I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the term “high-quality” in relation to pre-k curriculum. My interest has been piqued by the vast number of e-mails I have received from pre-k teachers around the country asking for curriculum recommendations. They are shocked when I tell them I don’t recommend any. I believe there is a serious lack of high-quality curricula available to pre-k programs; one may even call it a crisis. At the same time, more states across the U.S. are offering public pre-k programs and enrolling more children each year.
I get so disheartened when teachers tell me how they have to follow a scripted curriculum that mandates a letter of the week. If there are 36 weeks in a school year and 26 weeks are spent teaching the letters one at a time, valuable learning time is wasted. Gluing popcorn to the letter P is not meaningful and is not going to produce the same results as using methods such as journaling, participating in reading and writing workshops, or interactive writing.
Some new teachers may enjoy using the canned, scripted curriculum in the beginning. But once they get their "sea legs," most teachers I know abandon it quickly. Personally, I feel canned curriculum makes it seem like teaching is easy. Anybody can look at the curriculum and say, "Wow! I could do that!" But, it gives a false sense of reality because teaching is one of the most difficult and challenging jobs on the planet. I am indignant that anybody would imply differently.
A few years ago, I had the unique opportunity to examine in depth all of the pre-k curricula then on the market. It was apparent that the publishers thought pre-k teachers were not capable of handling much. The teacher manuals told us to do things like have a puppet show, read a book, and paint. While there's nothing wrong with any of those things, there needs to be much more to a curriculum to make it effective. And we wonder why teachers can’t break out of the rut and adopt new teaching practices. How can we expect our teachers to raise the bar and achieve more when the curriculum we are handing them is sub-par?
How about a curriculum that creates lifelong learners by giving them the tools they need to succeed in school such as questioning skills and comprehension strategies? My school district has improvised their own "curriculum" with these elements by bringing together bits and pieces from sources such as:
- "Units of Study" by Lucy Calkins
- "Growing Readers" by Kathy Collins
- "Reading With Meaning" by Debbie Miller
The practices in the aforementioned books are targeted for slightly older children but can be successfully adapted for the early childhood classroom. It's time that early childhood curriculum publishers stop insulting the intelligence of teachers and students and start producing a product that can meet the rigors of a 21st century pre-k classroom.
I have an idea: Instead of spending thousands of dollars on ineffective, pre-packaged curricula, let's spend that money on teacher training and staff development so that teachers can learn how to implement best practices in their classrooms. Instead of reading canned scripts from the teacher manual, teachers can learn how to engage their students in fun, meaningful, and developmentally appropriate activities that will help them think and grow as learners. Of course, if the professional development is provided by the very same publisher who created the canned, scripted curriculum in the first place and delivered by a salesperson who works on commission, it's probably best not to bother. The best professional development I have received has always been provided by other classroom teachers -- those who are in the trenches and know what works and what doesn't.