Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Defending the Early Years

CCSS 1.OA.D.8:
"Determine the unknown whole
number in an addition or subtraction
equation relating to three whole numbers."
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) provide fodder for debate amongst educators, researchers, administrators and the political machine that drives the incessant cycle of instruction and assessment.

We all go 'round and 'round but what are the main concerns?

This week I read an article released by the folks at Defending the Early Years (DEY) detailing Constance Kamii's critical examination of the K-3 CCSS for math. The piece clarified some of the issues.

The article states that DEY is "an organization of early childhood professionals dedicated to speaking out with well-reasoned arguments against inappropriate standards, assessments, and classroom practices.  We are concerned about the rising emphasis on academic skills in early childhood today.  Increasing teacher-directed instruction is leading to the erosion of play-based, experiential learning that we know children need from decades of theory and research in cognitive and developmental psychology and neuroscience" (Emphasis is mine)

The issue Kamii has with the CCSS seems to rest with the fact that educators are now being forced to replace child-centered experiential learning - through play and inquiry - with developmentally inappropriate instruction. This is huge. In essence, she argues we are teaching skills in first grade that children will master without instruction in second grade (and so on).  Why the rush? Why are we wasting the child's time? More importantly, is the sacrifice worth the price when you consider what is lost?

As an educator, I am not resistant to the CCSS. My experience with implementation has been mostly positive.  The majority of my first grade students - with the exception of my English language learners - excel at math. They enjoy tackling the challenging material and using different strategies to solve complex word problems and equations.  I had trouble understanding the hubbub and derision surrounding the practical application and value of the CCSS.

The take away from Kamii's article seems to be a matter of could vs. should.  Just because children are capable of doing the work, is it in the child's best interest to do so?  Is the "forced" and "inappropriate" learning merely surface level "verbalisms" lacking depth of understanding?  I cannot answer that or fight the machine to alter that expectation.

What I can do is remain diligent and strive to achieve a well-rounded curriculum for my students while operating within the confines of the CCSS.  One that includes time for the arts and allows for child-centered learning through blocks, dramatic play and student-led social interactions.

As the CCSS are tweaked (or eventually thrown out) I can provide children with daily, meaningful learning experiences.  Teachers can still make a difference.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Les enfants à Paris

"Paris Plages" transforming Paris
into a series of themed beaches
New York City encourages children to take a cultural bite out of The Big Apple but offerings in The City of Lights (La Ville-Lumiére) shine just as brightly. 

I was first struck by this as I strolled along the right bank of the Seine River and stumbled upon the inviting golden sand and blue umbrellas of the annual summer event, Paris Plages (Paris Beach). 

Children can frolic in the floating pool while enjoying live music or lounge on a beach chair with a book from the mobile library. We also witnessed bike safety lessons for the wee ones, pet stations/stops and booths selling food, beverages and trinkets.  

Later, I entered the Place du Carrousel located near the open end of the courtyard of the Musée du Louvre.  Nestled within the covered arches before the Rue de Rivoli were framed posters promoting "Les Ateliers Enfants".

This program resembles those of my beloved Met Museum with tours and activities to spark an interest in French culture, art and history.

La Petite Academie, Paris
At every turn I saw child-centered activities peeking out from windows and doorways (La Petite Academie, P'tit Vélib') or advertised on billboards (Les Minions!, Vice-Versa - the French title for Pixar's Inside Out - and the newly released Le Petit Prince).

It made me think that early childhood educators in Paris had it pretty good too.

When I returned home I discovered a blog posting about taking a group of children to visit museums and landmarks in Paris.  The photographs of children eating lunch and posing in front of The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre is reminiscent of the class pictures I took of my students outside The Statue of Liberty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The post even includes some children's drawings.

I may have found my Parisian counterpart and definitely see new experiences unfolding in my future. There must be openings at the Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris.


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