Kindergarten is the new . . .

Kindergarten is the new first grade, says an education professor quoted by the Chicago Trib.

Kindergarten is the new second grade, writes Richard Whitmire on Why Boys Fail.

Let’s just say kindergartners are doing more reading, writing and ‘rithmetic than in the past. Some argue children will learn more if they spend more time in free play.

Edward Miller, a senior researcher at the nonprofit Alliance for Childhood, points to a pivotal — and seemingly counterintuitive — German study that found that kids who had attended play-based kindergartens actually did better in reading and math at age 10 than kids who had attended academic kindergartens.

“I think the child’s innate interest in learning things gets suppressed and basically atrophies” in academic kindergarten, Miller said.

“It starts this process of burnout where they don’t learn to love learning and they don’t really enjoy school. School becomes a chore.”

Disadvantaged children need more than playtime, others say.

“If you want children to know how to read, you don’t work on their social skills” in a play-based kindergarten, said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.

“That’s not the most effective way,” Loveless said. “The most effective way is to teach them reading-related cognitive tasks like identifying letters, knowing sounds, basic vocabulary. I think even an advantaged child who attends a play-based kindergarten pays some sort of price because that is a portion of the day that could be going for cognitive development but isn’t.”

According to Loveless, much of the research that supports play-based kindergarten is methodologically “weak,” relying on researchers’ potentially biased impressions (“The children appear more engaged.”) as opposed to more specific observations.

He also questions the idea that play and academics are at odds: “That’s a false dichotomy,” he said. Learning can remain playful, he said, even for kids who attend kindergartens with high academic standards.

A public school teacher in a high-poverty area of Chicago, Lake Bailey says some kindergarten students enjoy learning to read, while others aren’t ready.

A “combination of boys being unready to absorb those skills — and schools failing to adjust teaching methods to help them keep up — is creating the gender gaps we see building in college graduation rates,” Whitmire argues.

Is it impossible to enable children to learn at their own pace?

About Joanne

Comments

  1. tim-10-ber says:

    Joanne — excellent question: “Is it impossible to enable children to learn at their own pace?”

    This is what I am asking…we know boys and girls mature differently…why does education allow kids to progress at their own pace? Faster in some subjects, slower in others, normal pacing in yet others?

    Why is this so complicated? Doesn’t seem like it should be…

  2. Homeschooling Granny says:

    This is an old, old question. Why is it that in education questions never seem to get answered? We never seem to have definitive research that gets broad endorsement. Can it be that adult agendas interfere with our perception of their needs?

    My own answer: Children’s play IS children’s work. Adults can help by listening to children as they play to stay in touch with their needs. Children need plenty of practice listening too. Listening comes before reading. It includes the vocabulary and the content they will use later when the do read. Lots of activities, lots of conversation and lots of stories imparts knowledge, develops curiosity. and doesn’t burn them out.

  3. How can kindergarten be the new second grade when freshman year of college has become remedial high school for so many students? Kids are getting lost somewhere along the way.

    I don’t know, I went to kindergarten back in the early 70s, I remember it as being mostly playtime. Then again, I already knew how to read and add and subtract and stuff like that from my parents teaching me.

  4. I think that the move away from explicit instruction in real phonics to “balanced literacy” is particularly damaging to disadvantaged kids, who enter school with limited verbal skills, and to many other boys, whose verbal skills may lag behind those of girls. The focus on groupwork, as opposed to individual competition, also tends to favor girls.

    As for allowing kids to work at their own pace, by subject, that used to be called ability grouping and is now politically unacceptable because the racial/ethnic distribution of kids is not even across the groups. That the preferred approach of heterogeneous grouping/full inclusion/differentiated instruction basically abandons the struggling (while grading policies mask a lack of learning) and bores the top end of the curve is not discussed.

  5. “On the other side of the issue are researchers who say that play is important, but academics are, too, particularly for disadvantaged kids who may start school far behind their peers.

    “If you want children to know how to read, you don’t work on their social skills” in a play-based kindergarten, said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.

    “That’s not the most effective way,” Loveless said. “The most effective way is to teach them reading-related cognitive tasks like identifying letters, knowing sounds, basic vocabulary. I think even an advantaged child who attends a play-based kindergarten pays some sort of price because that is a portion of the day that could be going for cognitive development but isn’t.”

    It’s very hard to produce data on educational progress when the students are not yet literate. That does NOT mean that one can assume that there’s no “cognitive development” going on. It’s claimed that the German study showed that early academic concentration in Kindergarten did not improve later academic success, rather the opposite. (Does anyone have a link to the study?)

    Are there any studies which show that Kindergartens and preschools intensely focused on reading, writing and arithmetic produce superior middle and high school students? If not, then even an education researcher’s _opinion_ isn’t enough to make up for a lack of evidence.

    We tend to undervalue social skills. A student who can read and write well, but is disruptive in class and has a defiant body language will not flourish in the modern classroom. Much of the academic work in modern middle and high schools calls for an emphasis on group work. The dress ups, circle time, and explicit instruction in expected school behaviors in preschool and kindergarten would seem to be _immediately_ applicable to later instruction.

  6. I’d also like to enquire about the nature and quality of the literacy materials produced for kindergarten use. I read online of kindergartners bringing home an hour of homework a night, and the very thought horrifies me. The canned curricular materials I’ve see have not been all that interesting. They certainly haven’t been as interesting as well-written picture books. I suspect many of them are produced by recent college grads with a list of publisher’s specs.

    I have witnessed the kindergarten experience in my children’s school grow more reading-focused. When my eldest attended, it was a whole-language experience. You were very lucky if the teacher introduced phonics (some did). By the time my third child attended kindergarten (same building), the teachers were assessing each child for their accuracy in linking sound and letter. That is the sort of literacy-focused kindergarten which could increase reading scores for the class at a later date, by making certain that all children are progressing towards reading–and that those who are not making progress get targeted help.

    If a young child’s spoken vocabulary accurately predicts his later reading level, though, there is a real argument to be made to expand children’s knowledge of the world. Playacting and time on a playground, and guided experiences which model the larger world, should be part of a child’s school experience–particularly those children who are most at risk of having an impoverished palette of life experiences.

    If children have not been read to by their parents, cannot read themselves, have never visited a museum, have rarely traveled outside of a small geographical area, spend most of their time in front of a t.v., and are not encouraged to play with peers, what will they have to talk about? What parts of a normal vocabulary will they lack?

  7. Nobody tests for learning at your own pace.

  8. tim-10-ber says:

    Lightly Seasoned — sorry but that is a bunch of bull: nothing but a dumb excuse…

    NR testing should be done at the start of the year, middle and end of the year. These assessments let the teachers know where the students start and how they are progressing. At any point if they demonstrate mastery they can advanced…it is that simple…yet educators don’t get it…because it has never been done that way before…the status quo is broken…let’s do the right thing for the kids…advance them as they are ready…some need a lot less time to master the topic at hand…others for a variety of reasons need much more time to develop a solid foundation necessary to succeed in school…let them have it…

  9. In the meantime, California appears to be changing the minimum age to start kindergarten:
    http://www.smdailyjournal.com/article_preview.php?type=lnews&title=Later%20kindergarten%20start%20for%20state%20kids?&id=140117

    The usual rationale is that younger children can’t keep up with the oldest. But so long as the youngest kindergartners are a full year behind the oldest, won’t this always be the case? Changing the minimum age doesn’t change this fact.

    The only valid rationale I can find is that it would provide a temporary cost savings starting the year that the law goes into effect. Changing the minimum age from 4 year, 9 months to 5 years would reduce kindergarten class size by 25 percent the first year. This reduced-size class would continue through the system for the next 12 years, at which point the savings would end.

    But deferred expenditures are nothing new to Sacramento. I doubt if there is a government agency that doesn’t use this practice to create an illusion of cost reduction.

  10. tim-10-ber: yeah, that’ll fly right up until “they” notice certain racial groups don’t advance as fast as certain other racial groups.

    Testing is NOT about teachers knowing about student progress. Please. It’s about “accountability.” I just saw the results of my group from last April. What am I supposed to do, time travel back? Sure, I can make changes for this year’s group, but that doesn’t help the kids from last year very much — and this year’s batch is different anyway.

    And, FWIW, I’m darn lucky I don’t have to deal with a paced curriculum and I do get to teach responsively (and my students do extremely well). I know it works. Duh. What works and political realities don’t often reconcile.

  11. [i]Why is this so complicated? Doesn’t seem like it should be…[/i]

    It isn’t but if the needs and convenience of the organization are more important then educating the kids then why should the organization bend to the needs of the child? Let the child accommodate the organization because there’s only one school, one school district but the kids just keep on comin’.

    So kids are segregated according to age rather then ability because age segregation is easy and safe whereas ability segregation requires tests that have all sorts of uses besides what the child has learned.

  12. 1. “If you want children to know how to read, you don’t work on their social skills” in a play-based kindergarten, said Tom Loveless

    But if said child has very little in the way of self-regulatory skills, you aren’t going to get very far in teaching reading. It’s not an either-or question.

    The “Tools of the Mind” curriculum has been in use for about 10 years. It’s social skills that seem to have other academic effects.

    2. With reading comes writing — inevitably, it seems, or is it? And are children at 60 months physiologically ready to hold a pencil properly and do the very fine motor skills involved in accurately reproducing letter forms? Are they getting enough direct instruction and effective practice? (Ans.: I suspect some children, especially those who have had enough time in fine-motor play, are ready, but more aren’t. So the children are being set up for failure.)