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Posted by on in What If?

Letter of the week A

Letter of the week and daily calendar are well-known staples of circle time in early childhood education. But there are many experts in the field who feel they’re a waste of time and should be banished. So, what if they have no real value to young children?

That idea gets a lot of pushback from many early childhood teachers, who fervently believe there are good reasons why these practices have “always been done.” But, too often, it’s because they’ve always been done that letter of the week and daily calendar continue to be a presence in many ECE environments.

To discuss this topic, I invited three extremely thoughtful early childhood professionals – Heather Shumaker, Deborah Stewart, and Amanda Morgan – to Studentcentricity. The conversation was lively and informative. Afterwards, Amanda sent this takeaway regarding letter of the week:

Children's minds don't hold information in an alphabetized filing system. It looks more like webbing with meaningful connections. Organizing your content based on meaningful themes rather than letters will be more effective. Focusing on the letter M and doing diverse activities focused on maps, monkeys, museums, and marmalade will not connect as well as exploring one fascinating theme in depth, and emphasizing meaningful language and literacy experiences along the way.

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Posted by on in What If?

child with glasses

If a child can’t see well, he or she likely will have some trouble with learning. That’s a bit of a “duh” statement. But what if the child’s vision problems go undetected? After all, vision problems aren’t as easily observed as are, for example, hearing or speech problems.

Still, you might wonder how vision problems could go undetected when so many children have their visual acuity screened every year in school. Well, Wendy Rosen, author of The Hidden Link Between Vision and Learning, and a recent guest on Studentcentricity, tells us that there is a difference between vision and eyesight – and that vision-related learning problems affect one in four school-age children. She goes on to say these problems “are not recognized as a disability in need of attention because a staggering portion of our population does not know that they exist.” 

I certainly didn’t, which is why I found my conversation with Wendy, along with educator Jason Flom, so fascinating.

Wendy later added:

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Posted by on in What If?

Preschool STEM

While most early childhood teachers are comfortable with learning centers, fewer probably would say they’re comfortable with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), a real focus in education these days. But Deirdre Englehart, co-author of STEM Play, approaches learning centers through a STEM lens and believes themes can be integrated into centers to promote creativity and higher-level thinking. Deirdre joined me on Studentcentricity to discuss this, along with educator Jill Berkowicz, who is co-author of The STEM Shift.

Following our discussion, Deirdre contributed the following additional thoughts:

Most children are engaged in STEM when they play in learning centers. Teachers can enhance the STEM learning when they provide specific materials in centers and when they introduce activities prior to learning centers. In this way, teachers are not directing learning centers, but they can plant the seeds that may grow through play. During learning centers, teachers can observe children and consider the STEM connections. They can assist children, ask questions and interact with them in ways that do not disrupt the flow of play. At the end of learning centers, teachers can invite children to share activities, explain ideas or provide additional information that may strengthen and support learning. The use of language can help children to solidify ideas they had during play. Teachers can also provide specific vocabulary or share related information as children share their experiences.

Jill further elaborated:

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Posted by on in What If?

reading

When teachers assign student reading, it’s not usually the social-emotional domain that’s the focus of the activity. But if we’re to address the whole child, we have to be aware that books have an impact on students’ hearts as well as their heads.

That’s the focus of an article titled “Literature’s Emotional Lessons,” written by teacher Andrew Simmons. In it he tells the story of a 10th-grade student whose emotional reaction to Piggy’s death scene in Lord of the Flies caused her to flee the room. He writes

In my experience teaching and observing other teachers, students spend a lot of time learning academic skills and rarely even talk about the emotional reactions they may have to what they read—even when stories, as they often do, address dark themes.The Common Core Standardspush students to become clinical crafters of arguments and masters of academic language. While these are essential skills to possess, the fact that my other students appear perfectly comfortable not acknowledging and discussing emotional responses to literature may be as revelatory as this one student’s teary dash from class. Inundated with video games, movies, and memes, teenagers often seem hard to shake up. Characters are fictitious abstractions, and, without actors to bring them to life and makeup and digital tricks to make the drama feel real, students may strictly do the analytical work teachers expect without the interference of a significant emotional response. That’s a bad thing. An emotional response should be part of the curriculum.

Most likely, there’s some concern among teachers about the time such emotional explorations would take, considering there are standards to be met and tests to be passed. But there are standards for the social-emotional domain as well and literature provides a perfect jumping-off point for addressing them.

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stretching

Which has caused more stress among kids: the Great Depression or life today? According to a study cited in Brad Johnson’s book, Learning on Your Feet, five times as many students deal with stress, anxiety, and other mental issues compared to students during the Great Depression. If we really stop to think about that, we realize what an astonishing statement it is.

Stress, of course, isn’t conducive to optimal learning or to a positive classroom environment. Brad believes incorporating physical activity into the classroom, along with relaxation strategies, can help relieve stress. He and educator Oskar Cymerman joined me on Studentcentrity to discuss it. Following the conversation Brad sent me the following additional thoughts:

Sedentary education is the greatest disservice we have done to this generation of students. Students need to be more active in the classroom. Only 1 out 12 students today has the core strength and balance of students from the 1980s. This means students not only need to be more active but need to focus specifically on core and balance because they improve the executive functioning area of the brain. Executive functioning is responsible for mental focus, organization, and processing information -- all of which help students deal better with stress.

Although you would expect the conversation to revolve around the physical domain, these educators are quite aware of the mind/body connection, as well as the importance of educating the whole child, so it wasn’t surprising to me that they made connections to the cognitive and social/emotional domains.

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