Inside PreK Classrooms: A School Leaderís Guide to Effective Instruction
reviewed by Lillie Moffett & Christina Weiland - August 03, 2018
Title: Inside PreK Classrooms: A School Leaderís Guide to Effective Instruction
Author(s): Judith A. Schickedanz & Catherine Marchant
Publisher: Harvard Education Press, Boston
ISBN: 1682531279, Pages: 248, Year: 2018
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In Inside PreK Classrooms, early childhood experts Judith A. Schickedanz and Catherine Marchant take on a neglected and crucial issue for building strong preK programs: the role of school leaders in supporting teachers classroom instruction. Nationally, many preK programs struggle with attaining strong instructional quality, and there is often misalignment between preK instruction and instruction in later grades. School leaders can be powerful agents for moving the needle on preK instructional quality and instructional alignment. However, instruction in early childhood is fundamentally different than later grades, and many school leaders lack the background in early childhood development that is needed to differentiate their approach in supporting preK teachers. Schickedanz and Marchant help to fill this gap by leading readers through authentic scenarios that illustrate how instructional leaders can ask the right questions to move teachers practices forward, how they can hone in on the most influential elements of busy preK classrooms, and how to achieve common understanding between teachers and principals.
This book is divided into five parts that highlight classroom management, learning through play, supporting language and literacy skills, understanding childrens thinking, and facilitating conversation with administrators and preK teachers. Schickedanz and Marchant embed highly detailed case studies into every chapter, usually beginning with a classroom scenario they have observed. These vignettes typically highlight a specific problem observed, the proposed solution, and how to communicate improvements to teachers. The writing is also highly engaging and even poetic at times, invoking the magic of early childhood while immersing readers fully in the classroom. The books well-organized format and detailed index further allow readers to easily navigate and find information relevant to the specific instructional dilemmas they are experiencing in their own schools and gain new perspectives on how to address these concerns.
The book is effective in part because it is very deeply rooted in the history of the field. Schickedanz and Marchant have a combined 90 years of practical, on-the-ground experience supporting preK teachers. They have had a front-row seat to the dramatic changes in preschool expectations, policies, and knowledge about young childrens development that have occurred over the past 40 years. Schickedanz and Marchant explain current best practices clearly, but they do so while illuminating the history behind many less desirable but still widespread practices. For example, one chapter illustrates how to respond to childrens story misunderstandings. Historically, early developmental theorists believed that correcting childrens thinking was harmful, that it stymied childrens confidence and future pursuits in discovering answers for themselves. However, recent research has illustrated that young children in fact benefit from corrections and explanations as long as teachers provide evidence for their conclusions. Schickedanz and Marchant illustrate how to meet teachers where they are, and how to engage with teachers beliefs and practices to provide higher-quality learning opportunities for students. The how is crucial in this work; as they eloquently put it, its often a new conception of children, not research facts, that prompts a teachers willingness to change (p. 120).
One practical takeaway Schickedanz and Marchant repeatedly stress is the importance of recognizing the need to balance adopting evidence-based practices with what is feasible to implement in the classroom. For example, the authors detail a scenario in which a teacher emphasizes phonological skills, such as attending to rhyming and sounding out words, when reading aloud to the class. Although this practice is supported by research, focusing too heavily on the text can often take away from comprehension, a tradeoff that must be considered and navigated when applying the research to the classroom context.
Schickedanz and Marchant also emphasize the very practical reality that even the most thoughtful content and curricula are only effective if children are engaged and if the activity is organized and well-managed. Often, classroom activities need to be adapted in the moment when classroom organization begins to fray and it becomes clear that the specific learning goal of a given task is not going to be met. Schickedanz and Marchants vignettes model both the proactive and reactive problem solving essential to strong classroom communities. The book also points school leaders towards the specifics of how to organize space, furnishings, and materials to support learning goals in a preK classroom, and how to give teachers feedback if the effectiveness of their teaching is being undermined by management issues.
One key limitation of the book is its lack of guidance for leaders on factors to consider in selecting preK curricula or in switching from one curriculum to another. Curricula vary in their alignment with research; the school leaders job is made easier to some degree by choosing a strong, evidence-based, research-aligned curriculum to begin with. Also, the book focuses primarily on the public school principal audience and less so on community-based program directors. Chapters in the PreK Change Agents section, for example, focus only on elementary school principals. Finally, the book places more emphasis on language and literacy than on dilemmas in other areas of instruction, such as socio-emotional growth, math, and science.
Overall, Schickedanz and Marchant have provided the field with a powerful resource for school leaders that presents research on child development and teaching practice in a digestible, actionable way. Improving preK classrooms requires attention not only to teacher practice but to the knowledge and skills of the leaders charged with supporting teachers.