In athletic competitions, those individuals or teams that get off to a strong start have a much better chance of winning the engagement.
The race for a student to reach his or her academic potential is no different. Identification of student's needs and reaction to those needs by teachers, administrators, parents and communities in grades K-4 is vital for this strong start to be effective.
Students in kindergarten through second grade are experiencing developmental changes in which they: begin to control their emotions and behavior; harness the control of their thought processes and reflecting on them; begin to create and execute formal strategies to recall information; initiate the use of logic in their decision making and start to consider viewpoints of others around them.
Teachers prepare an inviting environment to help students and parents with this transition to education away from home. Young students are taught social and academic expectations. A positive learning environment is created involving routines, a rich array of engaging activities that foster the use of logic and recall, and the development of social abilities.
Third-grade students are searching for independence as they are feeling more grown up. With the introduction of high stakes testing, they also experience increased anxiety. They are often sensitive to criticism and shy away from risk. These students are expected to: read independently, write in a structured format and solve multiple-step problems. Socially, third-grade students are now expected to aid others, be cooperative and participate in interpersonal problem solving.
At this time, their expected abilities and skills become interrelated. These core competencies need a solid foundation, otherwise students begin to fall behind academically at an increasing rate. Many schools, such as Hilburn Drive Elementary in North Carolina, have in place "watch lists" where teachers identify students who need support in shoring up one or more pieces of this foundation. Tools used to help these students could include: tutoring, instruction on test taking strategies to limit anxiety and evaluation to identify specific content needs.
Fourth-grade students are known for energy and emotion. They have increased awareness of others and the world around them. These students are: hypercompetitive, industrious and curious, concrete thinkers that learn by doing, actively engage in teasing of others, and are known for bursts of energy followed by a need for rest/relaxation. These students experience increased homework loads and expected to have fully transitioned from "learning to read" to "reading to learn."
Teachers deploy strategies such as: establishing daily "kick-off" meetings that set the agenda for the day and encourage interactive discussion, using games and activities that emphasize cooperation and working on developing a sense of community within the classroom. Kids at this age tend to take themselves too seriously. Teachers often offset this with their sense of humor, lightening up the mood in the classroom where needed.
Increased focus is now being put on importance of early elementary instruction, including preschool programs that set the stage for a successful kindergarten experience.
As our academic achievement expectations grow for our students, we must ensure that we construct the academic and social foundation they will need to meet these new goals.
Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.