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Lead from the Start: October 2007

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A heroine for preschool people

I have been thinking about my last post a lot. I was thankful to remember that one of my real heroes Kathy Glazer just published a hugely important document. Kathy, as Executive Director of the Governor’s Working Group on early childhood education, spearheaded an effort to create a new document on early childhood development for Virginia. The result of that effort, Virginia's Milestones For Early Childhood Development is an incredible document. Here is a brief overview
photo from Gillian Robinson
"Broadly defined, the Milestones are a set of child development
indicators and strategies for adults designed to support the growth
and development of young children from birth to kindergarten
entry. Specifically, the Milestones are organized by domain area
(e.g., Social and Emotional Development); within each domain are
related strands (e.g., Relationship with Others) and indicators,
examples, and strategies arranged in a gradual progression by
approximate age range (i.e., birth to 18 months; 18 months to 36
months; 36 months to 48 months; and 48 months to kindergarten
entry). These age ranges are intentionally broad because young
children’s development is highly episodic; such flexibility, therefore,
permits variation within developmental ranges."

But, what I am totally excited about is the organization of the strands in approaches to learning. The Five strands are:
Strand 1:
Strand 2:
Curiosity and Initiative
Strand 3:
Creativity &
Strand 4:
Reasoning &
Problem Solving

Now those are some ideas I can get behind. What if school standards were organized like this? What would we teach kids then? I will use this new document as a guide as I look at my students' development. Perhaps this broader perspective will remove some of the "deficit" from "normal" child development.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What does NORMAL child development look like?

I really think the idea of "normal" is not as useful as I once thought it was. When I first started teaching I based all of my ideas about normal child development on the assessment tools I used to test for developmental delays. The test we use is the Speed DIAL. (Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning.) It is supposed to scale sores by developmental age down to the month.
Twelve or thirteen years ago my 4 year old students usually scored fairly low but not below the "cut score" that indicated a delay.

Having my own kids made me stop thinking about normal development so much. Every kid is so different, unique and brilliant in his or her own way. Also, having my own kids and teaching a group of kids for two years has made me raise my expectations for what kids are capable of in language and cognitive development.

Most of my students from last year scored at about a 6 year old level according to the DIAL.
One of them didn't. She scored at a 3 year old level. If she hadn't been in my class last year I wouldn't think twice about her development but, because all of the students from last year scored higher I am thinking she may have a delay in language development. Her mother and I agreed to do a child study. I just don't want her to to be unsupported if she needs additional services. She seems to have extraordinary expressive language (what she says) but delayed receptive language. (what she understands and retains)

She only seems to be delayed within the context of my classroom, not within the broader definition of student delays. There are so many lenses to look at her development through. I am not sure the "normal" lens is the best to use to understand her developmental patterns.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Good and the Bad

The best part of this school year so far is definitely that 13 of my 17 students from last year returned this year. It is kind of like having a huge family with all the kids the same age. I feel very connected to my students now. We had our share of struggles last year but this year most of them evaporated. I know where every student is in all of the domains. I know each child's strengths, when they need a hug, and when they need me to stand firm. And, all of my 6 new students have fallen right in line with the class. It is going great.
Now for the bad. One of my returning students has been diagnosed with leukemia. It is really great that her mother was able to help the doctors catch the disease. L. is having spinal taps and chemotherapy. She is really being a trooper. I went by to drop off some work, a cd, and to check on her on Monday. She really, really, loves school. Of all of my students from last year, she will probably be affected by missing school for long periods the most.
As I was sitting there and her mother mentioned how her oldest daughter was using her laptop it came to me what I needed to do.
L. needed her own blog. I new she would feel more connected to the life of our class if she could see and talk to us each day. Her mother is teach savvy enough to do the posts at home. She named the blog, Missing School.
Each morning now we check to see what L. has to say. We have posted video of our class singing our favorite songs, posted some wishes from the kids, and I will begin posting video messages from the kids soon.
I will probably try to get the class to dictate what they want to say to me at some point and maybe even have them copy it down. L. Seems to be really happy about it too.
So, now we have a way to cope and hopefully L. will beat the disease handily. She is hoping to return for brief periods after the holidays.
Due to privacy constraints I can't share the blog with the world but I will keep you posted.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

chaos theory and the imagination in our classrooms

"In a world where everything is connected and the cause/effect relationship is not definitive, one cannot hope to create lasting changes in education through isolated acts. It can only be done through collective action in which each person’s actions point toward the similar goals. It takes collaboration and communication to create a cumulative affect that is lasting and substantial." This is a paraphrase of the perspective presented by the dean of the School of Education, Dr. Beverly Warren, at VCU. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a perspective so close to my own. I really felt like my pursuit of my doctorate at this particular time was the right step.

I think this perspective on educational reform is helpful and human. I get frustrated when discussion about education drifts away from what is best or "works" for students.
Part of discussion in class has revolved around educational research. The “whatworks” clearinghouse was brought up as an example of a mode of educational thought that is currently driving reform. I have looked at the “whatworks” clearinghouse website and found it to be unhelpful. I think the premise that teachers should use what has been proven to work is an important and helpful idea. It makes me nervous though when "best practices" begin to over take the idea of "what works" in your classroom. How do we know that these practices are the "best?" Is the inquiry done? Will there ever be "better than best practices" The entirely relational “pluralistic and unfinished”aspects of teaching, as William James would describe it, make ideas like "the best" approach impossible to find. The Scientifically Based Research approach, though useful, is not necessarily the whole story about particular educational interventions. There is not necessarily discussion of the quality of teaching or teachers that implement the interventions "that work." Perhaps there could be a color coding that would say this will work for a seasoned teacher, that will work for a novice. No. That would require teachers to be included in the equation.

The worst part about the what works clearinghouse is that it doesn't help teachers. Teachers usually don't have a choice about what reading program they use. The program adopted by our school system has "Possibly positive" effects on alphabetics and "possibly negative" effects on comprehension. It is a scripted program implemented in such as way that a teacher can be reprimanded if he or she doesn't follow the script.

As a specialist in early childhood I was interested in the recently completed review of early childhood interventions. In looking at what the website describes as the best program I found this paragraph:

"Absence of conflict of interest"

"Literacy Express was developed in part by Dr. Lonigan, one of the two Principal Investigators for the WWC ECE review, and he has received income from sales of this curriculum. Dr. Lonigan was the primary author on both studies reviewed for this WWC intervention report. He also developed the P-CTOPPP, one of the outcome measures used in this report. Dr. Lonigan was not involved in the coding, reconciliation, or discussion of the included studies. Additionally, he was not involved in writing or reviewing the WWC intervention report. Dr. Kisker, the second Principal Investigator for the review, led all study review and report writing activities for Literacy Express."

If that doesn't sound like an admission of bias I don't know what is. This is the difficulty with selecting the best practice to use in your classroom. A teacher can never be sure why it is the best practice. Is it the best practice because an expert says so, because a possibly biased government website says so, because a practitioner in a similar situation says so, or because I have tried it in my classroom and it "works" for my kids in my situation?

On the other side, just because the situation is pluralistic it does not mean it is unknowable or understandable.

I think the key is that humanity (and education) evolves in a situational though not unrelated fashion (Passivity and powerlessness in educational thought, Bredo, 1997). But, the reason it evolves is because of humanity’s ability adapt, invent, and use it’s imagination to re-frame its situation not because of a single story that will be told until its conclusion and we have found the "BESTEST" practice. This is why the more teachers are allowed to be human and adapt, invent, and use their imagination (and acknowledge the relational and unfinished world) the closer we will get to what is best for the human beings in our classrooms.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The nature of doctoral studies

I will begin posting my work from the doctoral classes I am taking at VCU. Part of the work of the foundations class is to post on a blog. The teacher has added questions and we are to respond and comment on each others' thoughts. So here is my first post from a couple weeks ago. If you are interested in related literature shoot me an email.

I have been warned of the unintended consequences of my pursuit of a PhD by several people. I was especially concerned when a faculty member at the university warned me against the pursuit because I was "not like" the people I would be in the cohort with. I am hoping that this difference will enable me to bring something valuable to the field of education and possibly the sub-disciplines of teacher leadership and early childhood education. I am concerned that an unintended consequence will be that I will be forced to decide on a specialty when I really am interested in both fields.

As an accomplished teacher I have seen the benefits and responsibilities associated with perceived expertise in the field of teaching young children.
I am asked to do more, but also given more opportunities to influence the greater world of education. It is this influence that has called me to pursue the doctorate. I can see that as a teacher, often the "university" set who try to direct teaching in the classroom from afar are disdained. This is a consequence that has caused me to keep my pursuit of a doctorate a secret from all but my closest colleagues. I know that, in my inner city elementary school I will be seen as a know it all. It has taken me a long time to gain credibility as a white male from a middle class background in a school of teachers made up mostly of African-American women from lower middle class backgrounds teaching children of poverty.

I see also a danger in disconnecting from the experiences that I have had to gain this credibility. I have seen that the right person, in the right place, at the right time can make a huge difference in the lives of children. I have spent the last ten years refining my ability to interact with children. Although this pursuit is challenging I am interested in using more of my talents and abilities to make a difference for children and the doctorate will earn me the designation of expert that will enable me to influence the larger world of education. It is this designation that I am seeking. It will empower me to be the right person. I am fearful of the unintended consequence of forgetting where I came from, the classroom. This is a struggle that many individuals go through and which Ruby Payne has described in her work concerning socio-economic mobility. She describes how, when a person moves from one social structure to another they must sometimes lose their connection with the people from their past in order to fully immerse themselves in the new culture.
After acculturating to the new situation the walls between "worlds" can become more permeable.
This unintended consequence is one that I see as inevitable though I don't necessarily know how to cope with yet.