In the beginning…

I find the Speaking and Listening Standards K-5 to be a significant advance into developing our awareness of how important collaborative conversation is for these youngsters, on multiple subjects.  I realized we had moved away from the conversations that circled around Cake Boss or Rachel Ray when my middle granddaughter was in the first grade and began to describe to me what she was “observing”  (her word not mine) in her classroom.  A farmer had brought incubators with chick eggs in them, and the class would be “observing” them and collecting “data” until they hatched.  She then stated the class was asked to form a hypothesis (thinking I knew what she was talking about) to make a chart displaying the progression of the developing chick inside the incubator. My fascination with this conversation did not end with her impressive vocabulary, she began to ask me questions about the parts of the chick egg, and she was quite surprised that I could not identify them with the proper label.  What I called the yolk she informed me that in it’s earliest stages it was called the “oocyte”. With my professorial feathers ruffled, I said, “Nana went to a very urban public school, we did not have farmers deliver eggs and incubators to our classroom, so I did not learn these things in the first grade.” With a mixture of humility and confidence she responded. “Nana, I did not learn these things from the farmer, I learned them from a book!”  She then went on to let me know she would borrow it from the teacher for me to read for future conversations we would be having about the birthing of a chick.

So many things came to light in that moment.  I have been working with the common core for a few years now, even coauthored a book chapter on the progression of skills from Kindergarten to Twelfth Grade, but until that moment when a first grader engaged me in a conversation about the scientific method, the birthing of chicks, and why informational texts were important, I did not realize the significance of the changes that were being implemented in the classroom.  Informational texts are what many parents fear will take away the joy of reading.  We think of reading in the early grades as “learning to read”, yet, the common core has added “reading to learn” during the critical years of development.  Yet, in this case, a first grader evidenced that gaining information from a text when coupled with experiential learning can have a significant impact on what is being taught and what is being learned.  Her motivation to learn more about a scientific lesson was evidenced in her thinking about the process long after she left the classroom.  Isn’t this what we want our children to be developing in the first grade?

The common core incorporates the significance of communication skills along with  thinking and learning at the earliest levels of brain development.  Incorporating informational reading at the earliest level can enhance a positive progression towards those boring text books and young learners will use them as resources rather than a part of their most dreaded homework assignments.

We will still have the conversations about Cake Boss or the best color for my nails, but we have added a dimension to our conversations that have me excitedly reading second grade informational texts so I can keep up with her.

Reference: Speaking and Listening Standards K-5:  Grade 1 students:     Standard 1: Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups

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