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Preschool, early literacy focus of conference
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Preschool, early literacy focus of conference

Rutgers prof tells teachers: ‘everything must have purpose’

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Lesley Mandel Morrow served as keynote speaker at The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life’s Early Childhood Conference.
Lesley Mandel Morrow served as keynote speaker at The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life’s Early Childhood Conference.

Dr. Lesley Mandel Morrow, keynote speaker at “For the Love of Reading and Books,” the annual Early Childhood Conference of the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, shared with participants her vision of literacy in the preschool classroom.

“Everything you do in the classroom must have a purpose,” she told the 375 synagogue and day school educators gathered Oct. 30 at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange.

She said she uses plenty of manipulatives to help keep kids’ interest high, but, she stressed, everything that is used in the classroom has to have a specific purpose. She demonstrated by using felt animals on a felt board to create a silly story about a pink pig — but one designed to help students grasp the concept of the letter “p” and its sound. Morrow further modeled the lesson by asking everyone to turn to someone sitting nearby and make the “p” sound and share their favorite words that start with “p.”

Morrow, who is professor at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education and chair of its Department of Learning and Teaching, is a member and former board president of the International Reading Association. She has contributed to more than 200 publications, including articles, books, and monographs.

At the conference, she went on to demonstrate the concept of sequencing by placing on a board the familiar “old lady who swallowed a fly,” this time made out of cardboard, but with a plastic “pocket” on her belly into which each animal she ate neatly slipped in.

Morrow also presented the use of poetry in the early childhood classroom; before reading the Ezra Jack Keats poem “Snowy Day,” she asked everyone to listen for the “s” sounds, and sang “Shabbat Shalom,” but not without clapping out the rhythm and then singing a second time, clapping out the syllables.

With each activity shown, Morrow told the educators that “there must be discussion before and after.”

She suggested that looks matter when it comes to classroom literacy centers. “They have to say, ‘Come to me, I’m gorgeous,’ and have stuff they need.” “The stuff they need,” she said, includes not just narrative books, but also expository stories that offer facts about the world around them. Most of all, Morrow emphasized, teachers should always give the youngsters “words; they collect them in their heads.”

Why is preschool literacy so important? According to Morrow, “If a child has a limited vocabulary at the age of three because of limited experiences, you are already at risk for literacy development [issues].

“If you go to a quality preschool you can catch up; if you are not reading at a third-grade level at the end of third grade, only 10 percent of children can get to grade level; so it is extremely important for you guys to do the best job.”

The Partnership is a beneficiary agency of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.

The one-day conference, also presented by the Partnership’s Early Childhood Directors Network, included workshops on rhyming and other aspects of early childhood literacy.

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