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Preschool Matters Today

We are all teachers and learners


April 17, 2015
Outcomes

This response on literacy standards, conversation, and the Common Core State Standards is from Sharon Ritchie, Ed.D., Senior Scientist, FPG Child Development Institute-UNC CH.

I am a strong supporter of the Common Core. From the outset let me qualify that by saying that it is by no means perfect, and that people have perfectly good reasons to question the Standards and to look for revision and improvement. There is no single thing that should not bear up under scrutiny and inquiry.

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

The following quote from the Common Core: “Children are deep thinkers and it is the role of the teacher to capably guide and support them,” succinctly summarizes why I support and advocate for the Common Core Standards. The quote demonstrates real respect for both children and teachers, something that has been sadly lacking in an environment that has, for more than a decade, focused on isolated skill building, right answers, and prescribed curriculum. That environment has been even more strongly enforced for children of color and those who come from less advantaged homes, and put vulnerable children at an even greater disadvantage by depriving them of the use of their voice and their minds. Children need to know that what they care about, what they have to say, and how they feel is important. They need to move beyond basic knowledge to the application of their knowledge to problem solving, analysis, and creative development. They need to have multiple opportunities starting at a very young age to not only talk, but to listen, to participate in a community where everyone’s ideas are important and valued.

Two decades of data examining the minute-by-minute experiences of children indicate that on average there is about 28 minutes of meaningful conversation per day between the teacher and all the children in the classroom. There is about 24 minutes of meaningful collaboration between students. That is not enough. If children are getting less than an hour to express themselves, then teachers are using up more than their share of the space. If we are not hearing from children, how do we know what they understand, what confuses them, what they think? Part of children’s success depends upon their ability to engage in collaborative work. Regular opportunities to collaborate help children develop executive functions that support their ability to solve problems in multiple ways and to work with others to plan and organize. Children who are simply sitting and getting are not having adequate opportunities to develop executive functions.

In its best form, the Common Core advocates for classroom environments  where children feel safe to take risks and experiment with their thinking and have opportunities to communicate their ideas frequently and regularly. Specifically, the English Language Arts Standard requires that students have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations—as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner and the Standard for Math across K-3rd grade similarly  stipulates that children should be able to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them and construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

A talented kindergarten teacher describes her practice of letting her students know right from the beginning of the year that:

  • There are lots of different points of view and they are all important
  • Right answers are not as important to her as the students being able to figure out how to solve a problem
  • Everyone makes mistakes–they are natural and we can learn from them
  • Doing your best is the most important thing
  • We are all teachers and learners.

The Common Core supports that teacher. Don’t you wish all children had teachers like that? I do.