Topic #1: Learning and Applying Preschool Learning Foundations and Assessment Data in Lesson Planning, Environment Setting, and Leading Small Group and Big Group Activities.
Introducing How Our Teachers Apply Preschool Foundations, Lesson Plan, Lead Activities, and Collect Data
Applying preschool learning foundations, gathering data, individualizing your lesson plans, and leading large and small groups can all become overwhelming tasks for some early childhood educators. Over the course of nearly 30 years of teaching preschoolers, I have learned to implement all of these tasks and realize it takes complete knowledge in each area and lots of planning and preparation to manage it all. I will share with you how our center here at Grizzly Hollow Head Start is able to accomplish such tasks and hopefully provide some ideas to help other educators as well.
As I mentioned earlier, it is important to fully understand the early learning foundations (Head Start calls it Framework/ELOF). Understanding the 5 central domains; approaches to learning, social and emotional development, language and literacy, cognition, and perceptual motor and physical development are all essential to know and have an understanding of each one. See the chart below as it identifies the domains pertaining to infant & toddlers and preschool-age children.
Once you dive deep into each of these areas, you will be able to understand how children progressively develop across the 5 key areas of learning and development. It is also crucial to know each measure and be able to identify when you see or hear a child doing something and where to place the observations at (DRDP measures). Knowing this information will help educators better understand where their focus should be when planning and implementing lesson plans to provide a well-rounded experience for each individual child based on their needs. The focus should support the early learning outcomes as well as individual needs. Once you have a good enough grasp on the central domains, the individual measures, and an understanding of how they all interweave and relate to the development of the child, you can then begin to create lesson plans for your classroom as well as make adjustments to your environment to support learning. Our agency uses the Creative Curriculum for Preschoolers (Kai-Lee Berke, Carol Aghayan, Cate Heroman) volumes 1-5. It was selected due to several reasons such as the philosophy being based on early childhood theory and research, it supports parent involvement, it is inclusive to children from diverse backgrounds and abilities and it is aligned with ELOF, Head starts early learning outcomes frameworks. The Creative Curriculum is designed to support teachers at all levels of experience and provides a wealth of information, examples, and ideas to provide a high-quality developmentally appropriate program. Each volume is like “an architect’s blueprint” for teachers to expand their knowledge and incorporate their own interests and style into preparing your lesson plan, setting up their classrooms, involving parents and so much more.
The teachers at our center have lesson planning get-togethers every Friday to prepare for the following week. We all sit down as a team and discuss what went well during the week and begin to plan for the following week. Our agency’s education team provides us with planning sheets that are carefully designed to align with the 5 ELOF topics (approaches to learning, social/emotional, language & learning, Cognition/math/science, physical development & nutrition). These planning sheets are like “road maps” for us to use when planning for the week. See below an example of what a planning sheet looks like:
It is designed for teachers to choose 2 activities from each domain and apply it on your lesson plan for the week ensuring a well-balanced high-quality lesson plan. It was also designed to “bridge the gap” between the Creative Curriculum and daily classroom practices. Individualization is also expected to be implemented into the lesson plan to meet the needs of all the children’s unique needs in the classroom. Once two activities are chosen from each of the 5 columns, there is still space for teachers to add their own spin and creativity to the week’s plan. Another thing our agency welcomes is repeat activities! As we all know, children love to do things over and over again. It is totally fine and encouraged to do one or more of the activities again the following week or continue a version of the activity all month! It would be an added bonus to perhaps add a little more to the activity such as a level of difficulty or taking the child’s lead and having them come up with ways to add a different element to the activity.
Now that you have the foundations down and can add each one of these domains into your lesson plan, you can now prepare to lead large and small group activities. You have your foundation down, you’ve developed a well-rounded lesson plan using ELOF, now it’s time to implement the activities. Our teaching team has an approach we like to call “slowing it down”. Oftentimes teachers rush activities and miss valuable teachable moments. To explain what I mean by this, I’ll use an example of a bird feeder activity I was about to do with the class years back. I started gathering the material I figured they would need to create a bird feeder then thought to myself, do they even know what a bird feeder is? That is when the lightbulb turned on reminding me we need to slow things down. We need to find out what they know about a bird feeder and if they don’t have a clue well that’s where we start. We first asked the question “What is a bird feeder?” Then we introduced what a bird feeder was via images on Google and took a walk around the neighborhood trying to find some bird feeders. Once they had the concept of what it was we had them draw a plan of how they wanted to create their own unique bird feeder then allowed them to gather materials they would need. As you can imagine these bird feeders turned out so amazing, so unique and so different from what I would have ever imagined them to look like. It is important for us to not impose our ideas on our children and allow them to be creative and challenge their critical thinking skills along the way. I encourage educators to try this approach when preparing activities and remember the concept of less is more. Give them the opportunity to help in the preparation!
Now we move into the area of putting it all together. We started with the foundation (ELOF) then moved into lesson planning, then leading group activities, now collecting data, and then the results! What do you do with the results of all of your hard work, or should I say the children’s hard work? In our agency, we print out these reports and share them with the parents and develop an individual plan for each child. With the parents’ input, we choose one area from each domain that we want to focus on, then develop a plan of what activities would best support each domain in class as well as at home. We also use a graph to tally each of the 5 domain goals chosen for each child in the class and make sure to focus on those areas while lesson planning. On our lesson planning sheets, each activity has a list of measures the activity focuses on making it easy to select appropriate ones to meet the needs of the children in the class. With the help of our amazing education team, tools such as the Creative Curriculum and Learning Genie, setting up activities for your group and collecting data should be a breeze!
The final piece to the puzzle, collecting data and observations! As I mentioned in the beginning, I have been a preschool teacher for almost 30 years and have experienced several different ways of data collection. When Learning Genie was introduced in our program, it was the best thing since sliced bread! In the past, we used to have to gather evidence such as drawings, and children’s work and we would take lots of photos with a camera. The difficulty with this style was that we would then have to print out the photos to have as examples to add to our portfolios costing money and time. The most tedious task was handwriting most of the observations of what children said and were doing and carefully separating them to add them to sheets of paper that had the 45+ measures we focused on. With the Learning Genie tool, we were given iPads to collect photos, videos, and space to input notes to support what we captured. The Learning Genie’s design to simply tag the measures the observation captured and then later be able to see each individual measure was in my opinion genius!! This tool has not only saved teachers so much time, it helped keep teachers organized knowing how many observations they had taken per measure and what still needed to be collected. The other amazing part was being able to share these observations with parents, allowing them to have a window into their child’s daily activities! Being able to take observations using the iPad and Learning Genie app simultaneously during activity has allowed us to capture data and observations very easily and efficiently. The feature of allowing us to go back and add more details is also quite helpful.
In closing, I hope I was able to explain how our team goes about applying preschool learning foundations, lesson planning, leading group activities, and collecting data and observations. I hope you’re able to utilize some of the ideas I shared with you and implement them in your classroom. I would also like to share one last tip. We created YouTube videos reviewing lesson plans and giving tips on the importance of each activity. The parents enjoyed them and made the connection between home and school so much stronger.