Saturday, February 11, 2012

Kindergarten Has Changed

Here's an article I ran across that caught my eye. I have an up and coming kindergartener who has to start a year later due to his birthday which is a few weeks after school starts.  In Arizona he could have started as long as his birthday is by Christmas but here in Utah, it has to be by the first day of school.  It's frustrating because he is ready now. I think kinder can definitely use some reform.  I was interested also in this article of what they called "Preppie Kindergarten."

There was a study done by "92 examiners conducted 40-minute one-on-one assessments with 1,287 children ages 3–6 at 56 public and private schools in 23 states." Here are more excerpts I found interesting.

Kids Haven’t Changed; Kindergarten Has

Laura Pappano, Harvard Education LetterSeptember/October 2010

Volume 26, Number 5
September/October 2010

"...Although the study shows children have the same developmental schedule they always have, Jerlean E. Daniel, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, says findings in recent years about the value of one-on-one conversations to early literacy, and music and patterns to math concepts, have added to the understanding of how children develop cognitively. Nonetheless, says Daniel, kindergarten has become more rigid and pressured. “Above all, young children need time—time to manipulate objects and ideas, time to make the information their own,” says Daniel. The Gesell study, she says, “is a resource to people who want to find greater balance in kindergarten.”

What’s tricky, says Guddemi, is that children can be trained to perform tasks (called “splinter skills”), such as writing names or counting. But just because “April” can pen her name doesn’t mean she can perceive letters with oblique angles. “You can train them, but the knowledge and understanding—the true learning—has not happened,” she says. “Our country has this hang up that if the child can perform, that they know.”

Guddemi worries that many kindergarteners are facing work inappropriate to their developmental abilities. For example, Gesell study results, compiled by the non-profit Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) in Denver, CO, show that children at age 4 1/2 know and recognize 12 letters (no letter is more popular than another). For a child on the younger side in kindergarten, Guddemi says, the mismatch is jarring: “Day One they are going to be hit with the [entire] alphabet.” Drilling students on the alphabet is a much different strategy for increasing literacy skills than exposing students to vocabulary-rich conversations, she says. (See “Small Kids, Big Words ,” Harvard Education Letter, May/June 2008.) 

The perception that “more input is always better,” may be misguided, agrees David Daniel, psychology professor at James Madison University and managing editor of the journalMind, Brain, and Education. “The four-year-old has a four-year-old brain and a six-year-old has a six-year-old brain. There are certain things connecting in a six-year-old brain that are still being worked on in the four-year-old brain,” he says. Serious academics in kindergarten? “They can be teaching it,” says Daniel, “but the question is: Is the child learning it?”

The New Kindergarten
Elise Goodhue’s kindergarten classroom at the Fair Haven School in New Haven, Conn., does not have lofts or pillows. Children sit at tables; print is everywhere. A fourth year teacher, Goodhue says her classroom is different from the one she attended as a student in 1988. “When I was in kindergarten, I had the drama center and the sand table,” she says. “Now it’s a lot more instruction.”

While Goodhue says some are not ready—one child a few years ago regularly slept through the afternoons—she doesn’t see a choice. “To meet the expectations for first grade, kindergarten has to be like this,” she says, explaining that, among other skills, students entering first grade must be able to speak and write in complete sentences, read independently, and be able to retell and comprehend what they read. There is much to accomplish, but Goodhue includes physical breaks, at one point gathering students on the rug for the “Months-of-the-Year Macarena.” 

After dancing, children have a writer’s workshop assignment: Write a one-sentence story about yourself and a special person. Briana, age 6, forms petite letters in upper and lower case, marching them across the top of the page. Her invented spelling needs translation, but she nails the assignment, writing: “I played with my sister and my cousin.”

...“This is not the 1950s,” says D’Amore, who sees nothing wrong with pencil-and-paper work in kindergarten. “The thing with the costumes and the playing was the interaction and oral language. You can walk around; they are talking to each other. The whole point is that it just looks different.”

Laura Pappano is a writer-in-residence at Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and a frequent contributor to the Harvard Education Letter.  She is the author ofInside School Turnarounds; Urgent Hopes, Unfolding Storiesto be published in November 2010 by Harvard Education Press.

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