Tag Archives: Zone of Proximal Development

LET’S NOT LET KINDERGARTEN DISAPPEAR!

book nookWhat have we done to kindergarten? Like the loss of so many aspects of our democracy, the concept of kindergarten as a garden for children is disappearing from sight. In both cases, my heart is breaking.

I’ve made the unfortunate move of joining some Facebook sites for kindergarten teachers and when I read many of the posts, my blood begins to boil.
“We introduce 2 new words a week as well as review what we have learned. (We have 40 words on our county sight word list.) The motions and visual piece really help my kiddos. I do not always read what is listed on the back…Sometimes I just make up my own.”
• “ I only have 25 mandatory words, but last year when all the kiddos mastered them by November, I carefully selected another 25 to put out there for exposure. I use the small cards, in a pocket chart near our morning meeting things. Introduce 5 or so a week October – December and then daily review one column of five each day of the week.”
• “We have 87 sight words!!!”
• “Our home living areas were taken away this summer”

What does NAEYC, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, say about appropriate kindergarten practices? How do they define what seems to be considered an out of date expression “Developmentally Appropriate Practices?” I went to their website to check it out.

Here’s what is written on their Kindergarten page:
“Developmentally appropriate practice… is an approach to teaching grounded in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education. Its framework is designed to promote young children’s optimal learning and development.
DAP involves teachers meeting young children where they are (by stage of development), both as individuals and as part of a group; and helping each child meet challenging and achievable learning goals.”

They write that kindergarten must fit appropriately between preschool and first grade. I’ll add to that by saying that kindergarten shouldn’t be confused with first grade.

Here are some teaching tips that are provided on the NAEYC kindergarten page:

“Teachers must balance kindergartners’ varying abilities and needs while making sure that the curriculum fits appropriately between preschool and first grade.

Let’s see what DAP {Developmentally Appropriate Practice} in kindergarten looks like:
Mrs. K sits with Keira, going over letter-sound correspondence. Then she goes to the block area to help Shelley. Mrs. K doesn’t make pronouncements; instead, she respectfully waits for the right moment to build on children’s existing conversations. She listens attentively and understands where, when, and how to intervene. She joins in the children’s play, modeling positive behavior. Her contributions are subtle, playful, and full of teaching.

Kindergarten teachers must fully engage in the social world of the classroom and be intentional in their interactions and instruction. With the many differences among—and wide age range of—kindergartners, teachers should be responsive to developmental, individual, and cultural variation. Thoughtful, sensitive teaching promotes a joy of learning and prepares children for further academic challenges.

Acknowledge what children do or say. Let children know that we have noticed by giving positive attention, sometimes through comments, sometimes through just sitting nearby and observing. (“Thanks for your help, Kavi.” “You found another way to show 5.”)

Encourage persistence and effort rather than just praising and evaluating what the child has done. (“You’re thinking of lots of words to describe the dog in the story. Let’s keep going!”)

• Give specific feedback rather than general comments. (“The beanbag didn’t get all the way to the hoop, James, so you might try throwing it harder.”)

Model attitudes, ways of approaching problems, and behavior toward others, showing children rather than just telling them (“Hmm, that didn’t work and I need to think about why.” “I’m sorry, Ben, I missed part of what you said. Please tell me again.”)

Demonstrate the correct way to do something. This usually involves a procedure that needs to be done in a certain way (such as using a wire whisk or writing the letter P).

Create or add challenge so that a task goes a bit beyond what the children can already do. For example, you lay out a collection of chips, count them together and then ask a small group of children to tell you how many are left after they see you removing some of the chips. The children count the remaining chips to help come up with the answer. To add a challenge, you could hide the chips after you remove some, and the children will have to use a strategy other than counting the remaining chips to come up with the answer. To reduce challenge, you could simplify the task by guiding the children to touch each chip once as they count the remaining chips.

Ask questions that provoke children’s thinking. (“If you couldn’t talk to your partner, how else could you let him know what to do?”)

Give assistance (such as a cue or hint) to help children work on the edge of their current competence (“Can you think of a word that rhymes with your name, Matt? How about bat . . . Matt/bat? What else rhymes with Matt and bat?”)

Provide information, directly giving children facts, verbal labels, and other information. (“This one that looks like a big mouse with a short tail is called a vole.”)

Give directions for children’s action or behavior. (“Touch each block only once as you count them.” “You want to move that icon over here? Okay, click on it and hold down, then drag it to wherever you want.”)”

It’s interesting that there’s nothing written about requiring children to memorize a bank of sight words or number facts. The emphasis seems to be more on helping children to understand, question, manipulate materials. Although the expression isn’t used, the message is to consider the child’s Zone of Actual Development and Zone of Proximal Development when introducing a challenge.

It’s so important that teachers and administrators remember the importance of play in the life of a four, five and six year old child. As I wrote in my book Choice Time: How to Deepen Learning Through Inquiry and Play, “…when children are at play, they’re not just playing – they’re learning. Play is the engine that drives their learning.”rachel_sci1

Photo: Kristin Eno

All of this information presents some big challenges. How can we be sure that teachers of kindergarten children understand the basic principles of developmentally appropriate practice? How can we support them to stand up to administrators who don’t have this understanding so that they can provide joyful, playful, intellectually challenging kindergarten classrooms?

These are important questions that I’m pondering. What are your thoughts and suggestions? How can we support kindergarten classrooms where the goal for each child isn’t to memorize 80 sight words but rather to develop socially, creatively and inquisitively?