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April 1, 2003
Vol. 60
No. 7

EL Extra / The First Years of School

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Credit: © Stefanie Felix

Role of Academics in the Early Grades

Marilou Hyson (“Putting Academics in Their Place,” p. 20) discusses the appropriate role of academic content in the early years of schooling. She points out that early childhood educators “are replacing the either/or thinking of 15 years ago—academics or play; adult-directed instruction or free exploration—with a more complex and realistic picture of appropriate, effective early childhood education.”
  • Important, appropriate academic content. How do you identify the concepts and skills that are most significant for later learning, and that create the most engagement in young children?
  • Emphasis on supportive relationships and positive approaches to learning. How do classroom routines and activities promote students' social and emotional competence?
  • Appropriate instructional strategies. Does instruction build on young children's natural interests and learning styles, including play, drawing, and talk?
  • Appropriate assessment methods. Do you embed systematic observations and other assessments in students' everyday activities and interactions? Are assessments aligned with the specific curriculum used in the classroom as well as state and district standards?

Readiness for School

Two articles that address the issue of how schools determine an individual child's readiness for school (Robert C. Pianta and Karen La Paro, “Improving Early School Success,” p. 24; Sue Dockett and Bob Perry, “The Transition to School: What's Important?” p. 30) both agree that teachers consider social and emotional adjustment more important than academic skills in determining whether an individual child is ready for kindergarten.
  • Ability to follow directions
  • Ability to work as part of a group
  • Ability to work independently
  • Positive attitude toward learning
  • Having a formal preschool experience
  • Having a stable home environment
  • Academic skills

Reading Instruction

Building students' vocabulary is a frequently neglected area of reading instruction, and is especially important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who tend to enter school with smaller vocabularies, according to Connie Juel, Gina Biancarosa, David Coker, and Rebecca Deffes (“Walking with Rosie: A Cautionary Tale of Early Reading Instruction,” p. 12). These authors describe a method they term anchored word instruction, which focuses students' attention on multiple aspects of words, teaching them decoding skills, spelling, and vocabulary all at the same time in the context of meaningful text.
Think about reading instruction in your school or classroom. Do you develop students' comprehension skills and decoding skills right from the beginning, or focus primarily on phonological awareness and decoding before paying attention to the meaning of words? What strategies have you found effective in building students' vocabulary skills in the early years?

Children with Reading Difficulties

  • At this point, we don't have evidence that there is a cause and effect between reading more and becoming a better reader. “If you send children who aren't good readers off to read by themselves, they may be daydreaming or reading words incorrectly.” Do you agree? What are the implications of this assertion for any Sustained Silent Reading program that you school has in place?
  • There is no justification for delaying school for children with late birthdays. “Children learn to read in school. So you don't want to deprive children of that experience.” Do you agree? How can kindergarten programs give children the experiences that will help build their early reading experiences, and at the same time be sensitive to their needs as young children?
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The First Years of School
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