The Tools for a Successful Young Learner
Education begins in preschool and kindergarten for a reason. These are important formative years where students build skills and develop behaviors to carry them through many years of learning. As a kindergarten teacher, I make it my goal for students to leave my classroom at the end of the year as capable, confident learners.
In order for younger students to learn in a new environment, certain procedures and routines have to be established. Students must feel comfortable and welcome in their learning environment. Young learners must be taught how to operate in a group classroom setting. For some, this is the first time as a student in a class of many. Students must learn to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and needs to both their peers and the adults they interact with at school. Students need to understand their role in the class and the teacher's role.
So, what is a young learner's role? In my classroom, I teach students that they are writers. They are readers. They are scientists. They are explorers. Though many of them are learning to do these things for the first time, I want them to feel empowered to take risks in these endeavors. I want them to know that the skills they come in with, perhaps creating an illustration rather than writing a story, or interpreting the pictures in a book rather than reading the words, are valuable, too. It's important to me that they do not see themselves as being at a deficit when they enter my classroom. We work together to build upon skills that many of them have already.
A large part of early education also has to do with character education. Young learners are psychologically still very egocentric. Their world consists of themselves and everything that happens to them. Early educators teach these children to broaden this view, learning to care not only about what happens to them, but also what happens to the people around them. This is why we see the theme of community prevalent in many of the primary years. This is developmentally difficult for some young learners to understand. Early educators teach these learners about the community around them and how they are a part of this community. We teach young learners how to empathize with people who are both similar to and different from themselves. Empathy is a crucial behavior in becoming part of both their classroom community and the larger community in which they live.
Once young learners have established themselves as part of a classroom community, the possibilities are endless. Young learners are exciting! When they become empowered to take risks, my students show amazing creativity. They are eager to contribute their ideas and are learning to value the ideas of their classmates. With the heavy emphasis on standards and achievement, some educators ask if learning starts too early. I say "No!" Learning can happen as long as a young learner's environment nurtures certain skills.
In order for young learners to thrive they must be taught
- Independence. Young learners sometimes need prompting and support, but we have to believe in their ability to complete tasks on their own. There must be a gradual release of responsibility in every part of the day for student-centered learning to occur.
- Collaboration. In my class, students frequently work in pairs or small groups. It is crucial that they know how to have their voices heard in these situations and how to support the learning of their peers. I want my students to be able to work together with an end goal in mind.
- Ownership. Ownership of ideas and products acts as intrinsic motivation to put forth their best effort every time.
- Persistence. In independent and collaborative work, young learners learn to try and continue trying even if they don’t feel 100 percent confident. We have to encourage them to take risks!
Pauline Gremaud is a kindergarten teacher at Hillsborough Elementary School in Orange County, N.C. She graduated with highest honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in elementary education and a minor in English. She is a North Carolina Teaching Fellow and a second year teacher. Connect with Gremaud by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.