Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sub Plans (YUCK) and a Lingering Question

So today I got to do one of my least favorite things in the world - write sub plans! It ranks right up there for me with cleaning the toilet and doing the dishes. Thankfully I have a good sub who I trust, but it is still a pain to write the plans... but today my two little tatertots were feeling very under the weather, so I got to run around taking care of them all day. Hopefully they are back to their normal selves tomorrow.

I was hoping to get some pictures of them doing their "texture hunt" as part of our five senses unit, but I decided to keep that fun activity for tomorrow (or the next day if my little ones are still sick). We got to do a lot of fun activities in this unit, so hopefully I get back to school so I can post them soon.

I started blog stalking hopping about a month or two ago, and ever since I have had this huge question in my head... I love finding kindergarten blogs, since I am a K teacher, and they offer so much inspiration.  However, even when I buy or download any of the work by awesome teachers like Deanna Jump or DeeDee Wills, it requires some major adapting for my class (which I don't mind of course).  However, what I don't get is this:  Their students are writing and reading at levels I could never dream of for my students!  Like actually writing sentences and some even mini paragraphs and they have great spelling and spacing... and my class?  Well, we are just making our way into inventive spelling, and last week we started popcorn words.  We have spent all year learning our alphabets and our sounds and we are just now ready to begin THINKING about spelling, writing, and reading. Some kids are just finally starting to understand the basic concepts of print.

I know I am not an anomoly and that I am not a bad teacher and we are not behind.  All of the other kindergarten classes at my school move at the same pace and we are at pretty much the same spot.  Our school is in an affluent neighbourhood and most students come from well to do homes.  We do have a few English Language Learner Students, but I only have about two, which is certainly not enough to account for this difference.  What I see on Kinder blogs is often more like Grade 1 or sometimes even pushing Grade 2 material in our school, when it comes to reading and writing level.  Is this common for all schools in the US?

Our kindergarten students start school at age 5.  There is no Junior Kindergarten or mandatory preschool.  Preschool is often a socialization agent more than a learning agent, but many children do learn letters, numbers, and how to print a rough version of their name there.  It is usually private and very rarely public. Age 5 is the age when pretty much every child starts formal schooling.  Kindergarten is one year, and we very rarely keep students behind a year.  Some schools have started moving to a full day kindergarten, but these are mostly schools with a large ELL population or lower socio-economic groups.  I teach half day kindergarten, so I have my students for about 2 hours and 45 min a day and that includes recess and snack time.

If anyone out there has any insight into this, it is really plaguing me with curiousity! As great as teachers can be (and as bad as teachers can even sometimes be) I don't think it would account for such a huge difference as this in terms of developmental readiness, and I am totally not saying one way is better or worse than the other.  I just want to know what it is.

Is it curriculum?  Is it educational policy?  Is it a different way of looking at schooling?   It's like a mystery to me that I have to solve. I just want to get to the bottom of it before I go crazy thinking about it!  Maybe I can do a masters paper on it one day...


  1. Well I can't speak about kindergarten since I teach first, but in my district we have had full day kindergarten for years. I cannot fathom how a teacher can cover so many things in only a half a day of instruction. I teach in Kentucky and an Indiana city near me is considering full day kindergarten and I was surpirised to learn that in many places kindergarten is still a half day event.

    When I go into teacher stores and look at resource books for first grade I often feel they are written way above a first grade level. For example, so many of the books are printed in such a tiny font with such a little space for students to write. Also, I find much of the vocabulary is very advanced for first graders. Now, once we reach this point in the year, we are ready for such materials.

    I do feel that other schools in other states may have more rigorous curriculum and I even teach above and beyond what I am required to. A lot of it could depend on what reading and math series is used also.

    Oh, and a LOT more can be accomplished when you have an instructional aid in your classroom which first grade classes do not have in my district.

    I could really go on and on about this! It will be interesting to see what others say about this!

  2. I taught kinder for 5 years (5 years ago) and at that time I was doing the same things you are. We would get into inventive spelling around January I guess. By April my kids were usually writing 1 to 2 sentences but they often looked like...

    I lik to p at rs. (I like to play at recess)

    Initial sounds, some sight words, a few middle sounds... by the end of the year I was hoping for 2-3 sentences with beginning, middle, and ending sounds.

    HOWEVER... since then.... our district has gotten WAY more rigorous. Kinder is now more like what I thought beginning of 1st grade used to be. Our 4k program (which is NOT mandatory) is run more like a kindergarten. We have also had full day kindergarten for many many years now too.

    I think it's what you as a teacher, and maybe even more so, what your district expects from the kids.

    My school was a failing school (we did NOT meet AYP on our state test. It was a very low income, bad homelife, type of school. We really had to make things more rigorous for them to succeed.

    Not that I at all agree with it... I guess I don't necessarily disagree either. I think if eventually your kids are getting what they need then you are doing a great job.

    So many states and districts do and expect such different things.

  3. This is my 4th year teaching kindergarten in a low SES rural district in NY. I often think many of the same things you do about the work I see on various blogs being more high-quality than what my kinders are currently producing.

    Kindergarten (& PreK) is not mandatory in New York State which totally blows my mind. I also struggle to understand how some school districts are just now going to full-day kindergarten! And, these districts are affluent...I don't understand how that can be! I can barely fit in everything I NEED to cover in a full-day program; I don't know how others do it in half-days!

    Most of my kids are writing 3 or more complete sentences at this point in the school year. We have something called a 156 Grid at my school, and all but a handful of my 17 students have mastered it. The 156 grid assesses capital & lowercase letter identification, identifying letter when given sound, identifying sound when given letter, giving a word that starts with each letter, and writing letter when given sound. We do have a basal series in our district...we use Open Court. I can see how some components are helpful, but it's really not a series made for differentiated instruction. There isn't ANY guided reading involved which hurts my heart, so I've recently begun trying to incorporate that into my workshop time. A good handful of my kinders are reading level 1 books and the rest are flying through simple sight word books. Our reading series doesn't teach reading strategies other than decoding which is really frustrating. So, I've begun using the beany baby reading strategies, and my kids are loving it! I'm seeing good results too for only having introduced the strategies maybe a month ago!

    I think a lot of the differences we see is due to different programs and expectations in school districts. You should see how far some of my kinders have come just to get to this point in the year! Generally 1/3 of my class each year don't attend PreK, and don't know hardly any letters, sounds, or numbers when they come to me.

    I take pride in how far my kids progress each year, but seeing what other kinders are producing does make me question it sometimes. But, you definitely have to keep in perspective where your kids started in September. Many of my kids have no help at home to play letter, sight word, and number games or read; what they get at school is the only instruction they get, and that puts them at a disadvantage compared to many students in suburban school districts whose parents are extremely involved.

    Hangin' with Mrs. Cooper

  4. I am a new follower and K teacher too! Glad I found you!

  5. Expectations. The kids CAN do it! I start writing with my students on the very FIRST day of school. Now, writing to a 5 year old isn't the same as writing to a 7 year old. A five year old's writing is drawing! It takes a lot of management in the beginning (and it is exhausting), but in the end it's so worth it! You have to model, model, model - every day! Not just during writing time, but throughout the day - you need to write for them, with them, and by them. In the first weeks of school, your kiddos will draw pictures, and you will dictate their "story." Eventually, with enough modeling, kids that are ready and have some alphabetic knowledge will begin to write beginning sounds. Eventually, they'll start to add sight words (no excuse words! If they are on the word wall, they have to use them correctly!) I'll try to make a blog post about writing in K in the very near future and show some samples of a child's progression of writing. They really CAN do it! If you have questions, or want to chat about it more, head on over to my blog: and send me an e-mail (it's there!) A good book to start with: Katie Wood Ray (Already Ready) this book is more pre-k, but it will give you some background, and About the Author's (Katie Wood Ray).

  6. I feel the same way about my first graders. I teach in an urban school district. My kids are not writing quite as much as I want them to be able to. HOWEVER, they are thinking and processing. My mentor has encouraged me not to sweat it. If they can think it correctly, they'll be able to write it.

    I think some of the discrepancies have to do with state standards and curriculum. My district was part of a reading grant for three years that ended 2 or 3 years ago. Unfortunately, the way the grant was written the teachers were not supposed to incorporate writing into their 90minute reading block. Crazy, right?! I think our kids really suffered. Especially K-3 where the grant was focused.

    I am just learning how to incorporate more writing into my reading block. (Thanks, University, for skipping that course!) My kids really are writing more and writing longer sentences.

    I think it's all about expectations and building scaffolds for the kids to reach them. We can't just give them a high expectation without ever helping them reach it. I am definitely going to be changing my reading/writing block next year. As a 2nd year teacher, I still feel like I am learning a lot.