A Year in the Life: Ambient Math Wins the Race to the Top!
For one year, 365 days, this blog will address the Common Core Standards from the perspective of creating an alternate, ambient learning environment for math. Ambient is defined as “existing or present on all sides, an all-encompassing atmosphere.” And ambient music is defined as: “Quiet and relaxing with melodies that repeat many times.”
Why ambient? A math teaching style that’s whole and all encompassing, with themes that repeat many times through the years, is most likely to be effective and successful. Today’s post will address the “Reading: Foundational Skills” segment of the CCSS Language Arts Standards for Grade 1. There are fourteen standards, sub-divided into four groups. The rich story and literature content of the Waldorf Grade 1 curriculum allows the 6-7 year old the freedom to develop capacities that are stunted and neglected with an emphasis on lessons and materials that are overly abstract and developmentally inappropriate.
I will summarize the standards here in blue rather than listing each separately since they’re a poor match with what might be considered appropriate and effective for Grade 1. The Common Core’s approach is “top-down,” meaning that standards designed to produce college and career ready adults are filtered down (not so much watered down) from Grade 12 through Kindergarten. “Bottom up” would be a more developmentally appropriate approach: beginning with seed curriculum to produce a healthier (and superior) end result.
The CCSS Language Arts Standards for Reading: Foundational Skills, Grade 1 are divided into four groups:
1) Print Concepts:
Demonstrate understanding of the organization and basic features of print.
Recognize distinguishing features of a sentence (capitalization and ending punctuation).
2) Phonological Awareness:
Demonstrate understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds.
Distinguish long and short vowel sounds in spoken, single-syllable words.
Speak single syllable words using blends (phonemes) including consonant blends.
Isolate and pronounce initial, middle vowel, and final phonemes in single syllable words.
Segment single syllable words into a sequence of individual sounds.
3) Phonics and Word Recognition:
Know and apply grade level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
Know the spelling-sound correspondences for common consonant digraphs.
Decode regularly spelled one-syllable words.
Know final -e and common vowel team conventions for representing long vowel sounds.
Know every syllable must have a vowel. Determine the number of syllables in a printed word.
Decode two-syllable words by properly breaking them in two.
Read words with inflectional endings.
Recognize and read grade-appropriate irregularly spelled words.
Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.
Read orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings.
These standards are highly abstract and analytical, based on phonics decoding techniques. So, rather than dissecting each word under a microscope, and in the process diminishing the rich content of the story or statement, the content or story can carry all of the material listed above. Children must be exposed to great literature from the very beginning, rather than dumbing or watering down what we present to them with overly simplified one-syllable words. If left intact, the jewel of the story excites and motivates while speaking to the highest consciousness of the child. Boredom is non-existent when the curriculum is reverently respectful of the child’s native intelligence.
This is a lot of content, and the fact that the standards are tied to high-stakes testing (i.e., teachers whose students score poorly risk job loss, or students who score poorly risk being retained in a lower grade or being classified as special needs) makes it intolerably stressful for teachers, children, and parents alike. This is reflected in radically increased lesson prep time and translated into worksheets for both seat work at school and overly time consuming homework. And as such, it is an inefficient use of teacher/student abilities and resources.
Though the following research is applicable to Kindergarten rather than Grade 1, it points to the concept of readiness that can (and should) apply up to Grade 3 (the traditional “catch up” grade level. Kindergartners are presently being tested for readiness (with the assumption that they were prepped for Kindergarten in preschool). This overemphasis on abstract teaching carries over into Grades 1 and 2. And indeed, if Piaget and Steiner’s educational philosophies are taken into account, abstract content should be taught concretely and pictorially until ages 11 or 12.
“A 2011 nationwide study by the Gesell Institute for Child Development found that the ages at which children reach developmental milestones have not changed in 100 years.
For example, the average child cannot perceive an oblique line in a triangle until age 5 ½. This skill is a prerequisite to recognizing, understanding and writing certain letters. The key to understanding concepts such as subtraction and addition is “number conservation.” A child may be able to count five objects separately but not understand that together they make the number five. The average child does not conserve enough numbers to understand subtraction and addition until 5½ or 6.
If we teach reading, writing, subtraction and addition before children are ready, they might memorize these skills, but they will not learn or understand them. And it will not help their achievement later on.”
First graders are not developmentally ready to take on abstract tasks. Rather, exposure to good literature through storytelling or reflections on their relationship to others and the world through nature stories can provide the necessary preparation for excellent reading skills later on. If seeds such as these are planted in good, nurturing soil, watered and cared for, college and career ready adults will be the end result. But beyond college and career readiness, if the stages of development are properly heeded and the child is gradually gifted with the fruits of human heritage on this planet, s/he will carry a truly moral consciousness forward to address any and all of the future challenges now developing on so many fronts.
Knowledge ensues in an environment dedicated to imaginative, creative knowing, where student and teacher alike surrender to the ensuing of that knowledge as a worthy goal. More CCSS ELA Standards tomorrow!