Saturday, January 21, 2006

You've Got to Have Standards

I sub for a group of kindergarten and first grade teachers sometimes, and one of the things they often complain about is how early we try to teach kids to read. The school they all teach at happens to be the in same district as the elementary school I went to well over a decade ago. All kindergarteners are now expected to do as well as I did back then, and I was always several steps ahead of the average.

Most kids aren't ready for it. (I'm not saying they can't be - genetics helps, but so do a lot of other things - I'm just saying they aren't.) It's not so much that they aren't ready for the mental gymnastics, because that they can handle it most of the time; it's that they rarely have the basics of verbal communication down. Jumping straight from "abc...z" to "cat" means that there's less (or no) time for dictation, show and tell, and all sorts of other activities that kindergarteners need in order to practice organizing their verbal thoughts and learn sentence structure. What looks like simply play to most observers is actually very serious learning.

How do you try to explain to a first grader what a written sentence looks like if you didn't make sure he learned what one sounds like in kindergarten? You have to either spend a lot of time backtracking - which is frustrating and confusing for everyone - or you have to start letting kids slide though the cracks because there's just no time to cover it.

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