Academic Achievement For All—When Are Children Ready to Learn?

SnipBlog107aWow!  You’ve come a long way, baby! In the 1980’s and 1990’s, educators and policy-makers were jumping on the bandwagon to provide free kindergarten programs in all public schools. The reasoning then was that after a year of kindergarten, every child would finally enter first grade ready to learn.

Fast-forward to 2015. Now policy makers are clamoring for academic preschool programs so that every child will enter kindergarten ready to learn.

The president proposed that we should provide full day preschool programs for all kids, even though it is well documented that current preschool programs like Head-Start have limited success.

“Head Start has an impact on 4-year-olds’ language and literacy skills while they are in Head Start, but these early gains are not sustained as the children develop and move into the early school years. Furthermore, there is no evidence of impacts on children’s math ability, pre-writing skills, or teacher assessments at the end of Head Start, at the end of kindergarten, or at the end of 1st grade. In other words, the children in the Head Start group ended their Head Start year with moderately higher skills than their counterparts in the control group, but this advantage did not lead to longer term gains when they were in school. At the end of 1st grade, they end up at the same point as the children who were not given access to the program…The Head Start group scores are not statistically different from the control group scores in kindergarten and 1st grade.”  (1)

Not many years ago kids were expected to start learning the ABC’s at age six when they entered first grade. Now it is no longer acceptable for students to enter kindergarten expecting to be taught everything they need to know to move on to first grade. If they don’t know at least some letters and sounds, they are already behind. In a decade or two from now, will we be saying that kids still don’t know enough, therefore we need to provide a full school day for three-year-olds so they will enter preschool ready to learn?

Administrators in my district say they want to “focus more effort on connecting with early learning and child care providers to ensure that they are equipped to help children prepare for kindergarten.” (2)

Maybe we should stop and think about this!  If putting kids in school a year earlier didn’t achieve the desired results back then (since our test scores have remained flat), what makes us think putting children in school yet another year earlier will work now?  A number of studies demonstrate that starting children in school at age four can actually be detrimental to their achievement.

Do we really think that all four-year-old children should be in school for a full day? Not everyone does. Education Corner writes, “Even though children in daycare programs can develop intellectually, children benefit most when parents stay at home with their children and educate them.” (3)

If they are not going to go to school, what should preschoolers be doing? Playing, of course! Play gives children the opportunity to learn to be self-directed, to persevere, focus attention, imagine, experiment, discover, problem-solve and create. Too much formal education at a tender age may detract from this very important part of child development.

Young children learn things informally, from parents and siblings. During parent or caregiver interactions, children learn that something is big or little, sweet or sour, smooth or rough, loud or soft, light or dark, red or blue. Parents naturally teach their preschoolers basic concepts like colors, shapes, counting, sorting, etc.

Children are listening and talking and expanding their vocabulary. We know that exposure to adult conversation with rich vocabulary usage will increase young children’s use and understanding of complex vocabulary words. Parents should be reading books aloud to young children which also helps develop vocabulary. A large vocabulary is linked to better reading comprehension and more successful decoding. Learning to read is critical for school success.

Some children are ready to learn to read as young as age four. I know a few of them. But most children at this age need to be physically active in play, and will not thrive in a formal academic setting. Play helps young children’s brains develop. A number of studies show that play-based preschool learning is good for kids. (4)

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Some will argue that preschool helps children become better socialized, learning to take turns and share. That’s what parents used to teach kids along with their brothers and sisters and friends before formal schooling began! Unfortunately, far too many children are not taught considerate behavior prior to entering school and teachers are now expected to fill in the gaps. This steals time away from formal learning for these children and for those around them who are affected by their lack of self-control.

It seems that the argument for preschool socialization actually isn’t a very good one. “A study by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California showed negative social­ization in the areas of externalizing behaviors, inter­personal skills, and self-control as a result of even short periods of time spent in preschool centers.” (5)

Some states already have a proven track record with preschool programs. Academic gains favoring children who have attended preschool are quickly lost. “More than a decade after offering students uni­versal preschool, neither Oklahoma nor Georgia has shown impressive progress in students’ academic achievement, as measured by the National Assess­ment of Educational Progress. In fact, in Oklahoma, fourth-grade reading test scores have declined since 1998 when the state first implemented universal preschool. Furthermore, the report notes, ‘by the end of first grade, children who did not attend preschool had skills similar to those of Georgia’s preschoolers.’”  (6)

Years ago, parents kept children home until around age six when they entered first grade, and then they learned the alphabet and how to add and subtract. So why did we start sending children to school at younger ages?

“The kindergarten movement was propelled by the industrial revolution and the introduction of women into the factory labor force…Kindergarten, once a half-day affair required by only 40 percent of US states, has become largely a full-day affair required nationwide. Academics, including math and reading curricula, testing and grades, are now the norm in many schools. Programs for younger children have expanded as well…Having your child cared for outside of the home, once looked down upon as an abrogation of a mother’s maternal instinct, is now a socially accepted practice. Indeed, those parents who choose not to put their children in out-of-home settings are the ones perceived as insufficiently concerned with their child’s welfare.”  (7)

The big question is when do we decide that enough is enough?  When are children too young for schooling? When do we stop requiring more academic achievement from children at ever younger ages?  We have seen little gain in test scores in the years since we began providing kindergarten for all children and I strongly suspect it won’t happen when we provide full day preschool for all children either. Let’s let kids be kids a bit longer and let them imagine and build and learn through play until they are really ready to learn.

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References:

1- http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/hs_impact_study_final.pdf  (Chapter 4, page 15)

For more information on Head Start, see this:  http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/strengthenheadstart03/report.htm

And this:  http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2009/05/Does-Universal-Preschool-Improve-Learning-Lessons-from-Georgia-and-Oklahoma

2- http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/education/2015/01/14/salem-keizer-kindergarteners-room-grow/21737253/

3 – http://www.educationcorner.com/importance-of-early-childhood-education.html

4- http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22029435.000-too-much-too-young-should-schooling-start-at-age-7.html#.VLbhiivF_dY

5- http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2009/05/Does-Universal-Preschool-Improve-Learning-Lessons-from-Georgia-and-Oklahoma

6- http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2009/05/Does-Universal-Preschool-Improve-Learning-Lessons-from-Georgia-and-Oklahoma

7- http://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2010/history-of-early-childhood-education

Information on Early Literacy: http://nieer.org/resources/policybriefs/10.pdf

 

 

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Thanksgiving Turkey Art

SnipBlog106cHere’s a really easy Thanksgiving project for your kids of all ages! Cut out the shapes ahead of time for your preschoolers if necessary. Draw the shapes onto construction paper or any type of colored paper. Let kindergarteners use safety scissors to cut them out themselves. The pieces do not need to be perfectly shaped to create this project. If you want the finished project to fit on an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper, the feathers can be about 3-4 inches long, and the body about 4 inches across.

Draw a small circle in the very center of a plain piece of paper and let your child use a glue stick to glue the feathers part way around the circle. Glue on the body shape next, overlapping the wings just a bit, then glue on the head, wing, legs, etc.

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Have a very thankful Thanksgiving!

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Preschool—Learning ABC’s

When you are ready to teach letter names and sounds to your preschool/kinder students, it is nice if you can post large size letters on the wall so your child can look at them frequently.  Just as when teaching colors and shapes, to make it easier for your child, you should post and teach only one letter-name and letter-sound at a time.  It is very important that you teach the sound of the letter as well as the letter name. This will be very useful when you begin to teach your child to read a bit later on.

SnipBlog105bOne or two letters a week is about the right amount for this age group.  Do not post a new letter until your child knows the previous one, even if it takes more time.  If a young child is not able to learn one letter a week, he is probably not ready for this task.file contains black outline letters that you can print onto colored paper or colored cardstock if you so desire.  To alternate colors, print page one on red, page two on orange, page three on yellow, page four on green, page five on blue; then repeat for the next five pages—and so forth. Cut out the letters so the shape of each one is distinct when placed on a white background.

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Have fun teaching the alphabet and the letter-sounds, and take it nice and slow with your preschoolers!

You can get your FREE printable large size black outline ABC’s here.

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Beginning Preschool—Learning Numbers

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This week I have a FREE chart for you to help you teach number-symbols 1-10.  You should start with the chart for numbers 1-5 first, and add the chart for numbers 6-10 when your child knows the first five numbers very well. Your child can begin to learn to match number symbols to the correct number of objects.

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A page is included with just the number symbol and a blank space for your child to enter the correct number of objects.  You can copy the same blank page many times and use it in various ways.  If you have a do-a-dot marker, your child can use it to put the correct number of dots beside the number symbol.

We are loving using stickers right now, so we used those colored round spot stickers that are often used as price stickers. You could also use smiley stickers or stars or whatever you have around the house. Your child could also draw the correct number of circles, triangles, or squares in the open space.

Get your FREE Numbers chart right here.

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Beginning Preschool—Learning Shapes

You may want to teach some basic shapes to your younger preschoolers as well as teaching them color names. As I mentioned in the previous blog, it is better to teach one at a time than all of them at once, to avoid confusion. You might like to post them on the refrigerator. Ask your child several times a day to tell you what the name of the shape is.  If she cannot remember it, just tell her what it is and ask her to repeat the word after you. Keep your teaching informal and just do it for fun.

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Don’t miss out on these FREE Learning Shapes Flashcards! You can get them here.

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If you missed the previous offer for the FREE Learning Colors Flashcards, you can get it here.

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Beginning Preschool—Learning Colors

SnipBlog102cIf you have preschool students, you are probably teaching them some basic things they need to learn before kindergarten.  If your young student does not know names of colors yet, we are providing a free printable set of flashcards to teach colors.

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Some young children mix up the names of colors when they are learning them.  You can minimize the difficulty they have by teaching only one color at a time. When the child remembers the name of one color, teach another one. You can teach colors in any order. Start with your child’s favorite color.

Print the cards onto heavy cardstock.  You may want to “laminate” the cards so they will last longer.  You can this inexpensively by covering them with slightly overlapping strips of heavy duty packaging tape, front and back, before you cut the cards apart.

Get your FREE Color Name Flashcards here.

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Back to School – Make Your Own ABC Book!

It’s nearly fall and children are going back to school.  Whether you homeschool or your children attend public or private school, you may enjoy doing this activity with your preschool or kindergarten student.

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At ages 4 and 5, children should still be playing a lot of the time, so learning should be casual and informal. If your child shows an interest in learning the alphabet, you can teach the letters in many different ways. You might post a large letter on the wall or refrigerator (one at a time) and talk about its name and sound at random times during the day. You can read ABC books together.  You can point out words for objects that begin with a specific letter.

Your child might also enjoy making his/her own ABC book. This is a fun activity for your preschool or kindergarten students that can help them begin to recognize letters and learn letter names. Teach just one letter at a time.  It really does not matter at this age whether you teach a letter every couple of days or one a week. Let your child’s interest be your guide.

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Your child will need to be able to cut reasonably straight lines with scissors first.  Then he/she will be able to do this activity with just a little guidance from you. Use plain white cardstock or typing paper for each page and bind it when you complete the project—or purchase an inexpensive spiral notebook to paste the letters and pictures into. Give your child the pictures for just one letter.  Ask her to cut out each picture for the letter she is learning. Show her how to paste the letters and pictures onto the paper. It doesn’t need to look perfect. Use a glue stick rather than liquid glue. Young children may find it easier to use a glue stick that looks purple when applied, but dries clear, so they can see where they have put the glue.

Here’s where you can get your FREE Cut & Paste ABC Book from Sound Bytes Reading:

ABC Cut & Paste Book

 

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Can Your Students Comprehend Texts That They Cannot Read?

Absolutely! Students do understand texts that are read aloud to them that are above their independent reading level. But if they are struggling to read text on their own that is too difficult for them to decode, they will not have good comprehension.  SnipBlog100Struggling students in the upper grades are increasingly expected to read texts that are above their level of reading ability, because they need to learn complex subjects. This presents a problem. Does it make sense to require students to read texts that are above their independent reading level?

Some teachers understand the futility of requiring reading at a level that is above a student’s ability, so they look for and assign books at the students’ actual reading level.  These teachers sometimes endure criticism for doing what they believe is best for their students.

With so many struggling readers in our schools, we ought to be looking at why we have this problem. We first fail when teaching our children basic reading instruction. There are many reasons why children fail to learn to read, including bad reading programs and inconsistent attendance. But we continue to pass children who have not learned basic decoding skills on to the next grade level. Then we blame the teachers in the upper grades when their struggling students fail to progress.

Students need to learn to read well by the end of first grade!  If a student is not progressing, change the program.  Students who are not reading well by early to mid-first grade should be given a phonics reading program that includes all of the Orton-Gillingham phonograms, and that uses those phonograms in decodable stories. Nearly all struggling readers who are taught to read this way can learn to read.

Students can comprehend texts that they cannot read on their own. The short term fix may include reading grade level texts aloud to students who are struggling. But to be successful, students need to be able to read on their own. When students read texts independently, they will only comprehend what they can quickly and easily decode. We may provide accommodations for struggling readers, but we owe it to them to teach them how to read for themselves.

 

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Common Core and Reading Assignments—What Are We Missing Here?

SnipBlog99What a concept! Some teachers assign books to their students that they can actually read instead of assigning them to read books that are far above their reading ability! Is this surprising? Is it a bad thing? Are policy-makers suggesting that students should be assigned to read books at an instructional level that they cannot read because those students are in a grade based on their age?

The Thomas B Fordham Institute published a report on October 22, 2013 titled, “Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments.” Here is a quote from the press release:

The CCSS emphasize the centrality of texts in the English language arts curriculum. Yet the majority of teachers still report that their lessons are dominated by skills and are more likely to try to fit texts to skills…Indeed, an astonishing 73 percent of elementary school teachers and 56 percent of middle school teachers place greater emphasis on reading skills than the text…

The Common Core asks teachers to assign texts that provide language complexity appropriate to the grade level, but significant proportions of teachers—particularly in the elementary grades—are still assigning texts based on students’ present reading prowess. Specifically, the majority of elementary teachers (64 percent) make substantial efforts to match students with books that presumably align with their instructional reading levels…This means that many youngsters are not yet working with appropriately complex language in their schoolbooks.

It appears that because students need to be learning complex language, they had better be reading complex words. That is all fine and good if the student is a strong reader and can actually read those complex words. But many students are not strong readers due to poor instruction and through no fault of their own.  What are we to do?  Start where the student is, not where you want him to be.

Let’s say you go out to the mountains and you are just learning how to ski, so you can barely stay standing up on your skis. Your instructor takes you out to the bunny slope and gives you some tips on how to fall safely (because you are going to fall!) and how to point your ski tips and whatever else they teach a beginner. But the resort owner comes out and tells the instructor that you need to be practicing the giant slalom because that is what skiers should be doing at your age.  Wonder how well that’s going to work?

What are we to do? Start where the student is, not where you want him to be. You cannot start where you want them to be if they have not learned the skills needed to function at that skill level and expect them to be successful. That is a recipe for creating dropouts.

If students are reading at a first grade level, then they need to begin at that level and be taught the skills that will allow them to quickly improve their ability.  We have programs available that will do exactly that—but we aren’t using them nearly enough and our students are paying a high price.

We can teach students the complex language in higher level books—but we can’t expect them to read those texts on their own until we have taught the reading skills that they need to do so. We should not discourage struggling readers—we must start where the student is. We know that students learn much of their extensive vocabulary from reading a lot of books—but students who cannot read well have been left behind.

Instead of insisting that we force difficult or impossible reading assignments on our struggling readers, we need to put a much greater effort into first teaching students to read well. We need to think in terms of teaching students to read well by the end of first grade rather than by the end of third grade. But if that is not where they are—what are we to do? Start where the student is, not where you want him to be!

 

 

See the Thomas B Fordham Institute report  “Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments” here:                         http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/common-core-in-the-schools#

Sound Bytes Reading helps struggling readers learn the basic skills they need to become strong and independent readers.    www.SoundBytesReading.com

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Learning to Talk and Learning to Read – Part 2

Learning to read is a process that involves both visual and auditory input.  Children must learn to match symbols to sounds and then connect those symbols to make words.  Some children have difficulty remembering the symbols if too many are taught at once.  Reading can be made easier by teaching only a few sound-symbols at a time and then using them to practice decoding simple words.  Students should practice reading short stories using the same words they are learning to decode.

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Posted in Beginning Readers, Decodable Stories, Learning to Read, Phonemic Awareness, Phonics Instruction, Reading Comprehension, Reading Fluency, Struggling Readers, Teaching reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off