Monday, April 20, 2009
I thought of going to the FOUNDATIONS session at the IAEYC 2009 conference the same way I think about eating my vegetables: maybe not my favorite thing to do, but necessary. I had heard awful things about FOUNDATIONS, namely that the state was trying to push academic standards down to pre-K and even toddlers. Most folks in early childhood know this is evil, but our politicians (bless 'em, for they're trying to do the right thing) seem to think that teaching academic topics at younger ages will make our kids know more stuff.
I must say I am so glad I went to the session. Most people I know presented with such a thick document will jump right to the meat of the thing, skipping completely over the introduction. That would be a mistake. Unfortunately, the design of the document can lead a person into thinking it's a checklist of all the things a kid should know. Worse, if you just look at the table of contents, you might be shocked to find "Algebra and Functions" under the foundations for birth through three years. But now that I've had an orientation to the document I can honestly say I feel good about what Indiana has tried to do to guide early childhood educators. I'm not thrilled about the format of the document, which I'll discuss in a bit.
The important thing to remember is that this document helps adults create experiences and environments that support foundational learning. The kind of learning they're talking about is what a child needs to know BEFORE learning all the academic subjects listed in the table of contents. So, no babies are learning algebra. But adults are supporting babies by providing exposure to experiences that will allow those babies to be ready to learn algebra when it's developmentally appropriate. There is the recognition that you must walk before you can run, or in this case, children must have opportunities to explore sorting and organizing before learning more advanced math concepts. (By the way, those advanced math concepts are covered in the Indiana Academic Standards which start, I believe, in Kindergarten, NOT the FOUNDATIONS.)
I really like the attachment titled, "Exploring Content in Interest Areas" because it gives concrete examples of what can be done in a grid format. Each foundation has similar information when everyday activities are discussed, but this is a nice birds-eye view that can help parents see that what we do in our classrooms really is learning and not just killing time.
As I said, I have a beef or three with the way the document is put together. First, each foundation is lettered and numbered, which would seem to indicate that they are checklists of skills to be mastered. That just isn't the case, which is stated in the introduction, but it's really tempting to be able to check those suckers off so you can tell parents exactly what their child is ready to learn next. Even though it might make referring to the foundations more cumbersome, I would remove the numbers and simply list them with bullets so there's no idea that they're in sequential order or that every skill must be mastered a certain way.
Second, each foundational area has three parts: "Young children are learning when they" (that's the part that's numbered), "A child can be support by an adult who," and "How it looks in everyday activities." I think it might be more useful to put that first section last in addition to removing the numbers. Additional language might be helpful, something like "Young children are learning when they...among other things." Clearly, the list isn't all-inclusive. It can't possibly be. But somehow it looks like that's what it's supposed to be.
I have one more beef, but it's really small. Why is FOUNDATIONS all capitalized? I don't think it's an acronym. I know that they're foundations and not standards, but putting it in all caps doesn't really help me to draw that distinction.
I am sure there are other ways to improve this important resource. Unfortunately, the state has made staffing cuts that affect the timeline for future revisions. According to the presenter, our group got the last batch of printed documents that she knows of and only because they happened to be in her house. The state isn't printing any more in anticipation of the next revision (that's government, for you). But you can download the whole thing for your reading pleasure at the Indiana DoE website. You know you want to. Our presenter suggested you have your students' parents, the ones who are always offering to do things but never find just the right thing, print it out for you so you don't spend your own money on paper and ink.
By the way, if you teach in Indiana and you use Creative Curriculum, you'll be happy to know that it's already aligned with the FOUNDATIONS. Your work here is done!
I know lots of other states have done the standard thing and a few have done the guideline thing as Indiana has. What do you think?