Kindergarten, play and standards

Teachers are blaming new standards for taking the joy out of kindergarten, writes Deborah Kenny, a charter school founder in New York City, in the Washington PostKindergartners should learn by playing, she writes. But she thinks the standards are getting a bum rap.

Last year, as Harlem Village Academies prepared to open new elementary schools , our principals visited dozens of kindergarten classrooms. The upper-income schools focused mostly on active play, interesting discussions and crafts, including papier-mache projects that delighted children for hours. In the lower-income schools we saw regimented academics, reward-and-punishment behavior systems and top-down instruction. In one South Bronx classroom, the only time children spoke during the course of three hours was to repeat drills of the sounds of letters over and over.

Why the disparity? Many educators are placing the blame squarely on the Common Core — national learning standards recently adopted by 45 states and the District and supported by the Obama administration — and asserting that they lead to poor-quality teaching and take all the joy out of kindergarten.

The standards’ goals —  “teach students to think independently, grapple with difficult texts, solve problems and explain their thinking in a clear and compelling way” — are noble, Kenny writes. That can be done well or badly.

Take vocabulary, for example. The Common Core standards state that kindergarten students should be able to “distinguish shades of meaning among verbs that describe some general action (e.g., walk, march, strut, prance) by acting out the meanings.” Imagine a classroom full of 5-year-olds marching, strutting, walking and prancing for 10 minutes to different kinds of music while laughing and learning vocabulary. . . . So while some schools might choose to teach vocabulary in a rote, boring way, clearly the standards are not to blame.

Teaching to the new standards demands more of teachers, Kenny writes. Principals need to hire good teachers and then let them learn from each other, try different strategies, learn from mistakes and improve. Principals also need the power to fire teachers who aren’t up to the job.

Via Eduwonk.

This anti-CCSS math blog critiques the standards’ call for kindergartners to “decompose” numbers.

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  1. My son went to a church preschool a few mornings/week. One year he had a teacher who had worked as a K teacher, and she (without the knowledge of the director) had behavior charts, homework, etc. I hadn’t realized how frazzled my kid was until she moved and he got a new teacher. Suddenly he was much calmer and happier. But, the preceding year when he was 3, his teacher had managed to teach the kids to spell their colors using songs and posters on the wall, with no stress at all. I’ve also seen a music teacher teach kids to recognize basic rhythm patterns while playing musical chairs, where the ‘chairs’ were cards with rhythms written on them.

    I teach hs/college students, so until I started homeschooling I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to what the little ones need. I find that my kids can do some fairly intense sit-in-a-chair and workbook work in K, but only if its interspersed with lots of physical activity or play time. Some lessons we learn while playing, and others involve alternating work with play. I can’t imagine not talking or playing for 3 hours at that age.

  2. You hit it on the head. It has to come down to the teachers finding ways to meet all of the kids needs.

    Oh, and schools allowing them to do it.

  3. Jennie Markowicz says:

    As a 4th grade teacher in a low-income public school, I believe that the Common Core standards can and do bind us in many ways. Our curriculum is strongly geared toward the state’s standardized tests, and we are required to make those tests our main focus for the first 7 months of the school year. That being said, it definitely is possible to make the Common Core exciting and more engaging for students. Our Common Core had us doing Informational Texts with the students for pretty much the first 3-4 months of school, and it was getting boring for the students because before this C.C., their weekly stories were well-balanced and mixed. However, the other 4th grade teacher and I brainstormed and thought of ways to make it more engaging and get the students involved. For example, instead of just reading a passage about Harriet Tubman, we also made it into a Reader’s Theater play, costumes and all. The students learned much more about Harriet Tubman than they would have if we just read the passage. So even though I am NOT a fan of the Common Core, I do believe there are many things teachers can do to involve students and make their instruction more engaging.