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Day 1 - November 20, 2019
Did you know it takes nearly 2 whole days and 10+ people to set up the Teaching Strategies booth?
A look at our 2019 booth
If you're at this year's conference, you might have noticed our booth looks a little different. In the front of the booth you can flip through some of our newest curriculum content, including The Creative Curriculum® for Preschool Gardening Study and The First Six Weeks: Building Your Kindergarten Classroom Community, or take a tour of digital curriculum, assessment, family engagement, and professional development solutions.
Click here for a video tour of our 2019 booth.
Introducing the Listening Lounge
For the first time ever we have not one, but TWO booth spaces at the conference. We've set up our second space, booth #1713, as a Listening Lounge where early childhood professionals can stop by to share their feedback, ideas, and vision for our future solutions. Click here to hear Director of Brand Strategy, Tom Kendzie, share more about the Listening Lounge.
This week we're inviting Bob Onsi, Chief Product Officer at Teaching Strategies to share his thoughts on innovation and intentionality.
If you’re a Teaching Strategies blog regular, you’ll know we’ve been talking a lot about intentional instruction lately. It’s a word I love—intentional—and one that doesn’t just belong in the classroom. Intentionality requires us to go “one step further,” to think outside the box, to be thoughtful in our choices and actions. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a single career path where intentionality isn’t a critical factor for success, and, perhaps more importantly, growth.
What drives growth?
As the Chief Product Officer, it’s my job to think about what’s next for Teaching Strategies. I’m always asking myself, “How can we do better?” and “How can we make things easier for educators?” There are a million reasons to grow or evolve a product, but at the end of the day we change products to make them better. Our products need to make your life easier. We want to ensure they reflect what your day is actually like, adapting to opportunities and challenges as they arise. We want to make our products easier to access and use, and that takes intentional innovation.
The difference for me between change and innovation is intentionality. When fueled with purpose and direction, change becomes innovation. But where is that purpose and direction coming from?
To answer that question, I think it’s helpful to think about innovation as a 3-step process: Listen, Iterate, and Repeat.
- Listen—Often, the best minds are those that take the time to learn, or to listen. At Teaching Strategies this means talking to educators like you, reading the newest research, and understanding policy and funding changes. Listening gives us the information and context that we need to make meaningful change, change that’s grounded in your actual needs—not our assumptions.
- Iterate—Next, we need to thoughtfully review the information gathered and determine which opportunities are most important and impactful. From there we can prioritize and put into action the most meaningful changes. During the iterate step, speed is our friend. We identify and focus on the most important things and knock them out.
- Repeat—Finally, repeat! True innovation is an ongoing process; one that, if done well, never ends. And that’s the beauty of digital solutions—it’s easier than ever to refine and grow our resources. But that growth is only impactful when it is equally intentional. And that’s where you come in.
At the end of the day, we’re nothing if not for you. Early childhood administrators, teachers, and the children you serve are the reason we even exist. We exist to serve you. Shouldn’t that mean our products reflect your wants and needs?
We’re ready to listen.
We need you to tell us who you are, what your program looks like, and what your unique challenges are. We need you to tell us what would make your days easier.
At the 2019 NAEYC Annual Conference, we’re putting these words into action with our first ever “Listening Lounge.” Within the exhibit hall, in booth #1713, you’ll find a variety of ways to share your thoughts with us. Only have a few minutes? You can complete a short survey on one of the available tablets. Want to spend more time and dig deeper with us? Join us for one of our many focus groups and help us really understand your program’s unique challenges and opportunities. We want to hear it all—what’s working and what’s not, what we can change about our existing products, and what we should be thinking about for the future.
If you’re attending the 2019 NAEYC Annual Conference and want to learn more about the Listening Lab or our conference sessions, click here.
I think I’m most excited for what’s ahead because I know that you’ll be my partner. It’s the work you do every day that inspires me and continues to move us forward. Thank you for providing us with that inspiration and being a part of our ongoing story.
Consider the role adaptability plays in success of all kinds. In some ways, it’s everything. In biology, it is adaptability that allows for species to evolve and survive. In relationships, it is what allows for give and take, as situations that require compromise arise. In technology, it is the way one product works for many users. In athletic endeavors, change and adaptability are key in ensuring that muscles and skills become more perfected with each practice. Adaptability, then, encompasses various concepts including flexibility, active thinking, intuitiveness, creativity, knowledge of past and future scenarios, and, when it comes to humans, perhaps even empathy. The product of adaptability is a very individualized success.
The power of adaptability.
How then can we apply this principle to education, and how can it be useful? Of course, with computers, we have been able to harness the power of adaptability for the purpose of assessment for a long time. By utilizing computers when needed, standardized tests provide a testing experience that adapts to the ability of the test-taker. This tailored approach to testing offers students shorter and less frustrating testing experiences while ensuring reliability of results.
There are other places, however, where adaptability in education has even bigger implications. Adaptability in the process and delivery of instruction itself, which is essentially the curriculum, actually shapes how and what children learn. This has significant value as we think about the 21st century skills students need to be successful in work and life.
Unlike computer-based assessment, adaptive curriculum requires real, live, in-the-moment interactions where knowledgeable teachers guide what and how children learn, based on what they know about their students and what students are ready to learn next. In short, it is the teacher adapting the curriculum, along with the classroom environment (often cited as the third teacher in the room), that allows the curriculum to be responsive to the students it is serving. An adaptive curriculum allows the student to drive his or her own learning while entrusting the teacher to make decisions. Of course, this makes sense when we consider that young children’s learning and interests are not always perfectly linear. To that end, teachers rely on learning standards and curricula that provide guides, materials, strategies, and content to ensure that children learn what is necessary, but they do so in a developmentally appropriate way with a diverse environment that is set up for exploration. This allows them teach the concepts and skills to children in playful ways both individually and in small groups, a method standing in opposition to more structured or scripted curriculum that sets not only the goals and material, but also groupings and the pace at which teachers should deliver instruction without considering what children are interested in or ready for.
Aside from creating engagement and interest for children, using adaptive curriculum is also the most reliable way to establish more equitable learning practices because the curriculum meets children where they are academically while also taking into account the need for materials and content to be positively and practically reflective of diversity. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s important to acknowledge that while academic outcomes are critical, they are not the only thing that matters; it’s important to offer learning environments that build other skills too.
What are the features of an adaptive curriculum?
- A learning environment that offers opportunities for content to be reflective and culturally responsive to the children using the space (e.g., wall displays, books, and play materials that reflect all cultures in the classroom)
- Learning opportunities that foster critical thinking based on what children are interested in
- Opportunities for deep, meaningful conversations while teachers engage with children about topics that they know children are interested in
- Opportunities to master concepts across curricular content domains (integration of subjects)
- Opportunities for teachers to individualize learning approaches as children need based on what they know about children and where they expect children to go next
- Opportunities to apply content knowledge in practical ways and extend learning beyond a test or worksheet
- Opportunities to collaborate with other students to work on shared tasks
What are the benefits of adaptive curriculum for children?
- Opportunities to be engaged and interested in what they are learning
- Increased opportunities to develop social-emotional skills with peers and teachers
- Opportunities to develop problem-solving skills and persistence as they engage with materials and content
- Opportunities to master content as they are ready, creating a sense of confidence and success
- Opportunities to apply content in interdisciplinary ways
Children take the reins with The Creative Curriculum®
With The Creative Curriculum® teachers have the guidance to create a classroom that responds to children's needs and interest. Follow the links below to learn more!
- The Creative Curriculum® for Preschool
- The Creative Curriculum® for Kindergarten
- The Creative Curriculum® for Infants, Toddlers & Twos
- The Creative Curriculum® for Family Child Care
This week we’ve invited our partner Suzy Potts to share her own personal experience of introducing a whole-child approach in kindergarten. Suzy is the Coordinator of Early Learning at Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools in Alberta, Canada, where she supports teachers to implement The Creative Curriculum® for Kindergarten.
What do we want for our children? Ask this question of anyone and the answers usually take on the flavor of something to the tune of
- to be happy,
- to be a lifelong learner, or
- to become a contributing member of society.
When looking at all of these answers it is easy to see that the focus and main goal for our youngest learners emphasizes happiness and functioning in a world beyond their school career. The question and balance for educators becomes one of how do we ensure that children are happy and driven to enjoy their school career, but still meet the need to educate children in an academic sense?
Whenever I look at programs that advertise to parents, whether it be child care, preschool, or kindergarten, there are words to describe the program that usually fall within the parameters of one of two areas: academic focus or play-based focus. It’s frustrating to me that these viewpoints are interpreted by many to be on opposite sides of pedagogy and that a disconnect has been created that separates the two ideas from each other.
Isn’t it possible to educate children with academic rigor while honoring their social–emotional needs in a developmentally appropriate way?
At the center of whole-child learning is a respect for honoring all areas of development for a child. Honoring who each child is, understanding what their strengths are and where they need to go next are important components for every teacher–child relationship and journey.
Some important considerations that we find in our programs that value the whole-child approach include the following:
The idea behind soft starts in our programs is to allow children to build relationships, to create an environment of trust, and to honor each child’s emotional needs. As adults, we often find ourselves starting our day by pouring a cup of coffee, checking our emails, and then starting into our work portion of the day. Children have this same need to ease into the day. When we think of the way children start a day, they often have been rushed out of bed, eaten breakfast in the car on the way to school, and arrived in a heightened state. Instead, if we take the first 10–15 minutes of each day to allow the children to enter the classroom environment in a non-rushed way, settle in with an open-ended task bag (small blocks, linking chains, etc.), and build relationships with the teacher and peers, the child’s emotional state returns to a level of readiness to learn. Investing this time to build relationships and settle the children pays off in big ways throughout the day when the children are regulated and feel safe.
Including the family as a partner in the journey with their child allows us to meet the child’s emotional and physical needs further than if we do not collaborate together. Offering opportunities for parents, guardians, and families to come to the classroom or community outings allows for this partnership to form. For those families that cannot engage in person, documentation using pictures and videos makes it possible to build that relationship and establish a level of trust. Celebrating small successes together as a team make everyone feel valued and that their work is contributing to the child’s growth.
Outdoor learning time
The outdoors press a reset button for a majority of children. The world offers so many natural experiences that cannot be offered in any other way. A bug may crawl by and onto a child’s hand. A puddle may call a child to jump into it. A tree may want to be climbed. All of these experiences promote language development, critical-thinking skills, personal boundary awareness, and engagement—skills that are essential for children to learn and be exposed to—in authentic ways. Using language such as “be aware…” rather than “be careful…” changes how children engage with their environment and allows them to make decisions that honor their personal boundaries. Taking the children outside whenever possible—in rain, snow, or sunshine—supports children to navigate different terrains like they so often will in life.
Uninterrupted, intentional free-choice play
Interrupting a child’s free-choice play to work on a teacher-driven task not only stops the language development and learning that was naturally taking place, it also breaks down the potential learning you want them to engage in fully with you because of their desire to return to the play they were enjoying. Instead, by having a time of day dedicated to intentional small-group learning and a separate time carved out for uninterrupted intentional play, you can spend more time engaging in play with children and fostering their relationships, vocabulary, and language. The relationships you build with children and the knowledge and skills they demonstrate during these free-play times will often surprise you.
Together, all of these areas—social–emotional, cognitive, and physical—make up a well-rounded child. Honoring and basing instruction on these elements allow for a learning experience that is whole and complete for all. Some of the best advice I have ever been given is go slow to go fast. I find this to be so true when working with children, as we gain exponentially more when we honor who they are and what they need rather than pushing forward with our own agenda.
With The Creative Curriculum® for Kindergarten, teachers now have a research-based, whole-child-focused approach to project-based learning in the kindergarten classroom. Through in-depth investigations of science and social studies topics that integrate literacy and mathematics concepts, kindergarten teachers can encourage children to think critically, solve problems, and connect ideas.
Recently I was reminded of my late father, a man who spent his entire career working in heavy construction. Before he oversaw the building of tunnels, bridges, dams, and highways, however, he worked as a carpenter. Every summer when I was a teacher, he would return to his carpenter roots and work with me to build something for my classroom—always measuring twice and cutting once and repeatedly, quietly, patiently pulling out all my crooked nails before expertly hammering them back in.
I can't pretend to know a lot about construction projects big or small, but what I do know, I learned from my dad. For example, he used to say that "a good grader is worth his weight in gold." A grader on a construction site is the person who makes certain the site is level, that obstacles are removed, and that the base is prepared before construction begins. When this job is done well, he would say, all the jobs that come after it are made easier. If not for my dad, I don't think I would have ever even considered the importance of this role on a construction site.
As a classroom teacher, I used to joke with him that, in education, "grader" meant something entirely different: in my imagination, a no-nonsense schoolmarm surrounded by stacks of papers, diligently marking each one. A red pen was her tool of choice—not a bulldozer!
These days, I live near a busy, urban avenue that's the home to mile after mile of commercial enterprises—offices, stores, restaurants, and apartment buildings. Despite the fact that this street was first laid many years ago (or perhaps because of it!) it is the site of frequent, large-scale construction projects, so reminders of my father are all around me.
When I walk up and down this busy street in either direction, it's always a gentle climb or descent. I can only assume the original project involved the work of a "gold-worthy" grader, because just two blocks in, where the area is entirely residential, the street is far hillier.
It was walking through this residential area recently that reminded me specifically of my dad and his comment about "a good grader," and it struck me that perhaps the correlation between construction projects and educational ones—and the role of the "grader" in each—is actually stronger than I had originally thought.
If we think of a "grader" in education as not merely someone who assigns scores but someone who makes sure that obstacles (to learning) are removed and that the site is leveled (by making sure that all children have the tools and resources they need to succeed), and carefully prepares a base for all the work to follow, then yes: a good grader in education is also worth his weight in gold.
I have long since passed along the homemade construction projects I built with my father to other teachers in other classrooms, but the memories of working with my dad in the backyard will be with me forever—as will all of his thoughtful lessons.
My daughter came running up to me one day at the beach with a huge piece of sea kelp in her hands. “I found a treasure!” she said. “A ginormous treasure! I’m going to go catch a fish with it. Bye-bye.” And off she ran, joyfully, back into the ocean to wield her “treasure” as a fishing pole.
Take a moment, if you can, and think back to a happy childhood memory. What was something that you loved to do as a little kid? Was it riding a bike down the street, the wind in your face, going as fast as your little legs could pump those pedals? Was it building with erector sets, blocks, plastic building bricks, and Lincoln Logs®, creating whatever your imagination allowed? Was it pretending to be a teacher, or a rock star, or a veterinarian, or a dragon, or a superhero? Was it painting at an easel, mixing colors and bringing pictures to life? Was it digging in the dirt and climbing trees and building forts and uncovering hidden insects under rocks? Was it dressing up your Barbie for a princess ball or having water gun fights with your brother?
We remember play.
For most of us, when we think about our childhood and what we loved to do as kids, we remember play. We remember joyful, unencumbered, playful experiences—using our imaginations, being free to explore a toy or the world around us without constant adult direction. And what we got out of those play experiences was critically important to who we are today. Through play you learned…
- how to think creatively and problem solve (what size pieces do you need to make windows on the second story of your building?),
- about your own limitations and how to challenge yourself (how hard can you pedal that bike?),
- how to persist through challenges (what colors do you need to mix together to get this purple the perfect shade for your painting?),
- how to make and follow rules and get along with others (you’re only allowed to squirt people who are holding a water gun),
- how to think symbolically (using objects in unconventional ways—using sea kelp as a fishing pole, for example—helped you make connections to more abstract symbols later, like using letters and numbers), and
- that you are awesome and capable and strong and brave!
That’s what we want for every child! In every classroom using The Creative Curriculum®, play is valued, encouraged, and intentionally provided. And I am so happy to say that we are bringing those same values into preschool and kindergarten classrooms.
An opportunity to learn.
I recently stumbled upon an essay in The Wall Street Journal, entitled “To Really Learn, Our Children need the Power of Play.” As has become popular in recent years, it compares our approach to education in the United States to that of our friends in Finland. For a couple of years, when my children were very young, we lived in Helsinki, Finland. I had the pleasure of experiencing their early care and education programs as a parent and as an educator. What I loved most about those experiences is how ingrained play is within their culture. Rain, sleet, snow, sunshine—no matter the weather, children are outdoors playing! Not only is play celebrated, it’s accepted and acknowledged as an opportunity to learn. Play provides children with opportunities to succeed and fail, to learn about cause and effect, and—perhaps most importantly—it provides opportunities for children to reach those “a-ha!” moments on their own.
“Finland has a crucial insight to teach the U.S. and the world—one that can boost grades and learning for all students, as well as their social growth, emotional development, health, well-being and happiness. It can be boiled down to a single phrase: Let children play” (Sahlberg & Doyle, 2019).
The power of play.
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has jumped on the play bandwagon. In their 2018, clinical report entitled “The Power of Play,” they detail how “research demonstrates that developmentally appropriate play with parents and peers is a singular opportunity to promote the social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills that build executive function and a prosocial brain. Furthermore, play supports the formation of the safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with all caregivers that children need to thrive.”
So, I think that it’s time that we let children be children—and let children play.
Make play an everyday part of your classroom.
The Creative Curriculum® features investigation and discovery as a way of learning. Follow the links below to learn more about our play-based solutions for preschool and kindergarten.
When I founded ReadyRosie™, it was with the understanding that families play the most significant role in their child’s development, especially in the early years. Yet, when I had my first daughter, Rosie, I personally felt lost. I asked myself, Was I doing enough? Were our experiences developmentally appropriate? And I was a former teacher! I knew there was something missing. Parents, grandparents, and other caretakers deserve access to information that is easy to understand and put into action. And with that idea, ReadyRosie™ was born—created to give families the confidence to support their children’s development in intentional ways.
Don’t tell, show.
The backbone of ReadyRosie™ is our collection of Modeled Moments, which are videos that don’t tell caretakers what to do with young children, but show them how to do it. When parents can see an activity in action—modeled by a REAL father and his REAL son in their REAL environment—something just clicks. I think it is because all of the ReadyRosie™ Modeled Moment videos are co-created with families, and act as a megaphone of family assets and the strengths that they bring to the table.
I’ve compiled five of my favorite ReadyRosie™ activities that demonstrate five different essential components of family interactions. Please play these games and do these activities with a young child today! Both you and the child will be transformed by the joy and bonding that magically happens when you take the time to intentionally connect!
1. Play Together
It is challenging for me as a parent to take the time to get on the floor and play when I am thinking about all of the tasks I need to accomplish during the day! Yet, every time I do, I feel closer to my children, knowing I have entered into their world and tapped into their amazing imaginations. (Plus, playful interactions increase their creativity, social–emotional competencies, and vocabulary!)
2. Read Together
Sharing books is not a “have to,” it is a “get to!” There is no single activity that has prompted more joy, bonding, and conversation in my home than reading together. Do all caregivers know how playful and interactive shared reading can be? This Modeled Moment video is just one example of that!
3. Talk Together
Between work, school pick-ups and drop-offs, dinner, laundry, etc., it is remarkable how many days I fall into bed and think, “Did I really connect with my kids today?” Here is one of many Modeled Moment videos designed to prompt great conversations that support a child’s development.
4. Solve Problems Together
The world is full of problems to solve and young children are always up for solving them. Playing games that solve problems promotes a child’s early math and reasoning skills and gives them confidence as problem solvers! Whether it is measuring a table with sugar packets while waiting for food at a restaurant or predicting how far a child can jump as you go for a walk, intentionally solving problems on the go is something all families can be doing.
5. Bond Together
Eye contact, proximity, attunement—these are all part of the secure, bonded relationships that our children need to form with adults. I personally have to intentionally remember and prioritize bonding experiences with my own children. Modeled Moments are excellent reminders!
How are you helping families support intentional, meaningful relationships with their children?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Ready to redefine family engagement in your own program?
Visit ReadyRosie.com for more information, additional sample content, or to sign up for a live demo.
This is the fourth and final post in our Intentional Instruction series for administrators. To read the first three posts in this series, click the links below:
- Part 1: Leadership for Learning: How You Can Support Intentional Teaching
- Part 2: Helping Teachers See the Big Picture
- Part 3: Three Forces for Intentional Instruction
A celebration of learning.
I grew up in a family that fully embraced the power of anticipation and celebration. My parents loved holidays and gatherings, and our home seemed to always be fully decorated for the next big event on the family calendar.
As a teacher, I carried that spirit into my classroom, and as a building principal, I worked to never forget those two profound power sources: anticipation and celebration.
As a leader of any type of organization—and particularly in any organization where you get to work with children—it is important to remember that anticipation and celebration are powerful tools.
What’s important to you?
So decide what’s important to you as a school or program leader. Ask your teachers to join you in that conversation as you work together to list the values you hold dear and the outcomes you hope to achieve, both as an organization and for individual teachers and children.
Then look at your own calendar through a lens of anticipation and celebration. What are you doing to build anticipation for children’s learning? For teachers’ learning? For the development of positive relationships?
And what are you doing to celebrate these things?
You are what you celebrate.
There’s an old saying that “you are what you eat.” As an instructional leader, you are what you celebrate. If you want intentional instruction to be a cornerstone of your program, then you need to make sure that you build anticipation for learning and then celebrate the success stories.
We thank you for joining us in this blog series and video series and wish you a highly anticipated, well-celebrated, and joyful rest of the school year.
Note: This blog post is the second part of a two-part blog series. To read Part 1, click here.
Previously, we discussed the Home Language Survey and how it can help early education professionals to identify English Language Learners (ELLs) in the preschool classroom. We explained how knowing the language(s) that are spoken by children and their families can help programs with staffing decisions, and inform teachers as they plan how to individualize instruction for each child. As we know, the ability to meaningfully individualize instruction requires preschool teachers and assistants to be aware of each child’s needs and preferences.
The power of observation
“Rajesh” was four years old when he started pre-kindergarten in my friend’s home-based child care center. He was the only child who spoke Hindi in the program. My friend, “Mina” welcomed him warmly, speaking slowly and clearly. For the first few days, Rajesh stood nearby as other children played, watching cautiously. His parents spoke a bit of English at home, but this was the first time he was exposed to an entirely English-speaking environment. Over time, he began to join in play, copying the other children during songs and movement activities. He slowly started to use a few words to express his needs and ideas. During discussions about familiar books and stories, Mina noticed Rajesh’s furrowed brow and tense body language. As an English-language learner herself (Mina moved to the United States from South America when she was a child), Mina suspected that Rajesh was feeling frustrated that he didn’t have the fluency in English to share the extent of his thoughts and feelings about the story. One afternoon, Mina used gestures to ask Rajesh to tell her about the story they had read earlier in the day using his first language. The quiet, seemingly frustrated child Mina had seen before revealed that he was a natural storyteller! In his dominant language, Hindi, he was excited and animated. He used different voices, gestures, and sound effects to create the “mood” of the story. She recorded Rajesh and played the audio recording to Rajesh’s mother. She beamed as she listened, pausing the recording to translate what Rajesh was saying. The language, literacy, and cognitive skills Rajesh was able to demonstrate in Hindi were far beyond what Mina had observed when he used English.
Many English-speaking teachers find themselves in similar situations as Mina, asking themselves, “How can I truly capture what this child knows if I don’t know what they’re saying?” First, let’s back up and think about the teacher’s roles in a classroom with English-language learners.
A “language model”
For teachers of English-language learners, it is particularly important to see oneself as a “language model.” When speaking and “modeling” English language and literacy, teachers should be especially mindful about using standard and correct grammar and pronunciation. The same consideration should be taken for first-language “models.” Though it is always ideal to provide children with consistent language “models” in the classroom to demonstrate and support language and literacy development in their first language(s), it is not always possible because of limited program resources and the multitude of languages spoken in diverse preschool classrooms.
When children are exposed to consistent, high-quality language models, they can learn a second language and demonstrate as much fluency in it as they do in their first language. If your role in a bilingual classroom is to be the “English-language model” you need to be aware of how you speak. You might notice children respond better when you speak slower than usual and over-enunciate your words. I’ve often seen English-speaking teachers get excited about learning or practicing their second language with the children in their class. This communicates to children that you are also a learner and value their first language expertise. However, be careful to maintain your position as the “English-language model.” Some English-speaking teachers end up spending most of their day speaking the children’s first language, which limits the children’s exposure to English. It might be tempting to practice your Somali, Spanish, or Arabic with the children, but keep in mind that the majority of your day should be dedicated to modeling English pronunciation, grammar, and syntax.
Partnering with first-language speakers
When teachers don’t speak the child’s first language, like in Mina’s case, it’s even more important to partner with family members or other trained volunteers who speak the child’s first language to gather observation-based assessment information on preschoolers’ knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Capturing assessment information
Though volunteers, families, and other staff can help collect observation notes, it’s important to stress that teachers are ultimately responsible for ensuring that there is adequate assessment information, making final assessment decisions, and confirming that the evaluation data is accurate.
Some ideas on how to do this include:
- Have English-speaking teachers focus observation and documentation efforts on the language-free objectives that do not require children to comprehend or produce English to demonstrate what they can do or what they know. For example, you can observe how a child “Follows limits and expectations” (Objective 1b) when a child begins cleaning up in response to a musical cue.Many GOLD® objectives and dimensions are language-neutral, particularly the physical (and some cognitive and mathematics) objectives, allowing you to observe a fairly wide range of children’s knowledge, skills, and abilities.
- Invite and train other staff, family members, or adult community volunteers to observe and collect information on language-dependent objectives and dimensions. These language-dependent objectives and dimensions include the language objectives (8–10) and literacy objectives (15–19).
- Train volunteers on the specific objectives for development and learning that you’d like them to observe for and collect documentation on, and provide clear expectations on the type of documentation you prefer. Explain the importance of objective observation notes and the inclusion of quotations, if possible.
- Establish a schedule for volunteers to visit classrooms on a regular basis so that teachers can have consistent language support, and so that volunteers are not being exhausted or monopolized by one classroom.
- Invite volunteers to lead language and literacy activities such as songs, read-alouds, and games in the child’s first language (Mega Minutos®, like the one featured here, are a great resource for children whose first language is Spanish. Check out a free sample on our mobile app.) Encourage English-speaking teachers to participate in learning experiences and invite them to learn a few basic words and phrases to use with children throughout the day.
- Use audio and/or video recordings to document children’s knowledge, skills and abilities on language-dependent objectives. Invite trained volunteers to listen to and/or view the recordings, and to provide you with documentation information (the GOLD® Documentation app is a handy tool for this).
- Consider inviting families to create a MyTeachingStrategies® account so that they can add notes, photos, and videos to their child’s online portfolio. Keep in mind that families do not have the ability to assign levels to the documentation they share.
- Look for additional financial support. Some programs have even been awarded grants to fund part-time interpreters or translators to support the ongoing assessment of the knowledge, skills and abilities of English-language learners in the classroom!
For children whose first language is Spanish, the Spanish-language version of language and literacy objectives in MyTeachingStrategies®, GOLD®, and GOLD® Objectives for Development & Learning, Birth Through Third (pages 220-242) help teachers track preschool children’s language and literacy development in Spanish. Teachers frequently ask whether they are supposed to assess children whose first language is Spanish using either the English or Spanish language and literacy objectives, or using both the English and the Spanish language and literacy objectives. Each program should decide the answer to this based on whether they have staff available to observe and assess on both the English and Spanish language and literacy objectives in their preschool classrooms.
When abilities differ between languages
Another frequently asked question involves assessing children when their English-language skills are different than their first-language skills. For instance, if a child is able to count to 10 in English, but can count to 30 in her first language, how should this be assessed? First, it’s important to note that this example assumes that the teacher understands the child’s first language enough to know that the child accurately counted to 30. This highlights the importance of having support to gather this type of documentation information. For objectives that are not related to language and literacy, it is ideal to assess children’s skills by documenting their knowledge and skills when they respond in their preferred language. So, in the example above, it would be appropriate to assess the child’s ability to count to 30, because you are assessing her ability to count.
Create opportunities for first-language expression
Using these strategies can help you learn more about each child’s knowledge, skills, and abilities. For example, though Rajesh is quiet during discussions in English, he can tell elaborate stories and use expressive vocabulary in Hindi. You can support his interests by offering him opportunities to use his language skills in Hindi, while also creating opportunities for him to practice using English to express himself.
As you can see, assessing the skills and knowledge of English-language learners requires a great deal of thought, planning, and intentionality. I encourage teachers and administrators to work together and carefully consider how to best support teachers to provide accurate and objective assessments of English-language learners in early childhood education classrooms.
Because this topic is so complex, and the issues and solutions are so unique to each program’s composition and circumstance, I invite you to share your experiences and strategies here and on our Facebook page!
Have a good day!
¡Tenga un buen día!
Aapaka din shubh ho
आपका दिन शुभ हो
Before joining the author team here at Teaching Strategies, I spent twenty years working in elementary schools, first as a classroom teacher and then as a building administrator.
As a school leader who got to work with, watch, and learn from many teachers, I often had the honor of observing teachers who worked with an extraordinary sense of purpose. These teachers seemed to realize the ripple effects of their practices, choices, and interactions.
As I now think about intentional instruction and how that concept did or did not play out in the classrooms I observed, I have come to view intentionality in the classroom as being a product of three separate but connected forces.
One of those forces is inspiration. As a school leader, you have many opportunities to inspire teachers. You yourself can be a model of inspiration through the various ways you interact with teachers as well as through the ways that you encourage them to interact with each other.
Think of the teachers you know who themselves are models of inspiration—those who really, truly want to make it happen for all the children in their classrooms. Think of those teachers who are always eager to try out new ideas, as long as those ideas are rooted in the notion that doing so will be beneficial to children.
As a school or program leader, you can leverage the expertise of your inspirational teachers by setting up opportunities for teachers to share with each other. Facilitate discussions between teachers to share their ideas, their concerns, and their success stories.
The second force is a network of support. Sometimes, support comes by way of advice in a textbook or guide. However, quite often, this support is provided by the people who are right under your own roof, such as mentor teachers and teachers working together in professional learning communities. Consider setting up a schedule that allows teachers to cover for each other (or cover for them yourself!), to ensure that each teacher has the option of taking time away from the classroom to work with a coach or simply observe another teacher at work.
For those teachers who may need extra help in the first area I mentioned—inspiration–go out of your way to speak with them individually about your desire to help them feel successful at work. Often what you will find is that a lack of inspiration is directly connected to a feeling of not having a network of support.
There is also a third component, a third force: equipping teachers with the right tools. It is important to equip teachers with the tools they need to implement curriculum and appropriately assess children’s knowledge, skills, and abilities.
As a classroom teacher, I never felt like I had a complete set of tools. And many of the tools that I did have, I didn’t know how to fully use.
I never knew the widely held expectations for kindergarten-aged children. I never knew how to adequately document what I observed the children doing and saying. I never knew all the many ways I could meaningfully involve families in children’s learning. I never knew the power of room arrangement or the value of a well-thought-out schedule. And even though I really wanted to scaffold learning for each individual child, I didn’t know how to leverage the relationship between assessment and planning to do so. I knew in my heart that building positive relationships with the children in my class was the most important thing I could do as a teacher, but no one ever said anything to me that would validate that thinking.
This crucial third force requires you to equip teachers by making sure that they have the resources and information necessary to teach intentionally and individualize instruction in every classroom, for every child.
I don’t think of these three forces as steps because doing so would imply a sequence—that a teacher needs to have embraced a particular mindset before she should seek out a role model or be assigned a mentor, or that all of your teachers need to be on board with change before you dive into equipping them with the right tools. Rather, the three forces are different parts of a single strategy to support intentional teaching. If we are going to ask teachers to do the whole job—to teach the whole child and to address a whole, broad set of expectations and objectives—then we need to establish a whole plan for supporting intentional instruction.
When you provide all three of these forces—when you inspire, support, and equip teachers—it’s like offering someone a reason to take a trip, providing them with a specific destination, and making sure they have a dependable means of transportation, a tank full of gas, and a detailed road map. Just as you are more likely to both complete a journey and enjoy the trip when you’re well prepared for it, when a teacher has all three of these forces behind her, she is uniquely positioned to teach successfully and with intentionality.