By Nathan Pope
As a recent addition to the Clayton Research and Evaluation department, I wanted to share my perspective on the challenges and benefits of assessing young children. I am a data collector for the Evaluation of Program Options at Clayton Early Learning research study. My responsibilities include assessing preschool-aged children in the center-based and home-based program options. To assess these children, we are using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-4) and the Preschool Language Scales (PLS-5). These standardized assessments provide valuable information to parents, teachers, and other stakeholders about children’s receptive vocabulary.
The example below is a glimpse of what a day in the life of a data collector is like at Clayton Educare: To assess children one of the first things you need is to make sure you have all of your supplies. Supplies consist of: Testing kit- check. Test booklets in English and Spanish- check. Class rosters- check. Sharpened pencils with erasers- check. School Id- check. Stickers- (flowers, princesses, Sponge Bob, and Spiderman)- check. My hands were full with the bulky set of testing materials, and I felt like a traveling salesman selling an unpopular but necessary product as I walked the 100 yards across the parking lot from the Clayton House to the Educare School. The fall assessment season had begun, and I was ready to start assessing children!
At Educare, I was warmly welcomed by the people attending the Help Desk. At first the master schedule showed all the meeting rooms were occupied by other staff members and assessors, but after making a few calls they helped me find a quiet space where I could assess the children on my roster. After setting up my testing materials, I went to look for students to assess.
The first classroom I tried was empty since the class had gone for a nature walk to gather sticks and leaves for a project. In the second classroom, children were engaged in learning activities and naturalistic play and I felt bad interrupting them. I asked the teacher if ‘Maria’* was present and if this was a good time to work with her. The teacher told me that ‘Maria’ was no longer in that classroom, so I made a note to make sure that this information was updated in our records. Next I asked if ‘Markus’ was there, and unfortunately he was absent. Several other children asked if they could go with me, but since these kids didn’t have consent forms signed by their parents yet, I told them they would have to wait until they were on my list. Finally I asked if ‘Jamir’ was available and he was. What a relief to finally have a child to assess!
The teacher called ‘Jamir’ over and said, “Mr. Nathan wants to play games with you. When you’re done you will get a sticker!” I was relieved when ‘Jamir’ came over willingly and seemed excited to go ‘play games’ with me. I guess that kids play all kinds of games, and some are more exciting than others, so saying a word and identifying a picture that corresponds to it could loosely be considered a game too. As ‘Jamir’ and I walk down the hallway to the assessment space, I tried to build rapport by talking. We chatted about his striped green shirt and about his brothers and sister. When we arrived in the testing room, I gave the directions and we started the assessment. ‘Jamir’ was engaged in answering the questions, and didn’t seem to be too nervous about his efforts. During the middle of the assessment ‘Jamir’ sneezed and I helped him blow his nose, then we got back to work. Around twenty minutes after starting the test, he reached his ceiling score so we stopped testing and he chose a Sponge Bob sticker! I always want to help kids have a positive assessment experience, so I told him he knows how to answer lots of questions, and that he has the potential to do anything with his life. We returned to his classroom, and I started working with the next available child on my roster.
From my experience this fall, I have come to learn administering assessments to children requires lots of flexibility. At first, I assumed I would be able to show up at the school and do back-to-back testing, quickly finishing the kids on my roster. Now I know that testing takes much more time than anticipated due to logistics and human factors. There are many challenges such as verifying the student is in the correct classroom, finding students when they are attending class, arranging assessments to minimize interruptions to the classroom schedule, and encouraging kids to do their best work during the assessment.
Although there are many challenges to collecting data, the results are beneficial and worth the time and effort. The assessment results are used in ongoing data-driven discussions between teachers, mentor coaches, and assessors in order to ensure all of the goals and objectives of the program are met. The individual child results are also used to identify areas where teachers can provide additional instruction to the child during class time. The assessment results are also compiled and the evaluation report of the Educare Program is generated. Our annual evaluation report is used to inform private funders and other invested partners about the high quality of Clayton Educare and the resulting outcomes for our children.
As a member of the Research and Evaluation team, I want to thank all the people who are involved in the assessment process. Everyone has an important role, and together we tell the story of Clayton Educare. We value parents who allow us to assess their children to display the high quality work taking place in our classrooms. We value teachers who encourage kids to ‘go play games,’ and who utilize data to provide meaningful lesson plans. We value Child Family Educators who explain the goals of our research study to families to obtain consent to assess their children. Finally, we value the stakeholders who share our educational philosophy and fund our programs. Together, we generate information about children which can be used to identify areas of strength and areas of support. With this information we work together towards closing the achievement gap and providing the best opportunities for the children we serve. For all your hard work and support you deserve a sticker too!
*All names are fictitious to protect the identity of the individual.
By Whitney Rehr
Since 1987, October has been observed as Domestic Violence Awareness month. Having worked as a child advocate in a domestic violence shelter and as a women’s advocate for many years, it seemed to make sense to pen a few words on this issue both to educate and to empower. Starting the with the somber, here are a couple of statistics: Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten and every hour as many as 115 children are abused or beaten.1 Considering our time spent in the office, classroom, preschool or private home environment, this sobering data, unfortunately, spares none of us. Moving then into how this affects us as early childhood educators, I will share a work related story, of which I am sure we all have plenty. A few weeks ago my coworker returned from a child assessment at a preschool site and recounted how well it went, how adorable the child was, etc. She added that the child had a remarkable, uncovered burn on the back of his hand. The child reported it was from his mom’s curling iron. I was silent for a few moments and then asked how she felt about that. She answered with a question: “Should I call the school back and talk to the teacher about that?” We decided that it was a good idea and the right thing to do. At the very least, the wound could be tended to with some ointment and a band-aid. On a more serious note of intervention, the conversation could lead to further discussion and awareness around family dynamics and possible abuse in the home. Either way, it is a poignant example of heeding to the call of being responsible stewards for the health and well-being of the children and families with whom we interact. While professionally we are all mandated reporters, our charge to protect children and families as best we can is a duty around which we need to feel empowered. There are multitudes of resources available to us. Nationally and locally, domestic violence centers and hotlines are ready to serve. For quick reference in Denver, one can contact the SafeHouse Denver 24-hour hotline (information noted below). Of course we all wish for best case scenarios around a child’s “boo-boo”, mom’s sprained wrist or an older sibling’s black eye, but please maintain the courage to ask questions, to listen and to seek counsel both from professionals in the field and from each other. Our shared stories can bring us together and heal like nothing else. It takes a village to raise a child. We are that village.
Contact the SafeHouse Denver 24-hour hotline at: 303-318-9989
Or you can find them online at, http://www.safehouse-denver.org/
1 National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2012.
By Debbie Gray
In our fast-paced world we educators are concerned that children are no longer able to spend unhurried hours exploring our natural world. When I was a child, many of my fondest memories were playing outside for hours in nature with friends. Today’s children are not receiving the same unstructured experiences, and are disconnected from nature spending more and more time in an electronic world.
As educators we must be intentional with providing experiences outside for children to be able to slow down and develop a sense of wonder from our great outdoors. “Caring for simple things in nature- like caterpillars, flowers, and lady bugs- help children develop a sense of themselves as nurturers and as people who care. This sense of self contributes to a peaceful way of living- with self, with others, and with the natural world.” (Wilson, 2009) Providing environments rich in nature also supports creativity and problem solving. Studies conducted of children on playgrounds found that children engage in more creative forms of play in the green area. They also played more cooperatively (Bell and Dyment, 2006). Play in nature is especially important for developing capacities for creativity, problem solving, and math. In a recent case study conducted in 2011, Young children develop foundational skills through child initiated experiences in a Nature Explore Classroom, (Veselack, Chang, and Miller 2011) the findings showed interacting with natural materials, peers, and teachers provided children with many opportunities to develop early math skills. Children explored patterns, the attributes of objects, and shapes, as well as opportunities to measure and count. The math experiences were more meaningful to children because they used the math concepts naturally, in the context of their play.
Creating a nature-based outdoor environment can seem very overwhelming. One simple way to begin is by adding more experiences and activities for children while they are on the playground. I encourage teachers to stop thinking about outside time as just “recess” and to start thinking of your playground as an outdoor learning environment. Plan for outdoor learning with the same intention as you plan for indoor learning.
Fall in Colorado is my favorite season with beautiful colors all around us and pleasant temperatures. Autumn is a wonderful time to incorporate more science/nature activities outside. Here are a few easy suggestions to get your nature-based outdoor classrooms started:
- Add pumpkins for children to explore, carry, and roll. Carve one of the pumpkins so children can see the inside, and watch what happens to the inside over time.
- Make binoculars out of paper towel tubes and take the children on a nature walk, find different shapes in nature, listen to the sounds of nature: birds, squirrels, wind, or how leaves sound when you step on them.
- Add sticks in many different lengths for the children to explore. Incorporate math by comparing how the sizes of two small twigs can equal one larger twig. Count how many small twigs will be needed to add up to one large stick.
- Add leaves. Ask children to pick a leaf and then try to find another one that looks the same, then find leaves that look completely different.
- Create an area for children to do leaf-pounding. Add leaves, paper and hammers. Layer the leaves between the papers and discover what happens when the leaves release chlorophyll.
- Plant a tree
- Add small and large tree cookies for the children to explore, carry and stack.
- Get more in touch with trees by learning about the different parts of a tree, and feel the different textures. Make bark rubbings.
- Sort the seeds from trees such as acorns, walnuts or buckeyes.
As you spend more time exploring nature observe your children to see if they are calm, less distracted, and happy! Please share your favorite fall nature activity.
Resources to consider when creating your natural environment:
Project Learning Tree - www.plt.org
Arbor Day Foundation - www.arborday.org
Colorado Division of Wildlife - www.wildlife.state.co.us.education
Colorado Head Start - www.headstartbodystart.org
CPSC Playground Guidelines - www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pub/325.pdf
Bell AC, Dyment JE. (2006) Grounds for Action: Promoting Physical Activity through School Ground Greening in Canada. Toronto, Ontario: Evergreen; 2006. http://www.evergreen.ca/en/lg/lg-resources.html.
Veselack, E Cain-Chang, Miller D, 2011, Young Children develop foundational skills through child-initiated experiences in a Nature Explorer classroom: A single case study La Canada, California. Growing with Nature, 87
Wilson, R.A. 2009 The color of green: A “go” for peace education. Exchange Magazine, 31 (3): 40-43
Reading to children is considered one of the best activities for future success in developing language and literacy skills. Children’s experiences with books play an important role in preparing them to learn. Children who have been introduced to books and reading do much better in later development than children who are read to less frequently, whether it be from watching parents and siblings read for pleasure, reading aloud and creating their own stories with caregivers, or pointing to pictures in picture books and giving them a name. Children need to have their basic needs met for safety, food, shelter, and love. They also need the nourishment of books.
Children learn most from books when they are actively involved, through play, conversations, and from loving caregivers. Dialogic reading is designed to get children involved and enhance language and literacy skills. Dialogic reading is an interactive technique that encourages the child to become the storyteller over time. Instead of the parent reading the entire book cover to cover, conversations, or dialogues, are encouraged by using pictures in the story and the child’s imagination.
Dialogic reading is based upon three main techniques - asking "what" questions, asking open-ended questions, and expanding upon what the child says. These three techniques are designed to encourage children to talk more and give descriptions of what they see. Dialogic reading can be used for children of all ages but is most effective when a child has a greater amount of words for expressive vocabulary. Dialogic reading can also increase children’s vocabulary. For example, an engaged toddler having a simple back-and-forth exchange with a caregiver can learn about nine new words a day- that’s sixty three words per week!
Dialogic reading is a technique everyone can do-- it is simply children and adults having a conversation about a book. This type of interaction has derived from thousands of years of a specific human practice: oral storytelling. In many cultures still today, this is the predominant form of language and connecting the human experience. An oral storyteller does not use props, but makes use of language, facial expressions, gestures, body movements, and voice. Parents, caregivers and teachers can expand the storytelling experience by encouraging children to re-tell the story in their own way. Start with the characters in the story, but welcome the children’s ideas and let their imaginations guide them. Step back and enjoy as they recreate the story.
By Lynn Andrews
Only 27% of 8th and 12th graders in the U.S. scored proficient last year on a computerized writing test, according to a recent article in the Denver Post. Students who had regular access to computers, and particularly those who were able to use built-in editing tools like spell check, did the best. This makes sense, but it’s also been found that when students have access to computers in the classroom, they write more. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising given how much of our written communication these days happens through text messages, tweets, and e-mail – even for pre-teens.
But has this technology really helped children learn how to write? A 27% proficiency rate is pretty dismal. Our desire to be efficient and trendy and for “instant messaging” doesn’t lend itself to high quality writing. I have to admit I have a bias as someone who would rather read an elegantly written novel than watch a You-Tube video, but when there are radio ads quoting business leaders who say they can’t find job candidates who can communicate effectively with customers in writing, we have a serious problem. There are wider implications. How much does our ability to write reflect our ability to think – to generate and organize ideas into a coherent and logical whole? If we can’t do that, we can’t invent new solutions to problems, or negotiate conflicts, or change attitudes, or teach.
I’m sure that if it doesn’t already exist, we will soon have technology that really can help students learn how to write well. Even then, for technology to be an effective teaching tool for writing, we would need to address the technology gap that still exists between affluent and poor schools and families. And, as Kathleen Yancey from Florida State University states in the Denver Post article, “Digital technology is a technology. Paper and pencil is a technology. If technology were the answer, it would be pretty simple.”
For those of us in early childhood education, there truly are very simple, low-tech strategies to help children learn how to think, and eventually, how to write. Rich conversations with children and interactive reading can greatly increase children’s oral language skills that are precursors to writing skills. Stringing words together to make full sentences using correct syntax and grammar, and assembling sentences together to make paragraphs that describe and explain and sequence ideas, provides children with models both to think and to communicate. Asking children questions that encourage them to reason things out and to talk about their ideas lays the foundation for organizing thoughts in writing. Seeing words organized in print helps them make the connection between the spoken and written word. And then, of course, encouraging young children to “write” their thoughts using pencil and paper further develops these skills and a comfort level with written expression. I am amazed at how capable children as young as three years old can be in using computers, but let’s not forget what they have to learn to communicate effectively with human beings.