Unfortunately, in too many kindergartens today, even many of the best trained teachers in play-based, developmentally appropriate practice say they are being pressured into teaching fact-based, “one-size-fits-all” math lessons and find that play-based activities are severely curtailed, if not banned. This situation deprives young children of the opportunities they need now more than ever to develop a meaningful foundation for mathematical concepts in developmentally appropriate ways (Kamii, 2015; VanHoorn, 2015). It undermines their ability and enthusiasm to use math to figure out real problems in the real world. And having these meaningful learning experiences with math in school is increasingly important in today’s world, as media and technology take up more and more of the time many young children used to spend developing the foundations for mathematical thinking in their own uniquely created hands-on play activities at home (Levin 2013). If we want to optimize young children’s early math development and learning, we much return to high-quality, play-based activities, where well-trained teachers connect math learning to how children learn and to individual children’s interests and needs (Exchange, Jan./Feb. 2016).
Please read more in the attached article by DEY’s Senior Advisor, Diane E. Levin and DEY’s co-director, Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, which was originally published by Exchange Magazine in the Jan/Feb 2016 edition.
…starting this year, several California school districts will test students on how well they have learned the kind of skills like self-control and conscientiousness that the games aim to cultivate — ones that might be described as everything you should have learned in kindergarten but are still reading self-help books to master in middle age.
A recent update to federal education law requires states to include at least one nonacademic measure in judging school performance. So other states are watching these districts as a potential model. But the race to test for so-called social-emotional skills has raised alarms even among the biggest proponents of teaching them, who warn that the definitions are unclear and the tests faulty.
DEY’s Senior Advisor (and several other ECE experts) weigh in below:
Testing children’s social and emotional skills is a bad idea. These skills are crucial to school success and life long happiness—we’ve seen this through many research studies. But skills such as self and social awareness, managing emotions, developing empathy, forming positive relationships, and learning conflict resolution skills grow over time in children and from the inside out. They develop in children as the result of interactions with others in classrooms that foster these skills through the curriculum, relationships, and activities specifically designed to encourage social and emotional skill building.
Research shows that reward systems can influence social and emotional behavior, but the learning does not last once the rewards are removed. We want children to be kind and feel empathy for others even when the teacher isn’t looking or the promise of earning points isn’t there. Research has also shown that self reporting does not match up with actual behavior. Most importantly, we learn from moral development theory that the more we try to control children from the outside, the less they learn to regulate themselves from within.
Building skills for social and emotional awareness and skill should permeate every classroom and be encouraged in every child. It’s essential for their success in school and in life. But testing these skills will only undermine that vital goal.
Eric Schaps/Founder, Developmental Studies Center:
The challenge of assessing SEL skills in any affordable, feasible, large-scale way is that such assessments are — inevitably — vulnerable to social desirability and social pressure influences. Those vulnerabilities become all the greater as the assessments become high stakes and as pressures mount on schools to “look good.”
Linda Lantieri/ Educator and Author of Building Emotional Intelligence:
It is helpful to have a sense of how much progress is made when social and emotional learning is taught in schools. However there are other creative ways besides testing to do that. For example, schools could use Portfolio Assessment to assess competence. Students could reflect and journal over time on how they approach certain conflict situations or how they strengthen certain relationships and discuss how they are using their learned SEL skills to do that. Progress in this area is best when assessment is used for the purpose of self improvement and differentiation of instruction.
William Crain; Professor of Psychology, The City College of New York:
For over three decades, many of us have been concerned about the impact of the standards movement on children’s emotions. Increasing academic and testing demands, imposed at younger and younger ages, have been producing considerable stress. What’s more, the single-minded focus on academics has crowded out important areas of children’s lives—artistic activities, the exploration of nature, and the development of social and imaginative capacities through play. I have often felt that children frequently seem so lethargic and unhappy not only because they are stressed out, but also because they haven’t had a chance to develop their full potentials. Their development atrophies, and they feel stagnant.
Recently, some standards advocates have become more alert to children’s social and emotional problems and needs. They want to teach and test for social-emotional skills. But I doubt that their approach will work.
They, like the standards movement in general, assume that it’s up to us, as adults, to decide what children should learn. Standards advocates fail to see that children have an inner drive to develop different capacities at different ages, and when given a chance to do so, children spontaneously engage in activities with great enthusiasm and perseverance.
Educators need to take a more child-centered approach, taking their cues from children, seeing what children themselves are ready and eager to learn. If educators did this, they would find that children naturally develop a wide-ranging passion for learning–for books, nature, and people. Educators would see that children naturally stick with tasks they care deeply about. The need to teach and test for social-emotional skills wouldn’t arise.
As early-childhood educators who prepare teachers to meet the needs of all young children, we became deeply concerned when we read a 2011-2012 data collection from the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights that reported preschool suspensions for the first time. The analysis found, among other concerns, that more than 8,000 preschoolers under age 5 were suspended from public preschools at least once—and more than 2,500 of those children were suspended more than once.
Preschool helps young children develop the early foundations for school success. How is it possible that so many children are being deprived of this vital learning experience? How are these suspensions affecting them, and what can be done about it? As we tried to answer these questions, we identified six issues that preschools—and society as a whole—must address.
1. The children suspended are disproportionately black and male.
Black children make up only 18 percent of the preschool population but represented 48 percent of preschoolers with more than one suspension. In addition, 54 percent of all preschoolers are boys, but boys made up 79 percent of suspensions. These figures are cause for serious concern. Given that black boys are disproportionately suspended beginning in preschool, it is important to explore how this loss of vital school time contributes to the achievement gap. If we are to help all children achieve academic excellence, we must work to eliminate practices that contribute to failure in the earliest school years.
Here at DEY were are gearing up for another powerful year advocating on behalf of young children. This month we celebrate 4 years of hard work and collaboration! Many of you have been here from the beginning, and for that we are profoundly grateful. In fact, we are deeply thankful for everyone’s hard work and contributions – from our National Advisory Board and our Senior Advisers, to all of you (teachers, parents, activists, community members) who are part of our coalition.
At this time, as our momentum continues to build, we have decided to bring on Blakely Bundy, M.Ed. to join me as Co-Director for the upcoming year. Blakely brings a wealth of talent, expertise, and great energy. She is Director Emeritus and Senior Adviser to the Alliance for Early Childhood on the North Shore of Chicago. Blakely has been key to the success of many DEY projects including the Early Childhood Activist ToolKit and our annual meetings at NAEYC.
As a full-time classroom teacher as well as director of DEY, my hands are always quite full, and therefore I am thrilled to have such an incredible teammate to support DEY in moving forward. Please join me in welcoming Blakely to this new role!
On Thursday, an important essay was posted in Jennifer Berkshire’s brilliant blog EduShyster. This post, All I Really Need to Know I Should’ve Learned in Kindergarten, was written by Boston-area elementary teacher, Emily Kaplan. The post has already been featured on ECE PolicyWorks, and here at DEY we hope that the piece will continue to gain traction and attention. We believe in ampliphying teachers’ voices, which have been drowned out and often discounted in our national conversation about education policy and reform. In her essay, Kaplan documents her experiences and observations teaching at a “No excuses” charter school, as compared to other teaching experiences she has had. She poses many questions, including the following:
…what if a necessary component of improving the long-term prospects of small children from disadvantaged backgrounds is not accelerating through childhood, but purposefully lingering in it?
Kaplan’s piece also opens the door for important conversations about race, poverty and education. The following is the comment left by DEY’s Senior Advisor, Nancy Carlsson-Paige:
This is a terrific article that I will share widely. Thanks, Emily, for seeing through the smokescreen of rote learning and chants for success which have just about nothing to do with real learning in the early years. Thanks too for great descriptions of developmentally sound education–the place where kids gain the deep capacities for real success: thinking deeply, solving problems, imagining and creating, inventing, getting along with others, gaining confidence socially and as learners. And thanks to Dienne for naming exactly a problem we white early childhood educators have. We need stronger alliances, more diverse voices and more trust across groups if we are going to give all young kids the best education possible. And Emily, thanks for naming poverty as an obstacle to that goal. We can’t solve it all in the schools.
Please listen to this story from Meghna Chakrabarti which aired on WBUR’s Radio Boston yesterday. On the program DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige explains that “high quality Pre-K is just a buzzword for rigorous instruction of 4-year-olds.” Carlsson-Paige explains what has been happening in early childhood classrooms under recent ed reforms – and what preschool classrooms should look like. We hope you listen and share!
As 2015 draws to a close, we look back on all we have done together to defend play and playful learning in the face of misguided education reform. In 2015 we published three new research-based advocacy reports that have been read and shared widely. We began using short videos to help share our message to a wider audience. We also started translating our work into Spanish. We look forward to more reports, videos and translations in the new year. We could not have done this alone and today, we thank you for being a part of DEY!
In a few weeks DEY turns 4 years old! Today we ask you to help celebrate our accomplishments and our growing coalition with a tax-deductible donation.