Bob Greenberg of Brainwaves Productions has interviewed many thought leaders in education: Noam Chomsky, Diane Ravitch, Sir Ken Robinson, Linda Darling-Hammond, and more. This week he gave Nancy Carlsson-Paige the opportunity to add an early childhood perspective to these voices. Her talk is titled “Defending Play” and is available on YouTube. “Play is at the root of learning, ” Nancy explains. However…
“In this era of focus on testing and accountability, and emphasis on standards, we’ve seen this increasing pressure in the early grades in elementary schools, kindergartens and even preschools to get children up to speed to learn specific skills and sub skills that are identified by standards. This has led to much more teacher-led instruction and much less play in school and there is a dramatic disappearance of play across the country.”
Today’s blog post is written by a guest – Phyllis Doerr – a kindergarten teacher from South Orange, NJ. The original article was published in her local paper on July 2, 2015. We publish this updated version here with Doerr’s permission.
Testing in K: too much, too soon
Point of View
By Phyllis Doerr
As we wind down a year of tremendous controversy in the realm of education in the United States, I thought I would share some of my input given in January to a New Jersey Board of Education panel on testing led by Education Commissioner David Hespe.
As a kindergarten teacher, I find the trend to bring more testing into kindergarten not only alarming, but counter-productive and even harmful.
In the kindergarten at my school, we do not administer standardized tests; however, hours of testing are included in our math and language arts curriculum. In order to paint a realistic picture of the stress, damaging effects and colossal waste of time caused by testing in kindergarten, allow me to bring you to my classroom for our first test prep session in late September for 5-year-old children.
The test for which I was preparing my students was vocabulary. I say a word that we had learned in our “nursery rhyme” unit. Then, I read a sentence containing that word. If the sentence made sense, using the word correctly, the student would circle the smiley face. If the word were used incorrectly, they would circle the frown. This task requires abstract thinking, a skill that kindergartners have not yet developed — a foundational problem for this type of test.
My first sample vocabulary challenge as we began our practice test was the word “market,” from the nursery rhyme “To Market, To Market.” After explaining the setup of the test, I begin. “The word is market,” I announced. “Who can tell me what a market is?” One boy answered, “I like oranges.” “Okay, Luke is on the right track. Who can add to that?” “I like apples. I get them at the store.” We’re moving in, closer and closer. A third child says, “It’s where you go and get lots of things.” Yes! What kinds of things? “Different stuff.” Another student chimes in: “We can get oranges and apples and lots of other types of food at the market.” “Excellent! Everyone understands market?” A few nod.
“Now, I will give you a sentence with the word ‘market’ in it. If the sentence makes sense, you will circle the smiley face, but if it is a silly sentence and doesn’t make sense, you circle the frown.” A hand goes up. “Mrs. Doerr, what’s a frown?” I explain what a frown is.
Next, I read the sentence: “‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ Now, does that sentence make sense?”
The students who are not twisting around backward in their chairs or staring at a thread they’ve picked off their uniforms nod their heads. “Please, class, listen carefully. I’ll tell you the sentence again: ‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ That makes sense? Remember we said a market is where we shop for food.”
A hand goes up. Terrell says, “I like soccer.” “Okay, Terrell, that’s great! But did I use the word ‘market’ correctly in that sentence?” “I don’t know.”
Another hand. “Yes? Ariana? What do you think?” “My dad took me to a soccer game! He plays soccer!” “Thank you for sharing that, Ariana.” The students picked up on something from the sentence and made what seems to be, but is not, a random connection. “Girls and boys, look at me and listen. I want you to really think about this. Would you go to a market and play basketball?” At this point everyone seemed to wake up. Finally! I was getting somewhere! “YES!” they cried out in unison.
Of course! It would be a total blast to play basketball in the market!
So here we find another huge problem with this vocabulary test: a 5-year-old’s imagination. A statement that uses a word incorrectly sounds OK to a child whose imagination is not limited by reality. It is the same reason Santa and the Tooth Fairy are so real to kindergartners — unencumbered imagination.
After explaining why we might not play basketball in the market, I called on a volunteer to come up and circle the frowning face. She went straight to number 3 on my giant test replica, skipping 1 and 2, and circled the frown. Why? She’s 5 and has never seen anything like this. Give the same student a floor puzzle of ocean life and she and her friend will knock it out in 10 minutes, strategizing, problem-solving and taking turns with intense concentration.
The rest of my “test prep” for the 5-year-olds went about the same.
Then came the real thing. As testing must be done in small groups since the children cannot read instructions and need assistance every step of way, I split the class into two or more groups to test.
The results of the administration of the test on the first group were mixed. Despite being the higher level students, their very first test was definitely not an easy task. Instructions for anything new in kindergarten are painstaking, but for a developmentally inappropriate task, it is nearly impossible. For example, making sure my little test-takers have found their place on the page requires constant teacher supervision. I cannot just say, “Number 2” and read the question. I must say, “Put your finger on the number 2.” Then I repeat, “Your finger should be on number 2.” Then repeat it. And repeat again, since some have difficulty identifying numbers 1 through 10. “Let me see your pencil ON number 2. No, Justin, not on number 3. On number 2.” I walk around and make sure that each child is on the right number – or on a number at all. If you’re not watchful as a kindergarten teacher, it is common to have a 5-year-old just sit there, and do nothing test-related — just look around, or think, or doodle.
Next, I tested a second group. During testing, I walked around to see that a few students had nothing written on their papers, one had circled every face — regardless of expression — on the whole page, another just circled all the smileys and one, a very bright little girl, had her head down on her arms. I tapped her and said, “Come on, you need to circle one of the faces for number 5.” She lifted her head and looked up at me. Tears streamed down her face. I crouched down next to her. “What’s wrong, honey?” “Mrs. Doerr, I’m tired,” she cried. “I want my mommy.” It was a moment I will never forget. I took her test and said, “Would you like a nice comfy pillow so you can take a rest?” She nodded. I exchanged her paper for a pillow.
So this is kindergarten.
We force children to take tests that their brains cannot grasp.
We ignore research that proves that children who are 5-6 learn best experientially.
We rob them of precious free play that teaches them how to be good citizens, good friends and good thinkers.
We waste precious teaching and learning time that could be spent experientially learning the foundations of math, reading and writing, as well as valuable lessons in social studies, science and health.
I support and enjoy teaching much of our math and language arts curriculum. Teaching vocabulary is a valuable practice. However, I contend that testing in these areas at this age is not only meaningless, since it does not accurately measure a child’s academic ability, but it is actually counter-productive and even damaging.
Further, I contend that my students are no further along at the end of the year than they would be if we eliminated most of the testing. In fact, they might be further along if we eliminated testing because of the time we could spend engaging in meaningful teaching and learning. Finally, I believe that a child’s first experience with formal education should be fun and exciting, and give them confidence to look forward to their education, not full of stress and fear because they did not measure up.
Parents and educators must speak out against harmful trends in education so that they can be reversed immediately.
Phyllis Doerr of South Orange is a kindergarten teacher.
In the wake of the Common Core academic push down on America’s kindergartners, a new report by Lilian G. Katz argues that excessive and early formal instruction can be damaging to our youngest children in the long term. Today, Defending the Early Years is proud to release Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children.
Author Lillian G. Katz, Professor Emerita of Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois, argues that the common sense notion that “earlier is better” is not supported by longitudinal studies of the effects of different kinds of preschool curriculum models. Furthermore, her report maintains that a narrow academic curriculum does not recognize the innate inquisitiveness of young children and ultimately fails to address the way they learn.
“Young children enter the classroom with lively minds–with innate intellectual dispositions toward making sense of their own experience, toward reasoning, predicting, analyzing, questioning and learning,” says Dr. Katz.
“But in our attempt to quantify and verify children’s learning, we impose premature formal instruction on kids at the expense of cultivating their true intellectual capabilities – and ultimately their optimal learning.”
While the report concludes that an appropriate curriculum for young children is one that focuses on supporting children’s in-born intellectual dispositions, some basic academic instruction in early years is needed. “Academic skills become necessary for students to understand and report on their own authentic investigations,” explains Katz. “These skills can then serve as a means to the greater end of fostering and advancing children’s intellectual capabilities.”
Watch and share this video about this new report!
Download and read the full report here: Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children
Help us spread the word about the importance of intellectual pursuits for young children using social media!
#CCSS replaces wonder with worksheets, investigation with memorization. Preserve the lively minds of children! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM
Premature academic instruction comes at a cost for youngest students @dey_project https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM #2much2soon
Earlier is not better. The lively minds of children are dulled by mindless bubble filling @dey_project #2much2soon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM
We are rethinking academic vs. intellectual goals. Earlier is not always better. @dey_project #2much2soon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM
Today’s post is written by DEY’s Senior Adviser Nancy Carlsson-Paige. She just posted the comment below on Diane Ravitch’s blog, to help clarify our message in the report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Much to Lose and Little to Gain.
When we issued our report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten, we had a concern that our main message might be misunderstood. That message is that research does not support the Common Core requirement that all children must read with purpose and understanding by the end of the kindergarten year. But we did not want this message to be interpreted to mean that children should just play in kindergarten and that maturity would take care of skill development. We want to make clear that we do support providing children with an excellent, intentional early literacy curriculum. For this reason, we included two sections in our report that specifically describe what such a curriculum should look like. However, it seems, based on the blog comments by Bill Honig, that the full message of our report has been misunderstood, despite our efforts.
First and most important, Mr. Honig states that we should teach foundation skills for reading in kindergarten and we entirely agree. But building foundation skills and expecting children to read with purpose and understanding are not the same thing.
Children build a strong base for learning to read and write in kindergarten through the many activities good teachers present. In addition to oral language experiences such as story telling and story acting, and opportunities for using symbols with a variety of materials, teachers provide myriad opportunities for specifically engaging children with print. Teachers read big books, poems and charts using pointers and props that isolate letters. Children are encouraged every day to draw and write with invented and conventional spellings. Teachers take dictation from children and help them write their own stories. In organic and meaningful ways, teachers use print throughout the day to label block structures, cubbies, and interest areas, write recipes, and transcribe the children’s stories. They make charts for attendance and classroom jobs and review these daily with children. Teachers understand the developmental progressions in early reading and writing and encourage skill development based on each child’s level of mastery. This ensures that the skills children learn develop a solid and meaningful foundation for making sense of print.
The Common Core standard requiring children to read in kindergarten has resulted in an erosion of excellent early literacy experiences such as those just described. Many kindergarten teachers are now resorting to inappropriate didactic methods of instruction in order to meet the requirement of this Common Core standard. Every contributor to the discussion on this blog shares the same goal: to ensure that every young child learn to read and achieve success in school. Our grave concern is that the Common Core standards for kindergarten are harming and not helping us reach this goal.
Today, in conjunction with the Alliance for Childhood, we are thrilled to release our new report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose. In the report we concluded that Common Core reading requirements for kindergarten are inappropriate and not well-grounded in research. Under Common Core, students are expected to be able to read before entering first grade.
The report maintains that the pressure of implementing the reading standard is leading many kindergarten teachers to resort to inappropriate drilling on specific skills and excessive testing. Teacher-led instruction in kindergartens has almost entirely replaced the active, play-based experiential learning that children need based on decades of research in cognitive and developmental psychology and neuroscience.
In an effort to shift back to a developmentally appropriate, child-centered curriculum, Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood call for the withdrawal of the kindergarten standards from the Common Core so they can be rethought along developmental lines.
Please check out our video for more information!
Follow on Twitter and join the movement: @DEY_Project @4Childhood #2Much2Soon
Help us spread the word via social media. Here are some sample tweets:
1) #EarlyEd experts @dey_project @4childhood conclude #CCSS Kinder reading requirement is #2much2soon http://youtu.be/DVVln1WMz0g
2) Why @dey_project @4childhood call for withdrawal of kinder standards from #CCSS http://wp.me/p2bgV6-gl