This is part 9 of my interview with Marilee Cosgrove of the Fullerton School District. Our focus was on “Lessons Learned” –creating an effective quality pre-school program in a public school context. Here, she discusses how her pre-school program helps close the achievement gap between different student groups, and how the skills that close the gap are taught.
Q: So, the skeptical outsider might say “OK, emotional and social growth – how does that help close the achievement gap, when you get to those first reading tests?”
A: First of all, the Social Emotional allows them to learn how to learn. They know how to compromise, they know how to communicate, they know how to collaborate, they know how to investigate, and they have a good sense of self. Pre-school is all about developing skills about sense of self, sense of belonging, how to communicate, and then to be able to work collaboratively with their peers, and that is what you need for success in kindergarten, and on from there. It’s a no-brainer. Same thing for the adult world. You can be brilliant and hard-working and good at math or music but if you can’t express yourself and work well with others, what do you have?
Q: Okay, it’s a no-brainer, maybe – but if you have a relatively well-off school district, how do you take a school board that’s concerned with achievement gaps and convince them that they need to put their attention and resources into their pre-schoolers? How do you tell them that this … thing that doesn’t look like what they might expect from an effective academic program … works?
A: From the data. You look at the cognitive measures that measure specific skills in those so-called academic areas like concept development, math and science skills, pattern recognition, language acquisition, etc. You can see it. There is no excuse to not be on it.
Q: Okay, so those are the skills you are focused on. How do I see that in the classroom?
A: It’s not like “Ok, kids, we’re going to talk about social and emotional today.” It’s not that at all. It’s about how you set up your classroom. It’s about the feeling the children get when they walk in. What’s the environment like that supports the sense of self, of self-awareness and engagement? How does that look? That’s what we’ve created. It’s about how our teachers engage with children, scaffolding, guided problem-solving. That’s what we’re building every day. The social emotional piece evolves from that. So then the children can go forward and do inquiry-based learning – which is pretty much where they want to start, when they’re left alone with the right materials.
Q: So you’ve created a physical environment – the space – for the children to feel and understand and connect — and a cognitive environment in how the teachers interact with them. The Environment and The Interactions.
A: Absolutely. And it’s Heavy Cognitive. First Day of School – you’ve got 3 year olds on a light table, working with different shapes, organizing them, building things …and working with others – They are working really, really hard. It’s profound.