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Studies: Transitions in First Grade
 

 

Transitions in First Grade

Ginger Gregory

Copyright 2000 by Ginger Gregory
Included here with permission of the author

I teach first grade in a growing county outside a major metropolitan area, where the growth in the county is a frequently debated issue in school and community politics. As the population increases in the county so does the school population. Hill Square Elementary, where I teach, is the second of five elementary schools built in the community in less than eight years.

Due to the influx of students, school boundaries are redrawn every few years. The boundary changes combined with the influx of people moving to the community have created the problem of moving students into new schools. This moving of students has prompted me to look closely at the effect of change on my first grade students.

At Hill Square there are six first grades. Many of the students attended Hill Square in kindergarten, but many have transferred into the school. One of the ways we prepare students for the first grade transition is to have a kindergarten/first grade switch day in May. Kindergarten students come to first grade to learn about the new environment for one day. The first graders go back to kindergarten to celebrate just how much they have learned since leaving kindergarten. Those students who have not attended Hill Square do not have this opportunity to prepare for the transition.

The children in my first grade classroom range in age from six to seven. I have fourteen boys and ten girls. Thirty six percent of my students transferred into Hill Square in September. At the beginning of the school year the children seemed well prepared for the first grade experience; however, in the next week it became clear that some students were having difficulty in making the transition to first grade. By difficulty I mean that they were not aware of the expectations that were being held of them. I found that the new students were misbehaving more frequently and were more active physically. They had questions about everything. Many of the children were followers and had difficulty rising above the examples of poor behavior which fellow classmates set for them. One child in particular seemed to stand out as the model of transition disorientation.

Background

My first memory of Colby (a pseudonym) was on the first day of school. Colby’s mother walked him to the classroom door. He refused to enter the classroom and fought to hold onto his mother. I was not prepared for the sheer strength he had as he lunged for his mother’s legs as she tried to leave. I had to restrain him as his mother walked away. I took the sobbing Colby into the classroom and held him on my lap as I tried to begin the school year with the other 23 students. That first day he did not participate in any class activities. This incident has stuck with me because it was so unusual. I have seen separation anxiety, and this was not it!

In interaction with a small group of peers, Colby was very competitive. Other boys were quick to yield to him. He lived for recess. He ran and was very physical. He tripped others, pushed, and tackled the boys to the ground. Repeated warnings did not have an effect on his behavior. He was constantly moving, whether standing in line or playing outside. If Colby did not have a specific task that was being done, he was off task. He talked to his neighbors or played with pencils, crayons, or glue at his desk. Once he began a task, he would not put it away until he was ready to do so. After countless warnings to clean up, he was deliberate in his slowness. He moved at his own pace. He would look up at me and then continue at his own pace.

Colby was quick to pick up on action in the classroom. He noticed injustices but was just as quick to join in. He particularly noticed another little boy, Ryan, who was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. Colby "attached" to Ryan, and the two of them bothered each other. Colby would make comments like, "you're weird" or "what's wrong with you?" Colby would purposely touch, trip and try to aggravate Ryan. Every day was a new battle with Colby. I found that he had a following of about five boys. The boys did what Colby said, but at times they would get mad among themselves and vie for attention.

Colby was very unsure of his abilities. He refused to do any work at the beginning of the year. His usual response was, "I can’t." With support and help he tried, but he was easily frustrated. He was easily frustrated when he didn't know exact spelling. Little initiative was shown when he didn’t know what to do. Only during math did he seem to be excited. His tongue lolled around in his mouth and he worked quickly.

I wondered if Colby’s behavior was an indication of aggression. Jewett (1992) defined aggression as any intentional behavior that results in physical or mental injury to any person. Although I saw Colby’s actions as intentional, I did not see that they were injurious to anyone. What bothered me was the fact that Colby did not see what he was doing as wrong. When I asked Colby why he pushed or made fun of others, he answered that that he didn’t know why he did those things, or else he would say he didn’t remember what he had done wrong. I wondered if Colby was not assertive in his relationships because he was not confident enough in himself to show a healthy display of competence (Jewett, 1992).

Colby’s behavior perplexed me since the first day of school. I watched him and his behaviors throughout the school year. I was given the opportunity to more closely look at Colby’s behavior while developing a research project. I began my research by identifying a puzzlement I had in my classroom practice. Puzzlements are questions about problems or students behaviors that are not understood.

Puzzlement

My puzzlement was: Why does Colby have difficulty transitioning into first grade?

This question was of interest to me because several students of mine over the years also have had difficulty adjusting to first grade. I was interested in finding patterns that existed as I reflected on former students compared to Colby and researched the subject of transitions. In addition to investigating the puzzlement surrounding Colby, I was interested in understanding the nature of transition.

"[Transition is] that difficult process of letting go of an old situation, suffering the confusing nowhere of inbetweenness, and launching forth again in a new situation" (Bridges, 1980, p. 5). According to Entwisle and Alexander (1989), the first grade transition constitutes a "critical period" in both their academic and social development.

According to Lombardi (1992), many children have problems adjusting to elementary school programs that have a different philosophy, teaching style, and structure than those programs in which they participated during their earlier years. All children enter their formal schooling through the doors of a first grade. All of the students I teach have had a year of kindergarten before beginning school. There is some debate as to whether the hardest transition is the first break from home to preschool, kindergarten or first grade. Evidence seems to suggest that first grade is the most critical period due to the increase of cognitive skills and the changing social environment surrounding the child (Bronfenbrenner & Crouter, 1983, as cited by Entwisle & Alexander, 1998).

Background

Colby came to public school from a small private Christian school. According to Conway (1994), private schools transmit what they consider worthy values to new teachers, parents, and students through institutional rituals and traditions. This school greatly emphasized the need to have Christian character. Although Colby’s parents liked the academic nature of the school, they found that the discipline code was too strict for Colby. In light of this problem, Colby’s parents enrolled him in public school.

Colby lived with his mother and father in a townhouse. He has an older sister who was in fourth grade. Her behavior was of no concern. She was a compliant child who was eager to please. Colby and his sister attended an after school program because both parents worked. The family was involved in their local church and the children saw many of their friends at the church. Colby’s sister had a lot of friends. She often played with them at their houses, or they were at her house. Colby, on the other hand, had very few friends in the neighborhood. Many of the boys were either too old or too young. Colby did not participate in any organized sports programs. He played with his toys and did not like to leave the comfort of his own house.

Initial Focus

My initial assumption was that Colby was having difficulty making the transition to school due to inconsistencies between home and school. I began to focus my attention on CIP question 3.3.2, which states "How might mismatches between student’s or group’s home culture(s) and the school curriculum be contributing to the puzzling situation?"

I followed this line of thinking by sending a questionnaire to all the parents of my first graders in order to understand the effects of routines and change in their child’s life at home. I wanted to understand what an average home culture looked like in our community. I thought I could compare Colby’s family to a broader sampling of family routines. Although the information was of interest, the implications of creating interventions and monitoring were too broad. The focus would be taken off Colby and would be turned toward students as a whole. I set up an interview with Colby’s mom in hopes of understanding his home culture better, but after the interview, I realized that understanding the home culture would be beyond the scope of my study. In order to understand the family dynamics presented in the survey, I felt that I would need to look closer into each family. As a result I feared that I would lose my objectivity as a researcher. Again, my focus would be taken off of Colby. In an effort to refocus my mind on Colby and the puzzlement surrounding his behaviors and performances, I considered several questions:

  • Might Colby’s experience at a private school in kindergarten be contributing to his difficulty transitioning into first grade?
  • Might Colby understanding of discipline be contributing to the puzzling situation?
  • Might a Christian school be contributing to the puzzling situation?
  • Might differences in home and school routines and expectations be contributing to the puzzling situation?
  • Might Colby’s understanding of his own feelings be contributing to his difficulty in transitioning to first grade?
  • Might Colby’s own perceptions of abilities be contributing to the puzzling situation?
  • Might Colby’s lack of control be contributing to the puzzling situation?

New Focus

Through this process, I found that I needed to understand what was going on in Colby’s head. Only after I understood Colby could I even begin to propose interventions. I chose to focus on CIP question 3.5.1, which states "How might individual students’ negotiations of home, peer, and school cultures be contributing to the puzzling situation." In this way, I could look at my puzzlement of transitions through the lens of Colby’s negotiations of home, school, and peers.

Collecting Information

I gathered the information by observing Colby in the classroom, as well as in art, music, and PE (physical education), by interviewing his mother, by talking to school administrators and other specialists, by reviewing records from his former school, and by conducting a home interview.

Parent Interview

I had an interview with Colby’s mother on a Friday afternoon. We talked for about one hour. I learned a lot about Colby through our interview. I asked questions about routines and behaviors. His mother revealed that Colby’s main areas of contention were mornings and homework. He did not like to choose what he wore in the morning. He wanted mom to pick out things. At homework time, Colby resisted sitting down to do his work. At times, his mother would wait him out for two hours as he cried and complained about being hungry and tired. Colby was quick to say, "I can’t!" In response, mom said, "Yes, you can!" She would spend two hours pushing him.

Colby’s parents had tried to involve him in outside activities. They enrolled him in karate because they thought it would be good for his discipline. Colby complained about going to class. He told his mom that he "just wants to be at home." When she asked him why, he stated that he liked to relax and do what he wanted. Colby was not thrilled about being made to go to school. Several times his mother needed to physically pick him up and bring him out to the car in order for him to leave the house.

As a younger child, he would not use the bathroom at preschool. He’d wait until he got home. According to mom, Colby got into a lot of trouble in kindergarten. Apparently the school environment was vastly different from that of Hill Square. His mother commented that the colors were so much brighter in first grade and that Colby had more options there. In kindergarten he did not have any choices in his activities. In first grade he could go outside and he had art. In light of the behavior problems he'd had in preschool and kindergarten, his mother noticed that his outbursts were less severe and less frequent in first grade.

In our discussion about Colby’s behavior problems, his mother interjected that Colby has a sweet side. An example she gave was when she was sick and Colby brought soup up to her. She pointed out that his sister was not too interested in giving such help but that Colby wanted to. She also noted that he could be very good with younger children. She said that he liked to take care of things and people.

I asked questions about Colby’s opportunities to develop responsibility. Mom said that he did not have responsibilities at home. Mom blamed herself for not giving him any chores. At times he helped set the table or select dinner. Sometimes he picked a movie or an activity to do on Saturday.

In our discussion about Colby’s behavior, his mom gave examples on how she coped with his outbursts. She described her way of getting Colby to change his mind--identifying a distraction and changing the subject. She called this process "converting" his thoughts. As an example, she told about how his emotions might escalate at the breakfast table, and then she would talk about the latest book she was reading. Colby then became interested in something else, and the family was able to successfully finish breakfast and get their morning off on the right foot. Mom described her response to Colby’s outbursts as being calm. She was firm and worked with Colby. She did take things (toys, video games) away from him when he misbehaved, but he adapted to whatever else was available. He pushed to get his way. If he wanted one thing and his mom wanted another, he would scream and cry.

As a result of this interview, I felt as though control appeared as a major theme. On many occasions, I felt that Colby was trying to understand his environment by asserting control over the people and things. I wanted to look at control in more depth. In addition to control, I felt that the keys to understand Colby lay in the areas of caring, responsibility, and accountability.

Kindergarten Records

As a result of viewing Colby’s kindergarten records, I learned that Colby was average in academics. His report card was very clear in stating that Colby had deficient Christian character qualities. Some of the examples of the qualities listed were the following: respects those in authority, obeys promptly, follows directions, and uses self-control. The teacher’s comments always stated the need for improvement in Colby’s behavior. Standardized tests showed Colby to be above the 70th percentile in math, but indicated 50th percentile for reading, 16th percentile for listening, and 8th percentile for environmental studies.

From the kindergarten records, I felt that I had more useful information about Colby. The issue of control again became apparent to me as I looked at both the report card and teacher comments. The tests confirmed that Colby had a real strength in math and that his listening skills were very weak.

Interventions

As a result of the information I was collecting, I began to formulate several directions to take the research. I sought to understand what Colby was experiencing by using question 3.5.1 from the CIP. I wanted to understand what negotiations he was making at home, school, or with peers. I felt that there was enough evidence to suggest that there was a mismatch. Colby was not connecting with the expectations of others.

I began reading articles about transitions, self-esteem and narcissism, aggression and cooperation, private schools, caring for others, developing trust between students and teachers, helping children with anger, helping with socialization, and ways to involve parents in solving problems. My thought was that as I read articles, I would interact with the known information about Colby and see what connections were made.

I chose to develop my interventions along the following themes:

  • Helping Colby become aware of his own feelings and being held accountable
  • Supporting an "I Can" attitude
  • Taking care of others/things and gaining a sense of control over something
  • Building on math strengths
  • Giving responsibility

Each of these interventions related to Colby’s negotiations of school and peers as CIP question 3.5.1 highlights. I felt that I needed to concentrate on what could be done at school within the hours of school that I worked with him.

Intervention #1

I felt it was important to address the growing concern about Colby’s emotions. One day he was tired, the next day he was sad, then he was hungry. He used words to describe his feelings, but he could not connect them to the actual incident. An important technique for helping children who have aggressive tendencies to become more socially productive (Jewett, 1992) is to help children label and verbalize their feelings. The work of Brown and Dunn (1996) also supports the need for children to talk about their emotions so as to understand their feelings. Both sources were beneficial. I borrowed a feeling chart from the guidance department. I put the chart by my desk and frequently had Colby refer to the faces when giving explanations for his behavior. He would point to the face that indicated his present state of mind. We would then talk about the incident and together we would discover what prompted the behavior, what happened, and finally what the consequences would be. I began to see that Colby did not perceive himself to be a leader. He easily found others to follow and used their actions to justify his own actions.

Student Interview

I interviewed Colby after a particularly difficult morning. He had been brought to the assistant principal’s office after a morning of refusing to go to school. Part of the interview was a quest to find out what feelings Colby was experiencing. This feeling check was actually part of the intervention stage. However, the understanding that our talk brought actually supplied a more powerful intervention. As I asked Colby about his feelings of happiness, sadness, and embarrassment, it became evident that he was a very private person. His happiest times were building a snowman with his whole family; his saddest time was when mom left for work or when the family was apart. He identified his most embarrassing time as when his mom told him not to burp in public. His embarrassment was not so much about the burping as it is about the setting (in public), and the way he was corrected. He said that mom used a loud voice like she was mad. He was embarrassed when others heard. From this discussion about embarrassment, I realized that behavior needed to be corrected in a more private way and needed to occur without yelling. I also wondered if the fact he was embarrassed was an indication of low self-esteem.

Meeting with Colby One on One

As I worked more closely with Colby, I found my own beliefs being challenged. One area of challenge was in the area of my authority in the classroom. I needed to discuss Colby’s behavior with him privately so as to minimize power struggles (Brophy, 1996) and to allow him to save face. The decision to correct Colby in private and allow for explanations created a new dimension to our relationship. I found that Colby’s initial explanations for misbehavior were phrased in religious jargon. I attributed this to his former school experiences. He would say, "I was tempted. I’m bad. The devil made me do it." I wanted Colby to find other ways of expressing himself without using vocabulary that he didn’t understand. I also felt it was important to have Colby take responsibility for his actions as well as being held accountable. I found that Colby was more receptive to talk about his feelings. He was able to write about his feelings and draw pictures showing his thoughts at the time of an infraction. Consistent with Eisenberg (1991), I found that guided discussions about emotions helped Colby to understand and manage his feelings. Through the use of the charts and discussion, Colby became aware of what he could do. Instead of having his emotions dictate his behavior, Colby was seeing that he could be in control of his actions. This discovery was very rewarding. I saw that Colby was not pulling away from correction, but was working toward making better decisions and avoiding confrontations. This change in his behavior is supported by Lamborn and others (1991) who recognized that teachers are likely to engender positive feelings when they provide such a combination of acceptance, limits, and expectations concerning behavior and effort.

Intervention #2

My second intervention involved Colby taking responsibility. My idea came from insight his mother had given me during our interview. When she related that Colby was a caring child, I sought to find a way to nurture this trait. I felt that by having Colby take care of an amaryllis he would have the opportunity to be responsible for something on an ongoing basis. According to Bogdanets and Smirnova (1992), goal-directed efforts to shape first graders’ ecological ideas constitute a sense of personal responsibility for the state of nature. Through the care of an amaryllis, I hoped to instill in Colby a sense of responsibility and respect for living things (Stapp, 1978; Tilbury, 1994; Wilson, 1994). Children who are close to nature tend to relate to it as a source of wonder, joy, and awe. Their spirits are nurtured by nature and they discover through it "sources of human sensibility" (Wilson, 1992, p. 348). Care and respect can be modeled through the gentle handling of plants [in the classroom] (Wilson, 1996).

Children learn through investigations. They devote enormous amounts of time and energy to investigating the environments in which they are raised (Katz, 1993). Colby began asserting himself when taking care of the amaryllis. He became the resident amaryllis expert. Others did not know more than he did. Although he still had the tendency to be physical, he used his words more regularly to make his wishes known. The experience of taking care of the amaryllis from bulb to flower showed a continuum of change. Every day as he saw the changes occurring he marked the new measurements on a ruler. Colby was taking ownership of the amaryllis and its outcomes as evidenced by the fact that Colby did not need to be reminded about caring for the amaryllis. At the end of the day, he checked on the changes to the amaryllis. There was very little misbehavior surrounding the care of the amaryllis. He was committed to the process and seemed to derive personal meaning from the care of the amaryllis (Field & Hoffman, 1998). My role became that of a facilitator. I did not tell Colby what to do. I left the whole amaryllis to him. I responded to questions and concerns. Colby was left to discover things about his amaryllis, relying on his own experiences and sense of self-determination.

Intervention #3

The third intervention really was an outgrowth of interventions one and two. I became aware that I was developing a closer relationship with Colby. Trust is an important part of the student-teacher relationship. Without mutual trust students may become increasingly alienated from school (Erickson, 1996). When students "trust" their teacher they are more likely to turn to them for guidance in their learning efforts and be accepting of the teacher’s influence attempts (Wooten & McCroskey, 1996). Many of our discussions occurred at the end of the day when he was taking care of the amaryllis. Colby was open to talking about his interests and feelings. As Colby and I had more conversations, he gradually began trusting me more. He was less defiant and more compliant. When I asked him to clean up at his desk or move to the floor, he would move quicker and be ready in a timely manner. There was still a delicate balance between Colby and myself. I still relied on direct eye contact when giving him directions. Whereas in the past I didn't remember seeing Colby’s eyes, I now found his eyes seeking out mine. I got the distinct impression he was looking for my nod of approval. Even when Colby was doing things wrong, I noticed that he was quick to look my way. The eye contact was very effective in communicating my wishes to him. According to Wooten and McCroskey (1996), students’ trust of their teachers is based on a continuing pattern on interaction. This pattern was extremely important in building the base of respect and trust. I found that the harder I tried to make connections with Colby, the more responsive he became. This finding was similar to those of Thomas, Thomas, Richmond, & McCroskey (1994). For all my efforts to understand Colby, I was the one challenged to look at Colby in a different perspective. Instead of seeing him as a behavior problem, I saw him as complex individual with many possibilities. I realized that there were reasons why he behaved in different manners.

Results/Happenings/Changes

Interventions

As a result of the three interventions, I felt that I addressed the four concerns that were raised in the interview with Colby’s mom: control, caring, responsibility, and accountability. Throughout the interventions the issue of control was addressed. I felt that Colby came to Hill Square with experiences that left him with little control. Identifying the contributing factors into Colby’s mindset was important to understanding his negotiations about school, home and peers. For Colby, school had been a place where he had little control. He came into the classroom, and he had to obey all the rules and routines. This "loss of control" is very common in the first school experience. It is this transition which was highlighted in Entwisle and Alexander’s (1998) research on transition in primary grades. In order for Colby to gain control, he needed the skills to manage his emotions. He needed to fit into the social environment. The first intervention gave Colby the opportunity to be in control of his own actions. I feel that Colby has been much more confident in telling how he feels. No longer is school a place where Colby’s has no control. He consistently uses control when he behaves. This exercise of control has contributed to Colby successfully making the transition to first grade. He still needs the personal attention. When I correct him I need to go to him in private, and I must be sincere. I feel that by giving Colby the opportunity to identify his feelings, I am holding him accountable as well as showing him that I value his negotiations.

With so much changing in Colby’s behavior, I really was aware of my own attitude toward Colby. I had developed a relationship with him. I found that Colby was more responsible. At the beginning of the day, he took care of his own routines. He hung his backpack up on a hook, he put his coat away, he signed up for lunch, and he turned in his homework folder. Up to the point of these interventions, Colby was not consistent in his responsibility. Suddenly, there was a change. Every morning, Colby did all of his morning routines. He checked with me and then set out to work at a morning center. I watched him closely during the monitoring section of the research. He was different. He still had his good and bad days, but things were being handled differently. One problem did not mean that the rest of the day had to be bad. Colby had skills to cope with problems, and he also had me as an advocate.

The area of value was seen in other aspects of the interventions as well as a continuance of control. The care of the amaryllis gave Colby something to value. In a sense, he owned the care of the amaryllis. He became the sole provider to the amaryllis. This ownership showed that Colby was negotiating his ability to have an effect on his environment. When he took care of the amaryllis at the end of the day, he did not need to be given direction as far as what to do. He used his time to do his task. Little by little, the other children began to watch the amaryllis develop. Colby began to choose other boys to help him in his task. He was selective in his choosing, and was defensive if someone else tried to do his job. This ownership was encouraging. Several times Colby was interested in other plants that I had growing on my desk. At one point he was so excited that the amaryllis had bloomed that he noticed the roses had bloomed as well. He was noticing more than just his plant. His enthusiasm was easily noticed. Colby began to relate his plant experience to other classroom subjects. For example, he talked about measuring the plant in math discussions. He even raised his hand and contributed in morning meetings.

I became more aware of Colby’s actions the more I realized that something triggered his behavior responses. This knowledge caused me to go deeper to find answers to how Colby was thinking. An example of my looking deeper into his actions is seen in my interactions with the specialists at school.

Specialists

Colby was responding favorably to classroom experiences, and his behavior was very good. He was receiving behavior stickers and several times I sent home positive notes. As a result of the changes I was seeing in the classroom, I wanted to explore why Colby was still having problems transitioning into other classes such as PE and music. I chose to take my new insight and see if application could be made into other settings besides the classroom.

During the school week, Colby went to Physical Education three times a week, to music two times a week, library one time a week, and art one time a week. These times of leaving the classroom create periods of transition from the classroom to another setting. I saw that Colby was having difficulty lining up to leave the classroom and also returning. It wasn’t long before the specialists were telling about concerns they had about Colby’s behavior during the times they had him.

In PE, Colby routinely received time outs for inappropriate behavior. The PE teacher described Colby as having either zero time outs, or three or four. The two extremes became part of Colby’s disposition. When he was good, he was very good. When he was bad, he was very bad. Part of my ongoing intervention concerning Colby’s behavior was to communicate with the specialists more regularly and look for patterns in behavior. I discussed the successes I had seen in the classroom and the insights I had received through discussions with Colby as well as with his mother. I wondered what the style of discipline was in the PE environment where there is a lot of noise and activity. It was not surprising to note that Colby’s misbehavior was called out in front of all his peers. When I related Colby’s embarrassment to Mr. West (the PE teacher), he thanked me for my insights. The next day, Mr. West told me of an incident where Colby was misbehaving. Mr. West went to Colby privately and told him to think about his actions. When Colby was ready to return, he had to give four rules for how he would obey and then he could return at his own pace. Mr. West was very pleased when Colby decided to return and remained on task for the entire rest of class. I believe that the private discussion lessened Colby's embarrassment and also gave his control over what was going to happen next. Respect and control are key issues to helping Colby make a successful transition.

In art, Ms. White had very few problems with Colby’s behavior. She attributed this to Colby’s vested interest in art. She said that he valued art. In fact, this year one of Colby’s watercolor projects was chosen to be on display at a local university. His picture was in the paper, and he was pointing to his artwork. My cultural question dealt with Colby’s negotiations of home, school, and peer cultures and how they may be contributing to the puzzling situation. In art, Colby saw that he has abilities. Did he negotiate that art was a good place for him to learn and therefore, he obeyed rules more closely? The transition there may have been easier because he felt confident in his own abilities.

In music, Colby was off task every other day. The teacher noted that Colby was very active, but did not see that this was so different from other students. She did note that Colby corrected his behavior at times. She wondered how much he was aware of his actions. Did he know when he was swinging his feet, tapping his hands or moving around too much? When she did correct him, she felt as though she was turning his attention back to his actions. I wondered if Colby’s embarrassment threshold is pushed in music due to the performance nature of Ms. Paul’s class. Did Colby negotiate that performance was a bad thing and therefore his behavior remained a challenge? In an interview with his mother, she said that Colby had been singing in the church choir for several years. Although he always went to practice, he refused to perform in front of people. My theory is that performance equated to embarrassment; thus, Colby misbehaved so that he didn’t have to perform in public. Colby negotiated misbehavior to shield himself from the embarrassment that might have come if he had performed.

Parent Interview

As my research wound to an end, I was granted an interview with Colby’s parents. Their insight confirmed much of what I had discovered. They added validity to my successes.

Colby was put in preschool when he was two years old because both parents needed to work. He stayed at his private school until the end of kindergarten. Colby had been with the same group of kids from two until the age of six. Not only did he go to school with the same kids, but he also went to church with them. In his four years of private school, his behavior escalated into frequent outbursts in school. At one point, he was "expelled" (parent’s words) for one day for choking another student.

I learned that Colby had difficult mornings at home. The mood that he woke up in determined his day. His mother said that any rushing around or negative words shut Colby down. He responded favorably when approached in a cheerful mood. At breakfast, he did not like to be given only one choice. He needed to have several options in order to stay happy. These scenarios added insight into why some mornings at school were more difficult. Even when Colby had the opportunity to go to the clinic for a snack or to rest he would return several minutes later feeling better. He pushed to have control over his environment when his mornings did not go according to his plans. His being tired or hungry lessened as he found things to do in the classroom.

His parents revealed that he does not have any friends his own age to play with. There were only older boys in the neighborhood. Colby did not participate in any sports programs. This issue of not having any friends to play with caused concern in the household. Both parents agreed that Colby needed to have friends to play with. This need for social interaction was evident in the classroom. Whether his misbehavior was due talking to a neighbor instead of doing his work or to playing at his desk, Colby needed time to understand the social dynamic of the classroom. He needed time to watch his peers and see how they were successful at "being good."

When I asked if Colby had made the transition to first grade, his parents said it had occurred in December or January. This time frame is interesting to me because it coincides with when my interventions began. His parents said that Colby’s outbursts lessened although his being strong-willed was still a battle.

Implications

What have we learned here?

My puzzlement was over Colby’s difficulty in making the transition to first grade. His behavior and attitude made working with him a real challenge. I implemented and documented multiple interventions that brought about changes that led Colby to successfully transitioning to first grade.

What implications does this have for Colby?

The future for Colby has potential, but he does need guidance in finding the right paths. Even in his first six years of life, he has made negotiations about how life works. He strives for attention and control. He will use whatever means he has available to him. Sometimes his means are annoying and frustrating, but with careful consideration he can make better choices. Walking through life with Colby means that another person, a parent, a teacher, a mentor, will need to invest their time. The other person will need to be aware of their own attitudes and make sure that they themselves are not contributing to Colby’s problems. Teachers need to be aware that Colby needs time to reflect on his own successes. He needs to know that his teachers care and that they do not see him as a problem. Practices that engage children’s minds in investigating aspects of their own experiences and environments can help them develop realistic criteria of self-esteem (Katz, 1993).

Colby needs to have control over something that he considers to be of value. He fights to have his own place in life. His negotiations about just staying at home are an indication that he wants his own way but, even more, he wants control over his environment. After a week of being told what to do with very little freedom, he lives for his Saturday mornings. He considers free time to be of value. He will fight for his space. This intense standoff can be alleviated by ensuring that Colby has control and responsibility over things that he perceives to be important. He is six, and play is very important to him. He values his time of play and relaxation. His free time is his time. As Colby grows older, his interests will change and he will become more mature, but he will still need time alone to do those things that he values. To take away that autonomy is doing Colby a disservice. When Colby finds those things that are meaningful to him, he will have self-determination. "Self-determination is ‘the ability to identify and achieve goals based on a foundation of knowing and valuing oneself'" (Field & Hoffmn, 1994, p. 164).

The example of self-determination is seen in the interventions when Colby personally values the care of the amaryllis. I did not need to encourage him to be responsible. He took the lead with the task, and he monitored his own attitude when others came over to hinder or help. Watching a plant change produces a sense of understanding in a child’s own mind in reference to their own growth (Ziegler, 1980).

Colby will make successful transitions when he perceives he has control and is given opportunities to be responsible for something he values. When Colby is corrected, he needs to feel respected and he must be held accountable for his actions.

What implications does this have for future research?

The issue of transition needs more research on it. I wonder if Colby responded to the interventions because they were in tune with his personality or if they were directly related to transition. Certainly, I can argue that Colby did successfully transition to first grade and that the success happened during the intervention stage of the research, but what does this mean to others who have similar questions?

I think that awareness of upcoming transitions needs to begin before the child begins first grade. Children need to be given time to talk, question, and consider what will be happening to their environment. They need to perceive their control in the upcoming transition. Further thought needs to be given to ways children, parents, and teachers can prepare for a known transition. Those children who are more upset by change and loss of control need to be given greater consideration when looking at transition. Personally, I want to develop a questionnaire that will be given to the parents at the beginning of the year. In this questionnaire, I want the questions to lead me to knowing which children will be having difficulty making the transition to first grade.

Within the classroom setting, I believe that children need to have a task that promotes personal responsibility. They need to perceive that their task is important and that it contributes to their belonging in the classroom. Based on this research, I would like to see what tasks children are usually responsible for in the classroom, and I would further like to see which tasks are perceived to be of value to the children.

Finally, I agree with Entisle and Alexander (1998) who call for more research on the first grade transition. They see that the implications of a smooth first grade transition have far reaching effects. I am anxious to see what new research is out there and also be part of the research pool.

 

Appendix A

Colby in "Specials"

Comments about Colby from the Art Teacher

  • He does not have a lot of problems
  • He values his work
  • His watercolor picture was chosen to be on display at a local university
  • When he is corrected he responds favorably

Comments about Colby from the Physical Education Teacher

  • He knows he can do athletic things; he has abilities
  • He either gets three time-outs during the half hour PE class or he gets none
  • His first problem is usually during the routine warm up
  • He lacks the maturity to keep up with the class
  • He should grow out of the problems

Colby’s Negotiations about Specials

In one of my conversations with Colby, I asked him to rank the four specialist classes according to different attributes. The results were revealing. Colby’s favorite classes were (from most favorite to least favorite) PE, Art, Library, and Music. He rated his abilities as being best in Art, then Library, then Music, and lastly PE. He ranked the teacher’s he liked best as being Art, Library, Music, and PE. The classes that he got in most trouble (in order) were PE, Music, Art, and Library. Colby liked PE best, but he thought he performed the worst there, he disliked the teacher most, and he got into trouble in that class most. Art, which he thought he was best at, also was the teacher he liked most.

 

Appendix B

Notes about Colby’s Investigations of Plants

Feb. 18

I planted an amaryllis bulb that I got it for Valentine’s Day. After school, I asked Colby if he wanted to help take care of the plant. He agreed.

Feb. 22

Another project I have started with Colby, is that of taking care of the plants by the window. I just started putting plants out. I read in one of my articles that learning to care is important in the transition from K to 1st grade. From talking to Colby's mom, she seemed to indicate that Colby was caring from time to time. I thought I'd give him this opportunity in class. I introduced this project to him and he seemed real interested. I wonder if he will keep up with this or will it fade? I get the impression that he isn't given many opportunities for responsibility at home so I wanted to give him a unique responsibility that no one else has. I think this may tie in with his negotiations about school. Not sure how I'm monitoring yet, I'm just watching.

Feb. 28

I'm finding that Colby is taking care of the plant. I showed him how to measure the plant, as some growth is now evident. I am trying to tie things to math because this is his strong subject. I haven't had to remind him about watering the plant.

Feb. 29

I find that Colby checks on the plants at the end of the day. He gets his water and waters the plants. Today another child (who I would say is Colby's nemesis) filled up a cup of water and followed him back to the plant. Colby was highly defensive. This was his job and Mark was not going to interfere. Colby had me come back and I shooed Mark away. Colby was concerned that the plant was dying because some of the bulb was coming off (it is an amaryllis). I assured him that things were fine. When we turned the plant around, we discovered a new shoot beginning to grow!

March 6

Colby said, "I’m going to water it on the other side to make it grow."

March 7

Colby said, "Look at my plant."

March 8

Colby said, "Look at my plant!"

He is watering the part of the plant that grows.

He is excited about growth of plant.

He is predicting outcome and focus on the measurement of the plant.

Others ask if they can help Colby.

Colby does not need direction.

March 17

He asked, "Should I water the other plants?" (daffodils and roses on my desk)

March 20

Colby said, "Wow! Look what I made grow!"

March 20

Colby does not notice plant until the end of the day. This seems to be a pattern. Colby does not check the plant first thing in the morning. It is part of his afternoon routine. He notices the flower beginning to open up out of green leaves.

Colby chooses different boys to help him water the plant. Adam helps. Justin has not been asked yet. Colby gives directions about having the cup filled half way up.

March 22

Ryan is asked to help water the plant.

Colby predicts that the plant will grow more, but doesn’t mention the flower until it is pointed out.

March 23

Colby says, "The bud is starting to push out of the "coat." Bobby asks Colby if he has looked at the plant. Colby stands up 3/4 of the way, peers over toward the window and says, "Whoa, It’s coming out! I’ve watered it so much." He sits down and goes back to playing. He does not go to the plant.

Later Colby says, "It grew a lot!" as he waters the flower and the stem.

Mike is the only one who can help Colby (this is the first time another child has helped).

March 24

I have Colby sit by his plant as he reads with a buddy. He doesn’t look at it. I ask Colby to talk about it to his reading buddy. He says he waters it and it grows.

**Colby does help his reading buddy work on a few words.

March 27

The flowers have now unfolded all the way. Colby does not notice this until another child points this out. His eyes are brightened. Colby says, "Four flowers, wow! It’s getting stronger and stronger." He runs his hands up the stem and says "What’s this white stuff (on his hands)? I think it’s honey. It’s sticky."

Colby says, "Look at this guys, it’s blooming too" (referring to the roses next to the amaryllis). He then points to the daffodils on my desk and says they have a crazy hairdo.

Then 3 boys get yardsticks and begin measuring the amaryllis. They argue over the correct measurement.

At the end of the day, Colby was touching the petals and was humming to himself as he watered the plants.

**At math today, we brainstormed things we can measure. Colby raised his hand and said that we could measure plants!

References

Bogdanets, T. P., & Smirnova, L. I. (1992). The shaping of six-year old first graders’ ecological ideas. Russian Education and Society, 34, 58-61.

Brophy, J. (1996). Enhancing students’ socialization: Key elements. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 395 713).

Conway, G. E. (1994) Small scale and school culture: The experience of private schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No ED 376 996).

Entwisle, D. R., & Alexander, K. L. (1998). Facilitating the transition to first grade: The nature of transition and research on factors affecting it. Elementary School Journal, 98, 351-364.

Field, S., & Hoffman, A. (1998). Self-determination: An essential element of successful transitions. Reaching Today’s Youth: the Community Circle of Caring Journal, 2, 37-40.

Jensen, E. (1998). Teaching with the brain in mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Jewett, J. (1992). Aggression and cooperation: Helping young children develop constructive strategies. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No ED 351 147).

Katz, L. G. (1993). Self-esteem and narcissism: Implications for practice. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 358 973).

Lombardi, J. (1992). Beyond transition: Ensuring continuity in early childhood services. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 345 867).

Marion, M. (1997). Helping young children deal with anger. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 414 077).

Mayfield, M. I. (1983). Orientation to school and transitions of children between primary grades. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 29, 272-284).

Sabatino, D. A. (1997). Replacing anger with trust. Reclaiming Children & Youth: Journal of Emotional & Behavioral Problems, 6, 167-170.

Wilson, R. A. (1996). Starting early: Environmental education during the early childhood years. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 402 147).

Wooten, A. G. & McCroskey, J. C. Student trust of teacher as a function of socio-communicative style of teacher and socio-communicative orientation of student. Communication Research Reports, 13, 94-100.

Ziegler, P. & McCord, G. (1980) Growth through separation: Planning for school leaving. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, San Francisco, CA, November 21-24. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 196 573).


 
 
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