Real Learning and Not-Real Learning in Kindergarten

In a prior blog post, I wrote about real learning and not-real learning in high school English classes. In writing about real learning and not-real learning in kindergarten classes, I found the intellectual processes for both age groups to be remarkably the same. Children in kindergarten and adolescents in high school are either asked to construct their own knowledge and create their own personal meaning or they are not. When either five years olds or fifteen years olds construct their own knowledge and create personal meaning, they are engaged in real learning. When they are told information and expected to remember it, they are recipients of not-real learning.

Here are two checklists you can take with you when you visit a kindergarten class of your child or of another child you love:

CHECKLIST FOR REAL LEARNING IN KINDERGARTEN

Children are active, involved participants in the classroom community. Children are encouraged to ask their own questions and explore possible answers. They are taught, through their play, to problem-solve, to think divergently and innovatively, to broaden and deepen their thinking by being in conversation with others, and, most of all, to learn how to learn as new situations and problems present themselves. Children create personal meaning and construct their own knowledge from meaning-making, interactive activities.

 If you can check all of the following boxes, this classroom is a good place for young children to grow and learn.

☐ Children are engaging in hands-on learning experiences.

☐ Children are learning through their play.

☐ Children are surrounded by and immersed in rich literature.

☐ Children are learning through activities and projects with others.

☐ Children are demonstrating social and emotional capabilities.

☐ Children are questioning, exploring, and following-through on their curiosity.

☐ Children are asked to stretch their imagination.

☐ Children figuring things out and drawing conclusions.

☐ Children are deeply involved in activities they find relevant to them.

☐ Children are using skills of literacy and numeracy in authentic learning experiences.

☐ Children are wondering about lots of things.

☐ Children are taught to persist in their learning challenges.

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CHECKLIST FOR NOT-REAL LEARNING IN KINDERGARTEN

The teacher conveys information to the children. Children answer the teacher’s questions. Children work by themselves and demonstrate individual mastery of specific skills. All the children in the class are expected to learn the same content and skills in the same way at the same time. Children are not asked to create their own personal meaning or construct their own knowledge.

If you check all of the following boxes, children in this class will need other kinds of learning experiences in order to grow as learners and thinkers.

☐ Children are practicing discrete literacy and numeracy skills with worksheets.

☐ Teachers are asking children questions for which the teacher has the answer.

☐ All of the children are being given reading instruction with the expectation that all of them will read by the end of kindergarten.

☐ Children are working individually to master skills.

☐ Children are listening to the teacher and gaining information.

☐ Children are having more “seat-time” than active, hands-on learning.

☐ Developing children’s social and emotional skills is limited or absent from the curriculum.

☐ College and career readiness is the purpose of instruction and the focus of the curriculum.

Common Core Squashes Early Learning

On April 25, 2015 at Network for Public Education Conference in Chicago, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, professor emerita of early childhood education at Lesley University, spoke passionately about the need for real learning for young children. She is co-founder of Defending the Early Years (www.DEYProject.org), which is an organization dedicated to promoting vibrant and healthy education for young children.

She said that love of learning is being squashed in young children due to current practices in many schools. In those schools, teachers are pressured by the demands of the Common Core State Standards to help four and five year old children to be “college and career ready” instead of engaging these young children in learning experiences which develop their minds and foster their love of learning.

Professor Carlsson-Paige is one of 500 early childhood educators who have authored a position statement entitled ” The Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative” (here) in opposition to the Common Core because they believe that those standards will harm young children. A mother in the audience at the conference spoke for many others in attendance when she said: “My kindergartener is NOT college and career ready because…….he is a child.”

In ” The Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative”, the most notable professionals in the country in the fields of child development objected to the Common Core State Standards because:

  • The didactic instruction the Common Core mandates is antithetical to how children learn.
  • The Common Core leads to inappropriate and unreliable standardized testing of young children.
  • The Common Core content crowds out other important areas of learning for young children.
  • There is little evidence that Common Core standards for young children lead to  later success in literacy and numeracy.

This four-minute video defines real learning as Professor Carlsson-Paige and the other signers of the statement against the Common Core standards  for young children define it. If you are not able to view the video here, you can access it at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM%5B/

You also may want to read the fuller definition of real learning for young children that is on the DEY website (here).

An Invitation to Connecticut Educators

There is a lot of conversation about public education going on.

Politicians are talking about the Common Core in regard to federal vs. local control. Billionaires with no understanding of child or adolescent development are mandating what education should look like in every grade from kindergarten through high school graduation. Testing companies are dictating that what is taught is limited to what they know how to test. Entrepreneurs are saying that schools should be enterprises from which they make a profit. Journalists are writing about the worth of standards they have never read. State legislators require students to take tests which determine promotions and graduations although no one has any idea if those tests measure what it takes to be successful in higher education or the workplace. The chief writer of the English language arts standards tells teachers exactly how to teach although he has never taught himself and is shockingly unfamiliar with good pedagogy. Proponents of the standards claim that the standards are evidence-based and internationally benchmarked although they are neither.

All in all, the ongoing conversation is dominated by a combination of those who have not read the standards, those who have never taught, and those who have little or no knowledge of child development, including how children and teenagers learn.

The Common Core and the accompanying tests are not receiving the scrutiny they deserve so implementation marches on. As a result, students do not experience the passion for learning, the engagement with ideas, or the substantive content to which they have a right.

It’s time for public school educators to reclaim the conversation so that Connecticut’s students receive the education they need. In Connecticut, we have innumerable educators who are experts in their academic disciplines and practice effective pedagogy. We have many excellent teachers and administrators who mentor inexperienced teachers and administrators. We have renowned educators in both our public K-12 schools and at our universities who are experts in child and adolescent development and who know how to shape instruction that fits that development. We have many accomplished administrators who know how to create collaborative school environments in which both students and teachers grow and learn. We have an untold number of teachers in our public schools who know how to inspire students to be critical thinkers, pose pivotal questions, read thoughtfully, communicate effectively, construct individual meaning by interacting with other thinkers, and gain the skills of learning how to learn. We have educators in Connecticut who prepare our children for the future instead of equipping them for the past as Common Core does.

If we educators start talking about what we know, perhaps the public, the politicians, and the journalists will listen and give the Common Core and the accompanying testing the scrutiny they warrant. Our conversation, however, will not deter corporate “reformers” and test makers because their interest is in making a profit off our children, not in the quality of their education.

This blog provides a space for educators to talk to one another and to the public about what real learning is and how excellence can be provided for all Connecticut students. If we educators share with one another what we know from our teaching, from our research, and from what we have learned from our students, there will be no stopping us, no stopping what we can do for Connecticut’s students.

Let’s aim big. Let’s make real learning available to all Connecticut’s students. Let’s join with other educators across the nation as two University of Arkansas professors of education, Jason L. Endacott and Christian Z. Goering (read here), rally us together with this summons:

Let’s take back the story on education by any nonviolent means necessary… Just when it seems that all of the money and all the of the influence is stacked up against us, we can absolutely recapture our schools for the sake of our children. Stand together and say it: Our children aren’t products, aren’t numbers, and aren’t for sale.

Let’s start talking on this blog. Let’s explore key questions and highlight current issues. I invite you to offer your own posts – posts you write yourself or articles, photos, or videos you find provocative. I urge you to take the surveys and comment on the postings. I especially ask you to submit descriptions of a moment or activity or unit of study from your classroom that demonstrates real learning.

We will then do more than reclaim the conversation about education. We will shape that conversation. We will elevate that conversation. We will focus that conversation. At last, the conversation will be about what we know best and what students need most: real learning.

Here are some conversation starters for you:

What is real learning?
How can all of Connecticut’s students have real learning opportunities?
What is the content or the substance of the Common Core standards?
How are the Common Core standards related or not related to real learning?
What do we know from research and from our experience as teachers about the cognitive development of children and adolescents?
How do we engage students as learners and thinkers?
How can we, as the state with the largest achievement gap, close that gap?
How can we, as a state, promote equity?
Do the SBAC tests measure real learning?
How do we best prepare students for their future?
What do you think? Let the conversation begin…