I began testing my students yesterday. I need a “baseline” of operations for several reasons: lesson planning, progress reports, etc. And knowing a child’s starting pointing also helps me understand their confusion and frustration as we begin the serious work of learning to read. What we do in kindergarten may sometimes look like “just fun and games” to an outsider, but everything in my classroom, including Playdoh, contributes to a purpose. That purpose is mastering a long list of skills and concepts. So it’s important for me to have enough information about what my students already know so that I can build on that foundation at a reasonable pace and avoid too much frustration. We have a very long path ahead of us.
Unfortunately there is a big finish line at the end of our path and I already know from experience that some children won’t cross it. Some have such a limited foundation that even tremendous progress will only help them master half of our skills and concepts. I’m not sure what they have been doing for five years, but they certainly haven’t been exposed to speaking, reading and writing. I know that sounds absurd to some of you, but since many of my first students are now parents let me share with you one major change I’ve seen in five year olds over the years: many don’t have parents who speak, read, or write with them. Some children spend more time with the television than they do with their parents. I know parents think that “educational” television is wonderful, and it does serve a purpose in small doses, but it is NOT a substitute for conversations and experiences with an adult. Children acquire most of their language skills before they turn five and they need good role models. Many children never see or hear an adult read a book. Even fewer see an adult writing with a pencil or pen. Our world has embraced technology and progress at the expense of some vital foundation skills and until the requirements for graduation drastically change our children will suffer the consequences. We still require that children learn how to read, write, and solve problems…in math and in life. They can’t just touch a screen and let a device do it for them! I don’t see that changing before I retire.
So…in the meantime I do what I can to bridge the gaps. I teach everything from how to hold a pencil to why “y” sometimes makes an “e” sound. We cover about fifty basic skills and concepts, plus behavior and character traits. We start where we are and go as far as we can!