What are the expectations for a child in reading, writing and math in the ELC?

The NIS ELC follows the IB Primary Years Program’s Scope and Sequence for all subjects, including Math and Language.  We believe that effective language teaching and learning are social acts, dependent on relationships with others, with context, with the environment, with the world, and with the self. Such learning is relevant, engaging, challenging and significant. We believe exposure to and experience with languages, with all their richness and diversity, creates a spirit of inquisitiveness about life and learning, and a confidence about creating new social interactions. Language provides a vehicle for students to engage with the world and, in an IB World School, to relate to, and accept, responsibility for the mission of the IB to “help to create a better and more peaceful world”.

Language provides a vehicle for inquiry where teachers and students enjoy using language. The love and enjoyment of language through the integration of literature into student inquiry is something we focus on in the ELC. For example, this may include: early years counting stories as reinforcement for mathematics development; and the comparison and practice of illustration techniques to encourage the development of art skills. Teachers plan learning experiences that enable students to develop language within meaningful and enjoyable contexts, which allow them to make connections, apply their learning, and transfer their conceptual understanding to new situations. This progressive conceptual development, together with an enjoyment of the process, provides the foundation for lifelong learning.

For listening and speaking by the end of ELC Kindergarten we expect students to show an understanding of the value of speaking and listening to communicate. Students will recognize that sounds are associated with objects, or with symbolic representations of them and they use language to name their environment, to get to know each other, to initiate and explore relationships, to question and inquire.

For viewing and presenting by the end of ELC Kindergarten we expect students to show an understanding that the world around them is full of visual language that conveys meaning. Students will be able to interpret and respond to visual texts. Although much of their own visual language is spontaneous, students are expected to be able to extend and use visual language in more purposeful ways.

For reading and writing by the end of ELC Kindergarten we expect students to show an understanding that print represents the real or the imagined world. They will know that reading gives them knowledge and pleasure; that it can be a social activity or an individual activity. They will have a concept of a “book”, and an awareness of some of its structural elements. They will use visual cues to recall sounds and the words they are “reading” to construct meaning.

At the end of the school year, the ELC kindergarten students’ reading and writing is formally assessed using a standardized reading test called “PM Benchmark” to determine each students reading fluency and comprehension levels. Students are also given a few on-demand writing assessments to determine their wiring ability.

How do you help students who may be struggling in the classroom?

Some students may struggle in one specific curricular area in particular, for example language, while others may struggle in many areas besides math and language, such as critical thinking, problem solving, gross and fine motor skills, or social/emotional issues. 

The NIS ELC uses primarily the IB Primary Years Program’s Scope and Sequence to evaluate student performance.  Other early childhood resources such as specialized curriculum, examples of students work and developmental milestones documents are also used. 

At the end of kindergarten we expect students to be learners who are independent, curious, resourceful, and who attempt to solve problems on their own.  We expect them to be able to explain their thinking when they make a choice about something, to interact and collaborate with others, as well as have a minimum level of academic competency.  Essentially, we aim for students to have the skills and competencies necessary to be successful in grade 1. 

If we see that a student is struggling within the program for an extended period of time, or is lagging in the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in grade 1, teachers may consider to retain the student for one more year in kindergarten, or, parents may be asked to find another, more suitable, educational institution, particularly if the home language is Japanese.  Of course, this is a discussion process with the family that occurs over a long period of study, and which includes the principal (and may include an outside professional and/or assessments) and teachers ensure that communication with parents occurs on a regular basis throughout the school year. We will also provide opportunities for parents to learn skills and strategies that will help them support their child at home.

Why do you mix students who are 3 years old with the students who are 4 years old?

Early childhood research has shown that a mix of ages and students with different skills and abilities is better for all students in the classroom. In the NIS ELC, older students act as role models for the younger students, and help them to better integrate into the classroom routines more smoothly. In this way, the younger students take their cues from the older students, who take pride in being able to teach some of the things they learned to the younger students.  Being able to teach an idea or a skill to someone is an important part of the learning process, as it demonstrates to both the teacher and themselves how well they have been able to internalize the concept.

Also, from a pastoral perspective, having the same student for two years (as opposed to only one) means a teacher can get a deeper understanding of each student's abilities, knowledge, and skills.  It also provides stability and gives teachers additional time and a longer perspective to study and address any issues that may come up.

Why are students often doing different activities at the same time, and not all together?

There are some times during the day – especially during small group time - when all students will do the same thing together.  But in the ELC, we promote self-initiated inquiry, which encourages students to extend their learning interests by providing them with time, materials, and support to deepen their understanding of a topic or concept they are interested in.  Through these opportunities, which happen at different times and periods during a student’s day, teachers are able to help students develop the attitudes and skills needed for their future learning: critical thinking, asking questions, solving problems, communication and a sense of ownership in their own learning.  

ELC teachers are extremely sensitive to the fact that students learn in different ways and have different learning styles.  A particular activity or project will not have the same impact on the learning for one student in the same way as it may for another student.  Consequently, ELC teachers know that it is important to provide different "invitations" or opportunities at the best moment for students to experience and learn, which also must be guided by their own interests.  By providing students with learning opportunities, activities and projects that they are interested in, we are able to help them become critical thinkers and life-long learners.

Why are students not always studying in desks, and often on the floor?

The ability for children aged 3-5 years old to focus for any length of time is developing, and they often find it difficult to stay focused on a task for more than a few minutes.  There is hardly any point in asking younger students this age to sit in chairs and listen to a lecture from a teacher for 30 minutes – or for them to sit at a desk to do work-sheets which are not appropriate for a child this age. 

Younger children have difficulty retaining information when it is delivered in this manner and, rather than learning, it simply becomes a struggle between the teacher and students to “have them behave properly" and "finish their work".  It is more important to ensure that the flow of the day is dynamic and motivating for students to help them engage more deeply into their learning. 

The NIS ELC classroom environment is designed to do just that – provide an inviting environment that helps children learn more, stay on task longer, and engage deeper into an activity, project or inquiry topic. Our warm, home-like environment for students makes it easier for them to pursue their interests independently without adults organizing their space or managing their time.  This type of environment offers opportunities for the students to read and write in ways that are motivating and inviting for them – reading on cushions, on the sofa, in little nooks under the counters, inside a cardboard house, etc. 

In addition to an important environment, however, research shows that play is another important way that children this age learn, and our classroom environment encourages play to happen naturally, at their pace, doing what they are focused on at that moment.

Of course, during small group time, students are expected to stay focused for a longer period of time, and this is done in a gentle manner without pushing the limits of what is developmentally appropriate for their age. 

Why does student work posted on the wall have many words incorrectly spelled?

In the ELC, we are more interested in their ideas and their thinking process than the final product. We want them to begin to write and read to the best of their abilities, but more importantly we want to know what they are trying to communicate through their writing.  For younger children, pictures and drawings often represent as much or even more meaning and thinking as sentences made by proficient writers, but because they are not yet able to represent it appropriately with letters and words, teachers carefully listen and ask questions about their drawings to understand what they are trying to communicate.  These conversations are very important. If we understand what they are trying to communicate, then we can better help them appropriately write/draw what they mean and give them more strategies and solutions to do so. This also helps them to become better writers in the future.

Young children need to gain confidence in their abilities to begin to view themselves as capable readers and writers.  If teachers continually correct their writing they will become too self-conscious and it can actually hinder their learning. 

At this age, students are not expected to understand the conventions of writing and reading to perfection, nor are they developmentally ready to write words in long sentences.  In fact, if a child can read and write a full sentence at this early age it doesn't necessarily mean they are more capable or will become better readers or writers in the future.  Often, they are simply copying symbols but do not fully understand their complexity or full meaning.

As the students in the ELC 3/4 gain more confidence in their writing, they are encouraged to learn the conventions of writing at their pace, to help them feel more comfortable as they continue on to Kindergarten and Grade 1.

Does the ELC have an "English-only" policy?

In the ELC, language is taught through a holistic and integrated approach.   This means that we teach language through out the day in context and do not teach a specific phonics or language program. We also offer a literacy rich environment with a wide variety of age-appropriate books, regular reading times, alone and in small groups, (Preschool every other day, K every day) to target every child’s need.  Because our student population comes from a variety of cultural backgrounds, our students speak a range of languages.  We value the use of mother tongue in the ELC, both to help students learn English and for social and emotional growth.  While students are encouraged to use English through out the day, there will be times where teachers use students’ first language as a learning strategy to promote understanding.

With respect to mother tongue or native language development, children come to the ELC with a variety of cultural backgrounds and first languages.  Both current research and the IB program argue that using mother tongue to support language instruction helps second language learners develop proficiency in their second language.  Consequently, teachers in the ELC often use children’s first language to help them develop a better understanding of English.  This strategy also helps children’s emotional and social growth by making their first language and cultural identity a valuable part of our community.

That being said, in situations where children have the necessary English vocabulary to express themselves and when students in a group have different mother tongues, teachers expect students to use English rather than their first language to communicate.   

What is "free exploration"? It looks like they are playing. Are students really learning?

“Free Exploration” or “Inquiry Time” is a time that is designed for students to explore the materials in the classroom at their pace as well as invitations teachers may have suggested at the beginning of the day, such as painting, crafts, block-construction, puppet shows, dramatic play, etc.  This time is an essential part of a child’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being, a time to test, explore, inquire and be curious about the world around them.  Exploration and “Play” is at the core of our “image of the child” and our philosophy of early-childhood education.

Not only is time for exploration and play an important part of the curriculum for the students, but it is also an important way for the teachers to monitor the development of each student. Observing students exploring and playing independently enables teachers to have an opportunity to step back and reflect on their social skills, their thought processes, and their self-management skills.  Are they able to solve problems and conflicts with friends?  Do they give up easily?  Can they stay focused on a task?  What are their interests?  We are able to better understand each child’s worldview and emotional landscape from using several perspectives, and one of them is observing from a distance. Being able to observe in this way is essential to how we teach as it informs the types of “invitations” and activities we will plan for the students while providing us with essential information for assessment and reporting.

During this time, students are able to either go to whichever area they want in the classroom, or at other times they could be assigned to a particular project or area. While we respect their decisions most of the time, there are times when we will encourage them to try other activities. For example, if we see that a child plays with blocks, day after day, we may ask him/her to chose another area on a particular day.  We often justify this decision by explaining to the children that we hope they can be open-minded and balanced in their choices – which are part of our Learner Profile attributes.

What is the expectation for ELC parents to support learning at home?

The only expectation we have of ELC parents in terms of homework or support at home is to support your child as an inquirer. Allow your child to explore their surroundings, ask questions, play, and experiment with new concepts. Parents are strongly encouraged to read daily with their child in English and their mother tongue and proactively encourage and model reading at home. This will provide your child with the best environment possible to support the development of literacy skills that will last a lifetime. This cannot be emphasized enough. Reading – in any language – is one of the key skills needed in any language, and one that should be nurtured both at home and in the school.

ELC teachers regularly provide parents with interesting websites, apps, and other tools that may be used at home, and this information is distributed in newsletters and/or emails. If a child struggles with one area in particular – i.e. writing or math for example – teachers often will suggest strategies for parents on how to provide support at home.  Every child is different, however, so support strategies will be different in every case.

Do you expect parents to use English and encourage speaking English at home?

As stated above, our only expectation at home in terms of English literacy, is to read regularly. If a child’s home language is not English, we do not expect parents to speak English at home with their child.  It is important that children continue to develop their native tongue.  If a child’s first language is Japanese, parents should ensure that they continue nurturing that language at home.  If a child’s first language is weak, their English will be weak also.  Consequently, if parents want to speak English at home with their child it will surely help, however, it is not expected.

Do students memorize the math addition/subtraction tables and do math drills? It seems that they are playing math games and not really learning math problems.

To effectively teach our students the skills needed to be successful in the future, the focus of the NIS curriculum is on critical thinking and “enduring understandings”, which go well beyond memorizing facts and pieces of knowledge.  Our school community embraces questioning and deeper investigations into issues and thoughts that are relevant to the children. We aim to nurture problem-solving abilities and the various social skills needed in order for students to become fully engaged with local and global communities within our rapidly changing world. Simply memorizing facts and pieces of information and spending time on drills is something that can easily accessed independently if they chose to once they learn basic research skills, and definitely not worth spending time the classroom.

This Week In The ELC