Learning in the Sandbox: Early Childhood at its Best

When my son Michael was little, he attended Playhouse, a progressive cooperative preschool.

There he was the most engaged when he was able to create an activity on his own.

One spring day, Michael brought a small plastic white leopard to school. During outdoor playground time, he developed a game where over and over again he would bury the leopard and then find it and dig it up. On his third round of “bury and excavate,” the leopard seemed to disappear. Michael grew more and more frustrated, especially when it was announced that it was time to go back into the classroom.

Authentic learning is messy, and it may involve expanded time for play, investigation, and reflection.

Rather than dismiss his concern, the teachers sat down with Michael and tried to understand his feelings and come up with a potential solution. Instead of digging around randomly in the sandbox, they asked him to think about what an archaeologist might do in this case. They shared that archaeologists often excavate to find things and that perhaps they could use a grid method to make the process easier. They turned a very difficult situation into a teachable moment, and they helped Michael to redirect his focus away from being frustrated to concentrating on making a grid out of the sandbox. The process was tedious, but the reward was enormous. Michael appreciated that his concerns were taken seriously and that the teachers were listening to him. It didn’t hurt that he found the leopard, too!

In early childhood classrooms, learning looks different than it does in elementary schools. The teachers understand that child-centered curriculum and instruction require an atmosphere where adults and children need to know one another well and develop trust.

An emergent curriculum reflects the values of caring and social change, encourages children to think critically about the world in which they live, and talk back to it. Teachers strive to create a classroom community that is a safe space where students not only can show support for one another, but also question and disrupt the norms of society and imagine a community that accepts others. This is a space where all children and teachers are valued and can speak freely, listen actively, dream, invent, and imagine.

Teachers understand that no two children are alike and therefore are open to the idea that the ways they approach a problem will differ. When students’ curiosity becomes the driving force of the curriculum, then the role of the teacher becomes one of coach, who provides materials, asks provocative questions, and encourages children to make decisions about their own learning.

Authentic learning is messy, and it may involve expanded time for play, investigation, and reflection. Ultimately, in a child-centered classroom, anything and everything has the potential to be explored.

Although we are aware of the importance and value of constructivist early childhood classrooms for all children, as Gallo-Fox and Cuccuini-Harmon point out in their article “The Non-Tested Years: Policy’s Impact on Early Childhood Curriculum,” standards and accountability policies continue to create tensions between early childhood and elementary curriculum, imposing teacher-directive approaches that focus on academic and test preparation, and significantly impact the voice and role of early childhood educators.

With an increased focus on academics, this shift has also increased the number of children at risk for failure due to poverty, race, or disability because their classroom behaviors do not align with school expectations. Gallo-Fox and Cuccuini-Harmon provide an insightful window into the constraints of policy on early childhood instruction and also the possibility of supporting rich learning environments that foster the success of all young learners.


Dr. Monica Taylor

Today’s blogger is Monica Taylor, a Professor at Montclair State University, Academic Editor of The Educational Forum, and author of Playhouse: Optimistic Stories of Real Hope for Families With Little Children (Garn Press, 2017). She comments on the recently published article “The Non-Tested Years: Policy’s Impact on Early Childhood Curriculum,” which appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through December 31, 2018.

 

Culturally Inclusive Celebrations: 3 Fun Alternatives To Holiday Parties

I was in my first year of teaching, and I loved decorating my classroom for the holidays. In December, with Christmas around the corner, I filled the classroom with holiday cheer. I purchased a small red and green fiberoptic tree and a Christmas tablecloth, and covered the table with wrapped gifts for the students. Christmas break approached, and I called up each student to receive his or her present. Lana’s gift sat on her desk, unopened. I asked, “Did you want to open your present?” I began to think, she must want to put it under her tree. My heart melted.

Lana came up to me after everyone had left and handed the gift back to me. I asked, “Why are you giving the gift back? Don’t you want it for your Christmas?” She replied, “Please, Ms. Evans. I am not allowed to have this present.” I was very confused. “Lana, this gift is from my heart and I could afford it, so don’t worry.” Lana shook her head and said, “Ms. Evans, I am a Jehovah’s Witness, and we don’t celebrate holidays.”

My experience was an awakening, challenging me to think about every student and the celebrations in our class. According to Berry (2010), “Because the United States has a traditionally strong Christian heritage, many communities have in the past been comfortable absorbing the holidays and traditions of that heritage” (p. 10). Our job as teachers is to ensure that everyone in our classroom feels respected as a contributor to the class environment (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2017) . Below are three ideas to consider for inclusive classrooms that have permission to celebrate holidays, specifically within the public school sector.

1. Celebrate “Character Days,” “Friendship Week,” or other school-wide festivities. Celebrating Character Week instead of Halloween avoids making students feel uncomfortable if they don’t wish to participate in Halloween celebrations.

A whole week with different themes gives students the opportunity to choose characters from favorite books, movies, or TV shows. One day can be historical characters, one day Dr. Seuss characters, one day favorite board or card game characters. The possibilities are endless. You can celebrate Friendship Week or Kindness Week instead of Valentine’s Day. Students can have secret pals, dress-up days, and a school kindness assembly. These alternatives avoid excluding students and the negative attention children may feel if they are unable to participate.

2. Celebrate seasons. Seasons are a part of science, and they involve miraculous changes that can stimulate engagement and learning throughout the year. Celebrating seasons instead of holidays is a great way to keep a positive and visually appealing classroom environment all year long.

I used a dynamic tree in my classroom that took up a massive amount of bulletin board space. In autumn, colorful leaves, acorns, pumpkins, scarecrows, and glitter were a hit. Winter had snowmen, snowflakes, and pine trees. In spring, I decorated with tissue blossoms, bunnies, flowers, and plants. Students’ projects connected directly to seasons and not the concurrent holidays.

3. Celebrate the diverse cultures of students and their families (Planning Ahead, 2016). Invite students to share what traditions and holidays they celebrate in their families. If you have a culturally diverse classroom, you should have an abundance of rich traditions to learn about. If your classroom is more homogeneous, encourage students to learn about their own ancestry or to explore the customs of a famous person’s ancestors (Lundgren & Lundy-Ponce, n.d.).

Remember that we as teachers have the power to make or break a student’s ability to succeed (“Culture in the classroom,” 2018). As I learned from my experience with Lana, discovering our students’ beliefs and customs creates the opportunity for us to celebrate with them in culturally appropriate ways. A medley of approaches can be taken to celebrate holidays; however, rendering a culturally competent and inclusive environment is imperative.

Children not only contribute to their classrooms, but also to their schools. With minority students now the majority in public schools (Hussar & Bailey, 2014), teachers must promote an understanding of various cultures and ensure that all students are represented.

Dr. Evans-Santiago is an Assistant Professor in the Teacher Education Department at California State University, Bakersfield. Her research focuses on culturally relevant pedagogy with an emphasis on LGBTQ issues in education, and on minimizing suspensions and expulsions of minority males.

This story is featured in the Winter 2018 issue of the New Teacher Advocate. If you are interested in receiving the print or digital version of this award-winning publication for preservice and new teachers, you can subscribe for less than $20 per year!

Resources
http://bit.ly/CharacterDayIdeas
http://bit.ly/CharacterDayEvent
http://bit.ly/CharacterDayLessonPlan
http://bit.ly/CulturallyResponsiveInstruction

References
– Berry, D. R. (2010). A not so merry Christmas: Dilemma for elementary school leaders. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 47(1), 10–13. Https://doi.org/10.1080/ 00228958.2010.10516553
– Culture in the classroom. (2018). [Teaching Tolerance website]. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance. org/culture-classroom
– Hussar, W. J., & Bailey, T. M. (2014). Projections of education statistics to 2022 (NCES 2014-051). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
– Lundgren, C., & Lundy-Ponce, G. (n.d.). Culturally responsive instruction for holiday and religious celebrations. Retrieved from http://www.Colorincolorado.org/article/culturally-responsiveinstruction- holiday-and-religious-celebrations
– National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2017). Anti-bias education: Holidays. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/content/ anti-bias-guide-holidays/december-holidays
– Planning ahead: December holidays in an inclusive classroom. (2016). Curriculum Review, 56(3), 11.

Are We Asking the Right Questions About Instructional Coaching?

David Knight, Ph.D.

Today’s blogger is David Knight, Associate Director of the Center for Education Research and Policy Studies and an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. His research focuses on economics of education and school finance. Follow David on Twitter @dsknight84. His co-authored article “Evaluation of Video-Based Instructional Coaching for Middle School Teachers: Evidence From a Multiple Baseline Study” appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

Is instructional coaching effective? Educational administrators are asking that question as they make important decisions about how to invest limited school resources in ways that drive improvement.

Some recent research suggests we might be asking the wrong question. A long list of studies identified highly successful coaching models, yet two large-scale randomized experiments [study 1, study 2] found that coaching had no significant impact on student achievement. A more appropriate question, then, might be, Under what circumstances, in what contexts, and for whom is coaching effective?

One way to answer that question is through design-based research, in which researchers and practitioners work together in partnership to study not only what works, but why.

In a recent study published in the October 2018 issue of The Educational Forum, my co-authors and I describe an evaluation of a video-based instructional coaching model where coaches video record collaborating teachers’ instruction. Teachers and coaches then review the tapes independently and then come together to co-construct a goal related to student outcomes. Coaches help teachers identify practical strategies for reaching those goals and tracking progress along the way.

This coaching model represents the culmination of a 2-year design-based research project where we made small improvements to the model over time, based on input from those actually implementing the model. We worked closely with instructional coaches on implementing a new approach to coaching that emphasized the use of video and teacher-led goal setting. During the first semester of implementation, we collected data and interviewed teachers and coaches. We presented our findings to the coaches, who provided additional feedback about their experiences implementing the model. Through this process, we agreed on changes to the model, implemented the coaching model with a new set of teachers, and continued this cycle.

The end result of this process was a coaching model that values the input of teachers, foregrounds the role of teacher-led goal setting, provides coaches with a set of evidence-based teaching strategies that serve as tools for reaching goals, and relies on video to support both data collection and teacher reflection.

In our study, we found that the coaching model led to significant changes in instructional practice, which, in turn, led to increases in student engagement in the classroom.

This type of research, referred to as design-based research or improvement science, comes in part from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools, and others, with support from the Institute of Education Science’s new research-practice partnership grants.

More than ever, researchers and policymakers are beginning to recognize that knowing what works in education is necessary, but not sufficient for leading continuous improvement. Like many educational programs, policies, or reforms, whether instructional coaching is effective will depend on context and local practices. If we continue to focus only on what works, we may lose a valuable opportunity to understand more deeply what drives continuous improvement in schools.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through November 30, 2018.

 

Host an Hour of Code Event in Six Steps

Dr. Megan Nickels

Drs. Megan Nickels and Laurie O. Campbell are Assistant Professors of STEM Education in the College of Education and Human Performance at the University of Central Florida.

The push to expose today’s students to computer science activities has quickly become a global priority, with high visibility events, such as the Hour of Code (this year: December 3–9, 2018), reaching nearly 400 million students since its 2013 launch.

Dr. Laurie Campbell

In addition to the many responsibilities you face as a new teacher, you are now expected to facilitate a subject for which you may have had little experience. Very likely, you may wonder: How can I plan to successfully implement computer science activities in my classroom?

The easiest entry into teaching computer science is to host an Hour of Code event. The Hour of Code is an annual event held each December during Computer Science Education Week that invites students of all ages to learn the basics of computer science through highly engaging tutorials on an array of themes such as Angry Birds, Star Wars, and Disney’s Moana. During the one-hour event, your students will use computers, tablets, or other devices to complete the tutorials using Blockly, the drag-and-drop programming language (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Getting Started

Begin planning for your Hour of Code event by trying a tutorial yourself. Visit the Disney-sponsored Hour of Code to try a tutorial. Once you have the opportunity to try one or more tutorials, you can decide which tutorial will best motivate and engage students during your event. With your chosen tutorial in mind, follow these steps to ensure a successful Hour of Code event.

  1. Plan the learning configuration that will meet the needs of your students.

*Tip- Groups of 2–3 work well for young children in grades K–5. Older students are more successful with 1–1 technology.

  1. Decide what devices your students will use and make arrangements to have them available during your event.
  2. Schedule a specific time for your event and let students know that they are part of a global initiative to learn how to code their world.
  3. Garner excitement by introducing famous coders like supermodel, Karlie Kloss, or NBA basketball player Chris Bosh through Hour of Code videos.
  4. Finally, give the students an opportunity to discover drag-and-drop coding at your first Hour of Code event!
  5. Once the students have completed the tutorial, debrief with them about their experience and introduce them to more advanced coding tutorials at code.org or other websites such as Scratch and Code Avengers.

General Tips

  • Provide children with information or explanation about the programming blocks or procedures specific to the task. Use phrases such as You can expect … You will see …
  • Provide an advanced organizer for students who may have trouble remembering or sequencing programming blocks.
  • Provide strategy cues for the end of tutorial challenges.

Resource

Nickels, M. (2016, June 27). How do we prepare teachers to teach coding? Retrieved from http://gettingsmart.com/2016/06/prepare-teachers-teach-coding/

 

 

Moving Beyond Figuring It Out on Your Own: Preparing and Developing Linguistically Responsive Teachers

Today’s blogger is Meghan Bratkovich, Doctoral Candidate in Teacher Education and Teacher Development at Montclair State University, a contributor to the special issue of The Educational Forum on linguistically diverse students. See this month’s free article from that issue of The Educational Forum.

“How did you learn how to do this?” 

I had just observed a high school math teacher, highly effective by about every formal and informal measure, teaching a lesson to a class of English language learners (ELLs). Due to a shortage of credentialed bilingual teachers, Mr. Erickson, a self-described monolingual, had been identified to teach a section of bilingual geometry. As much Spanish as English rattled around the classroom as students excitedly reasoned through the differences between lines and line segments, actively debating their way through the classwork.

Though little in his prior education or experience had prepared him for this task, Mr. Erickson was managing to teach geometry under these constraints, and teach it well.

“I don’t know, I guess I just figured it out on my own,” Mr. Erickson said, breathing a heavy sigh. “I don’t even know if it’s what I should be doing.”

“What if you hadn’t agreed to teach this class?” I asked.

“They’d probably be sitting at the back of some mainstream classroom, not understanding anything,” he replied.

Every school has its “Mr. Erickson” among the teachers who are willing to go above and beyond, the ones who will work with students with whom they can only imperfectly communicate—the teachers who always seem to make it work. We also probably know the other teachers—those Mr. Erickson referenced—who are so unsure of how to help a struggling ELL sitting at the back of their class that they do nothing, which is exactly what they’ve been or feel prepared to do. The teaching of ELLs is too important to fall solely on the shoulders of good teachers who feel un- or underprepared.

Teachers looking to build or improve their teaching of ELLs can see this special issue of The Educational Forum as their invitation into an established community of inquiry seeking to make sense of the complexity of teaching ELLs and strengthen teaching practices. The community shares knowledge and research geared toward helping teachers feel as prepared to respond to the needs of their language learner students as they feel to teach their content. Collectively, the reviews, studies, and commentaries in this issue point to the need for linguistically responsive teachers—those who can teach academic content in ways that are comprehensible while simultaneously attending to and furthering the development of students’ language skills.

Teachers beginning their journeys into teaching ELLs might be drawn to Athanases and Wong (2018), who offer evidence that can help teachers to tailor their practitioner inquiry, systematically study their students, and develop an asset-based orientation that fosters inclusive practice. Individuals seeking research-based ELL writing programs can look to Haas, Goldman, and Faltis (2018), who provide a deep dive into transdisciplinary best practices for writing at middle and high school levels.

Those looking to better understand the broad landscape of research on how teachers learn to teach ELLs can look to literature reviews from Villegas, SaizdeLaMora, Martin, and Mills (2018) and Lucas, Strom, Bratkovich, and Wnuk (2018). These reviews provide readers with a succinct synthesis of research studies conducted to date, condensing decades of research and helping to situate, contextualize, and explain the anecdotal experiences that teachers like Mr. Erickson live every day in their classrooms.

Lastly, de Jong, Naranjo, Li, and Ouzia (2018) provide pathways for teacher educators and teacher leaders to support teachers in building their confidence and competence around their ELL teaching practices. The authors emphasize that transforming education for ELLs necessitates preparing the preparers and inclusively brings teacher educators, administrators, and supervisors into the cultivation of a linguistically responsive approach to education.

It is vital that all teachers feel confident and competent teaching ELLs. However, no teacher should be forced to figure it out on their own, to needlessly reinvent the wheel, or to start from scratch. Students deserve better. Teachers deserve better. This special issue offers multiple entry points into conversations and communities striving for better, practical, and pervasive understandings of linguistically responsive teaching to ground teacher leaders and teacher educators, prepare and support teachers, and ultimately serve students.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the special issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through June 30, 2018.

Hey World, “We’re All Wonders”

Tapping in to Literacy Along With Some Tolerance and Respect

Frequently, books and films in popular culture and Hollywood spill over into the classroom, creating opportunities for conversations that might not otherwise happen. The 2012 book Wonder, written by R. J. Palacio, followed by the 2017 picture book We’re All Wonders, and the 2017 film adaptation are no exception. The story centers on a boy, Auggie, who was born with facial disfigurations from Treacher Collins syndrome (TCS).

This story, in the tradition of Dr. Seuss stories, engages all ages and therefore is relevant to the K–12 classroom. Given that it illustrates the worst and the best in people, the story provides opportunities for classroom learning and lessons on empathy. Wonder is perfect for counselors, and educators in family literacy, visual art, and reading at all levels.

Here are ways you can leverage the power of Wonder in your classroom.

Set up the message. Before exploring the narrative or the picture book, have students anticipate the story from the title. Talk about the word “wonder” and try to draw a picture of this word. Ask whether it is good to be “a wonder.” Children can discuss what it means to be “ordinary.” Would they choose to be “ordinary” or “different”? During read-aloud time, have students share how they react to insults or even whether they themselves talk about others, make gestures, or use expressions that hurt others’ feelings. Challenge younger children to draw and to talk about or share how they might “escape” being mocked. After the story, ask the children to draw or write a story about how they might “look with kindness … and find wonder.”

Discuss how illustrations can convey emotions. Early childhood teachers can explore how Palacio uses line art and painting to convey the “wonder” status of a “different” Auggie. Full-page illustrations in We’re All Wonders portray snapshots of Auggie’s life, doing ordinary things like riding his bicycle, eating ice cream, and playing ball. Small thumbnail portraits show the other kids who are different from him—and each other. A two-page spread, which features Auggie and his dog Daisy facing the ground because they are devastated by the looks and comments of other kids, conveys Auggie’s emotional pain. Another spread shows Auggie escaping ridicule by putting on his helmet and blasting off to Pluto to chat with other single-eyed beings, and demonstrating ways individuals retreat from insults. The illustrations show the power of imagination to overcome negativity. Palacio’s message, “The Earth is big enough for all kinds of people,” is universally communicated by the illustration of Auggie with his back to the reader gazing at a vast shining Earth from a galaxy perspective.

Focus on Auggie’s just right narrative voice. For early childhood teachers, use story hour to share the picture book illustrating Auggie wearing his helmet. Palacio crafts Auggie’s voice to the appropriate K–3 register. The take-away message is that, despite his youth, Auggie is aware that he is different and that others make fun of his differences. For his taunting peers, the word “wonder” is a negative. Auggie wants them to focus on their own differences. Were they to do that, they would include him as an integral part of their world of differences because everyone is different from others. Palacio has poignantly tapped the rich emotional core of Auggie’s message to the unfeeling universe of so-called normal adults and children.

Explore the concept of genre. For middle school students and beyond, Wonder offers a unique opportunity to reconnect them with a favorite book from their childhood. Challenge students to share a favorite picture book from when they were young and detail how picture books differ from the young adult and juvenile literature they now read. Have students anticipate how Palacio might reframe the story in various genres, including picture books. Once students anticipate the themes and images, have them review the work and compare their ideas with the print story. Explain how Palacio, an illustrator and author, decided to tell her Auggie story through the picture story book genre. Ask students whether they prefer the middle school level book Wonder or the picture book version, and have them explain why. Families and students in class can also sample read-alouds of the work: bit.ly/Wonder-ReadAloud or bit.ly/Wonder-ReadAloud2. These resources can inspire students to create their own read-alouds, including public domain music and special effects.

These are just a few ways you can use Wonder in your classroom. A powerful message with a hero who has fascinated millions of readers—and viewers—can transcend age and genre to touch a larger audience. Palacio has used “wonder” to change the way readers of all ages “picture” the wonders within themselves. Readers of every age can benefit from this recognition and bring a little bit more nice “wonder” into the world. How will you bring “wonder” into your classroom?

Dr. Rose Reissman is a veteran teacher educator who founded the Writing Institute now in 157 elementary schools nationwide. She is coauthor of Project-Based Literacy: Fun Literacy Projects for Powerful Common Core Learning (Information Age Publishing, 2016).

Five Reasons Your English Language Learners Should Be Using Adobe Spark

When I first started teaching English Language Learners (ELLs), the classroom was a very different place. I had a chalkboard and one teacher computer. Fast forward seventeen years and even on campuses with the most limited technology resources, I can piece together enough computers or iPads to provide my ELLs with engaging lessons using any number of apps and sites. One app my students and I have fallen in love with is Adobe Spark (https://spark.adobe.com).

Here are five reasons to use Adobe Spark in your classroom.

The ELPS or English Language Proficiency Standards in Texas require that our lessons address both receptive (reading and listening) and productive (writing and speaking) language skills for ELLs every day. With Adobe Spark, your students can record their own voices to narrate videos they create using images from the app’s built-in library. Students can listen to their own and other student’s video presentations without all of the pressure of standing up in front of a class.

Intrinsic motivation in language learning can be nurtured through activities that allow for authentic use of English with a specific audience in mind. Many students tell me that their first year in school was filled with frustration and isolation because they could not communicate their deepest thoughts and feelings to their teachers and peers. Adobe Spark allows students to tell their own stories using images, music, and their own spoken words.

Speaking a new language can be very difficult without ever speaking the language! That sounds obvious, but in my experience, I see ELLs go through entire school days without saying a single word in English. Some teachers shy away from calling on ELLs because they don’t want to put them on the spot. Adobe Spark allows students to take their time thinking about what they want to say and to record their words as many times as it takes to be happy with the quality. When we can lower students’ affective filters by taking away the pressure to perform on the spot, students will be more successful.

Differentiation is a must with our classrooms becoming more diverse each year. The number of ELLs in our classrooms and communities is consistently rising each year. As an ESL campus specialist, I see teachers struggling to meet the needs of their students when the range of ability levels in a single class can be vast. Adobe Spark makes student-driven storytelling accessible to all of your students.

Free and easy accounts make Adobe Spark an irresistible choice for the classroom. If your school is one of the many that has jumped on the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) bandwagon, your students can sign up by clicking the “Continue with Google” button. Once they agree to the terms of use, they are up and running immediately. Since students don’t go anywhere these days without their earbuds, most will already have a microphone to record in their own pocket or backpack!

The true beauty of Adobe Spark is that it can benefit and empower all your students, not just your ELLs. Using technology tools in your classroom is a great way to engage students who may otherwise tune out another teacher-centered lecture. Twenty-first century literacy skills go beyond traditional text and trade books, and we must define what counts as knowledge by modeling a respect for digital literacy in our classrooms. This tech tool allows for creativity in student work beyond what can be produced with the minimalist pencil and paper of yesterday’s classrooms. Our future leaders and active citizens must think creatively if they are going to find and solve the problems of tomorrow’s world. We as teachers must keep in mind that we are not preparing our students for the world we know today but for the future we want tomorrow.

Faith Kane is the campus ESL Specialist at McCollum High School. She is a technophile using technology to empower students in her ESL Reading classes.