Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pre-School Experiences Matter

At VCTM's (Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics) annual conference I had a wonderful dinner and conversation with several pre-service teachers from George Mason University. One mentioned an authority figure talking about first graders blogging independently. These pre-service teachers, all having some experience with the primary grades, were clearly skeptical.

They knew that my students blog with me, but not independently. With a bit of questioning about the experience this authority figure was sharing, it became clear that we were talking about a very different population of students.

These pre-service teachers are all in Title I schools. The independently blogging first graders are in a more middle class school. The school in question has fewer than a quarter of their students receiving free or reduced price lunches. My school is the opposite. We have three quarters of our students receiving free or reduced price lunches.

I am not suggesting that my students are not as smart as their middle class peers. In fact, most of my students speak multiple languages, something most of their middle class peers don't do. I simply believe that socioeconomic status plays a role in what students are prepared to do, especially independently.

First of all, many of the students at my school arrive there with limited literacy experiences. My younger daughter will begin kindergarten in the fall. She has a wide range of literacy experiences because we are lucky enough to have the financial means to have many books in our home, the time for frequent visits to the library, she has seen her parents and other adults reading often, she has been read to on a daily basis, and her babysitter offers her all these things and more as well. As a result, she will begin school in a few months with a list of favorite authors and books and with ideas for stories she is ready to write. For a whole host of reasons, most of the students in our school do not have that preparation.

Another issue is the lack of technology experiences. Many of our students do not have ready access to computers and the internet. Again, my younger daughter has been using computers, including an XO One Laptop per Child of her own, since she was very young. She will walk into kindergarten very comfortable with using a desktop or laptop computer. I spend time teaching my students how to use a web browser (opening, closing, using tabs) and such.

None of this means that my students could not blog independently. They certainly could. It means that I would have to spend a lot of time teaching them skills specific to doing so. I have chosen to spend my precious time with them in ways that seem more worthwhile. In a cost-benefit analysis independent blogging isn't worth the time we would have to invest.

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