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Hannah Clemmons Preprimary / Primary Classroom Analysis and Comparison November, 2010

Preprimary Classroom Analysis

I observed a preprimary Language Arts lesson in a Chicago Public School Kindergarten classroom. The lesson occurred around 10am on a Monday morning in early October. The school where I observed uses the StoryTown language arts basal system. For morning meeting, the children sit together on a large rug at the front of the room. In the middle of the room, children have assigned seats at small tables with about five children per table.

During morning meeting, the teacher had the children sit in a group on the meeting rug facing the chalkboard. The teacher bought out a small plastic container. He introduced the lesson by telling the children they’d never guess the letter of the day, that it was a special letter just invented. The teacher bought out a small plastic container. One by one the teacher pulled small objects out of the container: a miniature newspaper, nest, nightgown, etc. The teacher asked the children to give him the name of each object as he placed it on the tray of the chalkboard. The children energetically named objects as they were pulled out of the container. When the nightgown was taken out, the child called on labeled the object pajamas. The teacher continued through the rest of the objects, placing each on the chalkboard tray. After, the teacher asked the children to recite the names of the objects as he pointed to them. As the names were recited, the teacher prompted the children to recognize that one of the words was not like the


others. The teacher encouraged the children to come up with the synonym nightgown. The teacher guided the children to identify the /n/ phoneme and identify it with the letter “n”. After the children had identified the mystery letter, the teacher drew writing guidelines on the chalk board. He reminded the children how a previous visitor had instructed the children to always start their letters at the top of the lines. The teacher walked through the strokes used to draw the capitol letter “n” as he carefully constructed the character on the chalkboard. After he had finished the letter, he had the children repeat the verbal process of constructing the letter. Next, the teacher asked for a volunteer to draw the capital letter “n” next to his on the board. The teacher gave the volunteer a different color chalk and walked her through the process. The teacher then repeated the process with the lower-case letter “n”, reminding the children that the letter bounces (the hump of the “n”). Once the letter introduction was finished, the teacher informed the class that they would be receiving a new workbook. As he retrieved the workbooks and continued to explained them, he noted the words the children noticed that began with the /n/ phoneme. The teacher opened one book and showed the children the page they would be working on that morning and gave the initial instructions: practice writing both upper- and lower-case “n’s” as well as coloring any object in the picture that started with “n”. The teacher then passed out the books, calling each child by name and dismissing them to their small group tables once they had received their workbook. The teacher then stepped back as the group worked, talking among classmates at their own tables. The teacher walked around the classroom, dealing with any minor problems that arose. He also used the work time to discuss problems that had happened earlier in the day with


specific children. After five minutes of working, the teacher announced that the children should circle one letter in each line of “n’s” that they considered to be their best work. Once many students were finished and had begun to color their workbook page, the teacher worked around the room naming objects in the pictures in children did not recognize (i.e. needlepoint). Then, the teacher dismissed the children one by one to choose their center for choice time.

The physical environment created in the classroom is extremely conducive for early childhood learning. Children’s work lines the wall, and children are encouraged to create new decorations. Baskets of crayons are conveniently placed in the middle of each work table and available for all children to use. Different areas of the classroom house different centers in which children can explore and discover. Children are physically arranged in appropriate numbers for each part of the lesson. During the whole group instruction, many children in a relatively small space allows for active participation, while small group working tables allow children to collaborate without being overwhelmed by distractions. The two arrangements allow children to see and hear from any spot on the rug during whole group instruction, but also gives space for teachers and students to walk among tables while working individually. The social/emotional environment of the classroom is one of excitement and curiosity. The teacher is key to creating and sustaining this environment. His voice inflections and body language inspire the children to be as upbeat and enthusiastic as he is in the classroom. Guests are immediately invited to join in the fun (learning) going on in the classroom. Cooperation and discussion is encouraged between all members of the classroom. Interactions are mostly positive


and meaningful. Any problems that arise are dealt with through scaffolding of conflict management skills. During the lesson, children are socially supported by developmentally appropriate practices. Children are encouraged to participate without fear of giving “wrong” answers, creating a safe learning environment. The teacher’s excitement about the material presented is contagious. Children are continuously scaffolded through the process of discovery in the classroom. Because they are allowed to collaborate and contribute to classroom life, children are genuinely interested in things that occur in the classroom. The intellectual environment created in the classroom is one that views the child as capable and creative. Children are allowed to bring their own ideas into the classroom and use them to speak to the learning that will occur. Public school requirements are met, but (and it’s sad that this should be a but) curriculum is strongly integrated. Children are encouraged to examine and re-examine their ideas about the world around them. The level of intellectual engagement in this lesson was as appropriate as possible for the developmental level of the students. The material was neither too difficult nor too easy for the majority of students. Students were expected to isolate the beginning phoneme of words and then associate this phoneme with a certain letter. Physically, children were then expected to practice the fine motor skills required to write the letters in a traditional setting. Although some children may not have been cognitively fully ready to create true associations between oral and symbolic language, the environment in which they are operating provides continual exposure to different types of languages and opportunities to learn in many different ways.


Overall, the lesson and classroom I observed was very appropriate to the age of the children. Even though the content may not have been emergent, the teacher was able to engage the students and create an excitement in the classroom about phonemes and letters. The concepts presented were made relevant to the lives of the children in the classroom. Even though the curriculum was pre-packaged and dry, the teacher was able to make it lively and engaging through developmentally appropriate practice.


Primary Classroom Analysis

I observed a late-primary Language Arts lesson in a Chicago Public School 5th grade classroom. The lesson occurred around 11am on a Monday morning in early November. The school and classroom in which I observed uses the StoryTown language arts basal system. Children’s desks are arranged in clusters around the room with the teacher walking around the classroom lecturing and assisting students. There is a reading corner in the corner of the room with bean bag chairs, pillows and a wide selection of books arranged into different categories. There are some posters on the wall, but it is mostly bare.

The lesson I observed began with a read aloud, during which children were allowed to eat individual snacks they had brought for the day. The teacher asked a few brief questions to remind the class of what had happened previously in the book, and then began to read. The children sat quietly while the teacher paced around the room reading from the chapter book. If any of the students began to make noise, the teacher would calmly stop reading and ask the child to quiet down, either verbally or with a silent light touch on the shoulder. After the short excerpt for the day had been read, the teacher informed the students that they would be changing seats. She placed a transparency on the overhead projector with students names in clusters and markings for the front blackboard and door. The students were then asked to move their own desks and place them according to the (very minimal) chart. Many students reacted verbally and emotionally to their new seat assignments, talking animatedly about it with their classmates. The children navigated through misplaced desks and chairs as they all moved


desks simultaneously, working together to figure out any problem that arose. Little teacher direction was given, and in a few minutes, the room was back in order with the children sitting in their new clusters. Next, the teacher began a vocabulary lesson. She asked the children to take out their vocabulary spiral notebooks while she wrote ten words on the overhead projector. She asked the children to copy the words into their notebooks, leaving space after each one. The teacher reminded the children of the symbol system used in the class when working with vocabulary words: a triangle next to the word if they do not know the meaning, a circle if they have an idea of the meaning, and a star if they totally know the meaning of the word. After the students had marked their words, the teacher gave sentences for each of the words so the children could write what they thought the words meant from the contexts of the sentences. She reminded the children that it was okay to guess with these definitions, and that it was okay to be wrong. The teacher walked around the room as she gave the sentences, giving gentle reminders to students who were off task and reminding the class to date and title their vocabulary pages. When all the sentences had been given, the teacher told the children that their homework would be to start a word bank with their new vocabulary words. She asked the children when they thought it would be due. Many students responded ‘Wednesday’, and she verified this answer. Once the vocabulary lists were put away, the teacher had the students take out their basal Language Arts book. She gave them the page number, and had them look at the title page of the story they were about to read. She asked what they noticed about it. Students gave many different answers, and she asked what they thought these things would mean for the story. One


student mentioned the list of characters, and the teacher discussed how the story was a play and how the play format made it different from other stories they had read. After the introduction, the teacher told the students they would be reading the story aloud in their clusters. She instructed them to divide the characters among themselves and to read quietly to each other. She reminded the students not to read too loud, drawing a ‘noise meter’ on the board. She told them about which level they should be at for this activity. Lastly, she told the students that they could show her they were done with their reading by working on their vocabulary lists or by reading another book silently to themselves. She set a time for fifteen minutes and placed it on the overhead projector so the students could gauge their time as they worked and told them to begin. The students began to chatter as they worked through who would play the different roles. Some students had minor conflicts, but they worked them out between themselves, and the groups began to read the play. Many of the students read expressively, laughing and smiling as they read through the parts. Occasionally they would self-regulate the noise in the classroom, telling other students to quiet down around them when noise levels got too high. About halfway through the time, the teacher wrote a number on the noise meter, showing the children they were a little bit too loud. The story being read was about a talent show. It traced the story of the talent show from its first mention in the narrator’s classroom, through the end of the show. Through a chain of events, the talent show was humorously disastrous, climaxing in a pet pig causing the stage curtain to fall on the talent show’s emcee. The story is short, but includes many different school figures and many varied talented students.


When the time ran out, the teacher regathered the group and began asking questions about the plot of the story. She prompted the children to think about what major events had happened in the story. As different questions about the plot arose from students’ comments, the teacher suggested that the class go back and re-read the part of the story the class was conflicted about. She assigned roles for the section, and it was read aloud by the selected students. During the reading, the teacher pointed out specific events and asked thought-provoking questions. After the conflict had been resolved, the teacher began to tell the students about the next activity connected to their reading. She passed out large sheets of paper and explained that each student would divide their paper into five sections to represent the five major events of the story. Each student would illustrate and narrate these events in the appropriate boxes of their paper. Since time was running out, the teacher informed the students that they would work together in their clusters to come up with the five major events to represent. These lists would then be checked by the teacher, and the group would be excused for lunch. The rest of the activity would be homework. As the students worked, the teacher circulated through the room, making suggestions for groups that were stalled. She urged them to stay on task, since they would not be able to go to lunch until their list of events was completed. Students worked together, talking about and leaving through the text attempting to identify the major events. As they finished their lists, they were brought to the teacher to either be confirmed or critiqued. Some groups were asked to make revisions to their lists and were given hints about how to make these revisions. Once all the groups had presented adequate lists, the class was dismissed to go to lunch.


The physical environment established in the classroom is appropriate to the age range that it serves. Working in clusters aids in fostering the social development occurring throughout fifth grade. Because much of the work done in this fifth grade classroom is more teacher-oriented, it is appropriate for the overhead, teacher’s desk and blackboard to be made the front of the classroom. Work on the walls and around the room is language oriented, reflecting the nature of the work done in the classroom. The social environment created by the teacher is one of collaboration and self-regulation. While there is an expected level of teacher direction, students are expected to participate in active conversation during lessons. They are asked for original thought, not just cookie-cutter answers. Students are also asked to work together to solve more difficult solutions and control their own actions as well as regulate themselves as a classroom whole. Because they are able to take much of the responsibility, the teacher appropriately delegates many regulatory tasks to the students. The emotional atmosphere of the classroom is also supportive. Even in the texts presented, students see examples of youth healthily dealing with emotions and struggles. Students are scaffolded in dealing with emotions and in their interactions with classmates. Situations are created in which students are required to work together on challenging tasks. The cognitive material presented in the classroom is relatable and engaging. Children are beginning to think abstractly, as in this example of dealing with the structure of stories. Stories read aloud and in the basal book have less pictures and more words than they have had previously. Much of the work done relies heavily on language skills that have been developing throughout the primary grades. Instead of learning to read, children are now reading to learn.


The classroom atmosphere created in this fifth grade classroom is one of collaboration. Students and the teacher work together to discuss and analyze the material they cover in class. Students are given an increased amount of responsibility in their work and in their interactions in the classroom. More freedom is given to students during work time and during down times. Because they are able to control their own behavior and think about this behavior, they are given more of these responsibilities and opportunities.


Preprimary / Primary Comparison Analysis

In typical preprimary classrooms, more emphasis is put on holistic development than in primary classrooms. Social and emotional development is assessed through attachments, new relationships and interactions in the classroom. Close attention is paid to the development of coordination and fine and gross motor skills. Cognitive development is encouraged in many different areas. Unfortunately, this is not the case with typical late primary classrooms. Social and emotional activities will often be discouraged, with children working quietly and individually at desks. Outside of an isolated physical education class, physical development is often ignored in everyday classroom life. Cognitive development is limited to content area domains, with the most focus on reading and math. Development is not often viewed holistically in late primary classrooms, and this was evident in the previous two observations. While physical development was addressed in multiple ways during the preprimary group meeting as well as during the writing activity, little thought was given to physical concerns in the late primary classroom. Students were exercising some gross motor skills when they moved their desks and fine motor skills while working on assignments, but little attention was brought to it as a physical activity, and it was not challenging. In the preprimary classroom, whole body movements were made during whole group time and special attention was given to the fine motor skills required to construct letters. These types of activities are repeated daily for thoughtful purposes in preprimary classrooms, but are often left out when planning for primary activities. While many of the physical skills needed for success in school are developing in early


childhood and are appropriately addressed, the physical skills being mastered during late elementary are not often addressed outside of specials. One thing that was done well in the preprimary classroom was the presentation of material in numerous ways. Many of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences were addressed as the teacher used various presentational styles to present the ideas covered in the lesson as well as during the morning meeting. This variation, however, was not as prevalent in the late-primary lesson. Most of the lesson was linguistically presented and focused on the content and form of the text presented, marking the most significant change in language arts from preprimary to primary grades: Children move from learning to read to reading to learn. I would postulate that as children become proficient in conventional reading and writing skills in middle childhood, many educators move away from multiple means of representation and concentrate on the traditional linguistic style of presenting ideas and materials. This movement from learning to read to reading to learn demonstrates a major shift in thinking that occurs between early childhood and middle childhood. As they move from Piaget’s concrete operational stage to the formal operational stage, children are better able to process abstract ideas which is specifically seen in their acquirement of written language skills. Because they are able to understand that letters and words are representative of the sounds and pieces of spoken language, they are able to construct meaning from written language. Written language then becomes that primary means through which traditional education operates. This shift also accounts for a child’s ability to think abstractly in all domains, making it easier (but not necessarily developmentally appropriate) to teach abstract concepts without concrete materials.


Socially and emotionally, Kindergarten and fifth grade are both period of time between Eriksonian stages. In Kindergarten, children may be struggling to find purpose (initiative vs guilt) or to find competence (industry vs inferiority). In fifth grade, students are moving between that major struggle of childhood to prove competence and the fidelity of adolescence (identity vs role confusion). In Kindergarten, children are much more likely to be focused on themselves, while fifth graders are very aware of their peers and the way they are viewed by others. This early adolescent characteristic of struggling with identity and social relationships was shown in the subject of the reading material presented in the late primary classroom. In the Kindergarten lesson, the teacher helped the children to be purposeful and competent in their independent work while providing an appropriate amount of scaffolding so that this work could be done. Each teacher, whether consciously or not, was appropriately guiding children through processes that will help them successfully explore the stages they are going through. Overall, both teachers approached their lessons in ways that were at least somewhat developmentally appropriate to the ages of the students they were serving. While late primary lessons are seldom as hands-on and multi-dimensional as early childhood lessons, this is, in some ways, developmentally appropriate. Although it did not provide from as many means of intelligences as the preprimary lesson, the material of the fifth grade lesson presented material in the way in which most material will be presented to students during adolescence and emergent adulthood. Because late-primary students are beginning to be able to think relatively abstractly, presenting abstract material that is contextualized and lends itself to multiple means of representation is appropriate. The comparison of these two successful and appropriate lessons


highlights the concept that developmental appropriateness is indeed developmental, and that successful facilitation must be tailored toward the students it is serving.

Preprimary / Primary Analysis and Comparison  

November, 2011

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