Data-Driven Family Engagement Tools for Head Start and State Preschools

Learning Genie is an app for ECE educators and family service workers for Distant Learning and Family Engagement including tracking in-kind. During the COVID-19 crisis, Learning Genie offers free tools till the end of 2020 under a grant (or in-kind) to support all ECE agencies for Distance Learning and track school readiness outcomes.


Learning Genie also provides a useful application for portfolio-building. The portfolio tracking and tagging systems could be readily applied to DRDP 2015, Florida VPK, Head Start (HS), Early Head Start (EHS), Montessori, and other state or private-backed assessment tools.

Going Beyond the Kitchen! Observing and Rating DRDP Measures during Dramatic Play

The door opens to the colorful and vibrant transitional kindergarten classroom. It’s February and students’ artwork of hearts are on display for Valentine’s Day. There’s evidence of learning and resources displayed all over the walls. The teacher greets the adorable children at the door with a warm welcome and a smile. The students routinely put away their backpacks and choose an area where they begin their day. The teacher uses the first fifteen minutes to allow students to develop self-regulated and social emotional skills. Of course, one of the most popular centers is the kitchen! Today, they are making a healthy breakfast of eggs, toast, and fruit. It’s an imaginary place where the kids play side by side and engage in a few conversations. The children reenact what they see their parents do at home. The teacher has clearly established a culture of learning to support all her students through her daily routines. Yet, the teacher is looking for strategies to assess students’ growth overtime using the Desired Results Developmental Profile-Kindergarten (DRDP: Essential View) and document progress using the Learning Genie App.

She thinks to herself, “What if there was an additional space that brought about curiosity, play, and learning for a longer time later in the day?” She looks to the California Framework and reads, “Purposeful play invites engagement, promotes peer interactions, and encourages problem solving, providing the ideal framework for concrete learning while also setting the stage for future abstract, logical thinking,” (p. 41). Then, she references the dramatic play center in the district-adopted TK CORE curriculum: Ready to Advance. The teacher thinks,” I wish I had time to develop intentional questions, facilitate conversations, observe and rate students’ learning with the DRDP measures.” She talks to her colleagues and they share their concerns with district personnel.

Why did Teaching and Learning develop a Dramatic Play Guidance for TK?

We are the largest school district in Santa Barbara County, CA with about 17,500 students pre-school-8th grade. We are over 70% multilingual with over 50% current English Language Learners. We understand that Transitional Kindergarten is critical to support our multilingual learners with early childhood development and immersion to English acquisition. According to the authors in the text, “Growing Language and Literacy,”There are three successful practices: Target vocabulary instruction, promote verbal scaffolding, and then frequent checking for understating and monitoring comprehension.” (p. 45) We asked ourselves, “How can we better support students in developing their verbal language skills while helping teachers assess comprehension with DRDP measures utilizing Learning Genie?”

This question came with some barriers. First, we needed to support teachers because they did not have all the furniture and materials to implement dramatic play as called out in our district’s adopted CORE Ready to Advance curriculum. Second, we realized the DRDP measures were extensive and we wanted to support teachers with specific guidance on what dramatic play may look like and sound like to enhance conversations. Third, we wanted to support TK teachers with documenting students’ developmental progress on DRDP measures in students’ Learning Genie Portfolios to share with parents throughout the year.

What did we do?

We used district funds to supply furniture and materials to support dramatic play in TK classrooms. Then, we created the Dramatic Play Guidance to support deeper conversations and critical thinking by providing a variety of literal and open- ended questions to scaffold students’ learning in their natural environment. Research from the authors, “Visible Learning in Early Childhood,” It is through adult interaction, communication and language, children acquire vocabulary and comprehensive language skills during intentional playful learning.” (p. 35) Next, we added suggested DRDP measures teachers may tag to capture in Learning Genie. This guidance supports teachers and bilingual instructional assistance to be more efficient with accessible DRDP options they may capture and write notes to document the students progress.

Let’s explore the following example. The teacher is preparing for Ready to Advance Unit 6: Animals, Week 3 Dramatic Play Guidance. She begins to set up the Veterinarian’s Office using the materials and descriptions provided on the chart. The teacher plans to read books on veterinarians and invite students to role play being a vet and pet owners. She refers to the chart on what it looks like and sounds like to review with students. Then, the teacher places a copy of the Dramatic Play Guidance on a clipboard for easy access to reference potential questions to scaffold the learning for her students.

Now, several students are dressed up as veterinarians at a pet hospital. An owner brought in her pet dog. The teacher uses her ipad to record the interaction in the Learning Genie app. Then she asks, “What’s wrong with your pet?” The owner replies, “My dog is hurt. He fell into a hole and broke his leg.” The teacher asks the vet, “How will you help the dog?” The vet takes out his medical kit and replies, “I am checking his heart rate (with the stethoscope). His breathing is fast. I think we may need to operate and bandage his leg. He will need a cone around his neck so he doesn’t pick at his leg.” The teacher exclaims, “Wow! Sounds like you know what you are doing doc!” Then, the teacher tells the pet owner, “Your pet is in safe hands.” The vet finishes his procedures and the owner asks, “How much does it cost?” The vet replies, “It will be $20 for this visit.” The pet owner takes out play money and gives $20 to the vet. The vet says, “Thank you.” The owner replies, “You’re welcome.” It is through this rich dialogue with dramatic play guidance that the teacher is able to tag multiple DRDP measures to assess students’ learning.

The teacher tags multiple measures: Approaches to Learning–Self Regulation (ATL-REG: 1, 2, 4) and Social and Emotional Development (SED: 1, 2, 3, 4). The Language and Literacy Development (LLD: 1, 3, 4 ) domain are evident as students engage in communication with adults and peers. Cognition Math (COG: 2) showing an understanding of number and quantity. The Physical Development (PD 1, 4) domains are evident as students deploy spatial and directional movement concepts within the dramatic play space and manipulate objects in the space with coordination. At the end of the trimester, the teacher reflects on video evidence, notes and DRDP ratings to evaluate if the children are building or integrating. She prints the Learning Genie class report and is able to adjust her instruction to support all her students. As stated in High Impact Instruction, “When teachers review what students produce, they can quickly see whether or not students have learned the knowledge, skills, and big ideas they are exposed to in class. Then, if necessary, make decisions about how they need to modify instruction to promote better outcomes.” (p. 200)

Transitional kindergarten teachers and instructional assistants will find the Dramatic Play Guidance helpful in facilitating learning and observing and rating DRDP measures regardless of the curriculum their district utilizes. Click on this 44 page Dramatic Play Guidance link to get started today!


Almarode, J., Hattie, J. Thunder, K. (2022). Visible Learning in Early Childhood. Corwin.

Andrea, H. (2019). Growing Language and Literacy. Heinemann.

Benchmark Education Company. (2018). Ready to Advance. New Rochelle, New York.

California Department of Education. (2015) DRDP: Essential View.

Clifford, R., Cryer, D. Thelma, H. (2005) Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale. University of North Carolina Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

Governor’s State Advisory Council on Early Learning and Care. (2013). Transitional Kindergarten Implementation Guide: A Resource for California Public School District Administrators And Teachers. Sacramento.

Knight, J. (2013). High Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching. Corwin.

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