Monday, December 3, 2012

ECEs are A+

These two ladies are the Early Childhood Educators at my school. I received permission from both of them (Maria Theresa [Thess] Isidro and Jennifer [Jen] Balido-Cadavez) to post this photo on my blog.

We've had full-day kindergarten at our school for three or four years now. I remember the concerns that swirled around when it was first suggested to have certified teachers partnering with certified ECEs in these classrooms, but any reservations anyone might still have would disappear in a flash if they could see these two ladies in action. I have learned so much from Thess and Jen and I wanted to share some of the unique ways they have made me a better teacher.

Early Childhood Educators are "trained in a program accepted by the College of Early Childhood Educators (College of ECE) and must be a member of the College". ( Their focus on the youngest learners really add a much-needed different perspective that teachers may obtain while earning their Bachelor of Education degree and Ontario College of Teachers qualifications.

As a specialist teacher, I am blessed to have the ECE come with the kindergarten students during library, computers, and media classes. Thess and Jen are solid bridges that can link together the big ideas discussed in the regular classroom with concepts taught in my lessons. They also know what makes some of these kids "tick" and can redirect, individualize instruction, and alert me when one of their charges is a bit "off". They know what strategies work for which child and will often intervene before a situation escalates out of control. We team-teach and discuss what went well in a lesson and what we noticed students doing as they work or talk. Jen and Thess give me descriptive feedback so that I can improve my lessons and help the students learn more effectively. Thess and Jen also make me laugh and we can share the amusing things that happen when you regularly interact with 4- and 5-year-olds.

Let me give you just a few examples so you don't think I'm just being a sycophant. A few years ago at the Ontario Library Superconference, my colleague and dear friend Denise Colby presented on kindergarteners in the library, and she recommended that we make our school libraries similar to kindergarten classes. I thought I'd play with this idea by having centers to explore our latest learning goal: "We are learning to identify the title and author on book covers". Jen and Thess gave me advice about setting up the centers, set up the supplies in a much more organized fashion, set up the rotation groups, monitored the performance of the students as they worked on the center activities, noted difficulties with some of the centers (for instance, one of the centers involved using pages from a vendor's book catalogue and circling the titles - some of the pages we gave had too many book covers on them and it overwhelmed some of the students), and after doing the centers (which were intended as "assessment as learning" and "assessment for learning" [ page 28]) helped me plan for the series of evaluations I wanted to use for my "assessment of learning".  They recommended using four book covers instead of just one, in case some students over-generalize and "mess up" (some of the success criteria they came up with said that most titles are near the top of the cover - this isn't always the case and some kids may automatically circle words near the top). When I showed the different options I was considering, they recommended I place one at the back of the main evaluation page for the students who need greater challenges.

In computer class, we just took a break from our learning goal centered on identifying the program we chose to use during free time and explaining/justifying our choices. I noticed that the students could recite the name of the program while at the carpet but would shrug or say "I don't know" when asked while they were playing/using. The ECEs recommended using actual screen shots from the program in addition to the extra-large hand-drawn icons of the programs we had been using. The ECEs would go around and practice asking and responding with the students and since the children feel extremely comfortable with Mrs. Isidro and Mrs. Cadavez, they would more readily answer the questions and the ECEs could coach them using the learning goal and success criteria charts (which, based on another suggestion of theirs, I made multiple copies and placed in the computer lab as well as their regular classroom). They tied in the math language they were using in the regular class (to justify - although I had a fantastic conversation with Thess' teaching partner about the difference between explain [say why] and justify [say how do you know] and made alterations to the words used on the charts). I'd show them my anecdotal notes I'd take each week and they'd add their own observations and together we'd consider who needed extra talk-time.

I could go on at even greater length about how Thess and Jen have influenced me, but I think you get the picture. I miss them on the rare occasion when they are absent from school and they are a great source of professional development for me. Thank you Jen and Thess for everything you do!

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