Assessment can happen anywhere, any time!

When I was a preschool teacher working with children ages 3 to 5, I was really focused on planning based on each, individual child. Not only is this best practice, but it was a requirement of the program. I knew from my time in college that the most effective way to do this was to continually assess the children, which felt very daunting at first. “Assessment” is such a heavy word. What I mean by that is, the word “assessment” has so many meanings and connotations. It felt very formal, like sitting down with a child so I could “test” him or her, then having to communicate what the results meant to the parent which probably would be very serious. What I came to find out is that assessment isn’t always formal, and it can be a very effective way to plan for each child.

Classroom assessments don't have to feel like tests!

The first thing I did was set some goals. I am the type of person who needs guidelines and parameters or else I am all over the place. In an effort to get organized, along with the other teachers in the room, we set a goal. We would each write an anecdotal record for six specific children at least once a week. An anecdotal record is a very short story about a significant occurrence you observe the child experience. It includes what was happening before the occurrence, the occurrence and what happened after. For example,

Eden was playing in the block area with Hannah. She said to Hannah, “We need four more blocks to make the cage for the zebra.” Hannah handed Eden three blocks. Eden set them up around the zebras. Then she pointed at each one and counted one by one. She then said, “We need one more block.”

In our program, we used a sheet that included a space for the name of the child, the date and listed the areas of the classroom to indicate where the child was during the observation.

We also wanted these observation notes to be conveniently located, so when something happened that we wanted to write down, we didn’t have to go far. We each kept some notes on us, in our pockets. We also set up clip boards with blank paper and pencils in “hot spots” around the room. These “hot spots” were in areas that generated rich discussion and interactions amongst the children, such as the dramatic play area, block areas and the art center. This easy access meant that as soon as we observed a milestone or a particular interest peak, we could write it down. I learned quickly that observations can happen anywhere, any time. I have over heard counting for the first time in the bathroom, seen pro-social skills develop while walking to the playground and witnessed literacy skills being practiced on a fogged up window.

Having this collection of observations from throughout the week gave us lots of information to begin planning. We had an idea of what each child was interested in or working on. When it came to planning experiences and activities that would support the development of each child, we were prepared.

Stop calling me “sweetie,” my name is Tracy.

In the past I have attended social functions where I was referred to as “sweetie.” Instead of finding this “pet name” as a term of endearment, I found it insulting. My name is Tracy. Calling me by anything else takes away my individuality. It’s a generic term that makes me feel as though people do not see me for all that I am. As I sorted through these thoughts and feelings, I couldn’t help but think… How does this make our classroom children feel if we refer to them as “sweetie”?

When we interact with children,

How do we ensure that we are doing everything we can to help children become successful problem-solvers and critical thinkers?

I also began to wonder… How does this leave the child feeling when you forget to call them by these “pet names”? Could they be keeping track of how often you call their peers by these pet names, but not them? What if these pet names such as, “sweetie, honey, or baby,” are terms of endearment to you but could be construed as something negative to the child? For example, what if this child is told to stop acting like a “baby” in other environments? Instead of this being a positive thing for the child to hear, it could actually have a damaging effect on the child’s emotional development.

As educators in this field, we have many goals for the preschool children in our classrooms and programs. When I was teaching in the classroom, one of my main goals was to help build children’s emotional and social development. I did this by nurturing them as they gained their independence and became self-efficient. I wanted to assist them as they built their confidence as young children and found their own identities. One of the ways I did this was by calling children by their real names. By using children’s real names we are demonstrating respect for them as individuals. We are helping to mold them to become successful problem-solvers and critical thinkers. How can we help children successfully develop their own sense of who they are if we don’t call them by their real names?

Again, my name is Tracy, that’s what you may call me.

Kind vs. Nice

When I was a toddler teacher, during a supervision meeting with my director, it was brought to my attention that I was telling children to “be nice.” I was told that the program preferred to help children learn to “be kind.” I was confused. I was under the impression that these two words were synonymous.

My director challenged me to look up the definitions of the words and think about it. What I found was that “nice” can mean the same as “kind” but not necessarily in reverse. Flowers are nice, such as, they look nice or may smell nice, but flowers cannot be kind.

Should we just tell children to "be nice" or should we model that behavior?

At our next meeting, we discussed this topic further. We talked about how the word kind holds a very specific meaning in regards to a person’s nature or disposition; it also encompasses attributes such as being considerate, helpful, mild and gentle.

I really liked this idea of thinking and began using the word “kind” rather than “nice” when it came to helping young children learn about themselves and each other. If I noticed a child giving another a gentle touch or hug, I made sure to tell that child, “You are being very kind when you give hugs.” When I saw children sharing or playing cooperatively, I let them know what they were doing was an act of kindness and point out how good that must feel.

When I first transitioned into being a coach at 4C for Children, I have to admit, that using the word “kind” was so engrained into my practice that it became a little bit of a hot button to hear teachers telling children to “be nice.” I wanted to explain my thinking and convince teachers to come over to my side. My belief was that this was best practice and important to the social/emotional development of children.

Recently, I have had another shift in thinking. Does it really matter which word is used? Isn’t it more important to help children learn about what it means to be nice or kind? It is more beneficial to help children facilitate a conversation about a conflict versus just telling them to be nice or kind. When a child sees a teacher sitting on the floor to read a book and they run over to join the group, pushing through the children that are already seated, is it that child’s intention to be unkind? No, they just want to join in. Simply telling a child to “be nice,” does not teach them to find ways to ask to join or say, “Excuse me, please scoot over.”

We have to go beyond telling children how to act or behave. We have to model for them with our own behavior. It is important to give positive feedback to children, at all ages, when we see them being kind and cooperative. Most importantly, we have to remember to interpret children’s actions with the best of intentions in mind. If there is a worry that a child is hurting another, go beyond stopping them and explain what they can do instead.

 

“If they only spoke some English…”

In this guest post, Debra Chin, 4C Early Childhood Specialist, shares some thoughts about our work with young dual language learners.

As I was enjoying an end-of-year team gathering at our office, my supervisor decided to facilitate a couple of games to celebrate. One of the games invited us to read a short statement or sentence, and then guess from which Christmas song, book or TV show/movie the sentence was quoted. Being a bilingual, having earned a graduate degree from US, worked in the professional fields for more than two decades, and lived in Cincinnati for almost 30 years, I thought I had been assimilated culturally and linguistically to the local environment. Yet, when I was asked to participate in this game, I felt I was a complete outsider.

Much of my previous life-experience is not rooted from the American culture. My early literacy and language experiences are not derived from the same books, TV shows or movies as most of my colleagues Watching them giggle and have fun talking with each other about their early holiday memories made me feel awkward. This experience reminded me of the young dual language learners (DLLs) in our ECE programs. I wonder how young DLLs would feel and respond when they were asked to sit through the story time or circle time in a language that they were not familiar with. Yet, many early childhood educators are concerned about why our DLLs seldom participate or volunteer to share ideas.

Tips about dual language learners in the classroom

I decided to get up and leave the meeting. Feeling as an outsider is no fun. I wanted to be part of my team, a strong sense of desire to belong creeping to my throat.  Yet, I couldn’t articulate how I felt.  I went to the bathroom, shut the door, and thought of how I could bring myself back to the group.

I am so thankful that my supervisor did not call me back across the room in front of the group when I had to leave the activity. I am so thankful there was a space where I could be alone for a few seconds. I am so thankful that my table-mates accepted my return with some conversation that was relevant to my experiences.  I am so thankful that I have an entire team back me up daily with their understanding and acceptance of me as a mom, as a fellow worker, as a coach, and as an ECE professional. Most importantly, my team has supported me as friends honoring who I am and where I come from.  They appreciate how much I have tried with passion to explore this “forever-new” environment.  I am embraced by a group of people that are always interested and responsive to my inquiry.

Like many children, some of our young DLLs express their feelings through behaviors as they are developing coping skills. Some may withdraw from the situation, and not “participate or engage”; some may fight against the environment, and “not follow the directions.”

In addition to all the learning areas where children are provided with ample opportunities to scaffold through meaningful interactions with their teachers and peers, teachers might also provide a “By Myself Area.” Children need an area where they are not required to be engaged through language, where they can watch how the world is working through a different window other than verbal exploration, and rejuvenate their power of learning. The block area, free art area, and sensory table are some of those locations. The “By Myself Area” becomes extremely crucial to our young DLLs. Posters, pictures, stuffed animals, and picture books added to those areas help young DLLs re-connect to the environment, language or experiences with which they are familiar.

As I was reading those Christmas statements with a stunting and confusing apathy, one of my colleagues noticed my detachment, and whispered into my ear, “Are you OK, Debra? This must be really hard for you. You have no cultural reference for these movies or books.” Many times, when in an unfamiliar situation, empathy is all that DLLs need in order to recover and re-bounce. I felt recognized emotionally because of this colleague’s comments. Young DLLs sometimes just need someone to play by their side, as my table mates had done with me. While developing resilience, like all young children, our young DLLs need support verbally and non-verbally through people around them and the environment where they are embraced. Teachers can ensure this by providing areas where young children can work side-by-side on meaningful activities/materials supported by people and interactions that facilitate their explorations while they are acquiring language, whether is a first or second language.

Young DLLs may not seem to have enough vocabulary in English to express themselves in a way that we understand, but they might have those important words in their heritage language. It is our responsibility to explore these opportunities by asking families to be our resources. Invite families to share their heritage languages as a bridge for DLLs to discover the world and acquire a second language. For example, ask the family to read in their heritage language some of those books used in the classroom. In this way, the young DLL will have an opportunity to construct some knowledge about the new vocabulary prior to being read in a language in which he/she is not quite proficient yet.

Young DLLs may not demonstrate their competence in a way that we are “accustomed’ to, yet their way of learning and reflecting is unique and powerful. As we teach, conduct observations, and nurture talents, we keep pushing ourselves to support all of our children’s development to the best. At the same time, the experience of working with DLLs enables both children and educators to expand horizons and generate multiple perspectives which increases the ability of comparison, contrast, and greater cognitive flexibility. Bilingualism or multilingualism is an asset for our local community and the global village. Developing bilinguals/multilinguals takes energy, patience and passion. It is a privilege to be part of this inspiring journey. May we all enjoy this ride to construct knowledge about our world through the work with our young dual language learners.

Winter playground fun!

Yes, it’s that time of year when it’s COLD, illness is going around, and it gets dark out very early. In fact it’s probably already dark by the time children are being picked up at your programs. But remember, outdoor play is important during this time of year, too! Children benefit from fresh air even when it’s cold outside. Here are some ideas for outdoor activities in the winter, and some tips on keeping the little ones warm!

Winter play activities and tips on keeping children warm!

Winter Activities

—Digging in the snow. No worries if you don’t have “snow shovels.” Tools used for sand/sensory table digging work just as good.

—Painting the snow. Use spray bottles and food coloring with water; children can turn their all white snow-covered playground into a colorful atmosphere.

—Patterns in the snow. Children can use various objects or manipulative toys to create patterns.

—Create tracks in the snow using footprints, rakes, or long sticks. This could even be turned into a follow the leader or guessing game with the children. For example, what object made which track in the snow?

—Bird watching. Since the trees are bare, bird watching becomes very easy. Start saving your empty paper towel rolls so the children make their binoculars first!

—Nature walks or hikes throughout your playground or around the block. Take a camera along to capture those wonderful winter images.

—Feeding winter animals. Create bird feeders for a special activity then allow the children to pick the perfect place their feeder should be placed outside. This is such a great way to demonstrate compassion for other living things and the world around us.

—Scavenger hunts are always fun in any season. This can be a teacher-guided hunt or the children can create their own hunts. Don’t forget to allow time and supply materials children may need to create maps for the hunt prior to heading outdoors.

Keeping children warm:

—Asking parents to provide extra clothes for their child or even donate old clothes for other children. Dressing in layers will help keep children warm.

—Ask parents to bring in an extra pair of shoes or snow boots if you plan to explore snow outdoors. Parents can also donate old shoes or snow boots to keep on hand in the classroom.

—No snow boots, no problem. You can use baggies or Kroger bags as a shoe liner. This will help keep children’s feet dry. If shoes become wet, they’re typically dry by the time nap is over.

—Make hot chocolate. This can even be turned into a math activity as children count their marshmallows!

Please always follow your program’s weather policy and procedures. Remember: children benefit from outdoor activities even if it’s in short time periods.

-Tracy

New year, new goals!

It’s the end of the year and I’m working on staff evaluations and starting to think about working with each of the coaches to set some goals for the new year. I truly enjoy the experience of staff evaluations. I enjoy sitting down with each person, reflecting on their year and talking about their successes and growth opportunities. I enjoy reading their self evaluations and talking with them about the things that they valued throughout their year.

Goal setting and professional development planning is more challenging for me.  It’s hard to sit down and think about what it is they might want to learn and work towards over the next year. I notice that it’s hard for the coaches too. We are all so busy with our day-to-day work, it’s difficult to imagine fitting in time to learn a new skill or strategy. And at the same time, as a supervisor, it’s important for me to encourage people to think beyond the busy day-to-day work and think long term about helping them feel like they have the tools necessary to do their work well.

goals

One example of a goal might be to organize your space. What are your goals for the coming year?

I think to be successful with professional development planning and goal setting for the new year, we need to consider writing an effective performance goal with action steps to support meeting that goal. By meeting regularly with staff and observing them as they do their work, I am able to think about each of them as an individual and align their strengths and areas of opportunity to the mission of our agency. These observations keep their goals relevant to them and the goals of the agency. Another strategy that I plan to use to while setting goals and planning for future professional development opportunities with staff is to reference the Core Knowledge and Competencies (CKC) Documents that Ohio has written. Ohio has Core Knowledge and Competencies Documents for After-School Professionals, Early Childhood Professionals, and Administrators. These documents can be found here. Each of these documents has levels and categories to help the staff and I think about things that are relevant and specific to their wants and needs.

So, as I begin to think about the new year and setting goals with staff, I don’t feel so overwhelmed because I know that I have resources. I have the observations and regular conversations with staff to support us as we move forward. I have the CKC documents to inspire those performance goals. And I’m also trying to keep in mind that the professional development plan is a living document. Sometimes plans will need to change and that’s okay. The important part is that we have created a path to help our agency and the staff be successful. Here’s to the coming New Year. Happy 2015.

Holidays in the classroom: What do you do?

They say it’s the most wonderful time of the year but as educators in a preschool classroom sometimes that can be questionable! Setting aside the fact that the cold weather has restricted outside play and the cold virus is regrettably being shared among students and staff alike, it can be daunting to think and plan for holiday celebrations in the classroom. Let’s be honest: times have and are continuing to change. Where do we stand? What do we do?

How do you incorporate holidays into your preschool classroom?

Some people celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas and celebrate Kwanzaa, just as some may celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas or no holidays at all! While I completely support the notion of incorporating a celebration of as many holidays as possible to our preschool classrooms in an attempt to be inclusive, it can be difficult to navigate the many cultures and traditions of the families we serve, in a way that respects and honors them, all while helping the children learn something. Here are what I believe to be three simple steps to move in the right direction of finding that middle ground this holiday season:

  1. Do your homework. Ask questions, do online research, read articles and most importantly, talk to the families in your classroom – they are your greatest resource and will appreciate your willingness to embrace their ideals. Finding out what holidays the families of the children in your classroom and center and incorporating it into your curriculum with solidify an understanding and respect for the different values and traditions of others. Sadie Bonifas, 4C Professional Development Coordinator, shared that “when providers learn about the individual children in their classroom, encouraging them to share what traditions they do at home, they are not only helping those children develop a positive self identity but the other children in the classroom are able to relate thus making the experience more meaningful.”
  1. Be open to change. Change is change. No matter what articles you read or quotes you make as your screensaver, the truth is that change is difficult for most people. And while it doesn’t come naturally or feel good at the moment it is absolutely necessary. As Charles Darwin once said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Be willing to try something new and be prepared to fail but most importantly, just be open to doing it differently than you are used to doing it. Venture into the unknown and embrace what it has to teach you. At the end of the school year, take time to evaluate what worked or what didn’t work: observe, assess and reflect.
  1. Be respectful. While I don’t have the easy, “quick fix” answer for how to perfectly incorporate holidays, world culture and individual culture into your classroom, I do know that it all should be done with respect. Have good intentions but even more so, acknowledge and appreciate the uniqueness of others in your classroom and in our world. Remember that those innocent little faces are looking up to you and taking notice of your reactions, both verbal and non-verbal, and then will decide how they will react. Whether you share the traditions being shown or enjoy the songs or treats being shared at the time or not, respectfully recognize each and every opportunity and be mindful of the example you are exhibiting to your students.

We as educators need to strive to create a developmentally appropriate and culturally sensitive environment that works for our classroom, remembering that each year this could change and needs to be adapted based upon the children in our care at the time. There is no simple answer, no quick fix but being educated, open to change and mindful in our teaching is a step in the right direction.

What steps have you taken to embrace cultural change in your child care setting? How do you avoid getting into a ceremonial rut each holiday season? What are some barriers you face?

 

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