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Seeking Equity Through Language-Rich Classrooms

Seeking Equity Through Language-Rich Classrooms

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by Sarah Felstiner, Curriculum Director, Hilltop Children’s Centergramling

A recent book by Michael Gramling has been stirring up vivid conversation in the early learning community. The Great Disconnect in Early Childhood Education takes a historical and current look at the connections (and missing connections) between what research and science tell us about children’s learning and what actually happens in classrooms. “Gramling argues that ineffective practices are the result of unexamined public policies and asserts that educators need to challenge this kind of thinking in order to make a difference in children’s lives.” (Redleaf Press)

One point Gramling stresses is that publicly funded programs intended to close the opportunity/achievement gap are actually widening it.  Meanwhile programs free from funding restrictions have more flexibility to develop innovative, child-centered practices, but are available only to the children and families who can afford them. Here are a couple of selections from the book, on that point:

Botany Downs Kindergarten - Auckland, NZ

Botany Downs Kindergarten – Auckland, NZ

“As the achievement gap became a national disgrace, and despite the very good evidence before them that language deficiency was the root of the problem, schools decided instead that since starting school at age five had not worked, then starting school at age four must be the solution—not for all children this time around, but for the most part, just for children in poverty…It is mostly for the benefit of these children that school readiness standards have been established and performance objectives identified and for whom decoding print has become a central objective.” (page 32)

“Because kindergarten readiness is measured by the child’s knowledge of a few facts while school success is dependent on the child’s ability to engage in complex communication, these children will fall further and further behind every year. They will learn how to decode print but not know how to use it to express their thoughts and their experiences or how to comprehend the ideas and experiences of others.” (page 73)

Browns Bay Preschool - Auckland, NZ

Browns Bay Preschool – Auckland, NZ

Gramling seems to be arguing that early childhood education should be an exercise in guiding children to better understand themselves and WHO they are, while more traditional models of education focus more on what children will need to know how to DO in the future. Gramling goes on to say that a great deal of evidence points to the critical importance of exposure to rich language during the first five years of life, yet, despite this knowledge, schools and classrooms still fails to provide rich language to children.  As a result, the gap between rich and poor children in America hasn’t narrowed, as promised; it has widened. Which provokes the question…Why focus on Kindergarten readiness, when we could be seeking language equity for lifelong success?

Two years ago, in Hilltop inaugural Educator Discussion Series, we hosted a community discussion inspired by Gramling’s book. That workshop titled “Is play is an equity issue” was facilitated by Margie Carter and featured respondents from publicly funded programs in Seattle that are actively working to counter the opportunity gap.

On Saturday, April 7th, 2018, we bring Michael Gramling to Seattle for a full day workshop titled “Talk to Children Like People: Seeking Equity Through Language Rich Classrooms.”  This workshop is based off of his book “The Great Disconnect” a 2017 Independent Publishers National Silver Medalist and a 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Finalist.  This professional development event aims to connect the standards and politics of early childhood education with developmentally appropriate practice.  Together, in both small group and large group discussions, we will explore ways we can use rich language to enhance future success.

Please register here or at if you’d like to join us as we seek equity through language rich classrooms.

What To Expect?

  • Framed by examples of public policy, classroom strategies, brain science, and educational theory, this interactive workshop will provide attendees with the context and framework to engage in the hard thinking that our schools and children deserve.
  • Gramling draws upon examples from school systems and programs all across America to bring to Seattle best practices, innovative classroom strategies and changes we can implement to public policy to best serve our kids.
  • Participants at this workshop will expand their toolbox of what educators and policy makers can do to enrich language in their classrooms starting Monday morning.
  • Perfect for city officials, educators, administrative / leadership teams, support staff including parents, museum educators, and librarians to name a few.

Together we will:

  • explore the disconnect between theory, policy, and practice;
  • consider the relationship of this disconnect to issues of equity, the opportunity gap, and social justice in early learning;
  • and hear from each other as we find ways to reconnect our practice to what we know young children need and deserve

Can’t make it to the event but would still like a list of resources on creating language-rich classrooms?  Head over to our “Equity Through Language-Rich Classroom Resources” page for a list of readings and resources.


This event is free for all of City of Seattle DEEL staff and DEEL’s early learning partners in the
Seattle Preschool Program (SPP), the SPP Pathway Program, and the Step Ahead Program

Kids Quest Children’s Museum is a proud sponsor of the Educator Discussion Series

Interested in visiting Hilltop? Interested in Hilltop coming to you? Want to learn more about Anti-Bias Education? Or for any of our other services, contact Mike at or visit us at

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