From the Pre-K Now Team

With the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) underway, our need for laser focus to ensure a pre-k policy win for young children is more important now than ever before. It’s time to reflect in law what research has said for years – that high-quality pre-kindergarten saves taxpayers money; improves children’s cognitive social and emotional skills; decreases the need for K-12 grade retention and special education services; and helps to close the achievement gap.

When Inside Pre-K launched, there were very few forums on early education. Thanks to many of you, there are now dozens of bloggers who track policy advances, share classroom best practices, and provide regular analysis of the early education field. Hundreds of tweets each day on #prek and #ece appear on Twitter. John, Sophia, and others helped inspire substantive, important conversations about early learning via new media tools. Although Inside Pre-K is no longer active, there are many more sites providing great content, including:

Early Ed Watch

Early Stories

Pre-K Vermont

Urban Preschool

Eye on Early Education

ECE Policy Matters

Emergent Learner


Inside Pre-K will remain online to be referenced throughout the life of Pew’s Pre-K Now campaign. We are grateful for the work of our past and present bloggers – both in their capacity as writers and pre-k educators – and for your insightful comments and loyal readership through the years.


August 16, 2010

All Stories End

If you have ever read my bio you know that I have a passion for stories. It has been the reason behind my becoming a teacher, an influence on how I interpret my profession, and the way I think about the world. That is one of the ideas that drew me to Inside Pre-K, first as a reader and then as a blogger. For the last four years the tag line for this blog has remained: “These are our stories about teaching pre-kindergarten – the lessons we teach our students and the lessons they and their families teach us.”   
I hope my last post brings to life some of the comings and goings of the authors and characters you have met, loved, got to know and said goodbye to over the life of this blog.

There weren’t that many pre-k bloggers back in 2006. One of the very few was Sophia Pappas. How she described her classroom was an inspiration. We forged a professional relationship through this blog that is sustained today. I still consider her writing some of the best “teacher thinking” I have ever read.

Sophia Pappas had a real talent for capturing the moral questions and practical decision making involved with being a pre-k teacher. She also paid particular attention to her readers’ comments. I remember when she responded to one of mine. She had written a thoughtful post on the use of praise and I remember being moved to share my own experiences in the classroom. In this way I felt a part of something bigger and her encouragement led me to later seek out the opportunity to write for Inside Pre-K.

Technology is a real strength for Vanessa Levin. Since her time with Inside Pre-K, Vanessa has built on her success as a trainer and workshop presenter on preschool practices and technology integration. In a post about the evolution of hand washing in her classroom, Vanessa showed how she used digital storytelling in her classroom to communicate the process of washing hands. Her hand washing post is an excellent example of applied teacher thinking and the use of video as a form of instructional material. We still get more hits on Vanessa’s Digital Storytelling post than any other posts in the Inside Pre-K archives.

In Minnesota, where Karissa Ouren taught while writing for Inside Pre-K, public pre-k has been in a state of continual transformation. It was really interesting to read about her experiences of state pre-k policy changes. In a post on state standards for early childhood math, she illustrated the difficulty teachers face in the context of their specific systematic and cultural contexts. Her love for pre-k lit-up her posts with passion and humor.

I always appreciated how effective Jennifer Rosenbaum was at incorporating her children’s voices into her writing. The post I remember best from Jennifer was published on the day after the 2009 presidential inauguration. The detail and insight in her students descriptions of their drawings showed us an important truth we all need to remember about pre-k, teaching and education policy: Many 4-year-olds are smarter than they let on and if we listen closely, we may just learn something from them.

When I asked myself, what do I remember writing during my Inside Pre-K tenure, these are the ones that stuck:

I was so stoked to write for Pre-K Now I spent two hours writing my first post while I was on vacation with my family. It was in the middle of the 2008 Olympics when I learned of Michael Phelps’ struggle with ADD in early childhood. It seemed like the perfect topic for my first post and when I hit publish I knew I had been right.

One of the benefits of writing this blog was that I got the opportunity to read and review some great books. When I took Peg Tyre’s book, The Trouble With Boys, out of my mailbox at school I knew it would be important. Because Peg is both a writer and a researcher, she was able to weave great stories, important details and solid findings into a readable and thought-provoking book. It inspired me to contact Peg for an interview and led me to my dissertation topic. So, thanks, Peg Tyre and Pre-K Now for helping me to find my direction.

The episode of the 20/20 piece from John Stossel painting pre-k in a negative light demanded a rebuttal. As I banged away at the keys, I felt like a boxer in a ring. My heart was beating fast. I would write, then email, then call my editor. She revised then called me. I felt like a part of a great team, but I knew I was the one who was going to be throwing the punches. It was exhilarating. My Pre-K Now editor encouraged me to speak my mind. So that is what I did. And I will keep doing this on my new blog as well.

When I began blogging, I did it because I wanted to reflect on my practice and because I felt I had something to add to arguments about teacher leadership, pre-k and the teaching profession. I wanted to contribute to the field. Along the way, I found a community of passionate pre-k advocates.

I want to encourage any teacher with even the faintest hint of an interest in writing about their classroom, pre-k policy, or education to start a blog. You will come to find that when you’re writing you’re learning, and that blogging provides a space for being introspective and sharing practice.

I really struggled this year getting comfortable in my new role as a Child Development Specialist. It was a learning curve that was especially difficult because I couldn’t tell if I was actually making progress. Now that I have a year under my belt, I feel a lot better about my decision. I still get that uncomfortable feeling when I walk into another teacher’s learning studio, but it’s easier. I especially enjoy videotaping the teachers who I work with while they’re on the job. It is so rewarding to watch as they discover new strengths and weaknesses about their practice. I will hang on to that feeling as I move on from the wonderful opportunity I had to write for Inside Pre-K.

Sometimes, we fall in love with the characters in a story and watch the bookshelves for a sequel. Other times we can’t help but think that the story has ended the way it should. If you would like keep reading about the characters you have met here: the pre-k teacher, the parent, the researcher, the policymaker, and most importantly, the young child, please come visit my blog
EmergentLearner.com. It will be a new story, with many of the same characters you have grown to love.

Making pre-k part of public education

Isn't it time that high-quality pre-kindergarten is considered part of education in our country? One place to start is the way we fund schools.


In 13 states and the District of Columbia, pre-k programs are financed through the school funding formula. Pre-K Now’s recent report, Formula for Success, discusses the benefits and challenges of integrating early education into states' general education funding structures and explores the different models for using this strategy.


As the report states, “When designed to support both quality and access over the long term, school funding formulas can enable states and districts to build, grow and sustain high-quality early learning programs.”


While states can build effective programs without choosing this funding strategy, they typically lack the security and sustainability that allows formula-supported programs to expand access while maintaining high levels of quality.


Strategic, dedicated pre-k funding and incentives from the federal government could encourage more states to include pre-k in their school funding formulas by leveraging state investments that provide stability, enhance quality and improve access.


With the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the law formally known as No Child Left Behind) up for renewal, it’s an opportune time to consider the best way to form a state-federal partnership that would access federal dollars to strengthen high-quality pre-k programs that close the achievement gap and help students succeed.

It will be great to see if Congress crafts a new bill to propel us into the 21st century’s second decade with an education system built to produce an innovative, capable and confident workforce. In 2001, No Child Left Behind had a landslide victory because it was politically useful to both representatives and senators. Besides, no one would want to be “the lawmaker who wanted to leave kids behind.” But in some cases it weakened states’ assessments and accountability systems and inadvertently lowered standards.


The federal reauthorization of the ESEA provides a vital opportunity to support states in building a strategic reform agenda that begins with high-quality pre-k.


Let your member of Congress know that you think pre-k is an important educational reform strategy that needs explicit funding in the most important federal education law, the ESEA.

You can do that by sending them a message here.


It’s time to make pre-k part of education!

August 11, 2010

Language vs. Literacy

One thing that my position as a child development specialist has given me is a deep respect for different styles of educating young children. Each day when I walk into a classroom, I observe the strengths, weaknesses and distinct individuality of various teaching approaches – especially when it came to building children’s language development and literacy skills.


Over time, I became aware of how the state-certified teachers I supervised in public school settings had certain strengths that made them extremely effective in their surroundings. Most notably, they had excellent behavior management skills and a strong understanding of the literacy curriculum. Their instruction styles differed, but they all implemented systematic, meaningful, and explicit literacy instruction to hone their emergent literacy teaching. The outcome was that the scores on their students’ emergent literacy screenings were generally high. The two areas of weakness that seemed to crop up in their students’ testing were vocabulary development and social-emotional development.


I also observed that in the child care partner sites, where teachers have a bachelor’s degree or a child development associate’s degree, they spend lots of time talking with their students. The students primary language was often the same language that their teachers taught in. These teachers had fully embraced the idea of developmentally appropriate practice and child-directed learning.  It was really inspiring to see them in action developing the language skills of their students. However, their literacy screening scores were not where they could have been yet they had the same materials, and for at least one year, the same training as the school-based teachers.


Recently, in my research I came across an article that explained the discrepancies I was noticing in the classroom. In the study, Quality of Language and Literacy Instruction in Preschool Classrooms Serving At-risk Pupils (Justice, Mashburn, Hamre, and Pianta, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 2008), the researchers compared the effectiveness of teachers using both scripted curriculum and child-directed teaching.


The study found that the quality of instruction received was more important than fidelity to a procedural literacy curriculum. This has huge implications for a teacher or director trying to help kids become successful readers. It suggests that what those child care partners were doing, in supporting their students and honoring their social emotional development, is just as important as what the school-based teachers did – implementing a scientifically based reading curriculum.


If we are to support language development and emergent literacy, both linked to student achievement in later grades (PDF), we have to support both, even though this means subscribing to more than one best way to teach.

July 25, 2010

Caught on Tape: Professional Development

Video_icon_full When I hear teachers describe how they wish they had more patience, I cringe. There’s something about the phrase that doesn’t feel right to me when coupled with our chosen profession. For years, I have tried to figure out what it is was and then, the other day  it occurred to me: Teaching in pre-k doesn’t require patience, it requires perspective.
In so many interactions, pre-k teachers must step back from a situation and and ask themselves, “What is really going on here?” This stepping-out-of-the-present moment needs to occur again and again, all day throughout the activities and interactions in a day. It is how you figure out what questioning strategy is the best way to push a child’s learning, it’s how you deduce who stole the truck from whom, and it’s how you to determine when it’s time to just put the book down and get up and wiggle for a while. If a teacher doesn’t have the ability to distance themselves from a situation, they don’t have the ability to make the best decision within that a particular moment in the classroom.
Not every teacher has the ability to step outside of themselves and reflect all of the time. This is why video can be such a powerful professional development tool in pre-k classrooms.Through watching oneself teach, educators are able to observe themselves and consider how they teach from outside of their immediate experience.

Using video enables teachers to really observe themselves and consider how they teach from outside of their experience. It can be a powerful professional development tool in pre-k classrooms because our interactions with students are both quick and constant. 

If you have never tried video taping yourself teaching, I highly recommend it. I learned more from the process than any other professional development activity in my entire career.

Image: https://www.thespacereport.org/store/

July 20, 2010

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