Teacher to teacher

Pre-K students and the new Common Core

Early childhood educators will face questions this school year about how best to align early childhood programs with the new Common Core State Standards. Currently 46 states are on board with the new standards. Developmentally appropriate practices and understanding what research tells us about how young children learn are the building blocks that are key to addressing this important issue.

The new Pre-K Common Core Standards support the existing belief that the pre-K classroom lays the groundwork for literacy, math and science through tactile learning experiences where children act on their environment to construct meaning. The early childhood classroom supports social and emotional development and, ultimately, higher-order thinking skills.

Activities such as read-alouds, painting, working with clay and Play-Doh, table manipulatives and building with wooden blocks all reflect New York City’s academic goals for pre-K students.

The new Common Core intends to address college and career readiness. So why not begin at the beginning? The city Department of Education’s pre-K classes are expected to complete Common Core-aligned tasks, which are outlined in various units including trucks, plants and the five senses.

The Common Core also includes group reading activities such as read-alouds and developing number sense using everyday objects. Many of these learning experiences are already being offered to early childhood students who are in high-quality programs, and the new Common Core intends to make this the standard.

Pre-K has often been ignored in the education world and thought of by many as “cute” or “day care.” But ask anyone who has had the privilege of teaching a pre-K class and that person will have a different description. Pre-K students are not incapable and, although they are very young, they are able to engage in meaningful learning experiences.

I think that it is possible to keep and respect the idea that play is children’s work while providing tactile learning experiences that have learning goals in mind.

Jacqueline Boyle, a former early childhood teacher from Brooklyn, said: “Before the new Common Core, the pre-K and early childhood students’ learning outcomes were solely dependent on the teachers in the classroom. Early childhood teachers had to assume the responsibility of transitioning a child into formal schooling.”

Ideally, Boyle said, the teacher focuses on developing the whole child through a social-emotional approach — teaching compassion, artistic expression and cognitive development.

“Having early childhood Common Core tasks will lead to more choice time and more play time in the upper grades because early childhood and kindergarten teachers will finally be using the same professional language regarding curriculum and will have access to each other’s learning objectives,” Boyle said. “The playing field will be evened out; everyone will be on the same page.”

As a former early childhood teacher, I have been a part of the transition from pre-K to kindergarten. The expectation for students to read, write and develop mathematical thinking in kindergarten was not addressed unilaterally in pre-K until now.

I used to think that if a pre-K teacher could only see what would be expected of a kindergarten student in October, the way pre-K is taught would dramatically change.

Early childhood educators across the board would agree that the work in pre-K supports the success of the kindergarten learner.

Standards are critical for setting pedagogical goals. They provide a blueprint for instruction. Standards help to establish authentic assessment, benchmarks and curriculum.

Leaders in the educational arena are making changes to their programs to reflect the new Common Core. Teachers College and the Reading Writing Project, a leader in literacy and professional development, are developing two new writing continuums for grades K-8 aligned to the Common Core Standards, one for opinion/argument writing and one for informational writing.

Other states such as Massachusetts have developed a new curriculum framework that includes pre-K and incorporates the Common Core State Standards. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers are working to develop assessments aligned with the Common Core Standards for these new pre-K standards. The partnership supports the belief that developmentally appropriate assessments before grade 3 are critical.

It is important to address the youngest learners in public schools and early childhood centers. The better prepared our young learners are, the better their chances of success in school and beyond.

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