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Posts Tagged ‘kindergarten’

I’ve read before about inventive approaches to teaching math — and my daughter-in-law, who coaches teachers of math, probably knows most of them. But recently, the Washington Post examined a new method, one that uses dance.

Reporter Moriah Balingit described observing a kindergarten game that “actually was a serious math lesson about big and small and non-standard measurements. Dreamed up by [drama teacher Melissa] Richardson and kindergarten teacher Carol Hunt, it aims to get the children to think of animal steps as units of measurement, using them to mark how many it takes each animal to get from a starting line to the target.

“[Today] teachers are using dance, drama and the visual arts to teach a variety of academic subjects in a more engaging way. …

“The Wolf Trap Institute, based at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, brought Richardson to Westlawn Elementary through a program that pairs art teachers with early-childhood educators to formulate math lessons. The program also provides professional development to teachers.

“And the program appears to have been effective: A study by the American Institutes for Research found that students in classes headed by Wolf Trap-trained teachers performed better on math assessments than did their peers being taught by teachers who were not in the program. …

“Researcher Mengli Song said the students in the program did not necessarily learn additional math content but they did demonstrate a better grasp of the material. And the effect was comparable to other early-childhood interventions. …

“Jennifer Cooper, director of the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, said arts integration — particularly lessons where children get to move and play — is a good way to reach a lot of children who struggle with traditional book lessons.

“ ‘By embodying a concept . . . and putting it through your body in a multi-sensory way, you’re going to reach a lot of different kinds of learners,’ Cooper said.”

Read more at the Washington Post, here.

Photo: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post
Teaching artist Melissa Richardson, right, from the Wolf Trap Institute, watches her kindergarten students at Westlawn Elementary School take large bear steps during a math lesson in Falls Church, Va.

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I read this NY Times article with relief. It seems that educators are returning to (or perhaps being heard about) the importance of play in learning.

Reporter Motoko Rich says, “Call it Kindergarten 2.0. Concerned that kindergarten has become overly academic in recent years, this suburban school district south of Baltimore is introducing a new curriculum in the fall for 5-year-olds. Chief among its features is a most old-fashioned concept: play.

“ ‘I feel like we have been driving the car in the wrong direction for a long time,’ said Carolyn Pillow, who has taught kindergarten for 15 years and attended a training session here on the new curriculum last month. ‘We can’t forget about the basics of what these kids need, which is movement and opportunities to play and explore.’

“As American classrooms have focused on raising test scores in math and reading … even the youngest students have been affected, with more formal lessons and less time in sandboxes. But these days, states like Vermont, Minnesota and Washington are again embracing play as a bedrock of kindergarten. …

“Still, teachers like Therese Iwancio, who works at Cecil Elementary School in Baltimore’s Greenmount neighborhood, where the vast majority of children come from low-income families, say their students benefit from explicit academic instruction. She does not have a sand table, play kitchen or easel in the room. …

“Traci Burns, who has taught kindergarten for the last five years at Annapolis Elementary School, said she was looking forward to retrieving previously banished easels.

“ ‘With the Common Core, this has been pushed and pushed and pushed that kids should be reading, sitting and listening,’ she said. ‘Five-year-olds need to play and color. They need to go out and sing songs.’

“At Hilltop Elementary, a racially and economically diverse school in Glen Burnie, Melissa Maenner said she had found that teaching kindergartners too many straightforward academic lessons tended to flop.

“ ‘They are 5,’ Ms. Maenner said. ‘Their attention span is about five minutes.’ ”

Read more here.

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Everything old is new again. Here’s a story about a type of teaching that is coming back in vogue.

Peter Balonon-Rosen writes for WBUR radio, “Closing the gap between the achievements of low-income students and their peers is such a formidable challenge that some experts say it cannot be done without eliminating poverty itself. By the time children enter kindergarten, there is already a significant skills gap across socioeconomic lines that manifests in an income achievement gap that has widened dramatically over the past 25 years.

“In Revere [MA], a high-poverty school district, school officials have turned internally to raise outcomes for kids in poverty. Their notion is that school success can begin with a successful teaching model.

“ ‘What is this?’ kindergartner Thea Scata asks. She taps the picture of a rabbit with a wooden pointer and looks to the three other girls seated at her table.

“The group of four kindergartners at Revere’s A.C. Whelan Elementary School is learning about the letter ‘R’ — writing its shape and reviewing words that begin with the letter.

“ ‘Bunny!’ replies Bryanna Mccarthy.

“ ‘No, what’s the first sound? “R”— rabbit,’ Scata says to the group. …

“Whelan is one of 43 public elementary schools in the state that Bay State Reading Institute (BSRI), a Holliston-based education nonprofit organization, partners with to implement this teaching model into Massachusetts schools.”

Said “Kimberlee Clark, a first grade teacher at Whelan, ‘I’m really able to target those that need to be challenged and go above and beyond and I’m able to work with those students that need the extra support to get onto grade level.’ …

“Core to BSRI’s approach is independent student learning. As teachers work closely with small groups of students, the other students are expected to work by themselves on separate tasks.

“ ‘Students then own a piece of the learning,’ said Ed Moscovitch, chairman and co-founder of BSRI. ‘They learn how to learn from an independent perspective.’

“ ‘When they’re working together it’s not so much that students are teaching students, but they’re discovering and coming to the knowledge together,’ said Lenore Diliegro, a fifth grade teacher at Whelan.” More here.

Photo: Peter Balonon-Rosen/WBUR
Thea Scata, left, leads a group of kindergarten peers at A.C. Whelan Elementary School in Revere.

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When I was a teacher in Pennsylvania hoping to get accreditation, a supervisor from the teachers college where I took classes came to observe me at work. It was quite a long time ago, and the only thing I recall is that he remarked that I needed to do more with my classroom bulletin boards.

There I was, trying to do creative things with 11-year-olds in language arts (the play within the play from A Midsummer Night’s Dream springs to mind), but his checklist required him to observe the bulletin boards.

So imagine my delight when I saw an article today about a study suggesting teachers may be putting too much emphasis on bulletin boards and wall decorations.

Jan Hoffman writes at the NY Times, “That bright, cheery look has become a familiar sight in classrooms across the country, one that has only grown over the last few decades, fed by the proliferation of educational supply stores. But to what effect?

“A new study looked at whether such classrooms encourage, or actually distract from, learning. The study … found that when kindergartners were taught in a highly decorated classroom, they were more distracted … than when they were taught in a room that was comparatively spartan.

“The researchers, from Carnegie Mellon University, did not conclude that kindergartners, who spend most of the day in one room, should be taught in an austere environment. But they urged educators to establish standards.

“ ‘So many things affect academic outcomes that are not under our control,’ said Anna V. Fisher, an associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon and the lead author of the study, which was published in Psychological Science. ‘But the classroom’s visual environment is under the direct control of the teachers. They’re trying their best in the absence of empirically validated guidelines.’ ”  Hence the impetus for the study. Read more here.

Photo: Psychological Science
In a new study, 24 kindergartners were taught in two classroom settings: one unadorned, the other decorated with posters and artwork.

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It might be getting a bit cold for the outdoor classroom, but this article by Melanie Plenda in the Boston Globe suggests that not even snow will stop these preschoolers from learning about nature.

“In the back of the farmhouse at Drumlin Farm Community Preschool in Lincoln sit five chickens surrounded by a gaggle of preschoolers — eyes wide, waiting. The teacher opens the egg box door, and the students, staying slow and small like they were taught, peer in.

“ ‘And when they find an egg there,’ says Paula Goodwin, director of the school, ‘we ask them to make a nest with their hand, and they very gently pass the egg from one to another. And it’s a very special time, because they don’t need a lot of special instructions except to look for a child whose hands are in the shape of a nest. … It’s one of the magical moments in the school year. They are so generous with sharing the egg, and they may not have even learned each other’s names yet.’

“Drumlin is a nature- and farm-based preschool, which means that rain or shine, maybe not sleet but definitely snow and temperatures down to 15 degrees, the 14 3- to 5-year-olds are outside learning math, science, language, and how to be curious. Visiting captive wildlife, doing farm chores, and taking part in planting activities provide opportunities for all kinds of learning.” More.

Judging from my three grandchildren, I’m pretty sure no kid needs to “learn how” to be curious (“Poppa, what is the sun for?”), but we all hope for schools that continually encourage their curiosity.

Photo: Porter Gifford

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