Protect Full-Day Kindergarten

The data does not lie.

As Ontario’s Full-Day Kindergarten Program heads into its 11th successful year, several studies have shown the positive and long-lasting effect Ontario’s Kindergarten Program has had on students, families and communities. 

In a longitudinal study by Janette Patricia Pelletier & James E. Corter comparing full-day and half-day Kindergarten programs, it was discovered that students who attended the full-day Kindergarten programs scored higher in the areas of reading, writing, number sense and self-regulation.  

The Kindergarten Program document itself sources countless resources and empirical studies revealing the importance of play and inquiry based learning programs for young children. The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) are quoted in The Kindergarten Program (2016) as stating “the benefits of play are recognized by the scientific community. There is now evidence that neural pathways in children’s brains are influenced by and advanced in their development through the exploration, thinking skills, problem solving, and language expression that occur during play” (p. 19). 

 

What is the real price to pay?

Dr. Gordon Cleveland’s executive summary of The Kindergarten Program from January 2021 reads: “Our conclusion is that high-quality Kindergarten is very good for children. Well-trained teachers and small effective class sizes are important in producing this quality. The effects of high-quality Kindergarten experiences are long-lasting, and socio-emotional support is a key part of providing positive Kindergarten experiences”.

In February 2021, I wrote a post highlighting the reasons why the pedagogical approach that is central to the Kindergarten Program should be celebrated as it establishes a strong foundation for learning in the early years. My trust in the Kindergarten Program has not changed. As we continue to live in a global pandemic, this program becomes increasingly vital for Ontario students and families. 

Removing or changing the current model of Ontario’s Kindergarten Program will disrupt the very core of students’ learning. Changes to the current Kindergarten model will leave students behind in regard to early intervention, mental health and well-being and create cracks in the foundation of academic success. 

 

Why is this program so special?

If you have never had a chance to read The Kindergarten Program document, I highly recommend you do. Rather than threatening cuts to this program, Ontario should be looking into how to weave the philosophies of teaching and learning highlighted by The Kindergarten Program into all other curriculum documents for students attending public schools. Ontario’s Kindergarten program is exemplary and visionary in the way that it supports the creation of a learning environment that allows all children to feel comfortable, is built around attainable expectations and provides all children with the kind of support they need in order to develop.

ETFO continues to fight for the current model of The Kindergarten Program in Ontario. 

Why must we continue to defend what has proven to be indispensable? 

The Unspecified Parts of a Lesson Plan

As I was creating my lesson plans one day, I took a step back and thought about what my plans would look like if they were delivered exactly the way that I wrote them. Academic learning and curriculum connections are crucial to the lesson plan itself and seem to be my main focus when planning. I began to think about the ways I engage my students in learning that I don’t record in my lesson plans. I thought about my specific ways of being with students during certain times of the day. The times I exude calmness and the times I exude excitement. I wondered about the times I use words of encouragement, constructive feedback and the moments I applaud students efforts. 

I wondered what would happen to my planning and teaching if I added notes into my plans like “remind students they are important” or “remind students to be safe this weekend”. 

As a newly permanent teacher, I am constantly reflecting on best practices and looking for ways to plan meaningfully and effectively. I am teaching virtually this year and often add additional information about my lessons into the “speaker notes” section of my Google Slides. As I was creating my lesson, I added in some of the above mentioned “unspecified” aspects into my plans. I wanted to explore how or if this practice would impact my teaching or have an effect on student learning. After implementing this practice for one week, here are my reflections:

  1. Adding notes about social and emotional learning into my lesson plans allowed me to continue to be mindful and check in with students about how they were feeling throughout the lesson and the school day itself. 
  2. The added positive notes and words of encouragement to my class were a great way to remind myself that, along with my students, I am also doing the best I can.
  3. My focus remained on my students, rather than the curriculum. Especially during reporting periods, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the worry of meeting curriculum expectations. Adding in my “unspecified” notes grounded me to what was most important. 
  4. Even with my “unspecified” notes, I noticed that I still added meaningful dialogue into each necessary moment. Even though there are daily reminders or common phrases we say to our students – there is no way to predict what each of our individual learners are going to need to be successful or feel loved that day. There is no plan other than to be responsive.

What are the unspecified parts of your lesson plans?

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.
ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

 

Which One Doesn’t Belong? (WODB)

Have you ever tried ‘ Which One Doesn’t Belong?’ (WODB) in your classroom?

WODB is a short, number talk used to get students thinking before beginning a daily lesson or math activity. Students are shown a picture like the example attached below (from mathbeforebed.com). Students take a close look at the picture and decide which object they think does not belong. After sharing their ideas, students are asked to explain their thinking to justify their answer. Here is why we love WODB in our Kindergarten class:

There are no wrong answers

This gives students the confidence to share their thoughts and encourages them to take risks in their learning. 

 

WODB shows students that there are multiple ways of solving problems 

I am finding that aside from building confidence in students’ attitudes towards math, this activity builds community. Students typically begin with a strong opinion on why their answer is correct, but begin to understand and uncover the varying perspectives of their peers. It is also a great activity to practice turn taking, active listening and showing kindness towards others with different ideas.

 

There are multiple entry points

This activity is inclusive and allows students to use their own mathematical language to describe which one they believe does not belong. Students can participate in this activity regardless of their understanding of specific math concepts. In Kindergarten, with students ranging in various stages of development – this activity gives myself and my DECE partner a window into their thinking.

 

WODB promotes mathematical thinking and the use of mathematical language 

When justifying their answer, students begin to use math words like bigger, smaller, shorter, taller, less, more and begin to use the names of shapes, numbers or symbols they are learning about. Students can activate their prior knowledge and apply their current knowledge while they work with educators to extend their knowledge. I often reframe what students are saying and repeat it back to them. For example, in the picture shown below a student may share that they think the “blue” one does not belong, “because it’s blue and the others are not” and I may say, “(student name) thinks that the blue rectangle piece does not belong”. 

 

WODB can be used in any grade level 

While I am currently enjoying this activity in Kindergarten, I think about all the ways this activity could be used with students of any age. As students learn new concepts, WODB could include pictures of fractions, decimals, equations and more. When students get comfortable engaging in WODB activities, they can even begin to create some of their own pictures to challenge their peers to think critically.

 

Which one do you think does not belong?

from https://mathbeforebed.com/

 

Play-Time: Virtual Style

As we are nearing the end of September, I begin to reflect on my first month as a virtual Kindergarten teacher. When creating our timetable for the school year, my teaching partner and I dedicated 30 minutes each day to unstructured, open play. 

During this 30 minute block, students share what they are playing with and discuss what they are building, creating or thinking. My teaching partner and I act as facilitators and extend learning by asking questions or helping students make connections between what they are playing (something that takes place naturally within classroom settings but takes some practice virtually). This practice seems unnatural at first, but with time the students are becoming more confident and excited to share. 

Here are the benefits of virtual play so far: 

  1. Play is universal and accessible for all of our learners regardless of ability
  2. Play is an opportunity for our English Language Learners to learn in a relevant and meaningful way while exploring the English language 
  3. Play is a great way for us as educators to get to know our learners, their interests and in what ways they like to learn 
  4. Virtual play gives our students the time and space to create relationships with educators and peers
  5. Play is an ‘easy to enter’ activity that gives students confidence in their own abilities and allows them to take safe risks while exploring new ideas, asking questions and challenging new theories 
  6. Including virtual play allows students to practice what they are learning while providing educators a window into their understandings
  7. Virtual play is fun and students look forward to it daily

As we continue to scaffold student learning and conversations during play, it is our hope that the play grows rich with language, ideas and creates connections between students virtually. 

It feels as though this virtual play time has similar (if not the same) benefits as play time held during in person learning. Here are some of the major differences and barriers that we have seen so far:

  1. Students do not all have the same materials
  2. Students are becoming comfortable engaging in dramatic play experiences with each other but cannot collaborate with learning materials or practice sharing toys
  3. Play happens all the time, every day. We are not often viewing students play experiences outdoors or in areas outside of their learning space. 
  4. Students take time to unmute themselves before sharing. For those learning this new skill, the task of unmuting in itself can derail the student’s thought process. Unmuting can take time away from a students ability to share their natural and initial thoughts, feelings and ideas (Next step: playing in a small group). 

Overall, play time has been a very special time in our virtual Kindergarten classroom. We will continue to evolve and listen to our students, as we navigate our way though challenges and grow as virtual play partners. 

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.
ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Celebrating Kindergarten

This year, we celebrate 10 years of the Full Day Kindergarten program in Ontario. 

While working on my undergraduate degree, I first learned of this program and I immediately fell in love with it.

My trust and passion for this program have only grown stronger since. My knowledge and curiosity of play-based learning continue to shape who I am as an educator. 

I have had the wonderful opportunity to teach and collaborate in this program as an OCT and here is why I love it so very much:

  • Play-based learning provides equal opportunity, includes all learners and meets students where they are at developmentally
  • Assessment of students in this program reflects students strengths with a focus on what they can do rather than what they cannot yet do
  • The focus on relationships, community and inclusion in this program allows for students to thrive at school and lays a foundation for the development of vital social and emotional skills that are transferable throughout their lives 
  • The Kindergarten program allows for early identification and early intervention for students with special education needs 
  • It is so. much. FUN

Congratulations to everyone who has been a part of developing and growing this program over the last 10 years and to those committed to the continuation of learning amongst our youngest citizens in Ontario. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage the read of Dr. Gordon Cleveland’s research report titled  “Ontario’s Kindergarten Program: A Success Story. How We All Benefit from Quality Public Full-Day Kindergarten” that was written in response to this milestone for Kindergarten in Ontario (https://www.etfo.ca/DefendingWorkingConditions/IssuesInEducation/Pages/Full-daykindergarten.aspx). 

 

Happy 10 years, Full Day Kindergarten!