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Heritage: When Career Exploration Accelerates Reading, Writing Skills

Heritage: When Career Exploration Accelerates Reading, Writing Skills

A passion project led by first-year teacher Molly Zaenkert gave her kindergartners at Heritage ECS more than just a crash course in over 20 different occupations. Their weekly special classroom visitors also accelerated their reading, writing and social studies skills in ways she never fully anticipated. 

“The project really took on a life of its own,” Zaenkert said, “It was amazing to witness the evolution of simple things like the questions they asked or the connections they made between different visitors.” 

A request to her parents and colleagues at the beginning of the school year quickly filled her calendar with special guests willing to just come in and share about their job. She described how the weekly ritual became a highly anticipated part of their classroom routine, always stirring up excitement on the Friday before each Monday visit. 

Little girl wearing extra large fireman jacket with older white haired fireman standing behind her

The visitor spent just a few minutes in presentation mode before opening the floor up for questions and conversation. The class welcomed more recognizable figures like a K9 police officer, retired fire chief (pictured at right), nurse and pharmacist. But the list of more foreign occupations was even lengthier, including a tractor puller, logistician, flower farmer, payroll manager, ESL teacher and bike safety advocate, just to name a few.

“I think I had six students who expressed an interest in being a payroll manager,” laughed Zaenkert, who always followed up the visit with a “Would I want to do this when I grow up?” likert-type activity. “They’ve built relationships with these people and learned so much about jobs they didn’t even know existed - and they’re only five and six years old.”

The logistician was a class favorite too, opening their eyes to all the steps that happen before a toy makes it to the shelf at the store (pictured below). And the ESL teacher inspired several students to start learning words from different languages. 

While exposure to career paths and inspiring her students to dream big was certainly part of her strategy, Zaenkert said it was never the leading goal. She had high hopes that the experience would actually build their understanding of the concept of community. And looking back on the year, she can confidently say that it did just that. 

“They got to see firsthand that individuals and their different responsibilities are what make up our community,” said Zaenkert, referring to a year-end activity she had just completed. When given the prompt, “What does community mean to me?”, she explained that the majority of the class referred back to one of their favorite visitors. 

Man standing at front of classroom holding Barbie with little kids sitting in front of him

With each visitor, Zaenkert also made it a point to steer her students from their initial occupation-based questions to questions about them as individuals, describing the occupation as a gateway into discussions about different cultures, interests and personality traits, for example. 

Underlying the entire experience, of course, was an emphasis on skills to make her students better readers and writers. 

“A huge part of becoming a good reader involves building vocabulary and listening comprehension,” Zaenkert said. “Children must have a strong capacity to understand spoken language in order to become proficient readers.” 

Zaenkert reinforced this skill with a routine activity following each visit, asking her students to reflect on what they learned. Early in the year, this took the shape of drawings, but has evolved into labels and now full-blown sentences to match their phonetic growth. 

“This was such a fun way to explore the community around us while staying focused on the technical skills that are important in kindergarten,” Zaenkert said. 

  • real world learning