The letter of the day is “S”... as in Standards.
The cute, catchy segments of Sesame Street's letter of the day no longer provide an adequate foundation for early childhood learning. The rigor demanded by the Common Core State Standards now extends to Pre-Kindergarten and even to infancy.
“Life long learners” has long been the mantra of adult education. But a new century and a new approach to education brings a new focus on beginnings. Early Childhood Learning has superseded Adult Education as a primary focus of life long learning. The Race to the Top and the government monies tied to effective Pre-K curriculum have further contributed to the educational epiphany that College and Career Readiness commences long before Commencement.
One of the key components in the approach to Common Core State Standards is vertical alignment. Vertical alignment provides a flow of teaching and learning from one grade to another. Content is planned across the grade levels in such a manner that teachers can build upon the previous year's lessons, thus decreasing repetition and making it easier to create authentic assessments based on mastery of skills and content. For students, a vertically aligned curriculum provides a logical scaffolding which leads to building upon knowledge from one year to the next. That is how administrators discuss the pedagogical aspects of vertical alignment.
Here's how a high school teacher might refer to vertical alignment: “Don't those middle school teachers teach ANYthing?”
And a middle school teacher: “Didn't they learn ANYthing in elementary school?”
And an elementary school teacher: “ They should have learned this in kindergarten.”
And the kindergarten teacher: “That should have been taught in pre-K.”
And finally, the pre-K teacher: “Those parents do nothing with these children at home.”
Whether one is observing pedagogically from the planning room of the educational hierarchy or pragmatically from the front lines of the classrooms, it is obvious that there is a real need for a fluent continuity between the grade levels. From my experiences both as an administrator and as a teacher in a multi-school district, I can attest to the fact that developing this continuity among all schools is not an easy task. Fortunately, the new Pre-K guidelines for standards afford an opportunity to use a bottom-up approach and educators have a chance to develop vertical alignment from a child's first encounters with learning.
With all reform, comes criticism. And with all criticism comes misinformation. I had a strong aversion to entities outside my classroom telling me what to teach. After I finally relented and took the time to align my lessons, I found that the standards simply helped me organize what I was already teaching, which, in fact, made me a better teacher (a striking admission from someone who had been teaching for a couple decades). And so it goes for Pre-K standards. Criticisms from many teachers and parents and educators have insisted that outside entities are controlling our students' minds and taking away freedom and creativity of thought and eliminating (gasp!) playtime. However, a quick look at the Early Learning Essential Domains for school readiness required by the Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge Grant applicants demonstrates that in fact, good pre-K curriculum is already providing instruction in these domains - and if they are not, they should be.
- Social & Emotional Development
- Physical Well being & Motor Development
- Approaches Toward Learning
- Language & Literacy Development
- Cognition & General Knowledge
These domains reflect the research based domains of Bloom's Taxonomy which, for over 50 years, has been proven successful in teaching, learning, and assessing students' knowledge. If one strips away the academic jargon, what's left is a solid and logical foundation for early childhood learning: Getting along with others and developing personal social skills; Taking care of one's body and staying healthy; Instilling a desire to learn; Learning letters and words; figuring out the logical structures in the world around the student. Shocking !!
Children naturally exist in these domains. The Early Learning & Developmental Standards simply provide the structure upon which the Pre-K teachers and students can organize and measure their progress.
The chain of vertical alignment of formal education begins in Pre-K, as we prepare our children for Common Core Kindergarten. If implemented with good curriculum and adherence to standards, when a student reaches 12th grade, there will be praise from the high school teacher to the middle school teacher, to the elementary school teacher, to the kindergarten teacher, to the pre-k teacher, to the parent.
And we can all meet at the pub and lift our glasses as we say, “bottoms up!”
The Fab Formatives is happy to welcome back Phyllis Magold, for this first entry in a series which examines some of the issues that parents, students, and educators face at the forefront of implementing high quality early learning.