• by Bradley Scott, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • February 2003
Little Olivia approached an educator one day in the neighborhood after having finished a wonderful day at school. “Mr. Bradley!” she exclaimed with an excitement he had rarely seen from her in all of her six years. “I read a book today. I read a book today at my school!” Of course, he congratulated her with the same amount of wonder and excitement as she displayed in telling him of her great success.
Her little brother was looking and appeared to feel left out. The man said to him, “And Tre [pronounced “Tray” – his name is Neal, the third in his family], what did you read today?”
Olivia, being the big sister that she is and knowing everything at the age of six, chimed right in, “Oh he can’t read, he’s only in preschool.”
Tre looked absolutely defeated. “Well of course he can read,” the man said in his defense. “He can read, and I’m sure he does it very well.”
Tre just beamed as the man went on to explain to Olivia that he reads what he can right now in a way that he is able. He sees certain signs and symbols and they mean something to him. “You see, Olivia, that’s what reading is.”
As you can imagine, the man got the biggest hug from Tre. He had saved him from absolute humiliation and defeat.
Creating Classrooms of Excellence
If we are going to save our children from the humiliation and defeat of not being successful in school, if we are going to ensure that they are not left behind, we are going to need to support their learning in classrooms of excellence. I have a vision for classrooms of excellence that I have been developing over the last few months with feedback from my colleagues at the Intercultural Development Research Association.
Since the President signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it seems that classrooms of excellence at the preschool and early elementary levels are needed now more than ever. The Early Reading First portion of the law makes the point that early language, literacy, and pre-reading development of preschool-age children must occur in “high-quality language and literature rich environments, so that children can attain the fundamental knowledge and skills necessary for optimal reading development in kindergarten and beyond.”
Preschool children must be exposed to scientifically-based language and literacy activities that are age-appropriate and that develop letter recognition, phonemic awareness, letter-sound recognition or phonics, language fluency, and text comprehension.
Classrooms of excellence should have a minimum of eight elements addressed if preschool learners are going to benefit from academically-powerful learning environments that prepare them appropriately for kindergarten and beyond. The eight elements are outlined below.
A Vision for Classrooms of Excellence
Most (at least 80 percent) of the teachers in these classrooms have an associate of arts degree, and the director has a bachelor’s degree.
- Teachers have a concentration in early childhood education.
- All teachers have a minimum of a CDA credential.
All children are given access, inclusion, appropriate treatment, opportunity to learn, and appropriate resources to support learning regardless of the economic circumstance, English-language learning level, disability, race, and gender (Dieckmann and Villarreal, 2001; Scott, 2000).
- Every child receives a high quality education.
- High quality teaching and a dynamic curriculum is evident.
- Total access to oral language development and phonological, alphabet, and print awareness.
- The learning experience is inclusive not exclusive.
- Learning is individualized to student characteristics.
- Necessary and sufficient resources support student learning.
All education stakeholders, including parents, hold themselves and each other responsible for creating classrooms of excellence that support academic success of children where learning and literacy is concerned (Robledo Montecel, 2001; Scott, 2002).
- Everyone understands and executes their responsibility for student learning and reading readiness.
- Each stakeholder helps to build an appropriate educational environment and experience.
Young children are expected to complete high school and can choose the option for continuing to college.
- This expectation is that children will be ready to read in kindergarten.
- This expectation is clearly and continually communicated to young children.
- The actions of teachers and other adults reflect this expectation.
- The reading success expectation is reflected in the curriculum and classroom activities.
- Children’s reading efforts and successes are celebrated by adult stakeholders.
- Children are supported to celebrate and joyfully hold high expectations for their own genuine effort and success.
Young children are ready to begin and succeed upper-level schooling after acquiring the necessary prerequisite skills in literacy (i.e., phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension) and other academic areas.
- Kindergarten reading readiness and appropriate numeracy preparation are successfully demonstrated on classroom assessments and measurements.
- Student effort and high student outcomes reflect a belief in the possible appropriately transformed into the reality of demonstrated high performance.
- Children successfully achieve at the highest level of excellence in reading and numeracy readiness.
Young children have been trained and receive guidance in self discipline to manage their learning individually and in groups in a way that creates personal and shared academic success and prepares them to move to higher levels of achievement.
- Children learn to manage their own lives in school and beyond.
- Children learn to cooperate and work with others.
- Children learn to practice resilience and perseverance.
- Children learn academic goal setting and goal reaching.
- Children joyfully embrace learning and literacy as a key to their own success.
The system and structures of organization in the classroom and the human, mechanical, and technical supports for learning, as well as all of the interactive dimensions of the classroom’s operation are aligned and integrated in a manner to support student achievement and excellence and the appropriate acquisition of skills and competencies for academic success.
- Classroom curriculum and learning experiences are organized and structured for success.
- Human, mechanical, and technical supports for learning and literacy are aligned, articulated, and integrated to support reading readiness success.
- Curriculum is organized to engage the learner in oral language development, phonological, alphabet, and print awareness.
- The learning environment is print rich and provides meaningful, challenging, creative and joyful reading readiness opportunities in every learning or interest space.
Parents are embraced as an integral part of classrooms of excellence where they work collaboratively with teachers and other staff in schools and/or homes in support of schools to create and build opportunities for academic excellence and success for their children.
- Parents reinforce learning at home.
- Parents actively engage in building their own English-language competency and proficiency.
- Teachers and parents collaborate on building children’s reading readiness and school success.
- Parents are engaged to participate in classroom planning.
- Parents are presented with opportunities to participate in the learning experiences in classrooms.
- With teacher assistance, parents review student performance outcome data and plan for continued learning achievement and success.
In such a classroom of excellence, young Tre would develop all the skills he needs for kindergarten and beyond. I have decided that I am going to do something for the Tres of the world. I am going to meet with fellow educators, parents, and folks in general to see what we can finally do to transform preschool classrooms from good to great to excellent.
Oh, by the way, there are some less-than-good and even bad classrooms that do little to nothing to prepare learners for kindergarten and beyond. We shall be looking for you. You see, Tre could not stomach the humiliation and defeat you might inadvertently try to heap upon him by your less than desirable instructional practices and learning environments.
Before his disappointment causes him to wreak havoc on you and your classroom, we are going to work really hard to save it and you, by transforming it and you, if you need it. You see, Tre really wants to read right and read well. Even at his tender age, he already knows how important it is. He is eager. He is anxious. He is ready to learn to read.
Dieckmann, J., and A. Villarreal. “Enriching Your Classroom Through Equitable Technology Integration,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 2001).
Robledo Montecel, M., and J.D. Cortez, A. Cortez. “Successful Bilingual Education Programs: Student Assessment and Outcomes,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2001).
Scott, B. “We Should Not Kid Ourselves: Excellence Requires Equity,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2000).
Scott, B. “Who’s Responsible, Who’s to Blame?” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 2002).
Bradley Scott, Ph.D. is a senior education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2003, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2003 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]