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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Talking about Kindergarten-12 (that's age 12)

We had a thread about pay for K that got into an interesting discussion about the length of day for a kindergarten and then, what they should be doing in that day.

I think one of the issues is that the role of kindergarten has evolved. We started having longer days (because parents either thought their child should be learning more and/or wanted to have someplace for them to be while the parents were at work). But I'm not sure that evolution had a huge discussion following it.

Another issue, that I vividly remember from my own experience with putting my sons into kindergarten is the wide range of abilities coming in the door. You had kids who could already read and you had kids that couldn't name colors. For a kindergarten teacher, that's a huge range of ability that he or she is supposed to bridge. Some of the kids have been in daycare/pre-school where it may have been babysitting or it may have gone from child care to introduction of ideas/concepts.

So along comes this opinion piece in the NY Times on Tuesday called Playing to Learn by Susan Engel, a senior lecturer in psychology and director of the teaching program at Williams College. Here's her premise:

"Our current educational approach — and the testing that is driving it — is completely at odds with what scientists understand about how children develop during the elementary school years and has led to a curriculum that is strangling children and teachers alike.

In order to design a curriculum that teaches what truly matters, educators should remember a basic precept of modern developmental science: developmental precursors don’t always resemble the skill to which they are leading. For example, saying the alphabet does not particularly help children learn to read. But having extended and complex conversations during toddlerhood does. Simply put, what children need to do in elementary school is not to cram for high school or college, but to develop ways of thinking and behaving that will lead to valuable knowledge and skills later on."

I totally agree. I think a lot of parents dislike the idea that their child will be "taught" anything in kindergarten (although we are way past the days when kindergarten was just socialization and an introduction to the school day). I think it's more nuanced than that and I get this from my sons going to Montessori. It's much more of exposing them to many kinds of interests, talking about those interests and then allowing the kids to explore them. The talking is focus and the key is having a conversation.

"Along the way, teachers should spend time each day having sustained conversations with small groups of children. Such conversations give children a chance to support their views with evidence, change their minds and use questions as a way to learn more."

"So what should children be able to do by age 12, or the time they leave elementary school? They should be able to read a chapter book, write a story and a compelling essay; know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers; detect patterns in complex phenomena; use evidence to support an opinion; be part of a group of people who are not their family; and engage in an exchange of ideas in conversation. If all elementary school students mastered these abilities, they would be prepared to learn almost anything in high school and college."

What I see kindergarten as is what Ms. Engel puts forth as a best way of learning:

"Research has shown unequivocally that children learn best when they are interested in the material or activity they are learning. Play — from building contraptions to enacting stories to inventing games — can allow children to satisfy their curiosity about the things that interest them in their own way."

"A classroom like this would provide lots of time for children to learn to collaborate with one another, a skill easily as important as math or reading. It takes time and guidance to learn how to get along, to listen to one another and to cooperate. These skills cannot be picked up casually at the corners of the day."

4 comments:

MathTeacher42 said...

yabbut ... the points seem reasonable ... and the next logical step in these points is that kids don't memorize the times tables or the alphabet ...

and at 5th grade
and at 7th grade
and at 9th grade

... they've got what basic skills to build upon to do which complex, interesting things?

How are 6++ billion people going to get a roof over their heads made outta biodegradable ... tofu?, or shoes made outta biodegradable ... bean sprouts? or sewage systems or clean water or health care or toothbrushes or shoelaces or dental care or enough corn to eat or enough rice to eat or granny care or offspring care ...

when we're all ...exploring our inner child in mom's basement till we're 47?

Oh, and, by the way ... how much time per adult per day does it take to implement her ideas, and how much does it cost to hire those adults?

B.M.

mb said...

my daughter is in montessori too and i agree completely. & that's why i do not want her to attend public K (i think it will be a step backwards). i was so hopeful for a while that QA elementary was going to be montessori (doesn't look like that's going to happen), now we'll just stay at the private montessori school she's been attending for the last couple years. i was such an advocate for montessori in QA because i think montessori is great for all kids. i liked this...

"So what should children be able to do by age 12, or the time they leave elementary school? They should be able to read a chapter book, write a story and a compelling essay; know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers; detect patterns in complex phenomena; use evidence to support an opinion; be part of a group of people who are not their family; and engage in an exchange of ideas in conversation. If all elementary school students mastered these abilities, they would be prepared to learn almost anything in high school and college."

after a couple years in montessori i can see that lots on this list are already checked off, with more happening in the next few years....no need to wait until age 12.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm not sure you read the article? She talks about her premise in conjunction with teaching basics. She didn't say sit around and talk all day.

Chris S. said...

The paragraph: "So what should children be able to do by age 12..."

THATS what standards should look like. It's not so hard, and it's not a list of books, a textbook, or a "curriculum."