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Reading is not explicitly taught until the 1st grade, although many Finnish students do learn to read on their own, simply due to developmental readiness or perhaps because of parental support at home, prior to entering the first grade. I arrived during a short art lesson, while children were painting spring flowers, and then watched as they ended at different times and went off to enjoy free play for 25 minutes, choosing their preferred activity and play partners although sometimes students specify an activity and the teacher groups them in various ways to mix things up.

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Most of the girls went into a play room in the back while several of the boys got out Legos or Uno and played independently or in small groups together. Another outdoor recess to play more! There is plenty of room to circulate between desks, the desks themselves are large, ergonomically designed, and comfortable.

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Similar to Norway and Sweden, children go shoeless and the stocking feet diminish noise levels, keep learning spaces cleaner, and provide a cozier, more comfortable feel. Nearly every classroom has alternative, flexible seating options as well, such as cushions to use around the room, bean bag chairs, or exercise balls and balance disks to allow for some movement during lessons.

Intangible space for learning is also created through a wonderfully low student: teacher ratio. This grandparent is an older community member volunteering his or her time and life experience to do things like read with children one on one, help with crafts and other activities and simply be there to support teaching and learning, all while authentically transmitting cultural knowledge and expectations and encouraging respectful behavior.

As you can imagine, these extra hands go a long way towards making the chaos of an early primary classroom feel more orderly, plus students always have a teacher-figure to turn to for support, whether it be an academic question they are seeking help with or the need for a quick hug. As a result, everything runs more smoothly and efficiently.

Imagine if, as a teacher, you had:.

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It stands to reason that with these low-hanging areas of common frustration for teachers streamlined, more time and energy are freed up to focus on higher order tasks and deeper learning. Plus, with learning happening in a more efficient way, school days can be shorter because more can be accomplished in less time potentially shaving off hours, days, months, or even years of instructional time. Cultivating space seems to lead to a culture of constant improvement and growth, not to mention sustainability and balance for the teacher, that we could definitely stand to adopt, at least in part, in our schools in the US.

Teachers in Finland that I have interviewed do not feel overwhelmed. Rather, they feel supported, autonomous and empowered in their schools, and appreciated and respected by the broader community. Finnish parents trust teachers as the experts and know they will do what is best; Finnish teachers have never even heard of the concept of a helicopter parent.


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Teachers seem to have great respect for one another and schools have high levels of collegiality. One staff of teachers I visited with told me they were planning a trip to Estonia together, just for fun and that they had done various trips in the past to Germany and other countries, during school breaks. This speaks volumes about the culture of the teaching staff and relationships between teachers in Finnish schools.

Finland has embraced the concept that space, time, and free play are just as valuable as focused work and study. Despite a shorter school day, more frequent breaks, and an average of 3 fewer years in the classroom, Finnish students remain more successful across standardized measures than most of their peers around the world who face longer days, fewer breaks, and several more years of compulsory schooling. Moreover, Finnish teachers:. The teachers are available to connect with families during drop-off, and each child is gently greeted and encouraged to choose an activity: tricycles, scooters, sandbox, climber, and tire swing are only some of the choices.

After the big muscle play of the playground, the children are ready to move to their classrooms. Preschool and Prekindergarten students start their time inside with Morning Meeting, where we greet friends, share ideas, and make plans for choice time. Choice time includes dramatic play, sensory play, art, and activity centers related to topics the children are currently exploring and learning about.

Our Emergent Curriculum approach means that Preschool and Prekindergarten students at Grace are likely to be deeply engaged in multi-level, teacher-supported play around a topic. With an average class size of 12, and two teachers per classroom, our Early Childhood program is a place to connect, grow, and thrive.

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Preschool and Prekindergarten students also benefit from class time each week with our specialist teachers in music, library, science, and P. Kindergarten and Grade 1 at Grace are years of inquiry, creativity, and exploration. We consider these grades as part of our Early Childhood division because we know that children between the ages of 5 and 7 experience rapid intellectual, physical, social, and emotional growth -- all at their own pace -- which means that they still need nurturing, individual attention, and a great deal of patience.

Students in these grades learn to listen to and take care of their bodies and minds; to create vibrant connections to peers and adults; and to ask big questions and use exploration and research to find their answers. We recognize that Kindergarteners need loving support as they transition from an early childhood classroom environment, which is why our Kindergarten classroom features blocks and manipulatives, dramatic play areas, and a daily choice time. A recess time early in the day gives students a chance to move and connect with friends before they settle down to sharpen their skills in problem solving, collaboration, and thinking creatively.

While still part of our Early Childhood division at Grace, with morning recess, snack, and plenty of playtime, Grade 1 is also the point at which students are asked to think deeply and approach questions from new perspectives. Kindergarten and Grade 1 are critical years for the development of skills in numeracy and literacy. They need to know what the research says about the specific instruments they intend to use.

They need to develop sophistication in the interpretation of the information gleaned from tests and assessments. A third important principle is borrowed from the Hippocratic oath to first do no harm. When test or assessment information is used for placement, school readiness, or other high-stakes decisions, it behooves educators to pay attention to the consequences and to make sure that they are educationally beneficial. Beyond these principles that apply generally to educational testing and assessment, there are important considerations that.

The evolution of views on the optimum conditions for assessment provides a good example.


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  • The traditional psychometric concerns with standardization have in the past been applied to assessments of young children. Individual or group tests were administered under controlled circumstances in highly structured environments that were as similar to one another as possible. But dissatisfaction among many early childhood professionals concerning the conventional model of norm-referenced assessment has in recent years brought a shift in emphasis toward conducting assessments in settings that are comfortable, familiar, nonthreatening, and of interest to the child see Meisels and Provence, ; Greenspan and Wieder, There is evidence that such settings better enable young children to show what they know, what they can do, and what they are experiencing Meisels, b.

    Many of the reasons that can be advanced to support this approach to assessment environments among them the motivation to design assessments that have greater ecological validity could also pertain to assessment of older children and adults. But there are also developmental and cultural characteristics of young children that can be attended to more effectively in more flexible settings than is possible in most standardized testing environments Bracken, The motivation, state of arousal, and disposition of the very young child are likely to be much more variable than is the case for older test takers, who have more developed self-regulation abilities.

    Young children have, in varying degrees, developmental limitations on several important and often unrecognized dimensions. We have made reference above to the nascent state of the ability to focus and attend in children of the ages of concern in this report. Likewise, the capacity to be purposeful and intentional, although undergoing rapid development, is certainly less than fully formed. In assessment situations, therefore, young children often have difficulty attending to verbal instructions, situational clues, or other instructions and stimuli.

    They may have difficulty understanding the demand characteristics of the measurement situation, and they may not be able to control their behavior sufficiently to meet these demands Gelman and Gallistel, Observational modes of assessment and interviews lend themselves to this situation. In an important sense, education can be viewed as the journey from natal culture to school culture to the culture of the larger society.

    Education inevitably involves cognitive socialization, that is, learning the repertoires of cognitive skills that are required for successful functioning in the dominant culture. A modern industrial society like the United States that is technologically advanced, as Ogbu puts it, will possess a repertoire of cognitive skills appropriate for advanced technological culture.

    Technological intelligence is appropriate to and a prerequisite for functioning competently in that culture. In a highly heterogeneous society such as ours, child care centers and preschools are in a position to play an extremely impor-. But that requires teachers to be sensitive to the influences of culture both in choosing pedagogical strategies and in the use and interpretation of assessments.

    There are any number of obvious pitfalls that teachers are well aware of, for example, the use of English-language assessments that depend on verbal interactions with children who are growing up surrounded by a different home language. But valid assessment requires being aware of much more subtle factors as well. For example, there are great cultural variations in the ways in which adults and children communicate National Research Council, b— Ethnographic research has shown striking differences in how adults and children interact verbally.

    Many American Indian and African American subcultures do not cultivate the role of information giver that characterizes American middle-class children; the young are expected to learn through quietly observing adults Heath, In some communities, children are seldom direct conversational partners with adults; children eavesdrop on adults, while older children take on the task of directly teaching social and intellectual skills Ward, Children from these cultural backgrounds are not nearly as likely to show their actual verbal ability in assessment situations based on the elicited response model as those for whom question and answer is a familiar ritual.

    Culture also plays a role in determining which cues are most salient to children Rogoff, One of the greatest dangers in assessing young children is to associate developmental status with the norms of the dominant middle-class culture.

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    Ah, there he is. Chapter 5 emphasized the importance of having a toolkit of teaching strategies, with each tool serving different ends and none being most effective for all purposes. The same can be said of assessment. One of the most difficult issues in early childhood assessment has to do with children who appear to need special assistance as a result of cognitive, emotional, visual, auditory, or motor impairments. On one hand, research has demonstrated that early intervention can often reduce or prevent later problems in school National Research Council, ; Meisels and Margolis, But there is also a long and unhappy history with the unsophisticated use of IQ and achievement tests.

    In a study of several hundred psychologists who work with young children, Bagnato and Neisworth found that only 4 percent of their respondents supported the use of norm-referenced, standardized intelligence tests for young children with developmental problems. Most respondents to their survey emphasized the importance of flexibility in the choice of assessment methods, the potential for modification of the instruments, and the need for a multidimensional, team-based assessment approach.

    Potential problems with the use of norm-referenced tests are numerous. Some pertain to the technical adequacy of the instruments, and others derive from the way they are used National Research Council, b; Fuchs et al. In the first category are inadequate or unknown psychometric properties, including the common absence of children with disabilities in the samples used to develop test norms.

    Some children will require accommodations, but determining what accommodations are appropriate for whom and under what circumstances is difficult. The lack of knowledge about the functional characteristics of disability makes it difficult to determine whether or not the disability is related to the construct being measured, which in turn makes the interpretation of test results difficult.