Monday, January 11, 2016

Arts inclusion or Arts integration?

I have been thinking about this question for a while. Are we teaching our teacher-students to make their traditional learning activities more creative?  Or are we integrating the teaching of the arts and other curricular areas into a seamless whole?

I did a two year program at the Kennedy Center's CETA Program (Changing Education through the Arts). In it I was taught to include the learning standards from both arts disciplines and other content areas. In the Virginia Foundation Blocks there are standards for all of these, arts included. My final project was to do two projects that addressed arts and curricular areas. The CETA trainers (National Board certified teachers and teaching artists) emphasized documentation as a way to make learning visible, to make process accessible to everyone involved in the education of children.

Since then I have added these ideas to the course I teach: Art, Music and Movement for Young Children. The final project is an integrated learning unit that addresses two content areas related to one theme that is taught through two arts activities. The students do these with children (or child) and document the process. Many of my students come out of the course with more of an understanding of how the arts (music, movement, dramatic play) can allow children to learn content without making a big deal about what the children are supposed to learn ("now we are learning about the letter F. Can you be a FOX?"--dramatic play and language arts--check!)

Still, many students are not able to wrap their minds around this approach. One student came to me after class saying that since she wanted children to make caterpillars out of egg cartons for a life-cycles theme, she couldn't figure out how to let them be creative . "Maybe I can let them choose the colors", she said. I suggested giving the children materials and allowing them to create and then explain their caterpillars; to use an open-ended, three-D project to address language arts and science objectives. This was tough for her to swallow. Why is this so hard to understand?

Part of the problem is that many students have received most of their training from directors, and older teachers who do not accept the more organic, integrated approach to teaching young children that is part of best practices. In the NAEYC book, The New Early Childhood Professional: A Step by Step Guide to Overcoming Goliath, the authors discuss the gap between what we as a profession know, and what we do. Those directors and teachers who train our students, and the centers who employ them, reflect how our profession is a patchwork, hodge-podge mish-mash of practices.These practices don't always reflect what we actually know in the profession. Hence the egg-carton caterpillars supposedly teaching about actual caterpillars, or art. Habits are hard to break!

When I begin teaching the course, Art, Music and Movement for Young Children, I start with this video: Music and Dance Drive Academic Achievement on Edutopia. When my students see this, it elicits comments such as, "Why couldn't my child have been in that kind of program?", and, "I want this for all children." The subject of money inevitably comes up. Where would it come from? That one program is sponsored by a rich man. What about everyone else? So I tell them about resources right in the D.C. area--The Wolf Trap Institute of Early Learning Through the Arts, or CETA, at the Kennedy Center (Changing Education Through the Arts. These programs not only come into schools, but educate teachers to include arts integration. Teachers who work in CETA or Wolf Trap schools say that the children are passionate and eager to learn by taking part in arts activities (dance, drama, music, dance, visual art) that lead them through learning the materials that their teachers are required to teach. It is a two-fer. You get art education and the content  as well.

So let’s teach our teachers of young children that learning the alphabet, colors, numbers and shapes doesn’t need to be onerous drudgery. Let’s teach them to view every curricular requirement as a challenge to their capacity to integrate the world of the arts. Everyone will benefit. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

When you can't keep them in school...

What happens when other parents and families are aware of one child's behavior, and are alarmed at what that child does both in and out of school? What if a family or families declares that this particular child MUST go? How does a program respond?

Many programs might find this incentive enough to ask the child's family to leave. This happens all the time.

Imagine that a child has some supports from the county, has a special education teacher coming into the classroom to coach prosocial behavior and speech, using the usual techniques, charts, stars, etc. and still that child has extreme episodes of violent behavior, usually precipitated by an anxiety-provoking situation (for him/her). Teachers can have their eye on that child, providing unusually time-consuming supervision and support above and beyond what one might expect in a program that does not have special needs personnel onsite. The child might be getting help off-site as well, and teachers can see some of the effects of this help, but it simply isn't enough to ward off a sudden, violent explosion that could hurt or harm someone.

The parents can call an emergency meeting of the IEP team. The school system can send a psychologist to observe. The preschool director can get involved in pushing the public school to accept the child, who is in crisis. A placement can be found in the public school special education program. This can be exactly what the child needs, and without throwing the family out without recourse. The current program should celebrate the child's last day, and the children who remain should be be allowed to discuss how they feel about the departure of their fellow student.

This is not expulsion. It is a successful transition for a child who needs more than a typical program can give.  The child is not rejected because of the complaints of others, nor by complaints by an overworked staff. The child is calmly transitioned, the family on board with the decision. The child is prepared by thoughtful adult "reframing" ("You are going to a new school!").

This way of giving a child and family a way through a trying situation to a better place is the result of reflective practice, hard work, and insistence on doing the right thing for the right reason. Thus a child receives the care he/she needs. And the learning community remains whole.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Keeping Kids in School

I presented two workshops yesterday, one on challenging behavior, at the 15th Annual Regional Child Care and Early Childhood Conference at Germanna Community College yesterday morning (early morning!). I didn't call it Challenging Behavior, but "Keeping Kids in School". It was my response to two facts. One: I have worked in preschools and child care for over twenty-five years (after singing opera and concerts for many more years). There was always at least one child who pushed the boundaries of civilized behavior in an already uncivilized environment (from the average adult's point of view). Four year olds, bless 'em, are notorious for both bottomless joy and rowdy behavior, but even among them, there are standouts for aggression, dangerous behavior, and being generally ungovernable. Two: Finally, there is some recognition of the awful fact that four year olds, especially boys, and particularly  minority boys, are expelled at an alarming rate. They are the most expelled of all ages. I kid you not! The federal government has issued a policy statement spelling this out, and making recommendations for reversing this trend. Dr. Walter Gilliam has written extensively about it, and I used this article for part of my presentation.

Here is what I told this group of childcare professionals, in a nutshell.

I included references here so that you may, at your leisure, read the reasons for my statements. I defer to the experts! 

What I emphasized was my own experience working in a center that supports a team approach, and with a supportive, involved director. I asked people to discuss how they can work towards a team approach, where all stakeholders interact with a child with problems in the same, informed way: Structure that is firm and therefore safe for everyone; Uniform interaction with that child, using the same strategies, filling the child up with love and attention when he or she is doing what you want! What I heard was this:

"In my center we have a boy who is out of control a lot. I try to work with him in a calm, non-threatening way, but when I'm on break, A sub comes in and yells at him, blaming him for everything that happens, even when it isn't his fault. When other children tattle on him, the subs take their sides, without learning the details. Then when I come back to the classroom, my director says she heard that this boy was out of control, and she blames me."

I asked if the center staff had training in behavior management. Her answer was this: 

"We all did Conscious Discipline Training. But most people don't do it. They forgot what they learned."

Here we have the crux of an ongoing problem! In most programs, training is for fulfilling state-mandated training hours. This director actually sent her staff to training together, but there was no follow-up. The center director should have worked with her staff to implement what they learned. She should have asked for feedback on how the teachers were using the strategies. She did not. Training is time and money wasted if there is no follow-up. The child continues to ambush his own learning, and no one knows what to do about it.

What I liked about the Child Care Connection conference was that all participants could earn extra training hours, beyond those they earned by attending, just by implementing something they learned, writing it up, and submitting it. Voila! This is what the director mentioned earlier should have done! "Tell me how you are using that training I paid for (lol)!" Show me! I will give you extra training hours for that. You will be recognized for learning, then applying your learning. 

How much more confident and motivated caregivers would be, if their learning were taken seriously.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Online Discussion Board: Synchronous

Blackboard: Love it or leave it. It's our main platform for online learning, in spite of its anachronisms, it's annoying clutziness.

Today I held my last Guiding Behavior class online, in a synchronous Discussion Board. I do this when the weather makes class impossible, for instance. During Snowmageddon, all of us in the Loudoun adjunct group transferred our classes to Blackboard to keep students working on their courses. My students in this course fervently didn't want to come to class the Saturday before Spring Break, and, while I am an old fashioned teacher who thinks to herself, "Since when did my professors ever cancel class because it was before Spring Break?", I compromised. Our students have access to the internet from anywhere. All of them "showed up for class" this morning.

Between 9 and 11 am we had 174 posts. I had required them to use teaching strategies from the Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Learning (CSEFEL) website and reflect on how those strategies worked for them in their classroom, or with a child they knew, posting that reflection online. I was so pleased to read the posts and replies, and enjoyed responding as well.

The advantages of using this technique instead of a synchronous webclass using headphones is that students who don't have the appropriate equipment or computer software can participate without buying something or learning a new technology. The downside is that there are A LOT OF WORDS to read!

I began by taking attendance. They were required to sign in at 9 with a thread saying, "I'm here", essentially. After discussion got going I deleted these attendance threads. Many had posted or at least written their reflections ahead of time so that worked well. Very pertinent questions arose from the various discussions about each teaching strategy, with encouraging words offered. This is what I love about early childhood educators: They are so supportive of each other. Suggestions were on-topic and constructive. Some personal triumphs were shared as well.

When the discussion began to wane I introduced a new question based on the Virginia Early Childhood Career Competencies, linking them to the current discussion which seemed to provide energy to the ongoing conversation.

I am generally well-pleased with the result of this strategy. And my students didn't have to drive to campus on what they think of as their first day of Spring Break!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Inaugural Post: Teaching adults to teach young children.

There are some interesting parallels between teaching young children and teaching adult learners. Blogging about adults is new for me, except for my Adjunct Professional Development Portfolio. I want to discuss one parallel here.

Developmentally appropriate practice doesn't stop at age eight!  We have learning objectives for each course based on the Course Content Summary, which is written cooperatively by, in my case, the Virginia Community College System Early Childhood Peer Group, of which I am a member. We design assessments based on those objectives. Assessments are also called activities or assignments. They are supposed to measure what a student "knows and is able to do". Assessments give us the information we need to change or modify or enrich what we present to students in class and online. They also give students feedback (totally necessary to learning) so that they can correct assumptions, re-integrate information, and construct their learning. As students learn the material, and integrate it into their teaching practice, or, if they do not yet work with children, into their knowledge base for the future, they encounter their own assumptions, perhaps erroneous. They encounter gaps in their understanding of how children learn and think, and how they develop. Some people have developed as teachers of young children so that they have much "prior knowledge" to fall back on; some have little, especially the younger ones. Teaching multi-skill, multi-knowledge, multi-understanding students presents a challenge, just as teaching in a multi-age inclusive classroom is a daily challenge for me when I wear my other "hat". (Perhaps I should be talking about "differentiation of instruction"?)

I recently taught a class in Guiding Behavior of Young Children on "Challenging Behavior". Just clarifying what is meant by this term took quite a bit of classwork. Students brainstormed what they thought of as challenging.  Younger, or less-experienced students saw many age-appropriate preschool behaviors as challenging. But asking if a certain behavior (eg. wiggling, talking, during circle) merited going beyond what we had already learned about guidance elicited a sometimes reluctant, "No". Maybe circle is too long. Maybe the activity is not age-appropriate. These, they knew, could be corrected without going further. Inexperienced students come with assumptions about the attention span of three year olds, for example, that need challenging. It is developmentally appropriate for them to have misunderstandings coming into class. They need to incorporate developmental knowledge that others in the class may already have.

Another developmental difference is that younger, or inexperienced teachers tend to think that they must solve behavior problems by themselves, or that their director should do it for them. We viewed a presentation from Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Learning (CSEFEL) laying out their definition of challenging behavior and giving an excellent procedure for understanding it. It recommended teaching new skills to replace disruptive or destructive behavior (Challenging behavior can be disruptive to the child's learning, or destructive to themselves, as well as to others). I provided copious observational notes from my own teaching practice for them to practice these new skills. Using these notes, rather than scripted ones from teaching materials, provides more context and allows students to debate the reasons for behavior as well as the new skills that need to be taught. A huge part of this practice (observation) includes getting feedback from other teachers and from parents (CSEFEL calls it interviewing). Here is where understanding that one cannot do it "on your own" comes into play. 

It is a relief, in a way, for students to realize that working with challenging behavior is a challenge that they don't have to meet alone. But it is also helpful to them to realize that the new skills they are learning can be brought to bear in a situation where they are working with both other teachers and parents. They are "experts" but even experts need to collaborate. 

This is my first stab at trying to articulate my idea that teaching adults can be seen as needing to be developmentally appropriate. We also discussed conferencing with parents. But I will leave that for another post.

As always, I welcome feedback and other points of view!