Saturday, June 6, 2015

Who Are You Accountable To?

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This month teachers all over the country are conducting end of year assessments, preparing for progress reports and report cards, and entering data points on more formal, summative assessments. It is important to know how children have progressed, where they are in their learning trajectories, and how they are doing overall.  This makes me think about, as educators:

Who are we accountable to in our work?

Metrics take many forms and we need a variety. Some metrics are personal and qualitative - they tell a story and make the nuances of learning visible.
Others are quantitative and allow us to quickly and easily see measures of particular elements of development and children's progress.

However, increasingly, we do our work in an atmosphere of "finish your peas before you have dessert". This climate permeates our schools, policies, and the statehouse.

"Enter your data points before we give you the money the children deserve."
"Finish your work before you can play."

The irony here is that dessert is often the healthy fruits of play and inquiry, and not just Twinkies.

I have written before about this false dichotomy between play and academics as have others.  Lillian Katz recently asked us to stop thinking in terms of academics vs. play and focus on children's intellectual pursuits writ large. If we think in terms of intellectual goals, instead of purely academic goals, we might be able to turn the tables on this disconnect.

Do we need to assess children's development as they grow? Yes.
Our accountability is to children and families first and foremost.
And as educators, our accountability is also to ourselves and colleagues.  We must continually ask ourselves:

What do we stand for?
What is our image of children and what do we know they can do?
What is our agreed upon stance to how we will support children in their work and play?
What is our philosophy about how children learn and how must that inform our teaching?
What do we teach and how?
How will we know that children are learning?
How will we share the evidence and stories about children's learning with each other, with families, and with children?
How will we share it with district administrators, our community at large, and to our policy makers?

We have some work to do, but let's make it visible to everyone and use this work to bring us together as a field.  Early childhood education IS hard work and requires very specific skills and knowledge. The children are counting on us.

Who are you accountable to?

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Get Ready to Get Ready!

As the school year comes to a close for students all over Somerville, some of our youngest children are participating in events that will prepare them for an important transition - entering kindergarten.

This past Wednesday evening, parents of incoming kindergartners gathered at the Capuano Early Childhood Center.  Name tags were labeled with each family's new school and after some socializing and light snacks parents split up into groups for presentations in Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, or English. 

Somerville has built in routines leading up to the start of kindergarten to help children and families prepare:
  • June 5 - All registered kindergarten children and families visit the Boston Children's Museum.
  • June 10 - Kindergarten Transition Day when children visit kindergarten classrooms.
  • September 2 or 3 Child/Family classroom visits - Class assignments are mailed in late August and children are scheduled for a 45 minute slot in their classroom with a classmate and their teacher.  So they get to meet a new friend and get comfortable.
These school sponsored events bookend critical support families can provide throughout the summer. At our meeting last week we reviewed things parents can do and gave some tips for getting ready for this next phase of children's schooling. 

So here it is, the top ten list of things you can do to help your child be ready for school in the fall - and you will find that this applies to children of many ages:
  1. Talk with your child often about what they are doing and about what you are doing. "Narrate" activities and wonder aloud about what you see. Explain why you are doing what you are doing.
  2. Create a routine over the summer for bedtime and wake up time. Don't wait until the week before school starts. Make sure children get plenty of sleep each night. Children will be tired the first few weeks of school as they build up stamina for new routines. 
  3. Point out letters and signs when you are at the store, on the bus, walking through the town. 
  4. Use counting in daily activities - steps it takes to get to the front door, fruits, napkins, socks.
  5. Help your children learn to button and zip clothing, and get used to using and wearing an backpack. Teach them how to flip on their coats.  (See "coat flip" video!) 
  6. Visit the school playground several times over the summer and play on the equipment. 
  7. Set the amount of screen time to one hour a day and watch with your children and talk about what you are seeing. 
  8. Prepare a "study spot" for your child and supply with paper, scissors, glue stick, plain and colored pencils. This can be as simple as a tray on a table or floor in a centrally located place where children can see you.
  9. Visit the pediatrician and the dentist.  Get hearing and vision checked before school starts.
  10. Read books and tell stories.  Carry a small notebook and pencils for children to draw and write while out and about.  Carry a small book that children can read or that you can read to them. Tell your own stories.  Nothing captivates a child more than hearing, "When I was little...."
Develop a routine built around the many activities and resources available to you this summer in our city.  The Somerville Hub is a place to keep up to date with multiple events, programs, and local parks. Summer activities are also listed at Somerville Family Learning Collaborative with a selection of workshops and parent supports. Weekly playgroups at The Growing Center and activities through the Somerville Recreation DepartmentSummer Programs through Somerville Community Schools are another option.  And of course the library is a place to choose books and participate in events and story times.

Have a wonderful summer getting ready!