By Peter Blank
Lorrel Esterbrook, Mentor Coach for Family Engagement at Clayton Early Learning, has years of experience working with various center and family based programs. In addition to overseeing the Play and Learn programs here at Clayton, she has a wealth of knowledge about the HIPPY program (read more about HIPPY here). She recently transformed this wealth of knowledge into a published story book rooted in the HIPPY curriculum, "What I Saw". I asked Lorrel about her experience in family engagement, her wonderful book, and life as a published author. The following is an edited version of our conversation.
PB: What drew you to a career in ECE and specifically home and family based instruction?
LE: While I was in college I started working for a community center in Denver’s Five Points/Curtis Park neighborhoods teaching art classes and job readiness skills to adolescents that were either already gang affiliated or at risk for drugs, violence, and gang affiliation. While doing that work the importance of family engagement became even more apparent to me. I also saw the critical role that programs like Head Start played in fostering parent engagement. Eventually I started working with a Head Start program and then I started working with a school based early childhood and family engagement program. That’s when I was introduced to home visiting. I was fortunate to work with a small but passionate team that was conducting home visits in three different languages to immigrant and refugee families from around the world. The families we served taught me about a wide range of wonderful family and parenting practices. Parents would sometimes ask me for “the right way” to parent their child. That broke my heart because it implied that they were in some way doing something wrong. My goal became honoring their cultural style of parenting while giving them a buffet of options they could try out as they learned the culture of their new home.
PB: When did you first get involved with the HIPPY program?
LE: As happens in our field, the grant for the ECE and parent engagement program I was working with ended. I stumbled upon a position as a HIPPY Coordinator for a county Head Start program. I knew HIPPY by name, but little else. Within a few days of accepting the position I was in Little Rock, Arkansas attending the HIPPY pre-service training for coordinators. By the end of the week I was hooked! HIPPY is rooted in some of my core beliefs. All parents want good things for their children. HIPPY strives to honor the parenting tools that families have already, and introduces them to new strategies to help their child learn and grow.
PB: You were a HIPPY coordinator for ten years and work as a National Trainer for HIPPY USA. How did you become involved with the program as an author?
LE: A few years ago the HIPPY curriculum underwent a major rewrite. That revision was led by a team from Clayton Early Learning including Michelle Mackin-Brown and Jan Hommes. My decision to apply for a position at Clayton was influenced in part by the positive experience I had working with this curriculum development team. Several HIPPY sites were selected to pilot the new curriculum and the site I was working with was one of those. In that capacity I had an opportunity to provide feedback to the curriculum revision team and helped rewrite the coordinators manual for the model. I attended a curriculum meeting at the HIPPY USA 2014 Leadership Conference in Washington DC. During that meeting there was discussion about updating the story books for the curriculum. We were asked for our thoughts on what was needed for a new story and I had a lot to say and a lot of ideas. A few weeks later I got a call from HIPPY USA asking me if I would like to try putting all of my ideas into book form. I was thrilled with the idea and jumped right on the opportunity.
PB: What inspired you to write “What I Saw”?
LE: “What I Saw” is about a kindergartner named Tasha who is nervous about talking in front of the class during show and tell. The teacher Mrs. Hart has asked all of the children to bring pictures of animals they have seen. Mrs. Hart provides encouragement and opportunities for the children to expand their language and learning around animals like birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Mrs. Hart accepts each child where they are at, while giving them opportunities for growth. This leads Tasha to feel more comfortable talking.
I’m a huge animal and nature lover. When I was a kid I loved books about animals. I felt this was an opportunity to introduce some big vocabulary and science to preschool age children. I tried to pick a wide range of animals so that every child reading the book could identify with seeing at least one of those animals. But I also wanted to provide opportunities for children to be introduced to animals they might not have seen. I specifically chose the North American Wood Duck as one of the birds in the story. This type of duck was hugely important to me as a child and was considered endangered during the 1970’s. My family worked with and supported these ducks on our property as part of a species conservation plan. Because of the program my family participated in you can now see North American Wood Ducks living all over the country including Denver’s City Park.
All of the children in “What I Saw” are named and modeled after children in my own family and family friends. The teacher in the story is one of my HIPPY Mentors, Gayle Hart. Illustrator Debbie Clark, did an amazing job of portraying all of the characters. I wanted all of the children in my life to be able to look at the book and see a child that they could identify with on some level. Maybe they identify with a child because of the way they look, or they might identify with a personality trait, or the structure of the family.
PB: Why is it important that children have access to literature like this?
LE: There are three main points that stick out for me: First of all “What I Saw” is designed to prompt parents to talk with their children about the book. To ask children open ended questions. It models questions that parents can ask, it shows possible responses and how parents can build on their child’s response. Secondly it gives children an opportunity to learn some new big vocabulary in a very age appropriate manner. I love hearing children tell their parents “That’s a dog, it’s a mammal because it has fur”. Lastly, but maybe most important, I think it’s important for children to see themselves in the stories they read. As I said before, all of the children and the teacher are modeled on real people, people I love, respect and care about. Some of those individuals had expressed that they didn’t see people like them in children’s stories. I wanted to change that. I wanted those individuals to know how important they are and their unique qualities are to me.
PB: What advice would you give other education professionals who are interested in becoming authors?
LE: Have someone who can give you good honest and constructive feedback. Writing taps into your emotions. I put a lot of heart and soul into this story. Getting constructive criticism could have been a painful experience, but it wasn’t because the person in charge of filtering the feedback back to me took the time to honor and respect my feelings on my work. For every hour you spend writing you will probably spend ten hours thinking, researching, and problem solving. I think that might have been the biggest surprise to me. Children need to hear stories told from many perspectives and many voices. Add your unique voice and perspective to the world of children’s literature. Write about who and what you love.
PB: You are attending the upcoming HIPPY Leadership Conference next month. What is the focus of this conference? What is your role at this conference?
LE: The conference is held every other year and is an opportunity for HIPPY coordinators and staff to meet, engage in professional development and learn about new developments with the HIPPY model and curriculum. This year there will be a book signing event where some of the HIPPY authors and illustrators will be signing books for the conference participants. I will be co-presenting a workshop called “HIPPY Hacks”. We will be presenting and crowd sourcing ideas on how to save time, money, and sanity while running a HIPPY program.
You can find more information on the upcoming HIPPY Leadership Conference by following the link.
By now you almost certainly have seen plenty of commercials for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, heard the Star Wars theme song, read the latest updates about the movie stars, and probably went to a screening of the movie, maybe even a couple times! One way or another you will be touched by the Star Wars phenomena, and I’m no exception This pop culture trend sparked an interest in me to find a connection between Star Wars and my day to day work. No, I’m not a Jedi, nor can I fly an X-wing, but I am an early childhood professional specializing in infancy. So how do I connect my work with infants and Star Wars?
Infancy begins when a child comes out of the womb to when we celebrate their first year of life. Infancy, to me, is the proof of humanity, its existence. Infants never give up -- never! No matter how hard the challenge is to over-come, they never give up and strive to succeed at every task. Reflecting on the Star Wars universe, there are many instances where the various Jedi heroes struggle, just like our infants. As they develop from young Jedi trainees to Jedi masters, there are scenes where they crawl, hide, walk, run, and climb. This is what my students do as they learn to walk! First, they lay on their backs wondering what may come into their view. Then, they attempt to move from one side to another until they succeed to get on their tummies. Eventually being on their tummy is boring and they discover movement. Rocking back and forth, the crawl comes soon after. The final stage is the walk. When infants walk they soon run and then we officially welcome toddler-hood. Just like the Jedi in training in Star Wars, the infants in my classroom need a teacher to help overcome these obstacles, to encourage them to keep pushing past challenges. I may not be an Obi Wan Kenobi, but my encouragement and helpful nudges along the way allow for the young infants to learn and move from stage to stage.
Once a Jedi finishes their training, the real work begins. They begin to use the force and put their training to test in a world balanced between light and dark. A few weeks ago, one of my infants discovered a shadow cast by my co-worker. She carefully watched the shadow, eventually tried to touch it and noticed its disappearance. Other students joined and explored the shadow, comparing its shape to their personal shadows. The internal discovery of light and dark was taking shape in their young minds. Every move they made, they checked in with their teachers to ensure it was safe to proceed. Eventually we added items which caused a reflection in the darker room. Most of the children followed the movement of the reflection and every once in a while attempted to look to where it came from. The infants attempted to find out where the reflections came from, an effort to make sense of both light and dark.
On the path to succeed at each step, infants rely on their teachers who ensure trust, challenge their capabilities and provide a sense of love which tells them they can do it. Once confident in their “training” they put it to use, discovering and making sense of the wide world around us. Maybe I am a Jedi master after all!
Lydia McKinney is an Infant/Toddler Supervisor at Clayton Early Learning in Far North East Denver and has been in the early childhood field over 10 years, most of which with infants and toddlers. Her academic experience covers a wide range of early childhood knowledge: a B.A. in Early Childhood Education and Public Policy, as well as a Master’s in Education in Global Studies in Education. As an immigrant to the U.S., she hopes to provide a diverse opinion, with various viewpoints, of an infant/toddler teacher’s classroom perspective.
By Peter Blank
Clayton Early Learning has been working to increase early literacy skills with the help of the innovative Ready to Read (RTR) project since 2012. As the project moves into its fourth year let’s take a closer look at the various levels and true depth and reach of RTR.
Clayton received a grant to implement the Ready to Read project, in collaboration with our partner organization Mile High Montessori Early Learning Centers (MHM), from Mile High United Way. The goal of RTR is to foster early literacy skills through interventions, focusing on oral language and vocabulary, in children birth to three. RTR encompasses two different evaluation studies, one in center based care the other in informal care, in an effort to achieve this goal across various care settings. A variety of tools and unique curricula, including Dialogic Reading and Cradling Literacy, are being used to nurture these literacy skills in participating families and children.
Center Based Study
The RTR center-based evaluation study takes place at Educare Denver at Clayton Early Learning and four MHM early learning centers across Denver. Within these centers all participating classrooms are trained in and implement Dialogic Reading. According to Shelly Anderson, Project Manager of RTR, Dialogic Reading is an interactive approach to literacy “where the child becomes the storyteller and the adult takes on the role of active listener, following the child’s lead”. By using picture books and letting the child direct the story, it focuses on developing oral language skills as well as a passion for storytelling and books. Dialogic Reading is designed for children birth to five, so even infants and toddlers can begin developing literacy skills at their young age.
In addition to Dialogic Reading, some center-based classrooms are supplemented by the Cradling Literacy curriculum. This additional intervention is an evidence based professional development curriculum for teachers. Developed by Zero to Three, it includes 12 two hour training sessions that cover various topics of literacy development such as the benefits of storytelling and working with families to foster emergent literacy skills.
Play and Learn Study
RTR isn’t just helping children in center-based programs develop early literacy skills. Five Play and Learn groups are also participating in the project. (For more information on Play and Learn, check out this blog.) Parents and caregivers at these Play and Learn sites also receive Dialogic Reading training and work on developing this practice during group sessions and at home. Additionally, some Play and Learn families receive coaching and feedback on their language interactions with children via LENA recording devices. LENA devices are like a pedometer for words, capturing language interactions including child vocalizations, adult word count, conversational terms, and the audio environment like TV and radio. Understanding just how much and what kind of language children hear day to day is integral for emergent literacy and language development.
With a multitude of approaches and evidence based tools, the Ready to Read project has been truly innovative in its approach to early literacy. It will be exciting to continue reviewing the results for the remainder of the project, which ends in the fall of 2017.
For more information on Ready to Read, contact Shelly Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Peter Blank
What is HIPPY?
There are many program options available to families at Clayton Early Learning. In addition to the numerous center-based options our schools offer, many families participate in various home-based programming. One of these options is the Head Start Home Based* program, which employs the HIPPY model and curriculum. The Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) is, according to their website, “an evidenced-based program that works with families in the home to support parents in their critical role as their child's first and most important teacher”The program follows a specific 30 week curriculum designed for children ages three to five. This curriculum focuses on cognitive skill development, such as math and literacy, as well as social emotional development.
HIPPY at Clayton
The HIPPY program is no stranger to Clayton Early Learning’s campus. Beginning in 1994, the model has been serving parents and children at Clayton for over 20 years. At the time of publishing, 68 children currently benefit from this innovative home-based early learning program here at Clayton. Nearly 90% of these children are identified as primary Spanish speakers. According to Michelle Mackin Brown, Team Lead of Family & Community Services at Clayton, participating families always express appreciation about the fact that the HIPPY curriculum is available bilingually in Spanish and English. Coupled with our bilingual home-based HIPPY staff, this allows the program to work seamlessly across varying demographics.
The model is adaptable not only across languages, but locations and settings as well. According to Michelle Makin Brown the activities included in the curriculum “can be done in the home, at the park, at the store and in the community throughout the week to support school readiness”. This flexible approach allows parents to work with their children wherever they may be, bringing important early learning opportunities out of the classroom and into the community.
As previously mentioned, this curriculum is broken out across 30 weeks though at Clayton our home-based HIPPY program lasts 32 weeks. Each home visitor, or Child Family Educator (CFE), working with home-based HIPPY has a limited number of families on their caseload. Such small caseloads allow the CFEs to develop meaningful relationships with both the parent and child throughout their time in the program. During the 32 weeks, families participate in weekly 90 minute home-visits with their CFE to work on new aspects of the curriculum and check in on previous weeks’ goals and activities. In addition to these weekly visits, families come together twice a month for a socialization session. These group sessions are held on Clayton’s campus and offer a classroom experience for the children as well as the parents. During this classroom routine, children are able to socialize with each other and both the parents and children are exposed to social encounters and group learning activities. Transportation is provided to and from the group socializations. Although not required, some CFEs incorporate field trips into the program, bringing certain activities to new and exciting settings like the Denver Zoo.
How is it working?
In order to measure success and progress of the HIPPY program, it undergoes an evaluation process similar to that of Clayton’s center-based options. A combination of data from child assessments and parent interviews are analyzed every year in an effort to track the program’s findings. According to the 2014-2015 Clayton Annual Evaluation Report, “Spanish-speaking HIPPY children† tended to demonstrate strong receptive language skills and made statistically significant gain over time. By the end of the year, the majority of children scored in the average range or above.” Specifically, kindergarten-bound HIPPY children assessed in Spanish left the program with above average receptive language skills.
On a more anecdotal level, when asked how the home-based HIPPY program benefits families and children, had this to say:
“Parents become familiar with educational terms, important milestones for development, how to encourage language development and how to individualize for their child. Families become more aware of their child’s interests, behaviors and learning. Families have expressed that they have received positive feedback from elementary school staff about their child’s academic and social-emotional progress.”
A truly unique combination for both parent and child, Clayton home-based HIPPY continues to reach a wide audience across the Denver community. Here’s to 20 more years of bringing important early learning opportunities to families’ doorsteps!
For more information on the HIPPY program nationwide visit: www.hippyusa.org
For more information on the HIPPY program and other home-based services at Clayton Early Learning contact Tonya Young at email@example.com.
For more information on the HIPPY evaluation efforts contact Diana Mangels at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Note: Clayton’s Head Start (HS) Home Based program follows the HIPPY curriculum with a few additional HS programming requirements. Based on HS requirements, these include an increased number of socializations (16 in total) and two additional weeks than the HIPPY curriculum (32, instead of 30).
†The sample of English speaking children in the home-based HIPPY program was too small to permit valid statistical analysis. Therefore, data are reflective of Spanish speaking children only.
By Peter Blank
Debbie Baker, Child Family Educator and member of the I Love to Read committee, shares with our blog readers the in's and the out's of "I Love to Read" month, which starts February 1st.
By: Debbie Baker
February is “I Love to Read” month at Clayton Early Learning. Early Literacy includes such activities as reading, singing, and talking with your infant, toddler or preschool-aged child. At Clayton Early Learning, we celebrate Early Literacy in February by tracking how many books parents read to their children, inviting guest readers and Clayton staff to read aloud to children, and promoting book sharing with dialogic reading classes for parents.
Ample research demonstrates that reading aloud to young children promotes the development of language and other emergent literacy skills which in turn help children prepare for school. Reading aloud to your child from birth gives your child a true head start in school readiness. Every time you read to your child you are improving their learning advantage.
In addition to improving your child’s language and literacy development, reading aloud also impacts social and emotional development, cognitive development, and fine motor development. Babies and toddlers learn about trust and secure attachment as they share a book snuggled in a lap. They practice attending to the book and can learn about situations that are outside of their regular sphere of influence by reading about them. Fine motor development is enhanced by the child’s desire to help turn the pages as an infant or toddler.
Reading aloud to young children, particularly in an engaging manner, promotes emergent literacy and language development and supports the relationship between child and parent. In addition it can promote a love for reading which is even more important than improving specific literacy skills.
Look for our “I Love to Read to You” poster in the piazza at Educare Denver at Clayton Early Learning, and add your child’s name to the heart every time you read aloud this month. There is even a cozy reading area for you to share a book with your child as you drop off or pick up.
Join us for the kick off on February 1. There will be lots of books to share and popcorn to munch as we celebrate “I Love to Read” month at Clayton Early Learning.
If you have more questions regarding February's literacy celebration or how reading impacts child development, feel free to contact Debbie for more information at email@example.com.
By Peter Blank
December 18th, 2015 was a special day for all members of the Clayton Early Learning family, it marked the 10th celebration of Culture Night at our schools and wrapped up another great Culture Week celebration! This year, between 75-100 families participated in the event, which focused on stories and storytelling.
To get a better sense of Culture Night’s importance at Clayton, and the equally as exciting Culture Week, I asked Kelsey Petersen-Hardie, with some help from Charmaine Lewis, both of the Cultural Competency Work-group to share with us how it all began.
Peter: I know the big celebration has come and gone for this year, but I wanted to help clarify Culture Night at Clayton Early Learning for our readers. What is it exactly?
Kelsey: Culture Night is a night we invite children and their families, staff and our families, and community members to our schools to come together and learn about cultures and build our school community in a celebratory environment. We have three objectives with Culture Night:
- To create an interactive and visual experience for children, families, staff, and community members to explore the many cultures of Clayton Early Learning through the shared experience of a cultural aspect.
- To prompt deeper thinking by delving more deeply into an element of culture that is shared by all families and staff, but experienced differently.
- To provide developmentally appropriate experiences to build children’s foundational knowledge of culture.
P: And this year’s theme was Story Telling, correct? How was this theme chosen?
K: The theme this year was Stories and Storytelling. Each year families and staff have the opportunity to vote on a cultural theme in September. There are 10-12 cultural themes to choose from, all representing elements that all cultures share, yet experience differently.
P: That’s great. When did it begin? And why?
K: Because our community is so diverse, Culture Night was created to honor the diversity that each family, child, and staff member brings to our school family. It has been a celebration that promotes curiosity and respect for differences, as well as similarities.
[According to Charmaine, culture night began back in 2005].
P: Wow! This tradition has been around for quite some time. Has Culture Week always been part of the celebration as well?
K: No, Culture Week was implemented 3 or 4 years ago to extend the learning opportunities that are available through preparations for Culture Night. As Culture Night has evolved to provide meaningful and developmentally appropriate experiences in an early childhood setting, we learned that one night was scratching the surface (one week still is scratching the surface, but allows a little more time to get our community engaged in the content). Currently, teachers begin planning for intentional experiences in their daily lessons in October and November.
P: I know firsthand that all this planning and hard work paid off -- I was able to catch the Storybook Parade at Educare during Culture Week and had a smile the entire time. It was so fun to watch each classroom parade down the hallway, dressed in their favorite storybook theme. What other activities were part of this year’s celebration?
K: This year we had some of our own Storytelling heroes share their own storytelling methods with our children and families during the week, like preschool lead teacher/puppet show master Paul Mezzacapo, and Community Mentor Coach/children’s book author Lorrel Esterbrook. During Culture Night, guests were invited to experience a variety of activities to encourage reflection on their own cultural practices and beliefs about stories and storytelling, including making a recording of themselves telling a story for their children to listen to, going on a bear hunt, and exploring family stories through cuisine.
P: Sounds like there were plenty of activities for everyone, thanks for sharing!
All in all, Culture Night and Week was another huge success for all the children, families, and staff at Clayton Early Learning. As Kelsey mentioned, it is always important for our diverse Clayton family to come together and celebrate what makes us simultaneously unique and similar. This togetherness helps make Clayton Early Learning such a special place for all. A big thank you to all of the hard work from staff and families that made this year’s Culture Night/Week celebrations a success!
Interested in other Culture Night stories?! Check out these blog posts from the archives, recapping previous years’ events.
Kristie Denlinger and Peter Blank
Data Utilization at Clayton Early Learning
While Clayton schools are supporting children and families build strong foundations through high quality care and early education, support services and community programs, the Institute at Clayton Early Learning is conducting research that extends far beyond the walls of our two schools.
The Institute conducts studies and gathers data to help prepare our students for kindergarten, ensure that our program’s needs are being met, and advocate for children at the local, state, and federal policy level.
What do you mean by data?
Children at Clayton participate in several developmentally appropriate assessments throughout the year to help us understand what specific knowledge our children have gained and how they’re learning in comparison to other children of the same age.
Since we are working with very young children, these assessments looks more like games that are fun and engaging; allowing children to demonstrate knowledge and competence through play. For example, an assessment might test for the skill of prepositions (in, on, under, etc.) by presenting a student with a series of variety of toys, then asking the child to “put the spoon in the cup.”
We obtain teacher data in the form of surveys, observations, and TS Gold reports. Teachers and staff at Clayton fill out several surveys throughout the school year that provide valuable information about the culture of our classrooms and programs, such as how teachers spend their time, how they interact with parents, how they use data, etc. Teachers are also observed in their classrooms interacting with children several times a year using a standardized observational tool. After the observations, the tools are used for professional development to help teachers improve their practices and to ensure all students are having their individual academic needs met. Finally, TS Gold is the state approved assessment system we use here at Clayton where teachers can input data that demonstrates children’s competencies in areas like socio-emotional development, language development, and math skills.
Parents at Clayton are given an annual survey that gives us valuable information about the families that we serve. Questions on the survey center around family events and situations such as the family moving, housing and food insecurity, activities that the parents do with the child, and the parents’ experience at Clayton.
How is data used?
Our child assessment data is shared with teachers with parental consent twice a year and is used to help tailor instruction to the needs of each child. For example, if a teacher is concerned about whether a child’s language comprehension skills are developing at an appropriate pace because the child is not responding to instructions, the teacher may not know if this is a behavioral issue or if the child just doesn’t understand what the teacher is saying. If the child receives a developmentally appropriate language assessment, we can compare their comprehension skills to those of other children of the same age.
In addition to this common measure, we can also identify the specific skills that the child can or cannot yet demonstrate, such as knowledge of prepositions (on, in under, etc.). From there, the teacher not only has an objective understanding of the child’s skills but they can also adjust their practices with the child based on the skills they know, such as using more gestures with their instructions to the child in order to foster their language development.
Child assessments allow us to ensure that children aren’t slipping through the cracks or getting bored. Using data driven evidence, we can make sure that each individual child is getting the academic supports they need and that our teachers can use their resources to the child’s best advantage.
We are able to evaluate and improve our program using the data we collect in a variety of ways, including using child and teacher data to help us evaluate the strengths and weaknesses in our curriculum and using parent and teacher surveys to evaluate the culture of the school and the biggest needs of our families.
For example, a few years ago a large group of our families reported varying degrees of food insecurity. This gave us the objective data to support our Food for Families program, which has expanded and works to provide our families with fresh produce and access to our own food pantry.
Clayton Early Learning is a part of the Educare Learning Network, a national network of early learning centers aimed at providing the highest quality comprehensive care to low income families. This network, led by the Ounce of Prevention Fund and the Buffet Early Childhood Fund, gives Clayton access to valuable resources, research, and peer learning from similar partner programs across the county. As a member of this network, we report our own data and participate in longitudinal studies to show the effectiveness of quality early education for our children and families. This data can also be a powerful tool for local, state, and federal policy advocacy, as well as helpful in applying for grants for future research.
We are always pursuing new projects and looking to use our data in a variety of ways to advance quality early childhood education and development. For more information about Clayton Early Learning and the Educare Network, use the site links listed below and be sure to subscribe to this blog where we will provide readers with an insider’s look at various aspects of data use at Clayton!
Among the greatest benefits for children who attend high quality early care and education programs is access to tools and resources that will support the student’s readiness for kindergarten. Though the goal of school readiness for kindergarten bound students is clear, many families may wonder how readiness is determined and what tools are used to measure student growth and development.
Based on commonly identified academic criteria, one tool used to measure a preschool student’s development is the Bracken School Readiness Assessment. As children prepare to transition from preschool to kindergarten, the assessment is used to measure the child’s knowledge in areas including
- Color identification
- Letter and number recognition
- Counting and measurement concepts
- Identification and comparison of shapes
Unlike traditional testing, The Bracken is considered a ‘receptive’ assessment, meaning that children only need to point to select answers and that the student is not expected to vocalize or articulate their response. The assessor must remain objective throughout the assessment, but is dually charged with supporting the child in maintaining focus or engagement and must also anticipate distractions, boredom and other factors unique to working with young children.
Early education professionals must complete a comprehensive training program before they are considered qualified and reliable to administer The Bracken Assessment. This training provides instruction in objectivity, strategies for observing young students and practice in accommodating unexpected factors that include behavioral and environmental challenges.
This fall, teachers and other ECE professionals throughout Colorado will participate in assessor training in order to effectively implement assessment, like The Bracken, into high quality early education programs.
Concurrently, many preschool children will be assessed by qualified educators who will use The Bracken School Readiness Assessment. Those same students will be assessed once more in the spring for the purpose of objective growth measurement over the course of the school year. Both rounds of assessment will produce data that is used to gauge the child’s comprehension so that schools and families can develop individualized instruction strategies for the student as they prepare to transition from preschool to kindergarten.
For more information about The Bracken School Readiness Assessment and other tools used to track early childhood development,
contact Kristie Denlinger of the Clayton Early Learning Research & Evaluation Team firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
-Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
Sometime during my student teaching experience, I read “Educating Esme” by Esme Raji Codell. I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” kind of guy, but this book really resonated with me as I began my own educational journey. ”Educating Esme” is an elementary school teacher’s diary of her first year leading a classroom; chronicling the ups and downs of her experience with a sincere, humorous and sometimes sentimental delivery. While I’m not technically in my first year of teaching, the end of this school year has reminded me of Esme’s diary and because I truly believe in celebrating my ‘firsts,' I have written this post to share some personal/professional reflection as I celebrate the closing of my first year as a lead preschool teacher.
Considering that I’m 32 years old and have had a degree in ECE for almost 10 years, this ‘year one’ milestone may not seem like much of an accomplishment and you may be wondering what I’ve been doing since graduating college? I would love to tell you that I’d been beachcombing the Mediterranean, but the truth is that I’ve been on a much more domestic journey; I’ve, in fact, been teaching.
In ten years, I have been a teacher of art to urban students. I taught Earth science and ecology to fifth graders at Glen Helen Outdoor Education Center, in Yellow Springs, Ohio where my classroom was a 1,000 acre nature preserve. I was a substitute teacher of physical education, general education and art for elementary through secondary school and for students with special needs. I taught foster children in residential care and students who were in ‘alternative’ schools at Community House, in Brattleboro Vermont. These students had previously been expelled from other institutions and had been sent to Community House because they essentially had nowhere else to go. There, my classroom was a 150 year-old Victorian house.
I didn’t really have my own classroom in any of those situations; at least not a classroom in the traditional sense.
I hadn’t planned on teaching in such a variety of experiences. After completing my student teaching in a public kindergarten classroom, I was as poised as the rest of my teaching program’s graduating class to begin my first year of teaching in September of 2006. Though I may have been academically prepared to settle into a classroom and begin plugging away toward retirement, I struggled with self-doubt and insecurity about whether I could actually manage and lead my own classroom. I mean, who am I to build up the minds of a future generation?
Like “Educating Esme,” I kept a student teaching journal that I recently revisited. It was back and forth communication between my advisor and me, but also a pretty reflective manuscript of vulnerability. While I had the usual encouragement and support from friends, family and advisors, I was still lacking the confidence to be a lead teacher. Maybe I felt like I hadn’t earned it yet. Sure, I had acquired a B.A., passed the Praxis II and even had a teaching license, but something was missing; something that can’t be taught.
So instead of leaping before I looked, I began with baby-steps into the teaching field; substitute teaching, tutoring, and Saturday art lessons. Little stuff. Safe stuff.
With each successive work experience, I felt myself gaining skills and began to recognize my own teaching rhythm. This was the post-graduate work that couldn’t be taught by a professor. It was hands-on. It was reflecting in a journal that no-one would read and participating in supervision with the person in the mirror each morning. This was educating me. Last year I began working at Clayton Early Learning at the newly opened Far Northeast campus. It was during that year as an assistant (a familiar role), that I realized that I had everything I needed to be a lead. I could do this. I had the behavior management skills, the curriculum knowledge, and the open-mind for new approaches. I also realized that Clayton would provide professional development and training, and a supportive supervisor to reflect on my practice. Most importantly, through my own trial by fire I had gained the confidence to lead my own classroom.
It’s often assumed that a teacher is the end product of their undergraduate studies and graduate work. Trust that there is a formula that can be administered and acknowledged with course requirements and licensing expectations. I would argue that teaching is a quest of personal growth for the teacher. Without reflection, how does a teacher set personal and professional goals? Without experimentation, how does a teaching learn new approaches? Without self-discipline, how does a teacher become a role-model for others? Before I go all Zen, I’m going to make one request, for all teachers, parents and supervisors: Celebrate the teacher in yourself. Celebrate all you did last year. Celebrate the personal growth in your life and set new goals for next year. Celebrate you as I am celebrating me and my first year as a lead preschool teacher
Last week in Chicago, over 60 early childhood state advocates from 17 states gathered for the 2015 Policy Exchange meeting sponsored by the Ounce of Prevention Fund. This annual meeting brings together state based advocates, national organizations, state government officials, researchers, academics and programmatic leaders to discuss the current early childhood policy challenges and opportunities in their states and learn from one another. Though each state is working in a different context of government, funding, and culture, commonalities can be found across the country in early childhood priority issues.
This year’s conference focused primarily on the reauthorization of the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which was passed by Congress in 2014. CCDBG is the main funding source for many states’ child care assistance programs, including Colorado’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP). In order for states to receive CCDBG funding, their state officials must submit a state plan that outlines how the funds will be used, who will be involved, and how the funded programs will be evaluated. The legislation that Congress passed last year made several changes to the requirements for state plans, including:
- More of a focus on ensuring quality in child care programs and increased funding requirements for quality initiatives
- Easier public access to information about child care, especially on consumer websites
- Increased requirements for the health and safety of child care programs, including disaster preparedness plans
- Increasing access for vulnerable populations to child care, with a particular focus on children with disabilities and homeless children
- More supports for families receiving child care assistance, including a 12 month eligibility re-determination, allowing at least 3 months of assistance during a parent’s job search, and providing graduated phase out assistance to families that have increased their income
Other policy priorities that advocates from across the country discussed at the Policy Exchange included continuity of child care, mental health and social/emotional development, policy innovations in Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, funding for early childhood, marketing and communications messaging, and alignment between early childhood and the K-12 system.
The Policy Exchange also gives a chance for states to highlight their successes from the past year. Some of the policy gains for early childhood from across the states included:
- California’s legislature and governor reached a budget agreement that added 7,000 preschool slots and 6,800 child care slots in the state, totaling nearly $400 million in new investments
- Louisiana passed legislation requiring the Department of Education to find funding sources to increase early childhood care and education by $80 million
- The Education Committee in Maine requested the Maine’s Children’s Growth Council, Maine Children’s Alliance, the Ounce of Prevention Fund, and the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University to gather more detailed information on the social emotional development of children and develop appropriate policy recommendations for the legislature
- Nebraska passed legislation which will allow a family to receive transitional child care assistance if an increase in family income puts them over the limits to receive assistance
- Oklahoma’s legislature passed several bills to promote early learning and literacy for children through 3rd grade
- The Washington Legislature is considering in special session the bipartisan Early Start Act to help parents find care and learning opportunities that are tailored for their children, enhance school readiness, and support providers to provide high-quality care that is culturally and linguistically responsive to the needs of young learners and their families
To find out more about the Ounce of Prevention Fund and the annual Policy Exchange, please visit http://www.theounce.org/involved/events/policy-exchange-meeting.