First, I want to thank you. I’ve loved your many ideas for organizing my pantry, throwing my five year-old’s princess party, and introducing the blue-Dawn-and-vinegar trick to my shower. Not to mention the hilarious memes and marshmallow treats.
Your resourcefulness has carried over into my classroom through the years, too:
Like the sponge of glue,
the hand sanitizer bathroom passes,
the visually-appealing display of learning objectives,
oh, and that fantastic example of comma use that had my whole class giggling.
And of course, you know you’re my go-to for holiday art crafts and kid-made decorations.
But I have to tell you, I’m worried. I’m worried about those ultra popular pins that circulate because they have all the glitz and appearance of learning, but that really promote something…else.
–all with an adorable flair.
Of course, you and I both know that truly inspiring, learning-based pins are out there. Why, I recently came across a whole slew of fabulous self-assessments to help students become more metacognitively aware. But as I searched out those pins, I waded through what felt like an endless supply of teacher-centered fluff.
I must say, I’m not blaming you. After all, I’m the one who sometimes gets mesmerized by all things color-coded and lovely. But “it’s not you, it’s me” aside, now that I’ve identified the problem, I can move forward. I can reflect. I can ask why. I can rethink even some of the most commonly accepted practices. And I can guide my future curative efforts with questions based on what matters most, including:
Will this help me better understand and reach my students?
Will this enhance student ownership over learning?
Will this encourage the 4 C’s (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, or creativity)?
Will this help me personalize student learning?
Will this help me pursue greater challenges as a professional?
Will this help my students better understand their own thinking and learning processes? (metacognition)
Will this help all my students to better access resources in and out of the classroom?
Will this help my students investigate concepts?
Is this centered more on empowering student-directed learning, or on getting students to sit still and listen?
Is this trying to solve a problem that I could actually just open up to my students for discussion instead?
Will this help my students grow as leaders?
Will this help my students build an authentic audience and/or community?
Will this help me reinforce my core values as a professional?
So thanks for everything, and I look forward to richer pins to come on my education board!
I didn’t think the teacher/parent table would turn on me that fast. After all, not only I had just paused my teaching career in June–I was only back for a few weeks in September to mentor a student teacher–my own kids weren’t even in school yet.
As I sat in the teacher’s lounge listening to all the usual back-to-school lunchtime chatter, I overheard some kindergarten teachers anticipating their new batch of 5 year-olds. One exclaimed how many students failed to identify lower-cased letters of the alphabet in the initial assessments.
I froze. Normally, I’d commiserate a bit, perhaps reciprocating with how many students I had on behavior contracts. But it hit me: MY 4-year old didn’t know her lower-cased letters. And she showed no signs of wanting to, either, despite the fact that she’d be starting kindergarten the following fall.
It was my first realization that in the school system, I was officially on the parent side of the table.
I finished mentoring and went back to my extended parental leave at home. Over the course of a month or so, the stress in preschool-ing my stubborn four-year old grew. Frustrations mounted each time she refused to sing her ABC’s or explore some carefully-crafted science station. Those fears finally came to light one evening when I realized that I had been subconsciously–yet intensely–internalizing the conversation from the teacher’s lounge all that time. I remember actually saying out loud,
“What if she becomes the subject of her kindergarten teacher’s complaining in the faculty lounge next year?”
Once spoken aloud, I realized how silly the words sounded. However, as I began to conduct research to make preschool a more positive process, I also realized that I was far from alone when it comes to fearful parents.
“Preparation” on Steroids?
Wanting to give their children the best advantages, some parents have taken to “redshirting” their kindergarteners. That is, they delay school a year in the hopes that their children will gain a “competitive learning edge.”
Other parents obsess over the school their child attends. One article describes how parents went so far as to move to new neighborhoods, create spreadsheets, and attend Kindergarten 101–a prep class for parents. But these preparations aren’t discussed as excessive, but as possibly helpful, citing a Harvard study that found that academic performance in kindergarten correlates to future earnings.
Kindergarten prep is indeed all the rage these days, especially for those who believe the Common Core standards mandate five year olds to read. But parents and teachers alike would do well to step away from the frenzy and examine what is truly developmentally appropriate for their children. Below are tips for both to help them regain calm and clarity in learning with their preschoolers and kindergartners.
Correlation does not equal causation. Remember that there are always a lot of possible causes for any given outcome. Studies that find correlations for later successes are likely just picking up on the simple benefits of involved, loving parents.
Consider the effects of rushing your child. The author of The Hurried Child, Dr. David Elkind, shares research that “students are more likely to have academic success if they are not hurried through their early childhood by parents who overestimate their competence and overexpose them to academic pressures.”
Step away from the workbooks. That’s not to say that if your child demonstrates genuine interest in more academic concepts, you should deny them. But it’s essential to understand that play is absolutely critical for developing the most basic skills for kindergarten readiness and beyond–including problem solving, passion, experimentation, and more. As Richard Lewis, founder and director of The Touchstone Center in New York City, explains:
See each new student. Don’t allow your initial benchmarks or any other number to define your opinions of any child. Instead, make it your priority to discover their interests, strengths, quirks, etc.
Step away from the workbooks. (see parent tip above).
Evaluate what the Common Core State Standards are really outlining.If you are among those stressing about the perceived advanced standards for early elementary, remember that the political agendas and loud voices of a few have skewed interpretations of the standards for some. In our most recent post on the Common Core, we shared J. Richard Gentry’s example of what easily misinterpreted standards really look like:
For example, one contested language arts standard reads, “Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.” Gentry explains that this refers to memory reading in which, “The emergent-reader text is first modeled by the teacher for the students, then joyfully read over and over with the students until eventually the easy book is independently read by the students with great joy and confidence.” (We highly recommend his article, “An Ode to Common Core Kindergarten Standards.”)
One of the best kindergarten readiness lists I’ve ever encountered was on a university’s laboratory preschool blog, prefaced by the following:
“Don’t be overly concerned with academics right now…You read to your children, you go on family outings, you model a love for learning, but most of all you are very involved in the lives of your children. This will make kindergarten a wonderful time for your child, and start him/her on the road to a good education.”
So you’ve decided to implement student-led conferences. Congratulations! You are well on your way to empowering students to own their 21st century learning. If you’re still new to the process (or want fresh ideas), be sure to begin with our student-led conference practical starter guide and resources.
If you’re pausing your teaching career during parental leave for a few years, we have some ideas to help you keep up with the education world!
#1: Watch for license renewal credits opportunities
When the time comes for you to resume your teaching career, you don’t want to be stuck with retroactively tracking down hours and paperwork! Develop a professional learning plan now, combing your state or country requirements. Contact your prior administration for documentation of any accumulated credits during your employment.
#2: Volunteer at your last school
Strap on that Baby Bjorn or occasionally drop off kids with a babysitter to maintain educational ties in your community. Gauge what’s realistic for your circumstances, though, whether it’s simply to read with students now and then, or to facilitate an extracurricular activity, such as a TED-Ed Club
#3: Volunteer online
Sign up to tutor online! Become a Granny in Sugata Mitra’s “School in the Cloud.” You can even combine #2 & #3 via interactive platforms like Skype. For instance, when I was housebound during our school’s annual PYP Exhibition process, I volunteered to mentor a few student groups through weekly Skype “meetings” instead. The students loved sharing their progress on the webcam, and I loved being involved despite my situation.
Classroom 2.0 LIVE hosts free online shows. PLP Network offers purchased E-courses (with options for graduate credit, too). And once you’ve established #4, Twitter Chats can be especially helpful–for me, one solid chat usually ends with with about 37 new open tabs of resources.
Was packing your classroom materials a whirlwind of items flying into unlabeled boxes? Then you need to fire up your scanner and read our post on getting organized. ASAP. Your sanity will thank you later when you resume teaching.
#7: Organize your new resources
After getting inspired by the 37+ tabs of resources discovered during a Tweet Chat, make sure you can find them again! Establish a bookmarking system that works for you, be it a Delicious account, or several categorized folders to sort your bookmarks on your browser (Chrome is a great option since it saves your bookmarks across your devices if you’re logged into your Google account).
#8: Develop a Skill
Brush up your old high school Spanish using the free Duolingo app. Fine-tune your piano playing. Explore PhotoShop or Prezi. Anything that you enjoy will enhance your classroom, even if it’s not directly related to your content–after all, your future students need models of adults pursuing passions!
#9: Revamp Your Class Blog!
Browse your favorite class blogs, and then find ways to incorporate your favorite user-friendly features on your own blog!
#10: Re-evaluate your WHY as a Teacher!
Reflect on your previous practices and honestly assess what can be improved or tossed altogether. Consider how you can return to the educational work-force with an even deeper commitment to authentic learning (on that subject, be sure to check out our tips on becoming a 21st Century teacher)!
And of course, remember to make the most of this precious and swiftly passing time with your little one(s)!