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January 16, 2007

Out of her Shell

“Hello, my name is Tanasia Britch from Pre-k 114.  We will now sing Dr. King,”

Tanasia exclaimed loud and clear for everyone, grades pre-k through two, to hear.

She did it!  After a tough transition in the beginning of the year, Tanasia slowly began to participate in classroom activities without much encouragement from me or her peers.  Moreover, rather than repeatedly crying and inquiring about the time of her mother’s return, she now focuses on a wide range of subjects including bears and cars.  The more she shares with us in terms of her thoughts and interests, the better able I am to chart her academic growth.  Her gradual progress culminated in her widely acclaimed introduction of our class performance during the school assembly commemorating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Her other accomplishments during the past two weeks include:

  1. Counting each of her friends for snack time in a clear and loud voice without skipping anyone;
  2. Identifying and chanting out the letters in the word "like" in our modeled morning message for the first time; and
  3. Choosing to read books to and with her friends rather than reading alone.  Tanasia even encouraged her friend to read with her when she saw her friend crying.

As I reflect on her growth, I consider two major reasons for Ms. Morrison’s and my success with Tanasia:

  1. Student-Driven Instruction: We took the time to understand Tanasia's interests and provided opportunities for her to talk about and make things for her family.  Our discussions at the rug, during lunch, and at choice time included plenty of open-ended questions which allowed Tanasia to speak openly about what was on her mind: her sisters, mother, father, and auntie.  If the mouse ate cookies and asked for some milk, we learned about how happy Tanasia feels when she eats cookies and drinks milk with her sister at home.  In addition, while Tanasia first hesitated to join her friends during choice time, she began to gravitate towards the Art and Writing areas once she learned that she could take home her finished products.  Tanasia may have been physically separated from her family, but since she had the chance to talk about and make things for her siblings and parents, she still felt connected to them while in school; and
  2. Classroom Culture of High Expectations: We consistently responded to Tanasia’s crying with the expectation that she would eventually become more of an active and enthusiastic member of our classroom community.  Rather than excuse her from class activities or call her family to pick her up, we taught her all of the routines and rules like the rest of the children.  If she needed to cry when she first came in, she could, but she still needed to unpack, put her Math Homelink journal in the bin, wash her hands, and get her own breakfast.

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Comments

Sounds like you have a wonderful, stimulating classroom, and you're doing a great job. But as a mom, social worker, and former teacher, it just seems so NORMAL to me for a 4 y/o not to want to be away from her family F/T already; I can't help wishing she had the option of only P/T preschool and a loving, multi-age, pro-literacy home. Do you have thoughts on this?

Moni,

Thanks for the comment and question. While four year olds will of course feel attached to the home, I also think there comes a point when adults from the home and school sides need to facilitate the child's transition to school. Perhaps for some children a slower transition involving half-day pre-k is or at least seems more fitting. Yet as a full day pre-k teacher I see the benefit of a full day in terms of all of the different kinds of learning we can include (whole group, small group, meal times) to support social and academic growth. As a teacher in the inner city, I also face the reality of single parent or two parent households in which all adults need to work full time. Thus for both practical reasons and the social and academic growth of my students, I tend to favor full day programs.

I teach half-day kindergarten in a low-income community, and I always wish that I could teach them all day. Despite timesaving routines and procedures, multiple teachers in the room, extensive planning, and a lot of hard work, I always feel that my students are being short-changed. Many of my kids enter kindergarten with no formal school experience, limited social interaction, and limited experience with books and literacy. My half-day program simply doesn't leave us with enough time to play catch-up, and I think that they would really benefit from additional time in school.

Thanks for the comment, Abby. I think your perspective is quite valuable especially since many of your students did not have any pre-k.

Just curious, are there any children in your class who you think couldn't handle a full day and would be better off at home for half the day? Also, which do you think the parents of your children would choose if they could (i.e., half-day or full-day) and why?

**Oh, no no, surely you can only make progress with students through standardized testing and worksheets.**

Congratulations on your progress with this little girl (and all your kiddos). You once again prove that education should be student centered and not test centered. How amazing it must be to see kids grow at this age (I teach K-6).

Thanks for the comment and the sarcasm. As a native New Yorker, I much appreciate it.

I think if we can make our evaluations more student centered (i.e., performance based on an ongoing basis) we could make real progress in meeting their needs. I know so much about my kids because of the relationships I have built, the anecdotes I take on a daily basis, and my comprehensive reflections. A letter ID test could not provide that kind of insight, the very insight that has moved them forward.

I look forward to hearing more from your perspective.

Sophia

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