Rearview Mirror: Reflections on a Preschool Car Project
by Sallee Beneke

Readers' Comments

From: Debra Moburg
Date: April 12, 1999
Subject: Reaction to Rearview Mirror

Sallee Beneke's book, Rearview Mirror, was an interesting and well-organized account of her car project. Since reading about her project, hearing about several others, and working on some of my own, I've found that there are several things that happen in all projects: you can plan and anticipate, but there will still be many surprises. The teacher at times will feel frustration, and when it's all said and done the adults are amazed with the abilities demonstrated by the children.

With every project I have done, however imperfect, the children have still benefited greatly from what we have done. Beneke said that so often we as teachers search for a formula that will reassure us that the children have been well served. I think this is so true. I think that's the reason why so many teachers want to stick with the textbook to insure a well-rounded coverage of skills. I have found the textbooks boring to teach and the children are not excited either.

I have used a Work Sampling checklist with every project I have done and each time I am amazed that the majority of items on the checklist are addressed in the course of the project. Those skills that I haven't covered help me to choose my next project.

I really like all the "talk" that goes on in a project between students and the teacher and students. I like to see how they think and I feel it motivates them and builds them up to talk about their work with an adult who sees that work as important and meaningful. I enjoy going with them on their journey.

I know that we as teachers create unwanted behaviors in children by imposing assignments that are irrelevant to them and putting them in an environments that inhibit or bore them. Beneke referred to Max and his disruptive behavior. I had several "Max's" in my room. In every case when we worked on projects the noisemaking, teasing of others, and destruction of property all stopped! It comes right back as soon as I impose a more structured and restrictive environment.

Beneke states that the project approach also allows one to be more responsive to the child. I agree and feel it's very time consuming but so is grading papers. When I weigh the information that I receive from grading papers with what I receive when talking with a child and looking at his or her representations, I find that with the assignments I have given to all children simultaneously, many children copy the work of others. Although some children are ready and interested in the assignment, many more are not. I am able to tell whether the child demonstrates mastery of the skill at hand but not much more.

With the project approach I am able to learn a variety of items about the child and still figure out whether mastery has been achieved. Mastery of skills is different for each child. Many times when I have taught a specific skill to all, there are those children who know it for the moment but not when reviewed, nor do they transfer the skill to other work. I have found that many items taught through the project approach seem to recur in other work and the children talk about these things far more often.

Another area Beneke spoke about was the tendency to "over-assist." This is usually when I feel frustration. I am excited about the project and have ideas and know what I'd like to do but I realized that the project is not mine. I have learned to offer suggestions and give brief demonstrations. Sometimes the children build from what I have said or done and sometimes they do not. I just have to keep in mind that the finished project is not the goal. It is difficult though, because I know that people who don't understand will be viewing the end product. It is up to me through documentation and discussion to point out the valuable skills and problem solving that occurred during the project.

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This publication was prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education. The opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education.