Theses Doctoral

Stories of Experience: Texas Preschool Teachers’ Early Literacy Beliefs and Practices

Honig, Andrea Smith

A focus on early literacy that became heightened in the early 21st century has had the unintended consequence of restricting our ideas about what children should be doing in classrooms, creating a preoccupation not only with literacy in general but also with a specific subset of early literacy skills that often reflect Eurocentric cultural norms and values. This can result in a proliferation of assessments, prescriptive curricula, and skills-based activities that allow little flexibility for teachers. A narrowing of curriculum and expectations, of behaviors that “count” as literacy, limits the potential for teachers to create literacy experiences that build upon the rich funds of knowledge that all children possess. Our understanding of how teachers have been impacted by this and the ways in which contextual variables mitigate expectations and requirements has not been sufficiently developed.

In the face of such concerns, this study sought to include preschool teachers’ own descriptions of their literacy practices and their beliefs about early literacy development. Using a mixed-methods approach that included in-depth interviews as well as a questionnaire, narrative portraits were developed for eight pre-k teachers in Texas who worked in various program settings: Head Start, public prekindergarten, “braided” programs, as well as privately funded. A comparative analysis was also conducted, including the application of Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory to disentangle the influence of different contextual factors. Teachers navigated a host of different influences on their early literacy practice from local stakeholders and colleagues to policies, cultural values and expectations, as well as shifting expectations for the early literacy skills pre-k children should have in order to be ready for kindergarten.

Regardless of their settings or beliefs about teaching, teachers experienced barriers that at times impeded their ability to teach the ways they wanted to. They described a variety of activities and approaches to supporting emerging literacy skills, and they balanced requirements and expectations with a desire to tailor their instruction and learning opportunities in individually appropriate ways. Survey responses mirrored those of previous studies that utilized the same questionnaires in order to develop an understanding of preschool teachers’ literacy beliefs and practices. What emerged was a picture of eight different teachers who believe in the potential of all children and are committed to providing a strong education foundation for the children in their classes.

The field of early childhood is notoriously fragmented due to an incoherent system of governance, funding streams, and settings, resulting in a host of complications including expectations that might contradict one another and a redundancy within requirements that means teachers’ time is frequently consumed with paperwork, competing curricula, and duplicate assessments. Future studies should continue to explore how teachers are impacted by the social and political contexts that surround education and literacy, and including teachers’ perspectives is a critical aspect toward the continual improvement of early childhood education.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Honig_tc.columbia_0055E_11423.pdf Honig_tc.columbia_0055E_11423.pdf application/pdf 1.61 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Curriculum and Teaching
Thesis Advisors
Genishi, Celia S.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
February 28, 2024