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!