Higher-Level Thinking

Kindergarten and the Common Core

The expectations for kindergarten have gotten higher and our five year olds are expected to do more and more. Of course they are! They should do more and they should learn more. The amount of knowledge that is available to them in this modern world is tremendous, and they should be prepared and able to access all of it.

However, at the same time that we are trying to expose our children to more knowledge, we are also losing important aspects of childhood development. We are giving up the practices that have always defined early childhood learning. But correlation is not causation. Just because these two events are happening in our education system at the same time, it does not mean that the one is not causing the other. In fact, if we truly want to increase the amount of knowledge that our children acquire in their early years, our teaching should become more developmentally appropriate, more hands on, more sensory motivated, and more directed by play. We know through countless research studies that this is the best way to disseminate information to a young mind, and if we want young minds to grow, these are the practices we should be using.

If we are not using these techniques in the classroom of the young child, then we are wasting precious time and opportunity. If we do not allow our children to paint, then we are missing a chance to teach about shapes and geometry. If we throw out our building blocks, then we aren’t teaching the spatial skills and divergent thinking needed for jobs like computer programming and engineering. When there is no playhouse in the classroom, children lose a chance to engage in activities beyond their current level of understanding (as proven by the research of Piaget) and develop persistence in problem solving and coping with changing situations. If we teach children only through direct instruction (or worse: worksheets) instead of games, then we have lost a chance to expand their memory and logical thinking. If we don’t sing, how can we expand a child’s vocabulary? If we get rid of the puppets and toys, we have lost the chance to expand a child’s comprehension of a story through retelling in a medium they easily understand. If we take out the sensory play, then we’ve lost a chance to help a child understand the science of the natural world, to problem solve, and to take chances. Why is it that in the current school setting, where expectations are so high, we are voiding ourselves of the very tools that would make our jobs easier?

Yes, it is true that kindergarten is becoming less and less appropriate, and the repercussions are frightening. However, blaming high expectations and the Common CORE are not going to solve the problem because expecting our children to do and think remarkable things is not, and has never been the problem. 

If teachers teach what they are required to teach using proven early childhood methods, the results will be astounding. Yes, it is more demanding of talents, time, and energy to teach in this way. Yes, it takes more support from other teachers, parents, and administrators to teach in this way. Yes, it takes better educated teachers to teach in this way. And, yes, it takes more guts to teach in this way. But, it is worth it. And our kids deserve it.

Reaching for Higher-Level Thinking

Today we had our semi-annual field trip to the Youth Garden Project, and it make me think how we can easily scaffold our students to a higher level of thinking.

We all use questions to find out what students know, but how often do you use questions to help students learn? Knowledge-based questions have an important role in education, but so do higher-order questions. These questions often challenge students, making them think beyond the remembering stage. They may focus on understanding material, applying what has been learned, or creating something new.

Around 90% of the questions most teachers ask are knowledge-based questions, so incorporating higher-order questions into your lessons can be challenging.  Bloom’s Taxonomy - the traditional or the new version - is a great place to look for help in crafting questions. You can find lists of words that go along with every level of behavior. Choose one of Bloom’s levels and try to write one or two questions each day for a week. Pick another level the next week, continuing through the taxonomy week-by-week. After highlighting each level, try to include questions from a variety of levels in your daily lessons.

The questions that we ask will impact how our students learn. Help students tap into higher-level thinking with higher-order questions!