Our educational system needs to resist the impulse to take up young children’s time with abstract material that is beyond their years.  Such instruction is unlikely to be effective, and it can cause children to dislike school and learning. Instead, educational policymakers need to pay greater attention to the capacities that children themselves are ready and eager to develop at their present stages of development.

William Crain

Professor of Psychology, The City College of New York

Poughquag, NY

Advocating for Play at School and at Home

YC0514_CoverIn the current edition of Young Child, published by NAEYC, DEY’s Diane E. Levin offers the following advice to parents:

Memo to: All Families of Young Children

From: Diane E. Levin

Date: May 2014

Subject: Advocating for Play at School and at Home

Play is essential for children’s optimal development and learning.  Through play, children use what they already know to help them figure out new things, see how they work, and master skills.  As they do this, children add new social, emotional, and intellectual knowledge and skills to what they already know.  They experience the satisfaction that comes from working things out and solving problems on their own.  They think and sometimes say out loud, “I can do it!”  This is the kind of learning through play that prepares children to feel confident in themselves as learners who see new information and ideas as interesting problems to be solved.

However, all play is not the same and today several forces can endanger quality play.  First, many of today’s toys are linked to what children see in movies and on television.  These media experiences channel children into imitating what they see on screens instead of creating their own play.  Second, the use of electronic media takes young children away from play and can make their child-created play seem boring.  Finally, growing pressure to teach academic skills at younger and younger ages takes time and resources away from the quality, teacher-facilitated play that young children need in preschool and kindergarten.

I encourage you to learn about the ways child-created active play supports learning and to advocate for play and encourage it at home.  Play will give your children a foundation for positive social and emotional health as well as later academic success in school.

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