Our guest author today, Susan B. Neuman, is a professor in Educational Studies at the University of Michigan specializing in early literacy development and a former U.S. Secretary of Education for Elementary and Secondary Education. She and her colleagues at the University of Michigan have also partnered with the Albert Shanker Institute in sponsoring a summer institute for early childhood educators, focusing specifically on oral language development and the ways it can support and help build strong content knowledge. For more information, see here.
States are now working intently on developing plans that will make new, common standards a reality. A recent report from Education First and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center concludes that that all but one of the 47 states adopting the Common Core State Standards is now in the implementation phase. Seven states have fully upgraded professional development, curriculum materials, and evaluation systems in preparation for the 2014-2015 school year.
Nary a word has been spoken about how to prepare teachers to implement common standards appropriately in the early childhood years. Although the emphasis on content-rich instruction in ways that builds knowledge is an important one, standards groups have virtually ignored the early years when these critical skills first begin to develop.
Young children are eager to learn about the sciences, arts, and the world around them. And, as many early childhood teachers recognize, we need to provide content-rich instruction that is both developmentally appropriate and highly engaging to support students' learning.
What might we do in the early years to help children get on the road to education success? There is wide agreement that reading mastery is the key to educational attainment. The true path to literacy is to ensure that all children develop both procedural skills and the knowledge of content and concepts that underlie comprehension. Thus, most of our effort in the preschool classroom should be focused on getting children to engage with new content, to think, to grapple with ideas and to experience the “aha” that comes when they achieve something meaningful against resistance. In this environment, content, the headline star, is transmitted through verbal interactions.
Oral language—the quality and richness of verbal exchanges between teachers and children—is the mechanism of instruction in these early years. Words and the knowledge networks that are formed through both first hand experiences and second-hand experiences through our engagement with storybooks, information texts, storytelling of one form or another, represents the heart of quality instruction. We need to make this a priority.
- Susan B. Neuman