Saturday, April 14, 2007

Texas Kids DO Learn All They Need to Know in Kindergarten

A few years back, "Robert Fulghum" , a man of considerable wisdom, published a bit of brilliance entitled "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten". Having small children the first time I read it, I was enthralled, and I haven't changed my opinion. We'd all be better off if everyone on earth would share, play fair, clean up after themselves and remember the mortality of the mice, the goldfish and the seed in the Styrofoam cup.

It's become popular in the recent past to bash public education and especially to complain about the initiative "No Child Left Behind". Heaven knows I've offered my own choice comments on NCLB. I'm impressed, though, with one aspect of the Texas school design that links our children from class to class and grade to grade. It's called the "Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills" , TEKS for short. It's an elegant document that sets out precise guidelines for what should be taught at each grade level by subject, concept, proficiency. Needless to say, it's a key element in training new teachers in the state of Texas.

When Alex was in 3rd grade, we moved 100 miles north within the state, mid-year. On his last day at his old school, there was a "Lunar New Year" celebration, a dragon parade, and as a special honor since he was leaving, he got to wear the dragon head and lead his class in the dragon chain. Four years earlier, Elizabeth had also been a part of the Dragon, and by luck of the draw, had "won" the honor of bringing home the class dragon head, which took up floor space in her room for months. Despite the inconvenience of the paperboard Dragon head, I like these connections and the continuity, child to child and year to year.

I've only recently become aware of exactly how MUCH continuity there is. Required by "teacher training class" to take a very close look at the TEKS, I was amazed and enthralled to see how it all fits together. The photos attached to this entry are a visual representation of the key concepts of the subject of Evolution, followed from kindergarten basics right on through high school biology. Two of my classmates and I (overachievers, all) produced the display as part of a class assignment. Isaac scoffs a bit at the fact that for three years, it doesn't get any more involved than "Living organisms have basic needs", but those early elementary years are pretty busy with learning to read and add and subtract and share. The concepts are introduced, though, and progress through "adaptations" and "traits" and on into genetics with each year being a review, a reinforcement and an expansion.

While the subject matter broadens from grade to grade, the key concepts are introduced early and revisited from year to year. First grade expands on kindergarten, second grade explains a bit more, and third grade delves a little deeper, but with a reassuring review of what we already kindergarten.

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