Treadmill?

Before COVID took us all for a spin, the typical American Kindergarten classroom reflected “teaching to standards” and “school preparedness” rather than a being a developmental-oriented setting. I know this may sound harsh or an over-reaching generalization, but this was becoming the “new norm” across the country. And now, as we face one to two years of “lost learning” due to the response to the pandemic, are we going to move closer toward school preparedness or make a transition back to a developmental model? And it’s not just Kindergarten that is facing this dichotomy; its across all grades.

As an education consultant / advocate, working in schools across the country, I believe our schools appear to be at a critical fork-in-the-road related the instructional path we our taking. From what I hear, teachers everywhere feel even more pressure to push toward standards due to lost instruction. And our most vulnerable students, the Kindergartners of today and tomorrow, will face this conflict head on.

For a reality check, Scholastic Magazine recently stated in an article for parents the following recommendations for Kindergarten: https://www.scholastic.com/parents/school-success/school-involvement/what-makes-good-kindergarten.html

What Does an Ideal Kindergarten Look Like?

Ask any number of educators and parents, and you will get many different descriptions of the ideal kindergarten. But there are certain basic agreements among educators as to what makes a good program. It should:

Expand your child’s ability to learn about (and from) the world, organize information, and solve problems. This increases his feelings of self-worth and confidence, his ability to work with others, and his interest in challenging tasks.
Provide a combination of formal (teacher-initiated) and informal (child-initiated) activities. Investigations and projects allow your child to work both on her own and in small groups.

Minimize use of large group activities that require sitting. Instead, most activities feature play-based, hands-on learning in small groups. As the year progresses, large group activities become a bit longer in preparation for 1st grade.
Foster a love of books, reading, and writing. There are books, words, and kids’ own writing all over the classroom.”

This appears to present a balanced approach toward this question: “School Preparedness or Developmental Learning?”

We are so far behind”

However, ask most teachers today working in the schools, from Kindergarten and throughout the Elementary grades, there is an underlining belief that “We are so far behind” and this projects to an over-arching intention to “catch up” throughout our Elementary programs. Prior to COVID, what I observed resembled a treadmill approach; teachers were feeling pressure to “get through” the curriculum for there’s way too much teach; and this is amplified within KIndergarten classrooms. Where so many of our children are not developmentally on the same page due to a wide-range of experiences each faces prior to Kindergarten; Kindergarten teachers have expressed frustration. In a recent article, Alex with The Kindergarten Connection shared the following:

“Have you looked at the most current standards for what Kindergarteners need to know? It is not simply ABC’s and 123’s but rather things such as: fluently adding and subtracting within 5, decomposing numbers to 10, adding and subtracting within 10, reading CVC words and high frequency words and much, much more. When I taught older grades, if a student was struggling, I could go back to “the basics” and build up from there. In Kindergarten, we kind of are the basics! If you ask me, sometimes the basics can be the hardest of all to teach, because they are the foundation pieces of future learning.”

Alex called it out: “I am not sure what you mean by “do more.” In Kindergarten, I don’t think I ever sit down, unless I am reading a story or working with a small group. Instead, I am constantly on the go, assessing, evaluating, teaching, helping, nurturing, and much more.”: Being on the treadmill.

In a recent article in Psychology Today, the author wrote about “Why Kindergarten Teachers are Quiting?” and highlighted the following: … “teachers are not being allowed to do what they believe and know is right. They are being required to follow policies imposed from above by people who know little about children and don’t have to see the anger, anxiety, and tears that the teachers see in the classrooms. If teachers are at fault, they are so primarily for lack of courage to resist the outrageous demands imposed on them and on the children in their classrooms.” [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201912/kindergarten-teachers-are-quitting-and-here-is-why].

And this is all BEFORE COVID …

The NAEYC

The NAEYC [National Association for the Education of Young Children] shares the following concerns about inappropriate Kindergarten practices; many of which are a by-product of the “treadmill” approach; feeling pressured or rushed:

Children spend a lot of time in their seats.

Teachers mostly instruct the whole group at one time, and children don’t play or work with each other much.
Children often use worksheets, workbooks, and flashcards for learning and practice.

They’re expected to learn abstract ideas (like adding) without first using objects (like blocks) to help them understand the concept.

Teachers rely on rewards, like stickers or treats, to get children to do their work. They compliment children’s work using words that don’t help children understand what they did well (like “Good job!” or “Nice!”) instead of ones that do (like “You tried many times to find that answer”).

Assessment focuses on some areas (like math and reading) and not others. Teachers use assessments only at the end of a project or school year, so they don’t have many chances to adjust their teaching to what children need

Teachers don’t communicate regularly with families. They may contact families only when there’s a problem.

In a similar article, the NAEYC highlights the following recommendations for an appropriate Kindergarten classroom setting:

Children need to feel successful in new tasks a significant proportion of the time to promote their motivation and persistence. Confronted by repeated failure, most children will simply stop trying. Repeated opportunities to practice and consolidate new skills and concepts are also essential for children to reach the threshold of mastery at which they can go on to use this knowledge or skill, applying it in new situations. Play (especially in intentionally designed environments with carefully selected materials) provides young children with opportunities to engage in this type of practice.”

https://www.naeyc.org/resources/position-statements/dap/principles

So as we look at the Kindergarten setting, “Repeated opportunities to practice” and “Play provides young children with opportunities to engage …” are essential. In contrast, a treadmill approach will not support our youngest and most vulnerable students. For these essential activities take time. This is true for Kindergarten as well as within all K-12 classrooms.

As I participate in IEP Meetings (Special Education) across all grade levels, the NAEYC recommendations for Kinder resonate for all students; today, more so than ever before: Most of our students are needing repetition and meaning-centered activities in support of engagement, skill development, and ideally, mastery, This is not rocket science nor is it a radical reform; it just makes sense.

So I ask?

As a teacher, do you feel pressured to “make up for lost time”? If so,do you feel you are on a “treadmill”? As a parent, are you observing your child falling farther behind due to the instructional treadmill going way too fast? If so, it’s time for us all to take a stand and speak out in favor of a developmentally sound instructional model. One in which honors the individual needs and promise each student presents.

If not, we will see more teachers leave the profession and we will see our children check-out and disengage from the process all together, like never before.

Again, we are at the crossroads between teaching to the standards or creating a developmentally sound instructional program. Where do you stand?

If you need help with this predicament, whether you are a teacher or a parent, let’s continue this dialog further. Lets engage!