Message from the Superintendent Regarding Kindergarten

posted Jul 18, 2018, 3:09 PM by Deanne Galdston   [ updated Jul 23, 2018, 9:34 AM ]

Dear Parents and Caregivers:

I hope this letter finds you well, enjoying the pleasures of summer. I realize this fall may be the first time many of our kindergarten students and parents enter our doors and I want to assure you that it will be a wonderful experience for all. To that end, I want to take this opportunity to address concerns that have arisen regarding free choice, unstructured time, and recess in kindergarten.  We have heard the concerns of the community and will be working as a team of teachers and administrators to address these prior to the beginning of the school year.  

I bear responsibility for not clearly communicating with incoming kindergarten families about the new programs and the rationale behind the programs that are being incorporated into our kindergarten schedule. To remedy that, I will convene the kindergarten team and elementary administrators for a full-day planning meeting and I will address kindergarten at the WPS Curriculum Subcommittee Meeting scheduled for August 2 at 6:30 pm. The planning and discussion meeting will center around how to best incorporate our new programs within the confines of the school day, and to consider ways to provide dedicated unstructured time in the day.  Moreover, I will host a Community Forum on kindergarten instruction once the kindergarten team has a chance to meet. This Forum will likely take place during the week of August 13 and I will communicate the exact time and location once decided. I look forward to meeting many of you there, however, for those of you who are unable to attend, I will provide a summary of the presentation on our website thereafter.

An Overview of Kindergarten in WPS:

We know that kindergarten children come to school as natural explorers seeking information through hands-on discovery, curiosity, and play. Centers and Choice Time are the cornerstone of instruction throughout our kindergarteners’ day, used extensively during our literacy and math blocks. Additionally, our kindergarteners regularly experience learning in the outdoor gardens, which is in keeping with nature-based learning and our hands-on, experiential science instruction. Free choice, experiential learning, unstructured and guided play, sensory integration, and motor skill development are fully incorporated into the kindergarten curriculum and classroom environment.  It should also be noted that throughout the week, our kindergarteners enjoy art, music, Spanish, library, and two full blocks of physical education ---all of which are predicated on choice, movement, and play.  Rarely will you find our kindergarten students sitting for large group instruction, except for a short focus lesson or a read-aloud.  Kindergarten lays the foundation of literacy, numeracy, and social/emotional development, all accomplished within a developmentally-appropriate environment. 

I believe that what we have designed for kindergarten next year is very much in keeping with research and best practices to incorporate choice and play throughout the day.  While the schedule has one dedicated recess block, there will be several opportunities for students to be active, to socialize, and to play throughout the day.  Also, the structure of kindergarten continually evolves to meet the developmental needs of the children.  Fall in kindergarten looks very different than spring. 

Our Process:

This spring we reviewed our schedules at the elementary level to ensure cohesion in anticipation of introducing new literacy and social-emotional curricula. The District has incorporated three vital initiatives into our kindergarten curriculum:  Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES);  Fundations, a research-based phonics program; and Responsive Classroom, a research-based social-emotional learning program. While looking at Watertown-specific data regarding phonemic awareness and phonics using the Quick Phonics Screener and the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System, we identified that our students needed an evidence-based phonics program designed to increase literacy skills.  We incorporated Fundations, a universal phonics program based on Wilson, which is a strong evidence-based phonics intervention.  The Social/Emotional Learning Team, comprised of over 30 educators and administrators across the district, met throughout the past year and a half to research and identify an excellent social/emotional learning program for all students K-5, selecting Responsive Classroom. As we thoughtfully incorporate these initiatives into our schedule and continue the expansion of Readers Workshop, we are working with our teachers through ongoing professional development/coaching on how best to schedule and deliver these programs in the kindergarten environment. Thus, it was important to reevaluate the structure of the school day across all three elementary schools.

Clarifications:

The misconceptions around kindergarten may have arisen when a sample schedule was shared with incoming kindergarten parents on the last day of school.  This sample schedule caused concern that the District was substantially changing how kindergarten would be structured, which is not accurate.  The sample schedule did not articulate how the content in these blocks would be delivered, which is in keeping with the way it has always been done.  For example, learning blocks in a schedule (i.e. 45 minutes for math) are a tool to provide structure to teachers for managing their day, however, our highly skilled teachers are given the flexibility and autonomy to make decisions, which respond to the developmental needs of their students throughout the year, and on any given day the “schedule” changes. Our teachers are masters in developing high-interest engaging lessons embedding play across content areas throughout the day. We know that play can produce a powerful blending of enjoyment with academic learning when intentionally structured, facilitated by teachers who provide scaffolding and who, through observation, reflect on children’s development and learning in play.  At the end of this letter, there are several links to articles discussing the importance of play, more specifically, guided play. 

In the companion document to the Massachusetts Standards for PreK and Kindergarten Social and Emotional Learning (2015):  http://www.doe.mass.edu/kindergarten/SEL-APL-Env.pdf, in the Play section on pages 6-7, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education makes clear they are advocating for a particular kind of play:


“Children of this age still need guidance and support from teachers to help them engage in the sustained, complex play that is most beneficial to their development. Within a rich play-based curriculum, early childhood educators can implement the expectations of early learning standards, including language, literacy, and other academic content (Hyson, 2003, NAEYC & NAECS/SDE, 2002). Play can produce a powerful blending of enjoyment with academic learning when intentionally structured and facilitated by teachers who provide scaffolding (e.g., modeling, coaching, or prompting skills in reading, writing, mathematical or scientific thinking), and who observe and reflect on children’s development and learning in play. Strong early childhood teachers understand how to differentiate the level and nature of support for each child based on individual learning goals and development.”

Additionally, the linked article from The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Watertown’s accrediting institution, Assessing and Scaffolding Make-Believe Play by Leong and Bodrova (2012) defines the criteria for the kinds of “Mature” (aka "complex") Make-believe Play that positively impact children’s development.

After meeting with the kindergarten teachers and administrators, our Assistant Superintendent, Theresa McGuinness, will be producing a brochure that fully explains our approach to teaching and learning in kindergarten.  I have provided links below to scholarly articles and helpful resources that discuss high-interest topics for kindergarten parents.

As always, please do not hesitate to reach out directly to me, to Dr. McGuinness, or to your child’s principal if you have questions about our District programs.  Thank you for your continued involvement in and support of our fine schools.

All my best,

Dede Galdston, Ed.D

Superintendent, Watertown Public Schools

Some Helpful Resources:

The companion document to the MA Standards for PreK and K Social and Emotional Learning (2015):  (Play section on pages 6-7)

Article on Purposeful Play in Full Day Kindergarten

Article on Guided Play for Early Childhood

Responsive Classroom Information for Kindergarten

Research Base for Wilson (Fundations)

Investigating Choice Time: Inquiry, Exploration, and Play

Article on Inquiry-Based Science at Earlier Grades

FAQs about FLES in Watertown Including References

School Committee Presentation on Social Emotional Learning in Watertown

May 2018 Teaching and Learning Update

Preserving Play in Early Childhood Classroom:  Suggestions for Early Childhood Teacher Education and Policy

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