Houghton Mifflin PRE-K

Frequently Asked Questions About Houghton Mifflin Pre-K

Sequence of Themes
Letter Sequence
Adapting for Individual Differences
  1. The math sequence introduces circles and ovals in the same week. This seems to be too challenging for 4-year-olds. What should teachers do if a particular skill appears to be developmentally inappropriate?
  2. How can the program be adapted for individual variation among children?
  3. How can the program be adapted for English language learners?
  4. How can the program be adapted for children with disabilities and special needs?
  5. What's a challenge activity? Some need challenges; while for others the pace of instruction is too fast.
Home and Community Connections

Sequence of Themes
  • Is it important to teach the ten themes of the program in the order in which they are presented, or can they be presented in a different order?

    A great deal of thought and consultation with preschool teachers went into the ordering of the themes of the program. Since the sequence is based on extensive discussions with teachers about student interests, many teachers find this a very good, workable order.

    However, there are times when it makes good sense to follow a modified order. For example, while Construction Zone is offered as Theme 6, if there were a major construction project in an area close to the school, early in the school year, it would make sense to move that theme forward to capture children's interests and to provide the opportunity for concrete, experiential learning. As another example, after thoughtful consideration, a group of Pre-K teachers from Fresno, California, decided that Theme 7, In the City, In the Country, should become the third theme that they taught; they wanted this theme to follow Theme 2, My Family, My Community, because the children in their school community come from both city and country environments.

    In developing the program, there was an attempt to order the themes so that those that are more concrete and easy for children to relate to (My Family, My Community; My Five Senses) come earlier in the program than those that are more general or less personal (Construction Zone; In the City, In the Country). Keep this dimension in mind if you decide it is desirable to reorder the themes because of children's interests or in order to capitalize on the availability of some local event.

    If a decision is made to reorder the themes, most of the content and skills lessons included in the themes can still be taught with integrity. For example, it is not in any way critical for students to be exposed to the vocabulary and literature in Theme 3 before dealing with the literature and vocabulary in Theme 5. Likewise, there is no strict order for introducing letter names; however, in Theme 5, students are introduced to both letter names and letter sounds, whereas in earlier themes, the focus of instruction was just on letter names. This would need to be considered when planning a theme's instructional activities. An area where the skills of one theme build on the skills of previous themes is the area of phonological awareness; so again, careful planning in this area is necessary to help ensure that students can experience success with the content of the phonological awareness lessons and activities.

    Neither the program nor the order of the themes was meant to be implemented rigidly. Certainly well informed teachers can thoughtfully make modifications that are based on student needs or interests and not only maintain, but even strengthen, the fidelity of implementation of the program.

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Letter Sequence
  • How did the authors and editors of the Pre-K program decide on the order for teaching the letters of the alphabet?

    First, it seems important to point out that there is no established body of research to guide the order in which young children are introduced to the letters of the alphabet. A fairly recently published article addresses the order in which children learn the letters of the alphabet; it is entitled, “An investigation of four hypotheses concerning the order by which 4-year-old children learn alphabet letters” by Laura Justice and her colleagues; it appears in volume 21 of Early Childhood Research Quarterly (pp. 374–389). That article reviews previous research and reports on the results of a new research study. The results indicate that the only factor that was meaningfully significant was that children were most likely to learn, first, those letters which were part of their own names—a finding that virtually all experienced early childhood teachers could have predicted. Otherwise, the authors of the research report concluded, “the order of letter learning is highly variable among children” (p. 385).

    Based on the above, NO letters are systematically introduced in the first theme of Houghton Mifflin Pre-K; instead, teachers are encouraged to help children explore learning the letters that are of greatest interest to them.

    The order in which the letters are then introduced is based on a multiplicity of factors. For example, letters that are easy for children to discriminate from each other are introduced early in the year, such as the letters O and X, even though X is not a widely used letter in English. Letters for which it is easier for children to learn their associated sound (for example, the letter M) were delayed in the sequence until the sounds for letters are introduced in Theme 5. Likewise, letters were only introduced in themes in which there were clear examples of the use of that letter in the theme.

    Thus, since there is no clear evidence to suggest one best sequence for teaching letters, Houghton Mifflin Pre-K attempted to select an order that would allow children to become familiar with letter names, to be introduced to the sounds associated with letters, and to learn letters in meaningful context.

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Adapting for Individual Differences
  1. The math sequence introduces circles and ovals in the same week. This seems to be too challenging for 4-year-olds. What should teachers do if a particular skill appears to be developmentally inappropriate?

    The math sequence in HMCo's Pre-K program was developed by the math specialist who also wrote the kindergarten program. The sequence is designed to align with K–3 expectations and also state Pre-K standards (which vary from state to state). The math sequence reflects two key instructional concepts. First, math concepts are introduced and revisited several times over the course of the Pre-K year. Second, children are not expected to master all the skills. For some of the skills, the goal is for children to become aware and explore the math concepts that they will be expected to master later, perhaps not until after Pre-K. For example, three-dimensional shapes are introduced early in the year, but children will have many opportunities later to explore three-dimensional shapes. Similarly, circles and ovals may be too fine a discrimination for most children early in the year. If so, teachers can concentrate on circles and introduce ovals later. For those children who already recognize circles, introducing ovals and comparing ovals and circles makes sense. Developmentally appropriate expectations are achievable and challenging for most children within a given age range. However, what is developmentally appropriate for any given child will vary depending on the child's prior experience and other aspects of individual variation in development and learning.

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  2. How can the program be adapted for individual variation among children?

    Like all curriculum, HMCo's Pre-K program is a research-based plan that will be most effective if skilled teachers adapt instruction to the needs and strengths of individual children based on ongoing assessment. The observation checklist is provided for this purpose. Individual differences are inevitable in any group of children. The program is designed to be flexible and encourages differentiated instruction in several ways. The primary ways to adapt the program for individual variation are for teachers to 1) modify the learning experiences; 2) work with children in small groups; and 3) adapt the materials. Creative teachers will, of course, think of other ways to adapt for individuals.

    1. Modify learning experiences:

      There are several ways to adapt the learning experiences suggested in the program. For example, the Teacher's Guide includes suggestions called “Make It Easier” or “Make It Harder.” These ideas are provided to assist teachers in adapting for children who may need a slower pace or different strategy, and also for challenging those children who are ahead.

      In general, teachers are expected to make decisions about which aspects of the program to implement. The program is designed for full-day preschool and even so, it includes many more suggested learning experiences and teaching strategies than could be accomplished in a typical program day. Therefore, teachers are expected to make decisions about which activities and materials are most useful to achieve their goals for individual children and the group. Teachers can use the program's scope and sequence to match the outcomes expected in their center, school, or district with the suggested activities and resources included in the curriculum.

    2. Modify schedule and grouping:

      One of the most effective strategies for individualizing and differentiating instruction is grouping, especially working with children in small groups of 3 to 6 children. The schedule provided in the program is not intended to be rigidly followed. Instead, it reflects blocks of time that typically occur in preschools, such as meeting time, story time, and center time. In developing the program, teacher focus groups indicated that these are the learning contexts they typically use. Teacher focus groups also agreed that it is not possible to suggest any one time schedule for all programs, because so many local factors affect how teachers organize the classroom day. Therefore, the Teacher's Guide provides suggestions for alternative ways of grouping for instruction within and beyond these time blocks. For example, a 20- to 30-minute block typically allocated for whole-group story time could be more effective if it were broken into shorter amounts of time to work with half the group or fewer.

      A large body of research supports the effectiveness of reading to children in small groups. The primary reason is that it is the conversation that surrounds the reading, rather than just book reading alone, that contributes to children's vocabulary development and other early literacy skills. For this reason, the HMCo Pre-K program provides questioning prompts for teachers to initiate conversation about reading. The questions provided in the program are designed to begin conversations with children. It is more important to engage children in back-and-forth verbal exchanges than to cover all the questions. The program also suggests working with children in small groups on math, phonological awareness, and letter knowledge. These small groups will be most effective if teachers identify the children who need extra help on letters or phonological awareness. All of these strategies can be used to adapt for individual differences.

      Center time is designed to be a 45- to 60-minute block of time for children to initiate much of their own learning using the materials available in the classroom. Teachers should play an active role during center time. They can help children plan the use of their center time through individual conversation, small-group discussion, or assisting children to dictate, draw, or write their plans. During center time, teachers should engage in one-to-one conversation with individuals, take roles in play, or work with small groups. Following center time, teachers assist children to reflect on what they accomplished and learned, and what they may want to continue playing or working on tomorrow.

    3. Modify use of materials:

      The materials themselves can be used in different ways depending on the needs and strengths of individual children. For example, some preschoolers, especially those who have had minimal exposure to books, will benefit from rereading the Big Books as is recommended in the Teacher's Guide. Such repeated reading is essential to promote their vocabulary development and listening comprehension. On the other hand, some 4-year-olds, usually those who have been read to since birth, will be bored by repeated reading. Instead, these children may want to dig deeper into concepts presented in the information books, such as The Ocean Is.... Half of the books in the program are information books; these books introduce rare words, expand children's background knowledge and concept development, and engage children's interest in reading. These information books provide topics for projects or generate other learning activities. Each Teacher's Guide also lists many theme-related books, in addition to those provided with the program, which are readily available in libraries; these books can be used for those children who need an alternative book that is more sophisticated or more basic.

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  3. How can the program be adapted for English language learners?

    Many of the general adaptations described in the previous question also apply to adapting the program for English language learners. For example, throughout the Teacher's Guide there are suggestions for ways to adapt the learning experience for English language learners. Perhaps the most effective strategy is working with small groups. At times, these groups will be composed of children who speak the same home language while at other times, teachers will want to include native English speakers as language models for English language learners. Small groups provide opportunities for children to clearly see the pictures in books and for teachers to speak slowly and clearly, simplify their language, and use repetition as needed by the children. Repeated reading is especially valuable for English language learners to comprehend the story. Teachers will also want to use props such as real objects, photos, and books to help children learn new vocabulary. The goal is to use every available means to make the new language comprehensible for children.

    The program's emphasis on vocabulary development is designed to benefit all children but is especially important for English language learners. Each theme lists focus words identified as basic, theme, and content. The basic words are more likely to be known by native English speakers, but may need more emphasis for English language learners. The theme and content words may be introduced during group times and then reinforced by teachers while interacting with children one-on-one during center time. Routines and transitions are also good times to reinforce language learning through one-on-one conversations with English language learners. Center time is especially useful for children to practice the language they are learning because they are highly motivated to play with and talk to other children.

    The language of instruction will be determined by a school or district's policies, as well as the availability of teachers who speak children's home languages. If teachers or parent volunteers who speak the children's languages are available, instruction in home language is effective in helping children develop skills (such as phonological awareness or letter knowledge) that transfer as children become proficient in English.

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  4. How can the program be adapted for children with disabilities and special needs?

    Children with special needs are children first and will have many or most of the same interests, needs, and strengths as their typically developing peers. For children who have identified disabilities, an individualized education plan (IEP) is required. Such a plan is developed by a professional team including teachers, parents, and specialists. Once an IEP is agreed upon for an individual child, teachers can use the scope and sequence chart of HMCo's Pre-K program to identify opportunities and resources within the program to help the individual child accomplish the IEP goals.

    For many children with disabilities, the IEP goals will be primarily functional goals such as helping the child make friends, learn to communicate, and perform activities of daily living. For these goals, some of the program's social-emotional, physical, and health activities may be appropriate. In many cases, teacher's support during center times, routines, and transitions will be most effective and appropriate.

    As with all adaptation for individual differences, working with children in small groups is very effective for children with special needs. For example, a child with a hearing, vision, or attention problem is unlikely to benefit from whole-group story reading. There are simply too many distractions. In a group of 3 or 4, however, a child with special needs is much more likely to attend and engage with the book. Similarly, a task such as classifying or ordering may need to be broken down into smaller parts or simpler steps. Working with a small group, a teacher can tune into each individual and provide the right amount of support or scaffolding to help the child accomplish a task and make learning progress. During center time, a teacher may need to assist a child with special needs to make choices and get along with other children. The teacher may also need to help the other children learn effective strategies for communicating and playing with the child with special needs. Research shows that all children, including typically developing children, benefit from inclusion of children with special needs.

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  5. What's a challenge activity? Some need challenges; while for others the pace of instruction is too fast.

    All children should view what they are learning as a bit of a challenge but not too difficult to cause frustration. They must feel that the activity is one they can eventually be successful at achieving. Children and adults are motivated by challenge no matter what their ability. However, as we know, what is a challenge for one child is easy for another. Therefore, activities need to be differentiated, and teachers need to work with small groups so that the appropriate challenge is provided for every child.

    Providing for differentiation of instruction suggests several things:

    1. In whole-class lessons, everyone must be able to be involved. For example, when having a discussion about a story, be sure to guide the conversation so it will provide challenge for the child who is moving along quickly as well as discussion in which a child who needs more time to learn can also participate.
    2. In center activities, differentiation of instruction means that some activities are more difficult than others and that most of the activities are flexible enough that each child can participate at his or her level. For example, an activity that involves drawing a picture about a story one listened to on a headset can include writing about it as well. In preschool, writing about it may be writing one word, copying a word or letter, or writing a short sentence. This would be for the more advanced child. For children who do not yet know letters nor can physically make letters, their own scribble writing or drawing that they discuss will be acceptable.
    3. Working with small homogeneous groups based on achievement and need is another form of differentiating instruction that provides challenge. This is probably the most important form of differentiating instruction. In these groups, teachers can work with children based on their needs. One group might work on identifying letters of the alphabet; another group might work on the sounds the letters stand for, if that is a skill they are ready to learn.

    With the many differing cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, and languages that face our schools today, differentiation of instruction is a necessity. This will provide a challenge for every child: for the slower learners, the advanced child, and those in the middle. In any one preschool class of 4-year-olds, you will have some functioning at a 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, or even 7-year-old level. All of these children need to be attended to with appropriate and challenging activities designed specifically for them.

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Home and Community Connections
  • What connections can be made with parents and the community?

    Parents are the first teachers children have and are the teachers they have for the longest period of time. They are crucial to literacy development but need help to know what they can do. Parents should not be asked to teach their children the skills presented in the Houghton Mifflin program; however, they should know what the skills are and how they can support their development at home. Here are some suggestions for how to include parents in their child's development on a daily basis.

    1. Send newsletters home at least once a month to let parents know the theme and skills being taught.
    2. Suggest activities parents can do to support the skills and theme. For example, when studying the seasons, encourage families to collect samples of the season outside, such as acorns and colored leaves, as they walk down the street or when they go to the park.
    3. Suggest books to borrow from the library about the theme.
    4. Suggest ways for parents to incorporate environmental print in their daily interactions with their children. Parents can point out letters being discussed in school on cereal boxes and other foods at home as well as the letters on signs outside.
    5. Provide ideas for using everyday media to reinforce themes and skills. Parents can talk about related newspaper and magazine articles. Suggest television shows for parents to watch with their children if related to a theme and skill. Let parents know that the conversation they have about the program or article is the most important part of the experience.

    Parents should also be invited to school to share artifacts, hobbies, to read to the children, and tell about their work when these topics are related to themes being studied. Parents should be invited to school to observe so they understand what the program is about. They should also be asked to take part during small-group instruction; parents can help to manage small groups that are working independently while the teacher is occupied with another group.

    Parent workshops, two or three times a year, are another way to connect with parents. Hold workshops after school to tell about the program, share the materials, and provide support for any suggestions, such as those outlined above, that you share with parents over the course of the year. Here are some examples.

    1. Model or describe how to begin a discussion about a story with a child. Help with types of questions to ask about the story.
    2. Talk about environmental print in the world and how to use it to help with sight words and identifying letters.
    3. Discuss ways in which parents can reinforce the skills their children are learning, such as playing rhyming games, reading environmental print in the neighborhood, having their children keep a journal at home about daily activities, or keeping a box for collecting new words from themes written on index cards that the teacher can send home from school.
    4. Have one workshop with the children and parents together. Model a portion of the language arts time by beginning with a whole-group meeting, during which children and parents might sing theme songs, listen to a theme story, or participate in a lesson about a particular skill. Then move into center time.

    Engaging parents in their children's learning is an integral part of the literacy program and your classroom. Parents need to participate in the responsibility of helping their children learn to read in a loving and enjoyable way.

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