My colleagues and I have been discussing some of the more difficult challenges of teaching kindergarten. As we approach the next report card period it is apparent that many of our students have not been “looking, listening, and learning” as much as we had hoped. There are very few surprises of course. We observe their behavior each and every day. We review their daily work. We know very clearly who has been naughty and who has been nice. We know who is ready to read. But report card testing and the resulting scores somehow make the issue of student progress much more precise…and troubling.
The best students in our classes are those that are motivated to participate and that is something that we can’t always teach, test, or measure.
One of the key factors to success in any endeavor is simply “doing the work”. From sports to piano lessons to learning to read, it is all about practice, practice, practice. Yet some parents don’t seem to understand my warnings about students who sit at their desks and look around, talk, play with their erasers, poke holes in their papers, and draw pictures in the margins. If this behavior is still prominent in December it is likely to be an indicator that the student will not be promoted to first grade. I have been accused of “giving up” on students when I say that, but that is not true. I have simply observed hundreds of students and found that those who cannot be encouraged, motivated, or even bribed into working NOW will most likely not do so in the near future. Those students have already given up on the work, and themselves. They are not mature enough or competent enough to understand what we are doing and may need more time or much more individual assistance to complete the requirements to move on to the next grade level. That doesn’t always magically occur between January and May. I continue plodding along and trying out my bag of tricks, but the truth is that the root of the problem is a complicated combination of genetics and personality that I have no control over and neither do parents. It is one of the facts of life that is so difficult for parents- even at this young age, children are very set in their patterns of behavior and until they have an “ah-ha” moment of their own and decide to change their ways, we have only limited influence on them.
I was amused, but not surprised by a recent study that shows that babies are not only much more proficient at complex thinking than was previously believed, but they are prejudiced about certain colors, shapes, objects, etc. and capable of being intentionally mean! Why did we ever think that a human being is a “blank slate” just waiting for our contributions to their cognitive skills when they learn to adapt to their physical, social, cultural, and emotional environment in just a matter of months? If you just think about their ability to learn our language you have to know that something is going on in that brain that is astounding. And it is their brain that is at work, not just a transfer of ours!
The next few weeks will be a whirl of holiday activity. But when we return from our winter break we will be once again confronted with the challenge of teaching these children the skills they need to advance to the next level in their educational journey. What we need most is their cooperation.