One of our foci when writing the Great First Eight Curriculum was children from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds. We are unapologetic about this, as many curricula have been written with little or no attention to children from these backgrounds. We have strived for extensive, positive representation of people from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds in every aspect of the curriculum.
Although no set of curriculum materials can, by themselves, guarantee an education that is tailored to each child’s knowledge, cultural background, strengths, and needs, Great First Eight is intentionally designed to better support teachers through both curriculum and professional development materials to provide such an education for each child in their classroom.
Notably, when fewer children from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds are in your classrooms, more thought and preparation will be needed to ensure that the curriculum is supportive of, and not harmful to, all children in the classroom. For example, if you are discussing differences among people in physical features, and you have only one child with a particular hair type, you must take care that that child is not singled out in a negative way.
Access to grade-level content is a right for all learners, including for learners acquiring two or more languages or dialects. Great First Eight lesson plans are written with many strategies that can support children who are learning multiple languages or dialects—for example, some lesson plans call for development of anchor charts with visual supports, for providing specific sentence stems, and for wait time to enable children to better process information and formulate their responses. Professional learning for Great First Eight teachers, as well as notes within lesson plans, remind teachers to welcome children to use all of their linguistic resources, including languages and dialects they know and gestures and other nonverbal tools, to engage in the classroom. Our materials also underscore for teachers that being able to speak multiple languages and dialects are great assets. Research suggests that when teachers have an asset orientation toward multilingualism, their students have higher growth.
What you will not find in Great First Eight is a little section at the end of a lesson plan or a small box in the margin of a lesson plan that are labelled as for English Language Learners. We don’t take that approach because we do not want to marginalize multilingual children in any way, which, in our view, margin boxes and labelling in lesson plans are prone to do. In addition, some of the supports we include may also be helpful to children learning just one language. In sum, in Great First Eight supports for multilingual and multidialectal learners are embedded throughout lesson plans as well as in professional learning and other materials.
We all know that children vary a great deal from one to another—even within the same family. Children differ in their strengths, interests, preferences, and more. At all ages/grade levels, Great First Eight is designed to enable children with a wide range of strengths, interests, and preferences to learn and thrive. For the sake of brevity, we’ll take kindergarten as an example. Great First Eight Kindergarten provides about 150 minutes a day of time when children are working individually, in pairs, or in small groups. There are lots of opportunities within those times to differentiate. For example, children engage with computer programs that adapt to their strengths and needs, get opportunities to meet with the teacher in small groups for instruction tailored to their strengths and needs, and get to make some choices in their activities to suit their interests and preferences. The small-group, partner, and individual times in Great First Eight are also when children who require additional support from a specialist, such as a speech and language pathologist or occupational therapist, can receive that support without missing whole-class instruction that their classmates are receiving.
Even whole-group lessons are written so that there is room for children to participate in ways that draw on their specific strengths and help develop areas in need of growth. For example, during whole-class discussions, our lesson plans often call for think-pair-shares, which allow children who don’t yet feel comfortable contributing to discussions in front of the entire class to talk with just one of their classmates. Similarly, children who have strong understanding of a particular concept may have the opportunity to explain it to the class, which research suggests is a powerful way to solidify learning.
Great First Eight uses a project-based approach for many parts of the day. A project-based approach is widely suggested for children who seem advanced for their age. Great First Eight’s projects enable each child to take the project as far as they are able. For example, in the Domino Effects unit, each child determines the complexity of the chain reaction they design and how elaborate their explanation of that chain reaction is. The project accommodates children with a range of strengths.
One practice you can be assured we do not promote in Great First Eight is general “ability” or “level-based” grouping. Much as we don’t rank, sort, or group our friends or siblings by ability, we do not do that to young children. Practices such as putting all the children who read “level E” books together do not have support in research. Moreover, tracking is fraught with many problems, such as poorer quality instruction provided to children in “lower” tracks, placing more males than females in higher tracks in math, and racial bias in how students are tracked. In Great First Eight professional learning, we invite teachers to imagine or remember what it felt like to be in the “low group” in school and share painful stories of, for example, what it was like for a young child struggling with reading to never get to be in a group with her friends. In Great First Eight, we work to ensure that groups are flexible and ever-changing to meet each child’s strengths and needs and to enable children to learn from and with all of their classmates at various times. In the crucial early childhood (birth to age 8) years, we believe this is the most supportive approach.