Entering elementary school is a big step for children, a true rite of passage. I can still remember my very first day of school, how excited I was to join my big sister on the bus, how much I loved the little containers of milk and my teacher’s bouffant hairdo! I made a best friend that day—and was confounded by the “K-I-S-S-I-N-G” song kids sang on the bus. By the time I hit third grade, though, I knew what to expect. I was a real “big kid” (and old enough to know not to call myself one).
Kindergarten can look a lot like preschool to a non-educator, but nobody would mistake a third grade classroom for a preschool. For one thing, the chairs are bigger! But more important, the students are socially, emotionally, and cognitively quite different. At first glance, the K-3 CLASS measure looks a lot like the Pre-K CLASS tool: same dimensions, same indicators, and same behavioral markers. But the interactions look quite different.
Take Language Modeling and the advanced vocabulary indicator. A preschooler might say turtles live in the pond, and the teacher might say, “Yes, that’s the turtle’s habitat, its home.” A third-grade teacher would also map vocabulary using familiar words—but the familiar vocabulary as well as the target new word might be more complex. For example, a teacher might say, “We’re going to study habitats. Habitats are the different environments that animals live in, the places they feel most at home. Some turtles’ habitats are in lakes or ponds. Sea turtles live in the ocean, and box turtles live in the woods, but a sea turtle can’t live in the woods and a box turtle can’t live in the sea. They need their special habitat to survive.” Both teachers are mapping vocabulary to help children expand their language skills, but the complexity of the language progresses from pre-K to grade 3.
The CLASS manuals reflect this difference (check out those long descriptions in the manuals), so, while the vocabulary of the two tools is the same, the interactions they describe are (sometimes subtly, sometimes markedly) different, reflecting the growing maturity that occurs as children progress through school.
Watch these videos to see what language mapping looks like at the two age levels:
Across the country and around the globe, schools/programs will soon reopen after extended closures due to COVID-19. Those that have remained open are instituting new health and safety practices.. Localities will determine whether to provide in-person, online, or hybrid teaching. Regardless of the model that schools/programs adopt, classrooms will look different now and for the foreseeable future.
In the wake of the widespread civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd, the national conversation about the inequities in the educational opportunities provided white students and students of color has been amplified. Due to racial and socioeconomic segregation, Black students, and other students of color, are more likely to attend poorly funded schools. EdBuild, a non-profit focused on fair and equitable school funding, reports that high poverty school districts that predominantly enroll children of color receive on average, $1,600 less per student than the national average. By their calculations, there is a $23,000,000,000 gap between funding for schools that primarily serve high poverty Black students and those that predominantly serve white students. Schools that predominantly serve high poverty white students, only receive $1440 less per student (EdBuild, 2019).
A few years into teaching early childhood, I applied to work at a school that does incredible work in the local community. I was thrilled to get an interview but realized very quickly that, even though the environment was supportive and the students were wonderful young people, I was much too intimidated to work there.