SmartBlog on Education will shine a light on back-to-school teaching and learning trends during July. In this blog post, educational leadership professor Maria Boeke Mongillo highlights early childhood instructional methods that support student learning at any age.
As a professor and professional development facilitator, I have found the teachers who are least concerned about how to implement the Common Core State Standards are early-childhood educators. When I share what the Common Core is asking teachers to do, they often say they have been using those instructional practices forever. So if you are a teacher in an elementary or secondary school grappling with how to embed the Common Core into your classroom, you might benefit from looking down and seeing a few ECE strategies.
ECE strategy: All hands on deck
Young children learn by doing. Play is the foundation of any good ECE program. Young children lack the ability to think in the abstract, so ECEs provide them with materials to touch and manipulate.
One way to facilitate hands-on learning is through interest centers. You select a theme and create task cards for students to complete independently or in groups. You also provide the needed materials for students to complete tasks as independent work or when finished with other assigned work. You can also use learning menus. For this, you design multiple learning activities in a menu format — appetizers, entrees and desserts — and rules for completing them — like two appetizers, one entrée and one dessert. In both strategies, because students are not all completing the same activity at the same time, you are able use a small amount of materials but reach many students. This allows you to give hands-on learning opportunities in addition to written work.
ECE strategy: Keeping it real
Young children also need concrete examples from their experience on which to base their understanding. So ECEs make sure to use children’s lived experiences and teachable moments to move children forward.
Wherever possible, try to make connections to your students’ lives. You can use sports statistics for math lessons, pop music to connect to poetry, and current political and social movements to relate to the past. Additionally, try to frame learning around real world problems. To develop argumentative writing, have students write letters to persuade leaders to make a change. To cultivate money skills, give students a budget and have them plan a school event. Connect students to the community and empower them to solve the problems they see.
ECE strategy: Explore, engage, repeat
ECEs know that young children delight in repetition and routine. They also know their attention spans are minimal. As a result, they plan for learning in ways that allow children to engage with a concept in multiple ways, multiple times. Often this results in week- or month-long themes that provide a focus for all classroom learning.
Try beginning class with a Quick Write or Quick Draw. Give students a half sheet of paper and ask them to write or draw what they remember from the previous day’s lesson or answer a focused question. Collect the papers and pull one to share. You might also have students write weekly or monthly newsletters. Younger students can dictate a class letter that the teacher copies. Older children can write or copy the letters themselves. Middle- and high-school students can be assigned the job of writing newsletters or unit study guides. Ideally, work with colleagues to create cross-curricular thematic units. For instance, if students are studying ancient Egypt in social studies, tie into the volume of a pyramid in math, and the mummification process in science. And do not forget the art, music and PE teachers. You just might hook a kid into learning by tapping into their artistic or athletic sides.
ECE strategy: Show me, show me
Much of what young children know they can only express verbally or by demonstration. They simply lack the skill to write or draw what they know. As a result, ECEs assess by taking notes or using checklists while watching and interacting with children to record what their students know and are able to do.
To implement this, you must first find ways for students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do in a way other than by writing or traditional testing. Then, you need to develop a way to record the level of learning you observe. You can use anecdotal records, where you select one skill and four to six students to observe and take notes on each day. Doing this everyday provides you with weekly notes on every student. You can also create checklists, where every student is listed with the skills you hope to see. As you are watching students work, you can simply check off what you saw or assign a number to express the level of achievement.
ECEs work hard to provide the foundation of learning necessary for students to succeed as they progress through their schooling. They may work with little people, but they have big ideas to support student learning at any age.
Maria Boeke Mongillo is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Central Connecticut State University. She has taught in school-leader and teacher-preparation programs at multiple universities, and facilitates professional development in elementary schools. She began her career as a first- and second-grade teacher, and is passionate about supporting early childhood teachers and leaders through research and advocacy.
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