Sunday, December 6, 2015

Does CCSS Really Cost us Play & Socialization?

In the past few years, I have heard many an educator grumble about the new Common Core expectations.  The seemingly impossible standards, and the even more impossible standardized tests, certainly put teachers and students through the ringer.  In my teeny tiny Kindergarten world, the biggest complaint is always that CCSS is not developmentally appropriate.  "Where is the play?" I always hear.  "How about social/emotional skills?"

I am a baby teacher.  After 5 years into the profession, my perspective may not be on point.  However, I think like anything else in life, everything should be done in moderation.  Just because we are all held to the same standards does not mean that every single classroom will meet those expectations in the same way.  I am so lucky to be part of a very cohesive and talented team of K teachers who ALL reach our CCSS goals differently.  Through learning to teach to CCSS, we have been able to challenge ourselves as educators and expose our students to the very best practices we can find.  It's easy to read a standard and think "What?! There is no way my 5-year-olds can do this! We've never done it like this before," and then you teach it a few times, reteach it even more, and suddenly, they have it.  Even in the worst case scenario, where you simply cannot get students to reach a goal, they are still learning more now that we ever expected of them 5 years ago. 

I still have DAILY center time in my Kindergarten class-- center time that includes play dough, and sensory tables, and painting.  I still sing and dance and sprinkle glitter everywhere.  I still do daily read alouds (can you believe some K teachers interpreted CCSS to have said to STOP read alouds?! WHAT?!) I had an amazing mentor teacher who drilled into me that play and authentic learning experiences can never be replaced by dictated standards or fancy technology.  You know what? We still chart and track our DIBLES goals every day, we still challenge ourselves with sight words and leveled readers, we still begin addition right from October on, we still tackle writing 3-4 sentences by the end of the year.  It's all a matter of balance.  I certainly don't have the perfect formula for Kindergarten success, but I can say I am very comfortable with the choices I make for my little nuggets.

At first, this was tough, of course.  We went from half-day K where we barely could count to 31 and sing the letters, to full-day K where we had to count to 120 by 1s, 5s, and 10s, and be reading emergent readers by the end of the year.  A little mind-boggling, yes.  Impossible? Nothing is impossible with a smile on your face! :)

(I say that a little sarcastically, as I know that not everyone is in a building where this is a reality. I have a very supportive principal who trusts that we know how to do our jobs and lets us do our thing.)

The stress some administrators put on their teachers to achieve CCSS standards, however, can force a teacher to make the worst choices for his/her students.  From my conversations with older teachers who are against CCSS for Kindergarten, I gather that their interpretation of the standards means to force 5-year-olds to do worksheets all day long.  I read a blog article about a school who forced their Kindergarteners to take MAPs testing on computers because of CCSS.  I mean, use common sense, people! Of COURSE that is ridiculous! Of COURSE that will make teachers turn against the standards.  But these should not be common place practices.  These are simply interpretations of the standards gone wrong.  When the leaders of our schools are condoning these kinds of practices, that is the time to begin questioning things.  Remember, it's not like this everywhere.

As an ELL student myself, I am grateful that we have such rigorous standards today.  I may not be able to get all of my ELL students to "read and understand an emergent reader text," but it's important that parents know this is what their children ARE capable of with the right supports.  Teachers are loving, well-meaning, and hardworking people.  We punish ourselves when our kids don't reach an end-of-year standard or make their goals.  It's important to remember that they WILL make their just may take longer than other kids.  ELL students may not make their goals until 4th or even 5th or EVEN 6th grade, and that is unsettling for most educators.  But boy, when my ELL kids DO meet those tough standards...those are the days I live for in Kindergarten.

Here's another article that rings very true to me about CCSS in Kindergarten: