Sorry that our February Pk3TeachLeadGrow.org Blog is a week late but the cold/flu season hit hard at my house and I was one of the victims. While there is NOT much good or fun that happens laying around in bed, waiting for medicine, sleep, and lots of hot tea to provide healing power, I did find that I had some time to catch up on a few of my professional journals. One of my favorites is The Learning Forward Journal: The Learning Professional and the December 2019 edition was especially great because it was ALL about coaching!
Instructional Coaching is at the HEART of how we know-n-grow individual and collective teaching practice and professionalism. Charlotte Danielson’s defines The Framework for Teaching Cluster 6: Professionalism as having three key FOCUS AREAS:
1) Continuous Professional Learning and improvement that is valued and consistently demonstrated through an inquiry-based, growth-focused, and results-oriented approach to professional engagement;
2) Collaboration with colleagues that occurs frequently, involves active engagement, and is characterized by commitment and trust; and
3) Honesty and Integrity that is consistently in the educator’s work and interactions with colleagues, families, community members, and students.
Instructional Coaching at it’s very best embodies all three of the focus areas of The Framework for Teaching’s Cluster 6: Professionalism. As I was skimming the journal, I was so excited to see that there was specific article, Bright and Early: Coaching Increase the Quality of Early Childhood Programs, all about the benefits of having a comprehensive coaching model in early learning classrooms! I encourage your read the whole article yourself but a few highlights regarding the key areas of professionalism include:
Early Learning Coaching Collaboration: Child360 coaching supports focus first and foremost on a relationship-based approach that emphasizes teaching strengths by asking questions such as, “What changes would be helpful in a given situation?”
Early Learning Coaching for Continuous Professional Learning: Coaches reported observing that teachers improved instructional and behavioral strategies that were collaboratively work on such as “increasing their ‘why’ questions, the teachers engaged the children further by having them analyze and reason their comments and ideas more deeply” and “I was able to work with _____ [teacher’s name] on supporting students with aggressive behaviors with strategies…that included helping the teacher practice mindfulness to remain calm.”
Early Learning Coaching with Honesty and Integrity: The Child360 requires coaches to have six core competencies that are aligned with foundational theories and core values: resourcefulness, professionalism, building relationships, facilitation of learning, clear communication, and reflective practice.
Carl Jung said, “If there is anything that we wish to change in a child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.”
Coaching and Collaborative Learning goes to the HEART of our PROFESSIONALISM as Early Learning Educators! It supports the reflective practice and dialogue that we ALL need to be able to better examine our impact on our young learners.
Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!
Action Plan adapted from Cult of Pedagogy’s The Gut-Level Teacher Reflection Tool
Use the planning tool below to begin 2020 by celebrating “What’s Working for Early Learning” in your classroom as well as concentrating on your next steps in your professional practice. Consider these five early learning ESSENTIAL teaching areas, using the templates that are provided in the planning tool, to determine what in you practice gives off positive feelings (+), presents growth opportunities (Δ), or might even be an area of challenge for you and your kiddos right now (–).
(PLEASE NOTE: This planning tool was used in the May 2019 Blog. It is a great professional planning tool to self-assess/reflect on your current teaching impact OR reconnect to goals that you might have made during the summer or at the beginning of the school year.)
Now that you have taken stock of your teaching/learning approach, determine some priorities and action steps for the upcoming months! For each of the key five areas documented here, identify one or two priorities with aligned next steps. They may be positives into which you want to put more energy, negatives you want to correct, or ambiguities that need more investigation. Then, jot down a concrete plan to address each priority in the action planning template below. Think big, develop specific steps and have fun imagining what these priorities can “look and sound like” for you and your students in 2020 ☺!
So…what are your BIG 2020 RESOLUTIONS for your students AND yourself?!!!
Alternative to 2020 Teaching Resolution Action Planning…
If the above approach is just a little too much, consider choosing JUST ONE of the Pk-3 teaching areas listed above and go to https://pk3teachleadgrow.org/resource-downloads/. Download the template, Finding the Right Path for You on Pk-3 Teach Lead Grow. Develop a do-able approach to making your 2020 Teaching sparkle with lots of student learning!
December is often seen has a time of “Ho! Ho! Ho! Happiness” in early learning that includes stories, activities, treats and even gift-giving. One of the BIGGEST and ENDURING gifts that early learning educators can give their learners (and families) is to commit to culturally responsive teaching as a daily practice! Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain defines culturally responsive teaching as, “An educator’s ability to recognize students’ cultural display of learning and meaning making and respond positively and constructively with teaching moves that use cultural knowledge as a scaffold to connect what the student knows to new concepts and content in order to promote effective information processing. All the while, the educator understands the importance of being in relationship and having a social-emotional connection to the student in order to create a safe space for learning.” (p. 15)
Let’s look at how The Framework for Teaching focuses on this critical aspect of teaching through the use of Common Themes. The Framework’s Common Themes and their implications are essential to supporting each child’s early learning success!
FIRST THEME: EQUITY
Equity is the primary Common Theme and is supported by the others. Teachers strive for excellence, but “a commitment to excellence is not complete without a commitment to equity.” Each student deserves access to world-class teaching and to learning environments that promote joyful inquiry, intellectual rigor, and reflection.
SECOND THEME: CULTURAL COMPETENCE
Culturally competent teachers create culturally responsive and inclusive learning environments that move beyond surface level attention to cultural differences and foster a sense of belonging by embracing and giving power to diverse points of view.
THIRD THEME: HIGH EXPECTATIONS
Excellent teachers hold and communicate high expectations and ensure access to rigorous content for all students. Teachers also demonstrate high expectations by encouraging productive struggle and tenacity.
FOURTH THEME: DEVELOPMENTAL APPROPRIATENESS
Learners do the learning, and excellent teachers understand the cognitive and social-emotional development of students in ways that support their creation of appropriate learning environments and opportunities.
FIFTH THEME: ATTENTION TO INDIVIDUAL STUDENTS
Classrooms are comprised of individuals with unique characteristics and needs. For this reason, excellent teachers ensure that goals and tasks have the potential to challenge students at different levels and with different needs.
SIXTH THEME: STUDENT ASSUMPTION OF RESPONSIBILITY
Excellent teachers create the conditions for students to assume responsibility for their own learning. Student agency may be fostered through a variety of different school models and instructional approaches but is essential to successful teaching and learning.
Now, let’s consider “unwrapping” gifts for culturally responsive teaching in early learning through some resources aligned to the Common Themes of The Framework for Teaching:
First Gift: PK3TeachLeadGrow.org Videos and Resources for Culturally Responsive Teaching
- Theme of Equity can be seen through the classroom’s environment and learning activities that are all student-developed and facilitated through a literacy-rich, thematic-based approach
- Theme of Cultural Competence is supported through morning meetings that foster a shared belief in the importance of learning, social acceptance and positive interactions
- Theme of High Expectations encourage students’ Plan-Do-Review learning plans that can be personalized, often starting orally and then moving to include drawing and writing
- Theme of Developmental Appropriateness can be seen in these teaching vignettes that focus on accountable talk and high expectations for “just right” learning challenges
- Theme of Attention to Individual Students is fostered through a learning structure that 1) supports student ownership of classroom routines, 2) individual student choice, 3) independent and student-to-student ownership of learning, and 4) large group adaptations through alternative seating, student-interest aligned activities, and adapted language supports
- Theme of Student Assumption of Responsibility is modeled through teacher-student interactions regarding high quality work and the teacher’s perseverance in supporting students to productively struggle in important learning
This article provides five culturally responsive core strategies to promote positive teacher relationships with young children in preschool and minimize challenging behavior: learn about children and families, develop and teach expectations, take the child’s perspective, teach and model empathy, and use group times to discuss conflict.
This is Zaretta Hammond’s website where we can get answers to our collective and individual questions about how we can help students become confident and competent learners. In this space, Zaretta wants to highlight what she is learning from being out in schools and classrooms with teachers who are successful with diverse students. She provides everyday strategies and practices that can easily be put into different classrooms to be more culturally responsive.
In the first post of the series on Culturally Responsive Teaching, educator Lindsay Barrett shares ideas for read alouds that build relationships in Early Learning that honor and respect students’ experiences as well as introduce children to diverse authors and illustrators. Examples of some of these read alouds include Quinito Day and Night and Quinito’s Neighborhood which portray a large Spanish-speaking family living in an urban setting. Moony Luna tells how parents comfort a young Latino girl who is nervous about starting school. My Steps recounts an African American girl’s experiences on her front stoop in different seasons.
(A Research Policy Brief produced by the National Council of Teachers of English)
This policy brief is definitely worth our time and attention. It focuses on “creating a space and open dialogue around the issues related to fairness, opportunity and every child’s right to participate in equitable early childhood practices”. This document is hyperlinked to other research briefs that expand upon the following subsections: High Quality Culturally Responsive Early Childhood Teachers, Strength-Based Views of Children and Their Languages, Racial Equity and Anti-Racist Teaching in Early Childhood Education, Children’s Right to the Language, Access to Diverse Books, Playful Explorations, and A Shift from Readiness to Learning.
Last Gift…Paulo Freire wrote in his seminal book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
What a GIFT of transformation we could give our youngest learners through Culturally Responsive Teaching…!
Happy Holidays and Connect soon in 2020!!!
Wow! What was that?!!! August to November…start of school with so many new and challenging_____ (fill in the blank)! Teaching the “wee ones” can leave many early learning educators with very little energy in the teaching tank. With teaching being a profession that loses 50 percent of its workforce in the first five years of their careers, it would be an understatement to say teaching is challenging. It traps us in small rooms with an unpredictable assortment of personalities, energies, and needs. It forces us to make hundreds of small, exhausting decisions every day. And over and over again, it puts us in predicaments that test our confidence, wear out our patience, and break our hearts. You can learn all the techniques, plan outstanding lessons, and set up a water-tight classroom management system, but to do this work and stick with it long enough to get good at it, you need a level of emotional resilience most other jobs will never require. This month we are going to take a DEEP BREATHE (my personal favorite is 1 minute Triangle Breathing) and focus on self-care.
Below are ideas and resources focused on helping us to not only survive BUT thrive in our amazing profession. Find a comfortable place to settle in, a favorite beverage of choice, skim through these possibilities of self-care and find a “just right” for you!
Pair a Self-Care New Habit with a Regular Routine: In this Cult of Pedagogy interview (with resources): Why is it so hard for teachers to take care of themselves, teacher/author/blogger Jennifer Gonzalez interviews Angela Watson. Angela has spent the last few years really focusing in on how teachers use their time and searches for finding solutions to help them find work/life balance. About a year and a half ago she started the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club, a year-long program that provides resources, support, and community to teachers who are committed to getting out of survival mode and living a balanced life. Over 10,000 teachers have already joined the club and are seeing incredible results in their own lives.
One of the simple, yet powerful strategies that she suggests to all educators is to pair a new self-care habit with a regular routine, so that the self-care habit becomes automatic. This is a really powerful principle that is based heavily on neuroscience, where you can pair a new habit with an existing habit to make it easier to lock that new habit into place. The idea is that you should look for something that you already do automatically and integrate self-care into that.
Watson give these examples: “When you get in the car in the morning to drive to school, you put on your favorite song that uplifts and inspires you. Or, when you brush your teeth, that’s something that hardly anyone has to think about, right? You just do that automatically. When you brush your teeth, you will think of words of affirmation and repeat positive thoughts about your day. Whatever it is, do the same thing, time after time, and it will create this almost Pavlovian kind of response. Pairing up habits in this kind of way is really powerful, because you’re relying on the strength of an existing habit to make that new habit automatic, and it’s a lot easier than relying on willpower or trying to make a decision, should I do, or should I not do it? When am I going to take care of myself, when will I have time for this today? You’ll follow through a lot more easily with your self-care goals if it’s part of a habit.”
November is the month to “Be Here Now”: Elena Aguilar, educator/instructional coach/author has developed a month-by-month “resiliency resource” call Onward. Onwardthebook.com is the companion website to Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar, published by Wiley. Both the book and this site (which has MANY free and useful resources) are dedicated to helping people cultivate resilience:
- uncover their true selves
- better understand their emotions
- use their energy where it counts
- adopt a mindful, story-telling approach to communication and community building
- create an environment of collective celebration.
As Elena Aguilar shares “It’s really hard to build community or to cultivate compassion or be a learner—some of the other habits—when you’re just sick, when you’re worn out!”
Want to Build a Self-Care Backpack: Teaching Channel, in their teaching back-to-school kits, has included self-care as one of the top things that we MUST put in our teaching backpacks. There are MANY great ideas of how to go deeper or reboot your own self-care. My favorite as an early learning educator resolves around being “playful” as an adult… “Plan for fun: How will you bring joy to your classroom and beyond every day?”
Yoga for Teachers with Adriene: If you have never done yoga or have not discovered Adriene as a yoga teacher (free on YouTube), this 30 min yoga practice is a special sequence for teachers. This practice is about taking care of yourself, recharging your batteries, nourishing that special you. Who knows, yoga may be that “just right” self-care habit that you have been looking for! Be well, wise, and wonderful this month my fellow friends in early learning 🙂 !!!
Parent-Teacher Conferences are just around the corner! Although the ability of families to participate in their child’s learning at school varies widely, it is a KEY RESPONSIBILITY in early learning for educators to provide opportunities for families to understand both the instructional program and their child’s progress.
Teaching staff establish and strengthen relationships with families by 1) communicating with them about the instructional program, 2) conferring with them about individual student learning progress, and 3) inviting them to be a part of the educational process itself.
Before we consider “what works” in supporting family communication during in these early years, let’s take a look at how The Framework for Teaching focuses on this critical aspect of teaching in 4c: Communicating with Families.
The elements of 4c: Communicating with Families are:
- Information about the instructional program. The teacher frequently provides information to families about the instructional program
- Information about individual students. The teacher frequently provides information to families about students’ individual progress.
- Engagement of families in the instructional program. The teacher frequently and successfully offers engagement opportunities to families so that they can participate in the learning activities.
The Indicators of 4c: Communicating with Families include:
- Frequent and culturally appropriate information sent home regarding the instructional program and student progress
- Two-way communication between the teacher and families
- Frequent opportunities for families to engage in the learning process
Want to add some different tools for enhancing your 4c: Communicating with Families to your Teaching Toolkit? Here are a variety of approaches and resources to consider:
Example 1: Early Learning DEEP Family Involvement
In this family-teacher conversation, (which is a follow-up to a recent parent conference), one of Sophia and June’s families share the changes that they have seen in their child since coming to the center at age two, when he was not talking, to now at age four being on target to go into a regular Kindergarten classroom without additional learning supports. Special family learning supports that are emphasized in the conversation include:
- Weekly Family Letter with Family Feedback Form (both in English and Spanish)
- Monthly Family “Look Aheads” Newsletter
- Welcome to Our Classroom Letter from Ms Sophia and Ms June
- Invitation to Family Involvement Events
- Family Communication Travel Folder
PLUS take a look at how Sophia keeps track of family feedback week-by-week:
- Example of Sophia’s Weekly Journaling of Family Feedback from newsletter/notes
Example 2: Technology Enhanced Student-Family Communication
In Valeksa’s Parent Connection, one of Valeska’s students share how she and the other students in the class communicate learning progress using a technology tool called See Saw (an IPAD-based, video student learning portfolio platform). Take a look at how this first grader captures, narrates and sends her learning progress to her family in “real learning time” in order to provide opportunities for her family to engage in her learning progress.
Example 3: Preparing for Family Conferences in the Early Learning Grades
This tip sheet, developed by the Global Family Research Project, Harvard University, outlines what principals, teachers, and parents can do to better prepare for and make the most of parent-teacher conferences. These meetings, usually held in the fall, are just one part of successful family engagement programs, which also include working with parents as partners in understanding data related to their children’s progress—both in and out of school. Take a look and see how you might use this resource to form stronger connections with the families in your school.
Example 4: Early Elementary Family-Teacher Shared AND Student-Led Conferences
In this family-teacher conference, Kaia, the student, and Mr Frankel, the teacher, co-conference about learning goals that she has mastered and how she is setting new goals in math and reading. Mr Frankel prompts Kaia to share her thinking with her parents not only about “what” new goals she is setting but also “why” these goals are just right to continue to support her learning growth. The Student Learning Goal documentation that was used in the parent conference includes 1) Kaia’s Personalized Learning Plan (p1); 2) Student Goal Setting Worksheet (p. 2); and 3) NWEA Map Student Progress Report (p3)
If your school/district requires student-led conferences OR you just want to organize your Parent conferences in this manner, here are really helpful resources:
- Student-Led Conferences: Resources for Educators via Edutopia
- Best Practices for Student-Led Conferences via Edmentum
- The Student-Led Parent-Teacher Conference via Shmoop
- When Students Lead Parent-Teacher Conferences via ASCD’s Educational Leadership
- A Step-by-Step Plan for Student-Led Conferences at the Elementary Level via Teaching Channel
Last thought…4c is ALL about communicating to engage families in the student learning process. What is your approach? . How will you define family communication this year?
As the new school year begins there IS SO MUCH that we want our students to learn. Teachers being very clear in their planning and delivery of learning concepts regarding what we want our children to understand and what we want our students to be able to do OR having TEACHING CLARITY is essential.
Teaching Clarity: What is it AND why do we want it in early learning?
Eminent educator and researcher, John Hattie (author of Visible Learning) spent more than 15 years researching the influences on learning of PreK-12 children. His findings linked student learning to several highly effective teaching practices with one of the best being Teaching Clarity. One way of providing clarity to young children is to use visuals during instruction. For example, when discussing important learning concepts, the teacher should refer to a posted visual or interactive chart that illustrates key learning concept. When discussing the key concepts in a book after a read aloud, the teacher could use visuals, songs, or rhymes to support and extend children’s understanding (e.g., by drawing pictures of the different characters or using “anchor” songs or chants).
The FIVE priorities of planning and delivering learning with Teacher Clarity include:
- Being clear about what you want your students to know and be able to do.
- What do you deeply want your students to understand? What do you want your students to be able to do? Remember, less is best!
- Clearly explaining new content to students.
- Activate the learning with visuals, books, songs, interactive stories etc.
- Clearly demonstrating skills and processes that you expect students to do.
- Give students multiple learning “looks like” and “sounds like” experiences in large group that students can extend in flexible and personalized ways.
- Give students practice tasks clearly focused on what you want them to know and be able to do.
- Purposefully link new content/concepts to multiple learning opportunities in small group and purposeful play in center time.
- Checking that students have a clear understanding of the new learning concepts.
- Observe/document, ask questions, and provide feedback to students during the learning process. Use student feedback “data” to make adjustments in your instructional approach and learning support!
Want to check on your own Teaching Clarity?
NAEYC provides 10 Effective Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) Instructional Strategies to help early learning educators check on how clear we are being in our instruction using flexible, learner-centered approaches. BONUS: This link also provides a cool, easy-to-use downloadable infographic that could be a great individual teaching or collaborative reference tool! Check it out!
Want to see Teaching Clarity “in action”?
Watch some of your fellow practitioners bring big learning concepts to life with their students in Prek through third grade at Pk3teachleadgrow.org.
Erika Christakis, a former faculty member of the Yale Child Study Center and the author of the best-selling book The Importance of Being Little: What Young Children Really Need from Grownups, sums up the importance of providing Teaching Clarity in our teaching of young children, “…it’s crucial to keep in mind that intentional, attuned teaching is the opposite of a free-for-all where children are running the show. Quality preschool teachers are intentional about everything they do: instructional approaches, the classroom routines, the physical environment, the schedule, the types of materials they make available for children to explore and manipulate. These teachers do an extraordinary amount of observation and reflection—and it’s really almost impossible to do that in a vacuum: the best preschools have collegial, inquiry-based cultures so that they can continually experiment with and modify their learning environments to take advantage of children’s natural curiosity.” (taken from Edutopia interview with Erika Christakis titled What’s Lost When We Rush Kids Through Childhood).
Welcome TO or BACK to Pk3TeachLeadGrow! One of the first and most important messages that we can share with our Early Learning Families and Students is one of “Welcome”! There are many ways to “roll out the welcome mat” to build those first positive interactions and learning moments. Take a look and find what is “just right” for you :)!
Let’s start with First Things First…Setting up the Learning Environment to say “Hi”! Look around your classroom. What parts of your room represent the culture and interests of your families/students? How might you organize furniture, materials, supplies and other resources for easy student access so that they can start to make the learning environment their own? Need some ideas? Take a look at Pk3TeachLeadGrow.org’s Learning Environment Videos and ECERS-R aligned Learning Environment Quick Notes.
Want additional ideas for saying “Welcome”? Consider any and all of these amazing resources compiled by Mildred Agallo from The Center for the Study of Educational Policy, Illinois State University (Thanks Mildred!!!)…
Schools can use a variety of strategies to get to know immigrant families and let them know they are welcome in the school community. Sharing these messages of support during times of uncertainty can strengthen relationships, make communication and problem-solving more effective, and impact student attendance and family engagement.
While the primary training of a childcare professional appropriately focuses on the safety and education of young children, often too little attention is paid to the role of parents and family members—both as active participants and as part of the daily curriculum—in the early childhood classroom. After all, often the very reason that children are being cared for outside the home is because parents are at work (and therefore busy) or desire an outside social and learning experience for their children. However, it is critical to remember that parents are the “experts” on their own children and their presence, personally and through daily play and projects, should be viewed as a critical part of a child’s success. It is very important that families take a central role, and this can be encouraged by the attitude of the childcare professional and the curriculum used in the classroom.
Nothing beats a smile as a welcome mat. Greeting children and parents at the door with a smile and a word of welcome at the start of the day, and a similar farewell at dismissal is powerful. A few supportive words at drop-off or pick-up builds relationships that make parents more open to joint problem solving if attendance issues arise. While a welcoming first impression helps all students, it is vital for helping the most vulnerable students feel safe and supported, especially if they are in an unfamiliar school setting.
Families play a critical role in preparing their children for success, and our goal is to actively engage with parents for the benefit of the child and the family. Early Connections Learning Centers build strong partnerships with you from your first visit and enrollment, through your child’s early learning experiences and facilitate a smooth transition to school. Each family receives a comprehensive orientation about our program and services from our enrollment staff and a personal introduction to the center director and classroom teacher. The center director or teacher continues the orientation process and, with you, set goals for each child. Two home visits and two parent/teacher conferences take place annually enabling teachers to learn more about each individual child, share information regarding each child’s progress and to set new goals with you for your child.
The goal of parent and family engagement is to work with families to build strong and effective partnerships that can help children and families thrive. These partnerships are grounded in positive, ongoing, and goal-oriented relationships with families. The relationships are based on mutual respect and trust. They are also developed over time, through a series of interactions between staff and families. Successful relationships focus on families’ strengths. They build on a shared commitment to the child’s well-being and success. As relationships between staff and families grow stronger, mutually respectful partnerships are built. Strong partnerships with families contribute to positive and lasting change for families and children. Explore these resources to learn strategies to strengthen relationships with families.
Administrators and teachers in early childhood programs often acknowledge the importance of building relationships with children and their families; however, the act of building respectful, mutual partnerships does not happen by accident. “I’d like to share a personal story with you which captures why I–as an early childhood educator and a grandmother–value genuine family engagement . . .”
Best of new beginnings with your families and students! Welcome from Pk3TeachLeadGrow.org to a GREAT start of the 2019-2020 School Year 🙂!
BREAKING NEWS!!! Pk3TeachLeadGrow.org just added 30+ new videos with aligned resources and strategies that feature MANY different early childhood settings but all focus on high levels of learning impact! Use these new resources as you are…
BREAKING NEWS!!! Pk3TeachLeadGrow.org just added 30+ new videos with
aligned resources and strategies! These new videos/resources provide MANY different early learning ideas to consider AND they all focus on high levels of learning impact! Check them out!
AND BEFORE YOU LEAVE for THE SUMMER…Take time to take stock of FIVE teaching priorities. Reflect and connect to what happened for you and your students this year. This Celebrating & Concentrating Professional Planning Tool is just what you need to end this year on a learning high note and be ready to start next year with a plan of action!
Have a great summer! Connect back in August where there will be even more tools for your Early Learning teaching and leading success!
I am writing this blog around 7:00pm having just finished dinner BUT still a little bit hungry for something sweet. One of my favorite go-to sweet fixes is the little but mighty M & M. There are lots of things to love about M & M’s like 1) a handful of these sweet little chocolate darlings can be just right, 2) they come in all kinds of flavors so I can have peanut one day, pretzel the next, and even mint flavor after that, and 3) as the slogan says, “They melt in your mouth, not in your hand” (unless you are in Las Vegas during July…but I digress). As you can tell, I love candy M & Ms. Let’s expand this love of M & Ms into thinking about formative assessments/feedback for early learning.
NAEYC shares that “assessing children, which includes observing them and closely considering their work, is key for teachers in their efforts to get to know each child and his or her abilities and needs…[teachers] assess in order to
- Monitor children’s development and learning,
- Guide our planning and decision making
- Identify children who might benefit from special services or supports, and report and communicate with others (McAfee, Leong, & Bodrova 2004)
The M & M Factor can help us to get formative assessments “just right” for early learners. The first M stands for Meaningful. Formative assessments need to focus on important learning that can be captured through ongoing interactions and observations of our students. The second M stands for Manageable. Assessments should be simple in design, easy to use, and adaptable to different needs of students.
Let’s look at different ways that the M & M Factor works in early learning classrooms…
In this Blended PreK classroom, Amy Haffner is using data “look for” sheets to observe how students put their small group learning concepts and language into independent or peer play during Center time. What makes these “look for” data sheets MEANINGFUL is that they are aligned to the district/state early learning standards. What makes them MANAGEABLE is that Amy uses just one or two learning indicators to “look-n-listen” for during any Center observation. She keeps her notes simple, focused with clear descriptions and verbatim statements. She also uses them to monitor learning progress over Fall, Winter and Spring!
Formative assessments is embedded into the instructional design of Martha Mancera’s Dual Language Kindergarten Classroom. In small groups or as an individual learning extension after a whole group language/science lesson, Martha is monitoring student learning through a variety of means, including specifically formulated questions, differentiated as needed to elicit evidence of student understanding. In the small group, running records are used to monitor and adjust instruction during the reading/thinking process.
After a whole group lesson, a writing extension gives Ms Mancera an opportunity to monitor and extend individual student learning through journal writing. Individual feedback is given on spelling words, key content, and questions that students have regarding the writing process. These assessments have the M & M Factor because they allow the teacher to be adjusting instruction in “real learning time” based on what she is observing and documenting.
One of the easiest and most powerful ways to add Meaningful & Manageable Assessments into your teaching is through focusing on the quality of your student feedback. Feedback is responding in personalized and purposeful ways to what children say and do that deepens their understanding or encourages them to persist in learning tasks or reach a deeper level of understanding. I often think about feedback as giving cues, clues, and questions that help students to keep thinking but DOES NOT give the “quick answer”. Here are some early learning M & M Feedback strategies/examples that you can put into practice tomorrow!
|Encouragement and Affirmation: Encouraging children and specifically praising the effort/process so they will keep trying to be success at challenging tasks.||*Recognition with name and descriptive action taken
*Reinforcement of positive action or effort
|Feedback Loops: Using conversations with children to increase their understanding; continuing these exchanges until children reach an understanding rather than stopping with a single clarifying comment||*Back-n-forth exchanges using key words with students is to reinforce receptive and expressive language
*Follow-up questions like “What did you discover? How did you do that? What was hard? How did you figure that out? What have you tried so far?
|Prompting Thought Processes: Asking children to explain why they thought or did something.||*What did you do first? Next?
*Tell me what you have tried.
*Tell me about…
|Scaffolding: Giving children hints or other help when they have trouble completing a task or understanding a concept.||*Have you tried _____? How did that work?
*Remember in our book what the ____ did? Could that help you too?
*Look at this picture on the chart. Use this to figure out what to do next.
|Providing Information (especially focusing on key vocabulary): Explaining things when children indicate they are confused; adding new information when children indicate they have a basic understanding||*Expansion of information/visual cues
*Clarification with examples or comparison
*Specific feedback with modeling or think aloud with picture clues
*Adapted from Teachstone Training, LLC 2018
Whether it is “look-n-listen for” data sheets, running records, formative feedback or ______ (fill in the blank), there are endless ways to make formative assessment more meaningful AND manageable. What formative assessments do you use on a regular basis that might have the “M & M factor”?
I am sure that we are ALL ready for spring…warmer weather, less snow/cold, spring flowers, more time to be outdoors! As educators we might also be ready for a little spring “design/instructional” cleaning! Time to take out tried-n-true as well as new and different units and add a new little twist or adaption here and there to increase learning engagement for our children. One of the best ways to spruce up our learning units and tasks is to design them through a gradual release approach. The gradual release approach (Fisher & Frey, 2008) has four key parts…I DO (teacher models learning priorities), WE DO (teacher and students do together), YOU DO TOGETHER (students work together to extend/personalize learning and teacher supports as needed), and then finally, YOU DO ALONE (individual student learning accountability). Let’s take a look at what each of these instructional features might look like through the early learning lens…
“I DO” usually happens in whole group, often referred to as a group meeting or circle time: During the “I do, the teacher supports class discussions, models vocabulary and key concepts, support making plans, and provides information and experiences that all the children need. In Kim Deering’s Kindergarten whole group time, the teacher has purposefully determined key questions during the read aloud on sticky notes to guide questions/discussion prompts that she uses with students to support key thinking skills.
“We DO” usually happens when the teacher is working with children in small groups: Teaching time spent with students in small groups greatly expands the opportunities for the teacher to observe and document student learning progress and to involve students in activities in a more personalized way. Teachers usually use this format for more focused experiences, perhaps introducing a new skill or concept or engaging children in working on a problem or applying a concept already introduced. In Amy Haffner’s blended PreK Classroom, six students are working with the teacher in a small group to focus on a key learning goal: Science Standard CC. Experimenting, predicting, and drawing conclusions: 11.A.ECc Plan and carry out simple investigations. In this small group lesson, the
- Teacher is initiating new skills, experience, idea, use of material, with the scaffolding within the activity to maximize each child’s learning.
- Teacher and assistant have a consistent group to maximize knowledge of students in order to differentiate instruction and scaffold learning.
- Every child has their own materials, experimenting and working at their level, with the teacher differentiating the support.
“You DO together” and “You DO alone” are usually intertwined in play-rich learning centers: At the preschool and kindergarten levels, part of the classroom is typically divided into learning centers, or interest areas that offer children a range of options for engagement. The play that takes place in these centers such as blocks and dramatic play is vital to children’s learning and development. For each center, the teacher carefully selects materials and activities to support educational goals. The teacher also makes a point of observing what children are doing in each center, in order to guide later planning. In Zahidee Marcano’s dual language Kindergarten classroom, you will see learning centers “in action” where students apply their knowledge and productively work with other students to build fluency and flexibility in key learning concepts. The teacher uses this time to work individually to support students while the other students get to customize their learning through a variety of modalities with their peers.
SPECIAL BONUS RESOURCE on the IMPORTANCE of PLAY: A key non-negotiable of well developed, engaging “We DO TOGETHER” learning centers is the essence of play. In play, children make choices, solve problems, converse, and negotiate. Edutopia recently published a very insightful article, “Key Aspects of Play in Early Education”. The article provides some important considerations for teachers on integrating play into early childhood learning environments AND could be a great resource to share with administrators, colleagues, and our families ☺!!!
So “spring into some new ideas” for engaging our children through the gradual release of teaching for deep, playful, wonderful early childhood learning ☺!