by Dr. Patrick Groff
Dr. Patrick Groff, Professor of Education Emeritus
San Diego State University, has published over 325 books,
monographs, and journal articles and is a nationally known
expert in the field of reading instruction.
NRRF Board Member & Senior Advisor
Dr. Patrick Groff, Professor of Education Emeritus San Diego State University, has published over 325 books, monographs, and journal articles and is a nationally known expert in the field of reading instruction.
The author of the above 2000 "position statement," the NAECS/SDE, is a group of state department bureaucrats. The group has no formal national headquarters, but holds meetings in conjunction with the annual conference of the National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
The NAECS/SDE serves as an adjunct to the NAEYC, so as "to influence and support [its] policies," and "to offer assistance" in setting the NAEYC’s "standards for quality early childhood and teacher education programs." It is correct to conclude that the NAECS/SDE and the NAEYC consistently concur as to what are proper resolutions of these issues. Similar conclusions about teaching in kindergarten in documents from the two organizations confirm that generalization.
The NAECS/SDE’s Unacceptable Trends (UT) document argues that many decisions as to "what children are expected to do upon entry" into today’s kindergartens are "highly questionable." Voiced in UT is particular concern with six putative kindergarten practices of late, that allegedly "fail to contribute to quality early childhood education." These are claimed to be:
2. Setting of "inappropriately high demands on their [kindergarten children’s] intellectual and affective abilities." Among these "demands" is the expectation that many kindergarten children are able to learn to identify letters, and to become consciously aware of some of the speech sounds.
3. Assignment of selected children to spend more than one year in kindergarten. The "child subjected to such practices" is said to suffer an inevitable handicap to his/her "social-emotional development." Moreover, there are "less costly strategies that are proven to support children’s achievement" better than keeping them in kindergarten for more than one year.
4. Pressures put on parents "to delay entrance of their children" into kindergarten. This is a racist practice, UT protests, since "children subjected to delayed entry disproportionately represent racial minorities."
5. Testing in English, which "penalizes" children "who have home languages other than English." Part of this penalty is to deny these children "additional home language development," it is held.
6. Exclusion of teachers and school administrators from decisions on how to measure whether kindergarten programs are successful. Standardized test scores often are "the sole basis" of this assessment, UT declares.
Put another way, UT protests that anyone who endorses a "skill-driven curricula" or "academic standards" for kindergarten children’s reading development is ignorant of "what is known about young children’s development and learning." The reputed guilty parties here are reading instruction specialists who have "misrepresented and misunderstood" the "research about the capabilities of young children." Also included in this group are "overzealous parents," and nameless reading instruction experts who advocate "didactic methods of teaching."
This didactic method is direct, intensive, systematic, early, and comprehensive (DISEC) instruction of a prearranged hierarchy of discrete reading skills. This method is condemned by UT as "of questionable value even for older elementary [school] children." To the contrary, UT contends, "children who are ready to learn to read are more likely to advance as far as they are able in an active learning [i.e., nonDISEC instruction] classroom."
This "active" learning does not take place when DISEC teaching is conducted, UT avers. Thus, teachers allegedly cannot be "child-oriented" and dedicated "to a high quality" kindergarten program, if they instruct children in a DISEC manner. To the contrary, argues UT, kindergarten children’s natural instincts "as competent, naturally motivated learners" are "destroyed" by DISEC teaching of "abstract" information, such as letters and speech sounds.
The UT document buttresses its conclusions in the above regards by reference to a list of papers, articles, and books that either were published by the NAEYC, or are endorsements of the NAEYC’s ideological stand against DISEC teaching in kindergartens. Thus, if any experimental findings that challenge the NAEYC’s position in this regard were consulted by the author of UT, they obviously were summarily rejected for inclusion in its reference section.
It therefore is necessary to indicate to what extent the six kindergarten practices that UT denounces are also found to be faulty by the preponderance of relevant experimental evidence. More particularly, in what respects the NAECS/SDE’s views on reading instruction in kindergarten are substantiated by pertinent empirical findings need to be examined.
In addition, the preponderance of experimental evidence does not indicate that children, who do not speak English, learn to read English better when taught within heterogeneous groups, than in homogeneous ones. Also, that criticism has no relevance as to whether standardized tests of reading should be administered.
2. Experimental findings reveal that it is inappropriate to expect that only a few children in kindergarten will be able to learn to identify letters, and to develop some phonemic awareness. Children’s acquisition of these skills must be developed as soon as possible, since standardized test scores of the skills are the best predictors available of kindergarteners’ later progress in learning to read.
3. It is true that experimental studies consistently indicate that retaining children in grades above kindergarten has no more positive effect on their academic achievement the forthcoming school year, than does promoting them. More experimental evidence about the cost-effect ratio of this issue is needed, however, before it can be concluded confidently that two years of kindergarten for a child is never advisable.
4. The charge that minority parents are pressured by racist educators not to send their children to kindergarten clearly is a scurrilous one. It is particularly contumelious since it has not been empirically documented.
5. Testing kindergarten children’s ability to learn to read in English does not constitute a penalty against them. Instead, it is an imperative practice that provides teachers with much needed objective information as to how henceforward to group children for English reading instruction. Also, there are convincing empirical findings that teaching non-English speaking children to read their native language, rather than English, handicaps the progress of their learning to read the latter language.
6. Standardized testing as to how successful kindergarten programs are became necessary after it was discovered that teachers’ subjective opinions in this regard were not reliable. To this effect, there is heavy pressure on teachers, from a variety of sources, to exaggerate how well children have learned to read. As a result, children who need greater opportunity to learn to read often are denied it.
In sum, the highly derogatory, irrational attack by UT of experimentally confirmed DISEC teaching of reading is an unmistaken expression of a strong advocacy by the NAECS/SDE for the experimentally discredited, antiDISEC, Whole Language (WL) approach to reading teaching. As customarily is found with WL proponents’ verbal assaults against DISEC instruction, UT stoops to name-calling, and to impugning the motives of kindergarten teachers who conduct DISEC reading lessons, as well defaming the qualifications of reading instruction specialists who recommend these kind of lessons.
The 1990 joint document called, Guidelines for Appropriate Curriculum Content and Assessment in Programs Serving Children Ages 3 Through 8 (Guidelines), makes no secret as to the major sources of its content. These include the views of the International Reading Association, and the National Council of Teachers of English, on reading teaching and assessment. Both of these organizations are longtime defenders of the antiDISEC, WL version of reading instruction, which contends that only bona fide WL teachers are qualified to ascertain how well children have learned to read.
Thus, not surprising is Guidelines’ contention that "drill and practice of isolated academic skills" has no place in kindergartens. Thus, if teachers foster kindergarten children’s knowledge of individual letters, and conscious awareness of discrete speech sounds (phonemic awareness), they are impeding the development of these children’s "higher-order thinking and problem-solving that will be needed in the 21st century," Guidelines unconvincingly maintains.
Moreover, the document cautions, kindergarten children’s acquisition of "basic skills" in written word recognition, such as knowledge of letters and phonemic awareness, will not be matched by their later proficient comprehension of written materials. Experimental evidence indicates just the opposite is true. That is to say, kindergarten children’s ability to identify letters and speech sounds are the best predictors available of their later ability to competently understand written materials. Nonetheless, Guidelines denounces basic skills learning as "too much of the wrong thing."
Guidelines also decries the administration of standardized reading tests to kindergarten children. These tests must be replaced by subjective "performance-based assessments," the document emphasizes. Not to do so allegedly "has narrowed" the kindergarten curriculum to skills that are "devoid of meaning." The document thus refuses to consider the proposition for the need to develop a standard cultural literacy in all children.
Further into the document, Guidelines is displeased that "what used to be taught in first grade [e.g., letters and speech sounds] are routinely taught in kindergarten." As a consequence, kindergarten children supposedly "are marred by unnecessary struggle and failure." This "veiled attempt" to obtain "a more capable cohort of children" at the kindergarten level is assailed by Guidelines, which remains stubbornly convinced that "current curriculum expectations [in kindergarten] do not match the developmental level" of children.
On the other hand, Guidelines acknowledges that determining this "match" remains "a challenging task." With a confusing combination of mock modesty and wishful thinking, its writers meekly submit that "we refuse to dictate curriculum" in kindergartens because it "must be individually appropriate to the needs and interests of the children." This humble self-effacement appears contrived, however, since it is followed by a list of explicit policies and practices to which UT says kindergartens "must" conform. For example, teachers are sternly warned that all prearranged kindergarten curricula is "disastrous" for children."
Next, Guidelines vainly tries to describe why there is no "universal curriculum that is ‘best’ for all children" in kindergartens. "Diverse sources of curriculum may be in conflict with one another," it lamely submits. The "important learning processes" in kindergarten do require "rich, meaningful content," the document burbles on. However, it then beats a hasty retreat from describing precisely what this content is: "We do not advocate any one model curriculum," Guidelines exclaims. Indeed, it offers only vague "guidelines" as to what are "sound theoretical principles," "clear goals and objectives," and the "best knowledge" of "research and practice."
In particular, it does not specify whether this favored "research" is of the qualitative as versus the scientific kind. That is a grievous omission by Guidelines since findings of the two types of inquiry on reading teaching consistently refute each other. However, inspection of the references section of Guidelines indicates that it prefers qualitative investigations.
Guidelines is more specific in noting that it honors the theories of learning advanced by Piaget, Vygotsky, and Erikson. The document interprets these theories into commonsensical truisms like "the healthy development of young children begins in a relationship with another human being," or "the vital role of teachers and other adults is to support children’s development." These platitudes nonetheless convince Guidelines that kindergartens must be "child-centered" places that conduct "experiential" rather than DISEC instruction of reading.
Thereafter, Guidelines offers the confusing advice that kindergarten reading teaching must both (a) allow "teachers to use their own professional judgment," and (b) reflect "a developmental, interactive, constructivist approach to learning" by "the whole child." This is the "philosophy" of reading teaching promoted by the experimentally invalidated WL scheme.
In plain language, Guidelines warns that "drill and practice on phonics and word attack skills" will result in children choosing not to read. Also, children must "learn letters and their sounds by using them in their name, signs, or stories." Moreover, phonics skills cannot be taught in a DISEC manner because there purportedly "is no universal sequence of [reading] skills development." Therefore, phonics rules always must be "taught in the context of activities that are meaningful to the child." It is obvious that there is little expectation in these mandates that kindergarten teachers will "use their professional judgment" to decide if the mandates are accurate ones.
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