Tonight I have the privilege of sitting down for a few minutes and talking with parents about their concerns and hopefully reassuring most of them that their child will indeed survive kindergarten. There have been so many curriculum changes over the last few years that most parents make the comment that what we do now is equivalent to what they did in the first grade. I agree. But I also think that most children are eager to learn and certainly quite capable of meeting and exceeding our new expectations.
Because our time is limited I will try to stay focused on three key topics: test scores, work habits, and parent questions.
Test scores are certainly questionable at this age and I’ve made my doubts about standardized tests pretty clear. However, yesterday I took my students to the cafeteria, where there are no posters, charts, or desk tags, and asked them to do four things for me: write their first and last name, write the alphabet, write 0-20, and write down the 8 letters we have studied as I made the sound of each letter. Most of my students can do all four of those quickly and accurately. One boy even spells his name aloud for me if I ask him to do so. One asked if I wanted uppercase or lowercase letters. Another can write any series of numbers because he knows the “pattern” of numbering. The majority of my students accurately identified all eight sounds that we have concentrated on these past few weeks. One of my lowest students, who wrote only a few letters of the alphabet, still recognized six sounds correctly. (Those are two different skills.) I will use our little test in conjunction with their August pre-test and the two formal tests to pinpoint areas of concern.
I consider work habits to be the most important skill learned in the first few weeks of school. Year after year I see intelligent, capable children flounder in kindergarten because they are sloppy, disorganized, careless, and unmotivated. If those behaviors are not transformed before first grade I can almost guarantee they will continue throughout the child’s remaining school years. We often overlook the power of habits; once formed they are incredibly difficult to change. So I teach my students basic procedures and organizational skills. For example, if we are working on multiple pages, as we would do when making a 4-6 page book, they are taught to keep all but one page stacked under their pencil box. They can concentrate on completing one page at a time and are not apt to cut through two pages accidently or drop one on the floor. If they are cutting out little pictures or letters that will be glued onto a page later, they put the little pieces in their pencil box or a little plastic cup from art center so they will not lose them. After nine weeks most of my students move efficiently from one task to another and still have time for the three “free choice” activity periods in our schedule. Others are still making the same mistakes over and over, losing their work, having difficulty completing their work, and leaving a trail of trash and supplies all over the room. Those are habits I will certainly discuss with parents!
Even though there are daily opportunities to meet briefly with parents (breakfast, conference time, end of the day) and we communicate in writing through student folders and daily work, parents are often hesitant to ask some specific questions until this first formal conference. I know some are waiting to see what progress their child makes during the first nine weeks and hold off on questioning anything until they see that first report card. So tonight I will answer any questions they have about the report card and what they can do to help facilitate their child’s progress.
I wish I had an hour to sit down with each parent and explain much more of what we do. But hopefully through all of the other means of communication we can work together as a team to educate these little minds and start them off on their educational journey with the knowledge and skills they need for success!