Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Food Chains for Preschool

This week we feature leopards in our free weekly activity. In the accompanying Dear Colleague letter, we talk about ways you and your children can discuss the interconnectedness of Planet Earth. In the past we have looped paper strips to create a chain of vegetation and animals to illustrate our dependence on one another.

As you can see, the strips do not always lend themselves to drawing pictures and may be more appropriate for older students.

An age-appropriate activity is to act out a food chain. This can be helpful, especially when you are working with English Language Learners (ELLs). This type of comprehensible input is important for their understanding. As always, using clear nouns and verbs will especially be helpful to newcomers or those in the “Silent Phase.”

There are other visual activities to help all children understand our connected world. For example, if you are changing your school over to Earth-friendly reusable coffee mugs, put the old Styrofoam cups to good use. They can serve as a way to show the food chain in a different manner. Take a look at our visual:

You can ask children to color just one plant or animal and then work with a group to figure out how these all “stack up” in the food chain or one child can make his or her own food chain cups.

We have shown the food chain for a leopard to align with our activity, but here are a few other ideas:


Of course, you will want to ask children for ideas about your local animals and how these creatures fit into a community food chain.

You will see that we always like to integrate fine motor skills into activities. Coloring, cutting, and pasting encourage future writing skills.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC –2.G.02 & 2.G.08.
Head Start -XI.B.1 & 2.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Working With ELLs in the Silent Phase

As we have discussed in the past, there are phases to acquisition of a new language. You can read about the Silent Period by clicking here. This phase can be confusing and frustrating for teachers as we want to see and be a part of learning. When children are reluctant to express themselves, we often think that nothing is happening or even that we are failing as teachers. But this is not true! 

We would benefit from remembering that much is taking place in the minds of new language learners as they immerse themselves in the school environment. They are listening and watching. Children watch you show pictures of nouns and verbs. They listen to you read books. They observe their peers line up, wash their hands, and go to lunch or run outside.  All the while, language is being matched with actions. Vocabulary is being silently attempted in little heads. This is an important time.

To help, the first thing to remember is to avoid forcing any child to speak. This can make the silent period last longer or even be harmful in other ways. Be patient - children will speak! To help children and to assure teachers they can implement strategies that will assist children, think about integrating the following into classrooms:

Always remember that receptive language is being built. Read simple books with pictures that match the text. We think this is simple, but the choice of text for ELLs is important. Many books do not have pictures that adequately match the vocabulary of each page. 

Consider asking yes or no questions, but pair these questions with a hand signal like thumbs up or thumbs down. This way, children can give the hand signal until they are comfortable adding the simple words. 

Pair children with others. You can match them with those who speak their language, but you can also watch for blossoming friendships. Often ELLs will try and speak English words to other children with whom they are comfortable. Watch and listen...but silently! 

We like to plan constructivist activities to engage children. When we move beyond simply writing letters or numbers, children are more engaged and likely to share thoughts. Group children and let them explore. You can see for example, our post on the M & M Experiment.  Activities like this integrate literacy and science, but they also help children learn inquiry skills and cooperate with others. For your ELLs, these types of activities show them that it is acceptable to take chances! And in the fun, they are more inclined to take chances with their new language.

Sing songs that have repeating verses and rhythmic language. These are easy to follow, especially if you pair gross motor movements with the words. This makes the language especially fun and age-appropriate. 

It is also important to establish the idea that mistakes are acceptable and made by everyone. We like to be vocal about our mistakes and show all children that these are ways to further learning. We can be heard saying, "Oh I made a mistake but I can learn from it," several times a day. 

Of course, if you can speak a few words in the child's home language, this will almost certainly bring a smile to faces. Look for books that have a few words in different languages. And, of course, if you have Spanish speakers, be sure to sign up for our Emergent Reader weekly activities in English and Spanish. Even sending home the Dear Colleague letter will help families who are fluent in Spanish. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.D.
Head Start - IX. A.,B.,& C.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Making Subtraction Fun

Before young children even see the minus sign or hear the words "take away" or "subtraction," we can help them to understand the meaning of this mathematical operation. Children easily see and appreciate the concept of addition - it means more, something that developmentally is appealing to children. But when we talk about take away, that isn't always as appreciated. No young child likes things taken away. Here are two age-appropriate and fun ways to help preschoolers understand the concept. 

Counting Backwards: 

First, counting backwards encourages subtraction readiness. We suggest making a game out of this. For example, you can easily add this as part of classroom management. As children line up, count backwards from any number to zero. Make this fun by letting children pick a number from a bowl (you can put in numbers you want children to learn. For example, you might write numbers 4, 5, 6, 7). When the child chooses a number, he or she can read it, and then you tell children you are going to countdown from that number to zero. You can count slowly, in a squeaky voice, or a low voice, etc. to make it fun and different each time. This helps children hear the numbers as one is taken away as you countdown. 

Additionally, engage children in counting down, too. Have them do this while they are on the playground, cleaning up, or even as they do the calendar. Count backwards from the current date to the first day of the month as you point at the numbers. 

How Many Are Hidden:

Take a certain number of small objects like pennies or blocks. If you have 5 objects,  show those objects to children. Have them count the objects and reinforce the number with them. Next hide a certain number, like 3, behind your back. Show children the remaining 2 objects. Ask them to figure out how many you are hiding. Continue to do this with different combinations. Then play the game with other numbers. 

We suggest sending this fun and easy math game home for families to play with children. It is a valuable activity to encourage mathematical thought about subtraction. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.F.02 - 2.F.13.  
Head Start -  X. A., B., D., & E.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Respecting Teacher Voices!

We have taken time-out from our activity-based blog to discuss testing both last week and this week. We feel it is essential that teachers use their powerful voices to not only educate children and families, but to speak up when certain tests are not helpful. Some tests, in our opinion, may be a waste of time. It is appropriate that we discuss the need to respect and honor teacher voices this month, as October is Head Start Awareness Month. What a better time to encourage all teachers to speak up!

We often hear from teachers that certain tests are not helpful in classrooms. We have been in areas where teachers brought their concerns to school boards and were successful in changing required tests. To help you speak up about any unfair testing, we offer you the following list of what to consider as you plan to voice your concerns:

  • What are the credentials of the test developers? One popular test was not designed by educators.
  • Who benefits financially when the test is administered? You would be surprised at the institutions, etc. who collect money!
  • How are the test results used? If they are not used to plan instruction, then the test is often worthless.
  • How much class time is devoted to giving the test? Too much test time takes away from instruction. For example, if you use three weeks to individually assess children, think about the time this takes away from class time, especially if you do this at the beginning of the year when you need to establish routines and a positive atmosphere for children.
  • Does the test actually test what it says it does? One popular test claims to assess children's knowledge of letters, but in reality, it tests how fast a child can speak. Think about how this hurts our ELLs.
  • What does the research say about the test? You can look this up on the Internet. But, be aware - sometimes test developers conduct research and get it published in journals. Look for name or institutional matches.
  • Does the test use only quantitative data? This means numbers - we are reminded of researchers who claimed teachers called on male students more than on female students. They believed this helped male students academically. The findings were later disputed when qualitative researchers visited classrooms and noted that when teachers called on male students they were doing this to correct behavior. This anecdote shows we need both those who do statistics and those who look at the reasons things occur.
  • How do young children react to being tested? We believe that especially in preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary school, we need to look at how children react in testing situations. Consider a child who returned from "taking" one popular test. That child did not answer or speak to the test administrator because she was a stranger. The child was proud because she had followed the rules. Of course, the quantitative data showed the child failed the assessment.
Good luck speaking out!
Please let us know if you have questions or successes.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Assessing ELL Children

Many of us have English Language Learners (ELL) in our classrooms, day cares, etc. We often assess all children but wonder, "How can I learn more about my ELL children?" The answer to this question must first be considered by addressing your purpose for assessments.  Best practices tell us that assessments are ideal when they are used to drive instruction. So, if you want to discover how to help children make progress, then that is a good reason to assess. Sometimes, formal assessments like DIBELS, do very little to help us plan lessons and, in fact, it is my belief that formal tests like this can end up harming instruction for children. More on that next week! 

Let's consider our early ELLs. Many times when these children first come to school they are still in the Silent Period or the Early Production Period (for more on this please see our posts, "The Silent Period" and "Early Production"). We need to know how much English each child can understand. There are wonderful assessments that are perfect for listening and speaking such as the SOLOM (Student Oral Language Observation Matrix). Assessments like this provide helpful data and give you a range as to where each ELL is on the Language Acquisition Continuum.

But, you likely have specific needs in your classroom. A simple listening comprehension assessment is helpful in getting to know individual children. You likely want to know if a child can understand basic English words, especially basic school vocabulary. You can create your own assessment by using any background knowledge you have about the child and using these interests to discover more about his or her listening language. For example, if the child likes soccer, put out three different color balls. Ask the child to give you the red ball, etc. You can observe the child to see if the gives you a blue ball or if the red ball is merely picked up. Responses can tell you if the verb is not understood or if the color word is not understood. These kinds of qualitative determinations are important for classroom success. And, when you use the child's interests, you are likely to get a better picture of the child's abilities.

As you create basic listening skills assessments, we encourage you to consider the necessary language for your classroom. Is "raise your hand" an important phrase that you want a child to understand? Is "sit on the carpet?" a command you need for all to understand? Finding out if children can understand YOUR classroom language is helpful for you and the children. So, make your assessments work for your classroom! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.D.01 & 02.
Head Start - VIII.A. & IX. A