We hear concerns about whether the Common Core is developmentally appropriate in the early grades, but the New Hampshire teachers I talk to don’t share that concern.
On my recent visit to the Sanborn Regional School District in Kingston and Newton, the passion for their teaching and their commitment to making the new standards work for their students were clear.
Here are some of the highlights:
What about the balance of play and instruction? Beth Paul, kindergarten teacher for 10 years at the Bakie Elementary School in Kingston, NH, said,
“We have agreed, we not giving up play….We just decided, we’re not going to give it up…..We’ve decided that we’re going to put as much of our academics into our play as we can.”
Jen Manning, kindergarten teacher, also with 10 years experience, at Memorial Elementary School, Newton, NH, said,
“They will play! Just building blocks. There’s 10 lessons in building blocks!”
The new standards can seem overwhelming. How do you bring them down to earth – if you do? Beth Paul, again:
“We have worked very hard to, as much as we can, make the Common Core developmentally appropriate.
“We’re using the standards as our end goal but creating activities in the classroom that we know are going to be appropriate for those kids.
“So, just looking at the Common Core is a little bit daunting – you’re thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s a lot of things for five and six year-olds to do’ – but I think we’ve been able to step back and think, ‘OK, how can we do this in a way that’s appropriate for children of that age?’
“We break it down into smaller pieces. For instance, there’s a standard about composing and decomposing numbers. You look at that and you say, ‘In kindergarten, what does that even mean?’
“And when we look at it in our curriculum, it can absolutely make sense for kindergarteners. To decompose five means you might have two blocks and three blocks….OK, well, that makes sense.”
How hard – or not – has the transition to the Common Core been? Jen Manning:
“Even though there’s so much rigor and there’s high expectations in the Common Core, students can achieve and can reach mastery of these standards. It’s all about the way that you approach it and the way that you decide to teach your children.
“I remember absolutely balking at [the notion that my kindergarten students could learn to decompose numbers], thinking, ‘I cannot even imagine putting two colored sets of buttons in front of my students and expect them to make combinations of five.’….I couldn’t even believe that was an expectation. Now, absolutely!
UPDATE 1/23/14: I just did this post on teaching math in the early grades in California. It’s amazing how closely efforts there parallel what you hear the Sanborn teachers saying.