In my last post I discussed the phenomenon of pile on—asking kids to do work that is above their instructional and developmental level.
This phenomenon occurs right away in kindergarten where kids are expected to learn how to write lists, narratives, information, and opinion pieces before learning to print the letters. Pinellas County Schools recommends that teachers provide handwriting instruction only twice a week for five minutes.
The fact is, it is expected that at the end of the year kindergarteners will produce narratives in barely legible scrawl.
It has been that way for many years. We see the results of this practice at our Center—middle and high school students whose handwriting is barely legible. Many of these same students hate writing—perhaps because writing was difficult for them right from the start, having been asked to write full texts prior to mastering the letters.
In the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, the previous set of Florida standards, kindergarteners were expected to learn the following writing process:
5. Producing a finished piece of writing 1
The same standards said that by the end of kindergarten students will “print many of the upper and lower case letters and recognize the difference between the two.”
In the new set of standards, LAFS (Language Arts Florida Standards), the following benchmark is given for the end of kindergarten: “Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book (e.g., My favorite book is…).”
Again the standards say that the student will “Print many upper- and lowercase letters.” 2
How is it that students who are only able to print “many of the letters” are going to be able to produce a piece of writing without a struggle?
The standards were never intended to be instructional steps. Rather they are end-of-the-year benchmarks. Teachers and curriculum are expected to provide the instructional steps that lead up to achieving each standard. One of these instructional steps should include mastering the letters.
However, in the case of learning to write, the end-of-the-year expectations are established by the multitude of examples of what a kindergartener’s writing should look like given by authoritative sites like greatschools.org and curriculum companies.
Kindrgarten writing sample #1
Click above to see a sample of today’s “good” kindergarten writing from greatschools.org.
On the other hand, in a local private school where kindergarteners are taught to print the letters prior to writing narratives, a typical writing sample mid-year looks much different.
Kindergarten writing sample #2
Click above to see a sample of mid-year kindergarten printing in a school where learning to print is the focus prior to writing texts.
The concept of mastering small steps, like writing letters, on the way to achieving large goals like writing opinion pieces is not part of the educational philosophy in today’s public schools. It is like asking a person to fly an airplane without prior instruction. Sooner or later, most of us will crash.
1 Next Generation Sunshine State Standards http://etc.usf.edu/flstandards/la/new-pdfs/points-k.pdf
2 Florida States Standards for Kindergarten Language Arts: http://www.flstandards.org/sites/www/Uploads/GK_LanguageArts_Florida_Standards-1.pdf