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Preschool Literacy Program

kdiamant's picture

I am doing my placement at a preschool literacy program in M, a large town that has a sizeable Latino population, and where many residents are lower class. The preschool class is part of a larger organization that provides different services, like social workers, legal support, language lessons for adults, and after school programs to mostly Latino community members. The preschool class that I am working in has about 20 students, about a quarter of whom are 3 year olds, and the rest of whom are “pre-kindergarten” age. As far as I can tell, all of these students come from families where Spanish is the dominant language at home. The program is free, but the teacher, Mrs. H, explained to me, “I tell the moms it’s not free. They have to put in the work supporting their children and helping them to learn.” If the family is not willing to be involved, read to the kids, etc., the child cannot stay in the program.

Mrs. H is the main teacher, and she has a helper, Ms. T. On Mondays, there are also three other Bryn Mawr students, in addition to me. The classroom is made up of three small rooms or sections that are all completely open to one another. The middle section has a carpet, where the children gather for group time. In all three rooms, toys, papers, and books are piled on top of each other in a fairly disorganized manner, and Mrs. H told me, “I like mess; I think it’s important for them to experience.” When I arrived, the children were playing freely, but she quickly gathered them into a circle and started structured time, which included a song that went around the circle and encouraged each child to participate and speak, as well as a story. Then she assigned them specific tasks or projects such as a certain puzzle or art project, which I think she did based on their developmental/academic level, what projects they had done recently, and their need to complete a project that they were working on in class. After that, the kids were gathered, given a snack, and then transitioned into free time, where they could play with whatever they wanted. The class is packed full of toys, and the children could get them out and play. Mrs. H stressed to us that she thinks it is very important for the kids, at this age, to have both structured time and completely unstructured time. In addition, Mrs. H told me that they have to do a lot of testing for accountability, so she tries to naturally incorporate the material that they need to know for the tests into their day to day activities, instead of teaching to the tests, which she says she does not like to do.

I think there are a lot of possibilities for me at this placement. As someone really interested in literacy for ELL children, I am excited to see this in the classroom. I am especially intrigued by Mrs. H’s philosophy on the combination of structured and unstructured time. I have experienced both very structured and very unstructured preschool settings, and I think that, especially in the context of children who might not necessarily otherwise get a lot of structured literacy work (at least in English), this might be a promising structure. I’m interested to see how it works there.

I think there will be some challenges, too. Mrs. H clearly cares about her students very much, but she has a bit of a severe personality. In addition, she seems somewhat unorganized and often does not give me very clear directions. In conjunction with the fact that there are three other Bryn Mawr students also trying to do work and help, these factors resulted in me not really being sure what to do with myself and feeling a little like I was in the way. I think that I will need to work to make sure that I am acting in a way that really helps me, Mrs. H, and the children to get the most out of my time there.