I have finished giving our first test to determine how much my students know. It’s a simple test of what they should have learned after a year in pre-school: some personal information, the order of the alphabet, the names and sounds of the letters, rote counting to 20, numbers 1-10 by sight, color recognition. The test is given at my desk, one student at a time, so it also gives me a chance to really pay attention to speech patterns and ask a few other individual questions that might give me an insight into abilities. I don’t expect perfection, just a starting point for lesson planning.
The results for my current class are pretty typical. About half of them know 50% of the information. Three know 90%. Five know less than 25% of the information.
Of course the first bump in the road is always the number of children who have not been to preschool at all. Even with all of the programs out there, I usually get at least one student who has never been to school. Most have very legitimate reasons for staying at home, and while I understand and agree with parent choice, it usually means their child will start school with some disadvantage: academic, social, or basic skills (color, cut, glue) that will require extra time and effort for both of us. Imagine having twelve students cutting out a teddy bear while you are teaching three students how to hold their scissors correctly.
My usual plan is “teach to the middle, challenge the top, and support the bottom”. Sounds easy enough on paper, but it is very difficult to actually do each day, each week, and each month for a whole school year. For most lessons it means some individualized instruction, individual work, and constant monitoring. And each day I try to incorporate one group lesson that requires everyone to work step-by-step as I give instructions, so they will learn to listen and follow along. It also teaches them a logical sequence for tasks and gives me a chance to observe everyone and work on pacing and fine-tuning my instructions. Yesterday we cut out five illustrations representing the senses and then pasted them beside illustrations of things that match: nose/skunk, mouth/food, etc. For some it was a simple task and for some it was a frustrating struggle. This is the reality of education. You can have a set of expectations and a list of state requirements and a plan for achieving them, but if you don’t adapt to the individual needs of each student you are just going through the motions of teaching.