Parents often ask me why we teach the things we do. Last week one of my parents said, "Since when do they learn spelling?" Well...since we've been teaching letter sounds and how to put them together to make a word. We have to call it something! Some even question the way we teach. Why do we have centers? Why doesn't everyone get to do the same things? Why do we put the students in groups? (I often use the word "we" because my school has three kindergarten classrooms.)
Most parents aren't surprised that the Oklahoma State Department of Education dictates what we teach, but most are very surprised by the detailed list of what we are expected to teach and how we are expected to teach it. I find that once my parents have a copy in their hands they are much more understanding of the serious task I confront each day!
Here is just the overview of our state requirements and some of my comments about them. We'll cover some specific sections and subjects later. The Priority Academic Student Skills document for our state is sixteen pages long in pdf format.
Kindergarten programs should:
- Provide an environment designed for the age group served and implemented with attention to the needs and differences of the individual children. I have twenty students in my room. Two can read at first grade level. (Four years ago I had a student who could read at third grade level!) Several of my students can sound out a few words and recognize a dozen familiar words. Four can't recognize all the letters of the alphabet, but do know some words like "no", "cat", "mom". I have students who can't count to twenty and students who can do addition. I think that's what the state means by "differences". LOL
- Provide units or themes of interest which integrate and teach all areas of the core curriculum (e.g., language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, the arts). This week our theme, which leads into Thanksgiving, is "sharing and caring for others". Our Halloween theme was "cats, bats, and spiders". We use themes to incorporate science and social studies into our work. We also use them to add interest to math. For example, we count with pumpkin erasers and plastic flies during October. Teaching at this age must include a certain amount of entertainment.
- Provide an environment arranged in learning centers or learning areas (e.g., art center, science center, reading center, dramatic play center, block center). Each center will have a variety of activities for the children. This arrangement allows for a wide range of developmental interests and abilities within the same classroom. Because we teach such a broad range of students, we must provide for the fact that they work at different levels and speeds. I can't expect my highest group to simply wait until my lowest group has completed their work. We have "table centers" that contain puzzles, flash cards, folder games, dominoes, mat work, etc. So even if all of my children are completing paper work (which, by the way, means each group gets a different paper) they may get a table center activity when they have completed their paper. There is also a time during the day when they all "play" in the larger centers (dramatic play, blocks, etc.). They don't realize they are learning something.
- Provide a balance of classroom activities that are teacher-directed and child-initiated. These activities may be active or quiet, performed individually or in large and small groups. I find that pacing and balance are often difficult for new teachers to achieve. They focus too much on one particular style of presentation because it suits their personality. I had to learn to work with small groups because I prefer whole-group or individual instruction. Children need variety. They especially need periods of quiet and active learning. There are times when I demand absolute quiet- phonics testing, story writing, math paperwork. There are times when I allow talking- art projects, math groups, table centers. Students adapt to what you expect of them.
- Provide a learning process which is active; one in which children interact with each other and materials while engaging in cooperative hands-on learning with day-to-day life experiences. If you visit my classroom you might see us counting plastic flies, writing our names with shaving cream, tasting apples and graphing our favorite kind, or measuring the book shelves in our room.
- Provide curriculum which builds upon what children already know and are able to do to enable them to connect new concepts and skills. We live in a small town in an agricultural area so I know my children are familiar with farm animals, gardens, hunting, fishing, rodeos, etc. I use this knowledge to help them learn new concepts.
- Provide opportunities for exposure to a wide variety of information and literacy experiences and the use of technology through daily activities in the classroom and/or media center. Choosing books and other materials for my students is so challenging! There is just so much available. I try to use the stories and games that are most effective, but each year I find something new that seems to work a little better.
These Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) are intended to be a minimum curriculum for children attending kindergarten in Oklahoma. Teachers trained in early childhood curriculum theories will provide an enriched curriculum including the following skills and many others. In addition to teaching the basic academic subjects, we teach children how to eat, put on their coats, play with others, be polite and respectful, clean up after themselves, and a hundred other "daily routine" things you would assume children already know. We also teach our gifted children whatever they are ready to learn.
Teaching is a challenge. It keeps me busy. It makes me happy. I hope I also make my students happy. Have a great day!