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Preschool Matters Today

The good, the bad, and the solution


April 1, 2015
AssessmentOutcomes

The first responses addressing concerns about CCSS in early childhood education are from Kathleen A. Paciga, Columbia College Chicago;  Jessica L. Hoffman, Winton Woods City School District; and William H. Teale, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Literacy instruction may become limited to a few texts and drill-and-kill teaching.

There are two issues embedded in this concern: (1) drill/didactic literacy teaching and (2) too few texts.

With respect to the concern about drill-and-kill teaching, we believe: That teachers should teach literacy in kindergarten.

The CCSS propose a list of specific English/Language Arts concepts and skills that kindergartners should learn (and therefore teachers should teach).

research set 2Good news: The list includes both foundational and higher-level skills; and it encompasses not only reading, but also writing and a rather robust conception of oral language.

Potential bad news: Many educators look at the standards and conclude that the best way to effect children’s learning of them is to teach them–the interpretation of the word teach being sit them down and give them specific lessons on the specific skills so that they can practice and thereby learn those skills.

Problem: This conception of teaching is drill-and-kill. It is not even recommended on “constrained skills” of early literacy, such as alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness, and is totally useless for impacting “unconstrained skills” such as comprehension, composing in writing, or integrating knowledge and ideas.

Solution: As much as possible, embed intentional literacy instruction in the context of content-rich, meaningful activities (such as dramatic play, science activities, and thematic units like the Farm to Table example discussed in Hoffman, et al. (2014).

 Too few texts: Here’s the good news about the K-1 Text Exemplars (see CCSS-ELA Appendix B): the stories, poetry, and read aloud selections listed there are, for the most part, high quality literature (“text selections…worth reading and re-reading” that “will encourage students and teachers to dig more deeply into their meanings than they would with lower quality material”), and they are also works that would be engaging to many kindergartners. Here’s the bad news about those exemplars:

  • They are unacceptably under-representative of multicultural literature and international literature for U.S. children.
  • They are prone to be regarded as “the Common Core texts we need to include in our program.” (We have repeatedly seen instances of school administrators purchasing the list of books included in Appendix B.) This is very problematic, as the CCSS do intend that these particular books serve as the basis for the curriculum, and there are SO many other books available that can more appropriately be used, depending on the particular school in question.
  • Far too many kindergarten teachers have little knowledge of children’s literature, and the CCSS provide no resources for them to use in selecting books beyond the few text exemplars included.