The department’s teacher ambassador, Eva Boster, interviewed a West Tennessee teacher who is passionate about developing rigorous curriculum in her pre-K classroom. Jennifer Horner teaches pre-kindergarten at Whitehall Pre-K Center in the Jackson-Madison School System. Here, Horner explains why pre-K goes far beyond singing songs and playing games. She describes the foundational skills students gain in her class, and how she designs instruction to meet the needs of all of her students.
What motivates you to teach?
It motivates me to see young learners excited about literacy and mathematics. It motivates me to see a child’s eyes light up when he or she discovers something new. I want to inspire a passion and love for learning that will set the tone for what is to come in each child’s life. The early childhood classroom is the foundation of the educational journey for future generations. A quality education for each child is a benefit for all members of society.
What is your biggest challenge as a teacher?
My biggest challenge as a teacher is finding time to spend quality one-on-one instructional time with each child. Each child is a unique creation with unique strengths and weaknesses. Whole group learning and small group learning is beneficial, but it is also important to develop a relationship with each learner. I want to listen to them when they are excited about getting a new puppy. I want to support them when they have had a rough start to the day. Quality time building a relationship with each learner helps promote an environment in which I can get the best from each student.
What knowledge and skills do students gain in a pre-Kindergarten classroom?
Pre-K is a vital part of the education of young children. It helps to lay the foundation for a solid start to elementary grades. Pre-K goes way beyond singing the alphabet song and counting to ten. Children in pre-K classrooms are learning to make connections to quality literature; to map out a story complete with characters, events, and setting; to differentiate between letters, words, and pictures; and to retell a story through drawings, emergent writing, words, and dramatic recreations. Children are learning to use letter sounds to read and write simple words. Children are learning to use thinking strategies to figure out the “whys” of the world. One of the most important skills that children can gain from a quality early childhood program is the ability to imagine. When children imagine, stories come to life, learning takes flight, and thinking becomes understanding.
What is one of your favorite strategies or resources to use to support the growth of our early learners?
The professional relationships and collaborative conversations we have at Whitehall Pre-K Center truly has been my greatest resource to support the growth of our early learners. Under the direction of our principal, Dr. Tiffany Green, we have data walls to help us track each learner’s mastery of each pre-K standard. This helps to guide and maximize our instruction times.
How do you differentiate your instruction to meet the varying needs of your pre-K students?
I teach an inclusion early childhood classroom comprised of special needs children and typical peers ranging in ages of four to five years. The needs of my students range from communication delays to developmental delays to age-appropriate levels of functioning across learning domains. Before I talk about differentiation, I believe that it is important to note that sometimes the greatest teachers of all are students’ peers. My typically developing children serve as a model for appropriate academic and social interactions. My special needs children teach others compassion and patience for those who have obstacles to overcome. Within this classroom community, we all value each other as uniquely important.
In order to meet the unique needs of each learner, I need to know what each student’s needs and strengths are. Good data collection helps to facilitate quality differentiated instruction. Mixed-ability groupings are valuable for peer modeling, and homogeneous groupings provide an opportunity for intervention or enrichment. I try to use the same materials with all groupings and differentiate the tasks expected of each learner. For instance, some learners may form letters out of play-dough while saying the letter sound. Higher level groups may form words out of play-dough. Differentiation begins at the point of need, but it is my job as an educator to have high expectations for all of my learners. Sometimes the only thing holding a child back is not having the opportunity to reach for the stars. In my classroom, we all reach for the stars.
If you would like to share your voice from the classroom, please email TNClassroomChronicles@gmail.com.
We would love to listen!