In April 2015 NIEER will be running a blog addressing “Top 10 Concerns about Common Core State Standards in Early Childhood Education.” As NIEER put it, “There’s been lots of discussion about the Common Core State Standards recently, and their impact on classroom activity and child outcomes. Over the next few weeks, we plan to have experts comment on the top 10 concerns we’ve heard about CCSS.” UIC Center for Literacy Director Bill Teale and former Center research associates Katie Paciga and Jessica Hoffman were as to address three of the top ten concerns. Here are their responses. We’ll post the entire blog as soon as it is available.
8. Rigorous standards may lead to reduced play and rich activity in preschool and Kindergarten classrooms. There is no reason on earth that more rigorous early literacy standards should lead to reduced play in preschool and kindergarten. But there has been a dramatic decrease in the amount of “play” time in early education contexts (e.g., Frost, 2012; Gray, 2011; Sofield, 2013). The CCSS make no specific mention of play, nor do they specify the methods through which kindergartners are to demonstrate meeting the standards, so why is there a flood of commentary from practitioners (e.g., Cox, n.d.; Holland, 2015), professional organizations and advocates (e.g., Carlsson-Paige, McLaughlin, & Almon, 2015; Nemeth, 2012; Paciga, Hoffman & Teale, 2011), larger media hubs (e.g., Kenny, 2013), and parents, too, about the role of play (and the lack of it) in early education since the release of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010?
We suspect it is a combination of several influences, two of which are especially pertinent to our comments here. One relates to the points we made about Concern #7 and “drill and kill” instruction. The specificity and ramped-up expectations of the CCSS have prompted many administrators to issue mandates to spend X number of minutes teaching Y. The misconception here lies in what constitutes teaching in an early childhood classroom. The CCSS don’t really discuss play one way or the other. But the experiences with language and literacy that young children need and the freedom for discussion and exploration that play allows are critically important. Dramatic play with embedded literacy props and language interactions; retelling stories through flannel boards and puppets; or, making characters from clay and discussing them; writing stories, lists and letters; composing signs for structures created with blocks—these and other play-related activities offer so much more in the way of developmentally appropriate opportunities to teach the concepts and skills embodied in the CCSS. The other—related—factor contributing to reduced play and rich activity is a topic that has been iscussed in early childhood education for the past 30 years: the push down of the curriculum from the later primary grades into earlier education. Add to that the recent emphasis on Value-Added-Measures (VAM) for teacher evaluation and voila, we find in K and preK increased emphasis on narrowly focused skills such as phonemic awareness, alphabet knowledge, phonics, and sight word recognition that are susceptible to being measured by standardized assessments. The ouble is that these skills can be taught without embedding them in a rich play context, and too often administrators are more worried about scores to prove value added rather than ensuring that children have deep understanding of both foundational and higher level understandings in early literacy.
As Ponsdicio (2015) points out, “No one wants to see academic pressure bearing down on kindergarteners. That would only lead to uninterested children and with dim reading prospects. But focusing on language in kindergarten does not entail diminished play-based learning.” As early childhood professionals, we need to emphasize that our objection is to the administrative recommendations for how we prepare children for mandated assessments, rather than (1) including reading, writing, and language-based experiences in our school day, or (2) on the absence of play-based literacylearning…because the CCSS don’t say we should exclude the play.
7. Literacy instruction may become limited to a few texts and drill-and-kill teaching. There are two issues embedded in this concern: (1) drill/didactic literacy teaching and (2)too few texts.With respect to the concern about drill-and-kill teaching, we believe: That teachers should teach literacy in kindergarten. The CCSS propose a list of specific English/Language Arts concepts and skills that kindergartners should learn (and therefore teachers should teach). Good news: The list includes both foundational and higher-level skills; and it encompasses not only reading but also writing and a rather robust conception of oral language.
Potential bad news: Many educators look at the standards and conclude that the best way to affect children’s learning of them is to teach them, the interpretation of the word teach being sit them down and give them specific lessons on the specific skills so that they can practice and thereby learn those skills. Problem: This conception of teaching is drill-and-kill. It is not even recommended on “constrained skills” of early literacy such as alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness and is totally useless for impacting “unconstrained skills” such as comprehension, composing in writing, or integrating knowledge and ideas.
Solution: As much as possible, embed intentional literacy instruction in the context of content-rich, meaningful activities (such as dramatic play, science activities, and thematicunits like the Farm to Table example discussed in Hoffman, et al. (2014).
Too few texts: Here’s the good news about the K-1 Text Exemplars (see CCSS-ELA Appendix B): the stories, poetry, and read aloud selections listed there are, for the mostpart, high quality literature (“text selections…worth reading and re reading” that “will encourage students and teachers to dig more deeply into their meanings than they would with lower quality material”), and they are also works that would be engaging to many kindergartners. Here’s the bad news about those exemplars:
- They are unacceptably under representative of multicultural literature and international literature for U.S. children.
- They are prone to be regarded as “the Common Core texts we need to include in our program” (We have repeatedly seen instances of school administrators purchasing the list of books included in Appendix B.). This is very problematic, as the CCSS do intend that these particular books serve as the basis for the curriculum, and there are SO many other books available that can more appropriately be used, depending on the particular school in question.
- Far too many kindergarten teachers have little knowledge of children’s literature, and the CCSS provide no resources for them to use in selecting books beyond the few text exemplars included.
3. The standards are complex and extensive, and there is little guidance for teachers to implement them in Kindergarten classrooms. On the one hand, yes, the standards are “complex” in the sense that they are communicated in a complicated document that represents high-level goals for student learning. Furthermore, they do not prescribe how a teacher should actually teach each standard, which speaks to the issue of little guidance. This lack of guidance has its downside: it can easily lead teachers to employ a didactic pedagogical approach to kindergarten literacy education, thinking that each standard is best “taught” directly, thus missing opportunities for authentic language and literacy practices, embedded in activities with larger conceptual goals.
On the other hand, we have been quite underwhelmed by the lack of complexity of the learning expectations in a number of standards at the kindergarten level. Take for instance, Reading Standards for Literature Standard 6, “Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.” At the kindergarten level, the standard reads, “With prompting and support, name the author and illustrator of a story and define the role of each in telling the story,” which contributes almost nothing to the development of the anchor standard. We would support a higher standard to be achieved with support, such as, “With guidance and support, describe differences among characters’ points of view and how those differences affect character feelings and actions.” The problem with a number of the kindergarten ELA standards is that they represent goals for independent mastery to be demonstrated by the end of the school year.
Over-emphasis on what kindergartners are expected to do independently (or with minimal support) can easily translate into classroom practice narrowly focused on very basic skills (often unrelated to the anchor standards), with few of the higher-level foci of the anchor standards being modeled and supported in early education. There are many other places in the more complex strands of the standards where standards at the K level either: (1) do not include a grade level standard, or (2) “dumb down” what children are expected to do in K, even with adult support (see extended discussion and detailed examples in Hoffman, Paciga, & Teale, 2014).To be clear, we are not arguing to up the ante for kindergartners’ independent reading performance. However, we do argue strongly for upping their daily participation in collaborative experiences with teachers and peers around complex literacy tasks that are better aligned to later grade level and anchor standards, e.g., modeling and discussion through think alouds and guiding questions in interactive read alouds of complex texts and shared writing activities. It is important to remember that students require much collaborative practice with complex literacies in early childhood before they will be able to demonstrate proficiency independently in later grades.
Carlsson-Paige, N., McLaughlin, G.B., & Almon, J.W. (2015). Reading instruction in Kindergarten: Little to gain and much to lose. Alliance for Childhood and Defending the Early Years. Available at https://deyproject.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/readinginkindergarten_online- 1.pdf
Cox, J. (n.d.). Bring play into the Common Core State Standards. Retrieved from http://www.teachhub.com/bring-play-common-core-state-standards
Gray, P. (2011). The decline of play and the rise of psychopathy in children and adolescents. The American Journal of Play, 3(4), 443-463. Available at http://www.journalofplay.org/sites/www.journalofplay.org/files/pdf-articles/3-4- article-gray-decline-of-play.pdf
Hoffman, J.L., Paciga, K.A. & Teale, W.H. (2014). Common Core State Standards and early literacy instruction: Confusions and conclusions. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Literacy. Available at http://cfl.uic.edu/publications/research-and-policy-reports/
Holland, H. (2015, March 5). Elementary school dumps homework and tells kids to play instead. Retrieved from http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150305/kips- bay/elementary-school-dumps-homework-tells-kids-play-instead/
Kenny, D. (2013, March 8). The right curriculum for kindergarten: Play. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/making-the-common- core-work-for-students/2013/03/08/a8e7b5d8-86a8-11e2-98a3- b3db6b9ac586_story.html
Nemeth, K. (2012, August 25). Will Common Core change Pre-K and K? No. In D. Ravitch, Blog. Retrieved from http://dianeravitch.net/2012/08/25/will-common- core-change-pre-k-and-k-no/
Paciga, K.A., Hoffman, J.L. & Teale, W.H. (2011). The National Early Literacy Panel Report and classroom instruction: Green lights, caution lights, and red lights. Young Children, 66 (6), 50-57. Ponsidcio, R. (2015, March 5). No time to lose: Common Core critics are wrong about whether kindergarten reading goals are harmful. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/opinion-blog/2015/03/05/early-reading- isnt-a-threat-to-kindergarteners-neither-is-common-core
Sofield, B.M. (2013). It’s not child’s play. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.7282/T3765CZB