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Smartphones, Tablets, and Screen Time – Oh, My! (Guest Blogger: Bridget Meis, M.S.Ed.)

Technology is around us from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed.  With the increase in the amount of exposure that children have with technology, there are many questions and ideas about what is appropriate. How much screen time is too much? What apps will help my child’s development?  Children get enough technology at home, should I even have it in the classroom? These are just a few questions that come to mind.

There are millions of apps available for download to smartphones and tablets.  When we look at these apps, we must consider several different features in order to choose quality apps that will enhance children’s development rather than just passively exposing them to screen time.

App Features to Consider

We want to look at apps that offer a divergent path and choice making opportunitiesfor children to be able to actively engagewith the app.  Think of the choose your own adventure books that you may have read as a child; these books gave you the opportunity to make your own choice during the story and then see what happens because of that choice.  When we think of apps that offer a divergent path, they provide that same opportunity for decision making, problem-solving, and exploring what happens next.

Children will go through stages of development when using apps, just like they do with real materials. First, the children will tap and explore cause and effect.  Through exploring, children will develop the confidence and skills to make certain things happen within the app.  Finally, children will be able to use the app as it was intended to be used.

So, with that in mind, we want to offer apps that are open ended and invite the children to explorethe features of the app in a non-threatening environment.  Find apps that children can tap and explore in any way that they choose, and there is not a wrong way to use the app.  Some apps that offer this feature are the Toca Boca apps.  There are several available where children can discover on their own what will happen as the interact with the screen.

Apps will never take the place of real-life experiences, so when you are choosing apps, try to find ones that will enhance hands on experiencesor children’s knowledge about the real world.  Give them a chance to take pictures and edit those pictures with games, such as Toca Hair Salon.  You can also find apps that allow children to take pictures of their artwork – the Keepy App with do this, or even create their own stories and save them as a PDF, such as Storybook.  Find apps that will be relevant to the children’s experiences.

We want to keep in mind that when we are giving children the opportunity to use apps with smartphones or tablets, that choosing a quality app is not enough when we look at the appropriate use of technology with young children.  We want to think about how we are interacting with the children as they use the app.  Are we there with the children as they play, to help facilitate and guide the child on how to use the app?  Are we there to encourage conversations and questions about how the app connects to the real world?

Technology is here to stay. Model appropriate use of technology with children as you use it and children use it.  Children are always watching what we are doing, and they will learn from the example you set.


Bridget Meis, M.S. Ed, is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist for STARnet Regions I & III. During her time with STARnet, she has presented on a variety of topics including: Apps and Assistive Technology, Social/Emotional development, Creative Curriculum, Teaching Strategies GOLD, Portfolios, Lesson Planning, Mathematics in Early Childhood, Science and Mathematics, STEAM and Family Engagement. Bridget has worked in the field of Early Childhood Education since 2003. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Illinois State University and her Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Erikson Institute. Bridget has worked in a variety of early childhood programs with diverse groups of children from as young as six weeks old to children in fifth grade. Bridget has served children and families in private childcare programs and most recently with Head Start.

Removing Systemic Barriers in Education Through Universal Design for Learning (Guest blogger: Jana Nicol, M.Ed.)

“Fair doesn’t always mean equal.”

As an elementary school teacher, sometimes it is necessary to help young students to develop a more sophisticated understanding of fairness. Part of building classroom community is helping students understand that we all have different needs, and that everyone has an equal right to learn. ​This picture usually comes to mind when I think of this topic:

In the first image of this picture, everyone is given the exact same support. They are being treated equally, but they are not being treated fairly. If we are striving to teach all of our students fairly, then some students may be given different supports which gives everyone an equal chance of success. This often results in accommodations, such as providing extra time, or printing worksheets in larger print for those who need it.

The picture above is definitely more widely distributed than this one:

The third image in this picture is an excellent example of Universal Design for Learning. The need for additional supports is eliminated altogether because the systemic barrier has been removed. For teachers who wish to implement UDL in their classrooms, we must think of ways to reduce the need for additional supports.

As teachers, we may not have the ability to completely remove the need for accommodations in our classroom, because we lack control over some of the systemic barriers that make learning challenging for some students. For example, we may lack funding for technology, or we may be obligated to follow a set regulations for the administration of standardized assessments.

But we can at least make the effort to empower ourselves to remove as many barriers as we can in our own classrooms in ways that are affordable and feasible. Here are just a few ways that we can help remove barriers in our own classrooms to benefit all students:

  • We can make classroom materials accessible – we can put materials within everyone’s reach, add labels with words and pictures, keep them in a consistent location so students can remember where they are kept, and make small purchases that increase accessibility in the classroom (e.g. left-handed scissors, magnifying glasses, fidgets).

  • We can offer flexible seating – we can have a variety of seating arrangements in the classroom to maximize comfort for all students (traditional desk and chair, stools, stability balls, yoga mats, standing desk, milk crates, etc). We can allow students to sit on the floor, under tables, anywhere where they feel comfortable, provided that they are following classroom expectations for work. We can also allow movement from one seat to another and provide movement breaks for the whole class throughout the day because some students need more movement than others.

  • We can offer accommodations to all students – not everyone will need them, but making them available to everyone takes the stigma away from those who rely on them and can benefit everyone. For example, taking away time limits from a test is not only beneficial for those who need more time, but it can also help alleviate anxiety for those who become anxious when they are being timed.

 

  • We can establish and follow predictable routines – many students thrive on routine, and they like to know what to expect. We can have well-established routines for passing out and collecting materials, transitioning between activities, getting ready to go outside, etc. We can post a visual schedule in a prominent area of the room and follow it. I use a visual schedule that is changed daily. Each card has text supported by visuals, which makes it more accessible to those who struggle with reading.

  • We can activate background knowledge before discussing a given topic. Students come to school with a diverse range of experiences and some students may benefit from learning a little bit about a topic before jumping into a lesson. For some students, skipping this step can make a learning activity completely inaccessible to them. And for other students, we can improve the quality of their work by refreshing their memory about a given topic. For example, if we are asking students to write out instructions for making a snowman, we cannot assume that every student has experience with this. Maybe their parents do not allow them to play outside, or perhaps they have moved from a warmer climate. Before the writing activity, we can discuss the steps involved in building a snowman, watch a video of children building a snowman, or take the entire class outside to build snowmen (if you live in a snowy climate).

 

  • Heighten the salience of goals/objectives – Some students need to have a sense of purpose in learning tasks. They need to know why they are doing what they are doing… or what the point of an activity is. Taking time to review a lesson’s objectives in simple language at the beginning of a lesson can help students understand what they need to know and why. Here is a picture of the goal board I use in my classroom, which is written in student-friendly language.


Jana Nicol, B.A., B.Ed., M.Ed., is an elementary school teacher in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. She has researched Universal Design for Learning (UDL) extensively, having written essays on better practices of implementing UDL in elementary school classrooms. She also led a team of teachers through an action research project which sought to increase student engagement through the implementation of UDL practices. She authors the website http://theudlproject.com, where she has shared the findings of this action research, and writes blogs about UDL. She has also facilitated professional development workshops on UDL.

Inequalities and Disparities in Education (guest blogger: Kali Goldberg)

Inequalities and disparities in education have always been painfully obvious to me. I spent the first five years of my teaching career working in a desperately understaffed school. The district was unable to afford a full-time nurse to support students with a G-tube and other medical needs, or multiple assistants for classrooms with severe needs. Supplies were hard to come by as well. When I saw my students using crayons to write on white boards because the district couldn’t afford dry erase markers, I knew I had to do something.

Through my work with Teach Plus, a teacher leadership organization of which I’m an alumna, I was able to illustrate my struggles through an op-ed detailing what lack of funding looked like and what school funding reform would mean to my students and me. One of my local legislators read the piece and reached out for a meeting. I was able to show him my class and point out areas where additional funding would increase educational outcomes for the children in his district. Through this meeting, I was able to educate my legislator and build a relationship with him. The meeting also inspired the newspaper’s editorial board to come out in favor of the school funding bill. As a teacher, I had a deep impact on policy because I used my passion to share my experience with decision makers. They need to hear our stories; teachers need to be part of these conversations.

My impact multiplied exponentially when I partnered with other teachers from other communities who also shared their stories. Several teachers and I advocated with legislators and in communities across the state. We held a rally in Springfield on school funding reform. Together, as teachers, with our communities and legislators, we passed historic school funding reform in Illinois. Teacher voice made a difference for the children of Illinois and will continue to do so as long as teachers are willing to speak up, share their stories, and advocate for what they believe in.

Teaching is inherently political. There are laws and policies that govern who can be a teacher, what education one needs to attain in order to teach, how teachers can discipline their students, how much teachers are paid, and what standards teachers should teach. The list goes on and on. Teacher voice should be an integral part of the conversations where such policies are set. Professors of teacher preparation programs are in a unique position to teach teacher candidates about the pivotal role they can play in policy and how to do so.

The best way to get started in advocacy is to simply find out who your legislators are. Professors should encourage teacher candidates to use websites such as openstates.org to research their legislators. State and federal legislators are there to represent all of their constituents, even those who may not have voted for them. Teachers and teacher candidates should establish a relationship with their legislator, even if there is no issue for which they are currently advocating.

To prepare for a meeting with a legislator:

  1. Have a story to tell – Personal stories have a tremendous power to influence policy. These are the stories that lawmakers need to hear to influence their decisions.
  2. Bring data – It is often beneficial to come with research backing up your position.
  3. Engage in dialogue – Influencing policy is not a one-stop shop. Policy is unlikely to change in a single conversation. Be prepared to build a lasting relationship with the decision maker.
  4. Propose a solution – A solutions-oriented approach is often one of the most influential. Teacher candidates should research the proposed solution and make sure that it is applicable beyond their classroom.
  5. Have an ask – Are you asking your legislator to support or oppose a piece of legislation? The ask should be central to your conversation and supported by your data. It should be in line with the proposed solution.Building consensus:

When meeting with legislators and other decision makers it is beneficial to build a consensus. Find something that you can agree on and build the conversation from there. It can be something as simple as wanting to help the students in your community. Keep in mind that legislators are often not experts in education. They are asked to make decisions in many areas, including education, health care, the environment, and the economy and cannot become an expert in each area. Teachers are the experts in education and should use their expertise to teach and inform legislators just as they do their students.

Policies teacher candidates can focus on:

Professors of teacher preparation programs can engage teacher candidates by engaging them in issues that currently impact them, such as the requirements to becoming a teacher in Illinois, particularly the basic skills assessment or the minimum salary for teacher positions in our state. Teacher candidates may not be ready to engage with decision makers and that’s ok. They can connect with other professionals through teacher’s unions, NAEYC, The Ounce, Teach Plus, and other organizations. Following these groups on social media or signing up for their email lists are effortless ways to stay updated on important issues and advocacy opportunities. Most importantly, this will help teacher candidates to build their advocacy muscle so that when they’re ready to engage, they’ll have the tools and connections to do so.


Kali Goldberg holds a bachelors degree in early childhood education from Elmhurst College as well as a masters degree in curriculum and instruction from Western Governors University. She is in her sixth year teaching, currently in a blended at-risk and special education early childhood classroom in Maywood District 89. Kali is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alumna.

The large impact of smaller groups (Guest blogger: Cecilia Mintz)

I was recently introduced to the concept of taking large groups and breaking them into smaller groups. I thought that sounds like a good idea. However, is it even possible with the limited time that Early Childhood teachers have? The more I began to think about this concept the more I realized what an amazing impact it could make.

Let’s think about your large group, what do you typically do: Calendar? Weather? Read a story? Are all the children actively engaged with these activities? In the 10-15 minutes that you have are you able to respond and engage with all the children that want a chance to speak? My guess would be probably not. After all, there is one of you and usually about 20 children.

Now let’s think about reading a story to six or seven children instead. You could engage and be present for each child in the group, because of this you would be able to scaffold conversations to further their understanding of the content. You might find yourself inspired to be more intentional in the small group activities you plan, and your observations would be more reflective of where each individual actually is. Most importantly it gives you time to get to know and connect with your children. I would even go as far as to say that real learning cannot begin until there is a strong relationship between teacher and child is established.

You may be thinking about logistics of it all. First of all, I want to clarify that this time would not take the place of the academic-focused small groups, but would take place when you typically would do a large group. Get creative with how you break up your groups! One way that you could try is while you work with one group on a story, have the teacher/para work with another group on another circle time activity like the weather or project work. The last group of children can do an independent work group. You will want to make sure that the materials needed are accessible to them and it is an activity they are familiar with.

I am in no way saying to completely rid your classroom of large group. large group is necessary to build the classroom community. To discuss what is coming up and what we have done. We need that time to dance and be silly with children to continue to build those relationships that are vital for children to learn. I’m suggesting spending a little less time in large group, and a little more time with smaller groups of children.

Are you willing to think outside the box and do a little less large group time? Take a chance, you might be surprised by the outcome.


Cecilia Mintz, B.S. Ed, is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist for STARnet Regions I & III. She has worked in Early Childhood since 2007. Cecilia has worked with a diverse population at Head Start. While working with Head Start she guided children with Project Approach. Cecilia worked at engaging families in their child’s education by encouraging their input on family goals involving their child.   

PRELUDE TO EXTINCTION: EARLY CHILDHOOD TEACHER EDUCATORS (Guest blogger: Dr. Marie Ann Donovan)

The last few years were especially rough on Illinois institutions. The budget impasse in Springfield only served to set more than one campus on a downward financial spiral, public as well as private, four- as well as two-year. While most managed to check the slide, none did so without making significant cuts or postponing plans for growth initiatives. With each passing month, certain losses are becoming all the more obvious: tenure-track and long-term contract faculty lines. Based on anecdotal reports shared during recent statewide early childhood teacher educator meetings, it appears that our field has been particularly hard hit by layoffs, retirements, and contract nonrenewals. What once were programs or departments staffed by at least two or three full-time faculty are now ‘solo shows’ with a ‘costarring cast’ of adjunct faculty. Unofficial reports by faculty still in their positions indicate that some are concerned about keeping their ECE programs open, given campus pressures for improved revenue performance. How, exactly, our postsecondary ECE teacher preparation profession ‘got here’ is unclear, as is ‘where’ this observed phenomenon will take us. We must endeavor to understand our situation, if we’re to find a way to counter what appear to be external as well as internal forces resulting in the same outcome: The disappearance of the ECE teacher educator from colleges and universities around our state.

When environmental scientists detect an unexpected decline in a species’ population, they join forces to study its prelude to extinction before it’s too late to reverse. Among the many factors they investigate is the actual extent of the species’ loss. They also examine polluting, or harmful invasions of the species’ habitat. They look broadly at other aspects of the species’ context—predatory-prey relations; physical loss of habitat; invasion by bacteria or viruses; and change in the ambient climate. By examining these factors separately and then together, scientists aim to determine whether and how they cascade to forecast doom. They use these separate studies in toto to guide them in constructing connected ways to head off further loss and prevent ultimate extinction.

Inspired by the work of these environmental scientists, my long-time colleague, professor emerita Dr. Antonia Potenza of Roosevelt University, and I have planned a prelude-to-extinction type study of Illinois’ postsecondary ECE landscape. We will start collecting survey data from programs in early 2019. We also will conduct focus groups and interviews with teacher educators, current and retired. We hope to do the same with campus administrators and other relevant personnel identified by the study participants. Our goal is to complete the bulk of the work in time for the opening of the new academic year in August.

Among our many questions are those related to mapping the current condition of programs at two- and four-year campuses, AAS and AA as well as bachelor’s and graduate-level degrees. In addition to basic demographic information (e.g., number of full-time and part-time faculty), we seek to apprehend the nature of the work being done by ECE faculty (e.g., course load, service, research and scholarship, partnerships), and how that has changed over the last five years in particular. Through focused conversations in small groups and one-on-one across the state, we also aim to limn the pressures affecting current ECE program faculty decision-making (e.g., course enrollment minimums, employer demands, funding limitations). Since this is a study—a matter of asking questions in order to more deeply understand what’s happening, what’s at stake—we won’t be asking participants for solutions. Our main goal is simple: Learn what our ECE colleagues are experiencing, and to what degree. Ideally, through our work we’ll be able to ascertain which factors most influence or otherwise affect Illinois teacher educators’ ability to keep their programs vibrant and working at true, as well as necessary, capacity.

We realize that for some reading this post, our premise may not seem relevant or accurate. We’ve learned from a small sampling that not all campuses are experiencing significant enrollment drops or increases in non-completers. These data are as relevant and critical for mapping the entire landscape as are those describing the breadth and depth of campus program mergers and reformulations, for example. As we’ve learned from the environmental scientists’ studies, it’s all relevant in unearthing the dynamism at play.

We sincerely hope you’ll be willing to participate in the activities of our study, and will respond to our various solicitations to become involved. Please know that we will collect data anonymously when requested, and maintain strict confidentiality protocols throughout. We recognize that for some, certain data may not shareable. We respect individuals’ needs, yet trust that everyone will appreciate the core purpose of our work: Guiding our collective Illinois ECE profession in keeping our system of education and training in place, as well as attuned to workforce realities.

Please let us know your preliminary thoughts, and if you’d be interested in helping us reach out to teacher educator colleagues in all counties and regions. Feel free to contact me directly via mdonovan@depaul.edu or (773) 325-7591. We hope to see you at upcoming ECE meetings and events, where we’ll be glad to informally share further plans and logistics. Thank you in advance for your consideration.


Marie Donovan, ED.D.,  chairs the Early Childhood Education Program at DePaul University in Chicago. Her teaching focuses on early literacy and the literature used to foster children’s language development. She advocates for postsecondary education faculty with the Board of Higher Education and legislators around the state. Her research focuses on career pathways and vocational education, as well as teachers’ professional development. 

 

Questions Answered About Virtual Reality and Early Childhood Teacher Preparation (Guest blogger: Dr. Anni Reinking)

If you attended the Higher Ed. Forum in Bloomington, IL in 2018, you are able to see the early childhood virtual learning environment in action or if you read the VLE blog in 2017, you learned more about the VLE experience. However, you might still have many questions. In this blog, four of those questions will be answered.

  1. What is Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)? If you have not heard of VLE before, here is a brief overview. A VLE experience provides:
  • a safe and low-stress environment for learning and refining best practices
  • practice with no harm/risk to others
  • an actively construct knowledge and apply in context
  • immediate Feedback; Debrief process where critical feedback can be incorporated in future practice
  • suspend (pause) session, regroup/discuss better options, restart session and practice new techniques (pause classroom)
  • avenue for self-reflection

Essentially, VLEs blend artificial intelligence with human intelligence. Overall, the VLE is an indispensable training tool. Studies show that simulations are more effective than other instructional methods, because they simultaneously engage participants’ emotional and cognitive processes.

  1. How do you pay for it?

Currently, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville “owns” a license which provides full access to most scenarios (parent, administrator, classrooms, office visit, etc.). SIUE purchased the license and all needed technology and materials using administrative support and grants. If teacher preparation departments have a desire to use the VLE at SIUE (it is transportable), SIUE charges $125/session. If you choose to purchase a license it is $25,000/year, along with technology costs.

How do universities pay for per hour charge? Some programs charge a student fee, others have applied to grants, and others have secured administrative support based on the transformational application of the experience.

  1. What have you found with the research completed in the early childhood VLE?

Overall the last year, Dr. Reinking has collaborated with the University of Central Florida and Illinois Action for Children to implement the early childhood classroom scenario. These are the preliminary results:

The Spring 2018 cohort overall remarked positively to their experiences using the virtual simulator (TeachLivE). Many participants’ comments focused on two areas: ability to work with others and their peers and wishing they had more time to practice in the simulator.

Three main themes emerged when participants were asked to comment about what they liked about the professional development: 1) Interacting with an avatar/using virtual learning environments, 2) practicing techniques in the simulator before they taught in the classroom, and 3) ability to ask questions and receive feedback. These three themes suggest the participants felt safe with the avatars, they were able to make mistakes and learn from them, and could transfer skills into their real classrooms.

Participants were asked if there was anything they would change about the professional development, and most said the experience was great and did not need to be changed. Other comments were very constructive, including requests of interacting more in the simulator and explanations of what the avatars can and can’t do.

Overall, participants’ comments and Likert scores suggest positive experiences with the professional development using virtual simulators. Virtual simulators:

  1. Provide a safe environment for participants to practice, learn, make mistakes, and try again before interacting with students in their classrooms.
  2. Provide a unique experience for co-teachers to practice lessons together to find which co-teaching model works best for their instruction, as well as best for the lesson they will deliver.
  3. Participants expressed the desire for more time in the simulator to hone their skills to effectively teach their classrooms.

Here is a video of one participant in the VLE at Illinois Action for Children:

In this video you see the benefit of pausing the classroom, providing, feedback, and the interactions the avatar students are able to do.

  1. How do you incorporate it into teacher preparation programs?

Currently SIUE incorporates the VLE into several courses including, but not limited to:

  • Parent teacher conferences: pre-service and in-service teachers practice engaging in parent teacher conferences, specifically focused on difficult conversations.
  • IEP Meetings: pre-service and in-service teachers practice engaging in IEP meetings. This is in collaboration with the special education program.
  • Co-Teaching: pre-service teachers engage in co-planning and co-teaching in the VLE.
  • Classroom Management: pre-service and in-service teachers practice developmentally appropriate behavior management practices.
  • Classroom Instruction: pre-service and in-service teachers practice various classroom instruction strategies.
  • Feedback: pre-service and in-service teachers practice providing impactful feedback (link to edTPA).

The students interact in the VLE during class time or, if time allows, during other parts of their day.


Dr. Anni Reinking is an assistant professor in the early childhood program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her research focuses on teacher preparation, virtual training, and multicultural education.

WE NEED YOU IN THE CONVERSATION! (Guest blogger: Catherine Main)

The recent report, Teach Illinois—Strong Teachers, Strong Classrooms: Policy Solutions to Alleviate Teacher Shortages in Illinois (September 2018), from the Illinois State Board of Education highlighted key teacher shortage areas and offered a range of recommendations to address those shortages. On behalf of our membership we drafted a response to the report. Our response is below.

But, this is just the start of the conversation. We need to continually be engaged and participate in our professional organizations (ILAECTE) as well as local and state level committees that recommend practices and policies impacting our program and students. Please RSVP to our Meeting on November 2, 2018 at Elmhurst College.


The Illinois Association for Early Childhood Teacher Educator (ILAECTE) is professional organization representing faculty and administrators in early childhood teacher educations program across Illinois institutions of higher education. It is an affiliate organization of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators.

As an organization focused on issues impacting the recruitment, preparation and assessment of teacher candidates in early childhood education programs we appreciate the opportunity to respond to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) report, Teach Illinois—Strong Teachers, Strong Classrooms: Policy Solutions to Alleviate Teacher Shortages in Illinois (September 2018).

Our comments are based on our collective experiences in both teacher preparation and broader policy making within early childhood education. We have organized our responses around four key areas that we believe impact the identification of the problems and potential solutions for teacher shortages across early childhood education programs in Illinois.

Create a more accurate data portrait of both Illinois children in early childhood programs and the Illinois early childhood workforce.

While we recognize that the data referring to Illinois students is now frequently represented as P-12, we do not have an accurate definition of what the “P” actually represents. Illinois children are served across a range of programs, including programs administered by ISBE such as Preschool For All (PFA) and Prevention Initiative (PI). These programs are offered in both school-based settings and community based settings. When calculating the demand for early childhood teachers in Illinois, which programs are included and what settings are included?

We were surprised to see that early childhood was not highlighted as major shortage area in Illinois. Other published data shows a significant shortage in the number of teachers with Professional Educator Licenses (PEL) with endorsements in early childhood education and subsequent endorsements in bilingual/ESL and early childhood special education. These shortages are represented in the very high turnover rates across early childhood programs.[1] Additionally, during the same period of preschool expansion from half day programs to more classrooms and full day programs, in our most underserved communities, the number of teachers entitled to a PEL with an endorsement in early childhood education dropped from 1,365 in 2012 to just 599 in 2017.[2]

We recommended a broader and more inclusive analysis of data regarding early childhood programs to produce a more accurate portrait of the actual supply and demand of highly qualified teachers.

Remove the testing requirement of academic proficiency and replace with a more comprehensive assessment of academic proficiency.  

While it may not have been the intention of the state legislature and the subsequent ISBE rules regarding academic proficiency, the required passing score thresholds on the tests of academic proficiency (e.g. ITAP, ACT, SAT) have done more to limit access and opportunity, particularly for minorities, than any other program requirement. The data is conclusive: not only have less than one-third of all test takers passed the test on the first attempt, fewer and fewer potential teacher candidates are even taking the test. For example, between 2015 and 2017, the percentage of African American test-takers dropped from 11 percent to just 3 percent.[3] Moreover there is scant evidence regarding a correlation, much less a causal connection, between tests of academic proficiency and teacher quality.

What we do know is that socio-cultural matches between teachers and children[4] and teacher years of experience[5] impact student outcomes. Instead of focusing on tests of academic proficiency, the focus should be on recruiting and supporting more diverse teacher candidates, particularly from the incumbent early childhood workforce as well as teacher assistants and paraprofessionals. We also recommend immediately replacing a single test score as an indicator with a range of factors that represent a teacher candidate’s academic proficiency such grade point averages and degree completion, including AA and AAS degrees.

Create more accessible, viable and equitable pathways to teaching.

As mentioned above, diversity and experience are important to teacher effectiveness. We recommend a full review of ISBE licensure program rules to identify and remove barriers that impede opportunities for working adults, such as licensed child care providers, teacher assistants, and paraprofessionals to enroll and successfully complete teacher licensure programs. These barriers include rules regarding where teacher candidates can student teach, whether or not they can be compensated for student teaching and specific qualifications related to cooperating teachers, on site mentors, and administrator responsible for teacher evaluation. In addition, we recommend a well-defined option that includes a sequence of coursework and practicum experiences for elementary education teachers and teacher candidates to add a subsequent endorsement in early childhood education to a PEL with an endorsement in elementary education. We strongly advise against a short-sighted solution of reconfiguring grade bans to include K in the elementary licensure. Including K exclusively in the early childhood licensure represents a decision by multiple stakeholders and ISBE to put the learning and developmental needs of young children ahead of administrative ease of building staffing. We are eager to work with ISBE and other stakeholders to continue our efforts in competency based solutions and improved transfer and articulation initiative pathways that focus on supporting our incredibly diverse incumbent early childhood workforce as well as viable options for elementary education teachers to add an early childhood endorsement.

Create a new paradigm for teacher and program evaluation.

We believe that evaluation systems that focus on student outcomes, particularly as measured by standardized tests are problematic at every level—but especially in early childhood education. Development and learning for young children is both uneven and sporadic. Additionally, we know that children come to school with a variety of strengths and experiences that do not create a level playing field when evaluating their progress. For example, not all children have access to high quality food, housing, community and family resources, school resources etc. Appropriate assessment of what young children know and can do must should be done through observation and in authentic contents only. As a result, we lack the measurable evidence that can we attributed to either the teacher or the licensure program a teacher completed. Teacher and program evaluation should instead be focused on improvement and support. We recommend removing all references to student outcomes from both early childhood teacher and early childhood preparation program data collection, monitoring and evaluations.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Pruitt-President

Catherine Main- Past President

Kathleen Sheridan- Past President and Secretary

[1] Main, C., Yarbrough, K.W. & Patten, B. (2018). Voices from the front lines of early learning: 2017 Illinois early childhood workforce survey report. Chicago, IL: UIC College of Education. Retrieved from https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/OECD/Documents/2017%20Illinois%20Early%20Childhood%20Workforce%20Survey%20Report.pdf.

[2] Author’s calculations using data from ISBE Educator Supply and Demand in Illinois—2014 Annual Report. Retrieved from https://www.isbe.net/documents/ed-supply-demand-2014.pdf and ISBE Educator Supply and Demand in Illinois—2017 Annual Report. Retrieved from https://www.isbe.net/documents/ed-supply-demand-2017.pdf

[3] Latino Policy Forum calculations from ISBE data. Retrieved from http://www.isbe.net/licensure/html/testing.htm.

[4] Egalite, A. & Kisada, B. (2017) The Effects of Teacher Match on Students’ Academic Perceptions and Attitudes. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3102/0162373717714056

[5] Kini, T., & Podolsky, A. Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research (Palo Alto: Learning Policy Institute, 2016). Retrieved from: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/our-work/publications-resources/ does-teaching-experience-increase-teacher-effectiveness-review-research.


Catherine Main is a senior lecturer and program coordinator in the College of Education and a visiting scholar on the Early Investments Initiative with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) at the University of Illinois- Chicago.

 

Unanticipated Responsibilities of a First-Time Preschool Teacher (Guest blogger: David Banzer)

I started teaching as a preschool teacher assistant. I had taken a couple human development course while completing my undergraduate degree in psychology, but had no real experience teaching in a preschool classroom. While working as a teacher assistant at Erie Neighborhood House’s early childhood program, a Head Start and Preschool for All program, I applied at an Alternative Certification program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This model of alternative certification gave me early childhood knowledge through coursework while allowing me to apply this knowledge directly to the classroom immediately. I was also working with an outstanding preschool teacher who provided me with an excellent model of appropriate teaching practices and genuine care for young children. When I finished the UIC program with teacher licensure, the lead teacher in my classroom left our center, I became the lead teacher in the classroom. I felt prepared to be successful in my teaching, but also had an understanding my teaching journey was just beginning. While I felt able in my abilities to teach, I knew that there was a great deal that I would need to learn as I had experiences as a teacher.

In my current role as an education coordinator supporting curriculum of an early childhood center at Erie House, and as a doctoral student at UIC teaching coursework in early childhood, I realize how rich my apprenticeship into preschool teaching was integral to my transition to becoming a teacher. I also understand that other teachers have not had experiences similar to mine.

While I was eased into becoming a lead teacher, early childhood teachers may find themselves in a teaching position directly out of a teacher preparation program with a great deal of responsibility that they had not anticipated. These responsibilities or unanticipated expectations could include the following:

  • Teaching team and team dynamics
  • Having supervision responsibilities for teaching assistants
  • Becoming a part of the school/center culture
  • Self-identifying areas for professional development
  • Developing systems of reflective practice

Teaching in an early childhood environment is a team effort. Preschool classrooms having teaching teams of 2-3 teaching staff, with a teacher leading, providing direction to teacher assistants, and in some cases being direct supervisors to their teacher assistants. This dynamic of teamwork requires effort for all teaching staff. There is a balance for a new teacher starting in a classroom where other teaching staff have worked for a long period of time. How does a teacher become the leader of this classroom when she relies on assistants to relay pertinent information about how the classroom runs, curriculum and assessment systems in place, and paperwork that needs to be completed daily? Within this team dynamic, a teacher may have supervision responsibilities for her teacher assistants that may affect how this team works cohesively. This is a situation that some teachers may find themselves in, and one they may need to consider and prepare themselves for.

Each school or early childhood center is unique. While pre-service teachers have experiences in student teaching, these school environments might not match the school where they begin teaching at. For example, a pre-service teacher may have a student teaching experience where teachers at the school might have had formal structures for sharing information and teaching practices, such as mentor relationships for peer learning groups. It is important to note that not all schools or centers will have these types of formal structures in place. To what extent do teachers take initiative to share ideas with other teachers, or ask for help? What type of feedback for instruction exists? Does the school primarily serve a specific population? These factors will affect the overall school culture that a teacher will find herself in. Additionally, there in a variety of early childhood settings, including Head Start centers, public schools, private daycare centers, parochial schools, &c. that teachers may be teaching at. These different types of settings will have unique experiences in administrative structures and teacher supports.

Finally, a key aspect of becoming a teacher is understanding that teaching is a lifelong process of development, growth, and reflection on teaching practices and the overall experience of being a teacher. To what extent are first year teachers aware of this? Understanding this humbling approach may play an important factor in how successful or stressful a teacher’s first year of teaching may be. While we hope that pre-service teachers leave programs with pedagogical and content knowledge in early childhood, the application of this knowledge takes time and requires knowing when to apply what knowledge. Entering a preschool classroom and expecting to implement project-based learning approaches during a teacher’s first week will likely not go well. Focusing on teacher-child relationships and getting to know the children in her classroom is likely a better approach rather than implementing more complex pedagogical practices. To what extent can a teacher reflect on her instruction and treat a bad day in the classroom as an opportunity for reflection and growth? How does she reflect in a way that serves to identify areas of instruction that she may want to improve? To what extent do teachers know when to seek out the help of others or look for professional resources and professional development opportunities?

The start of the school year can be a very stressful time for a new teacher in early childhood education. Learning aspects of a school’s culture, forming a cohesive teaching team, and reflecting on instructional experiences may not be what a first-time teacher anticipates when taking a new teaching position. Preparing early childhood educators to be successful includes not only teaching early childhood pedagogical and content knowledge, but also the realities of what being a teacher actually is. Understanding the factors outside of the actual teaching of young children, could prepare pre-service teachers on the beginning of their teaching journey.

 

David Banzer is a doctoral student in educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a focus on early math learning and instruction. He is currently the Education Coordinator of the early childhood program at Erie Neighborhood House in Chicago. He was previously a preschool teacher.

In Preschool GEOMETRY is NOT a Bad Word!! (Guest blogger: Sherial McKinney, M.S. Ed.)

Many times I hear people say that they didn’t like and/or didn’t understand Geometry in high school. Many say they do not see the importance of Geometry. However, we use Geometry all the time. Geometry is involved when we:

  • Use a map or GPS,
  • Put groceries away in a cupboard,
  • Rearrange a room,
  • Complete a puzzle,
  • Give directions or follow directions,
  • Pack a suitcase,
  • Park a car, and
  • Put on make-up

Geometry is one of the five content areas in mathematics. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) identifies these content standards for Pre-K through 12th grade.

  • Number and Operations
  • Measurement
  • Geometry
  • Algebra
  • Data Analysis and Probability

Young children already have and utilize some geometric concepts when they enter Pre-K that can be extended and built upon. In Prekindergarten, children are NOT doing proofs and formulas as many of us remember doing in our school careers. Young children are involved in experiences and activities that help them understand shapes, spatial relationships and the properties of 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional objects.

NCTM points out in their Focus in Pre-K: Teaching with Curriculum Focal Points, “Geometry and measurement are two of the U.S. student’s weakest topics in mathematics. Even in the preschool years, children in the U.S. know less about shape than children in other countries.” As educators of young children, we need to recognize the importance of children’s knowledge and understanding of geometric concepts beyond circle, square, and triangle. This does NOT mean using flash cards or worksheets! It does mean giving children hands-on opportunities. As teachers of young children we need to be very intentional about planning opportunities, incorporating appropriate materials, and introducing and using math language and vocabulary for all of our students. Sally Moomaw states, “The more experiences children have with geometry in meaningful contexts, the more they can construct and solidify foundational concepts.”

The Early Math Collaborative at Erikson Institute states Shapes and Spatial Thinking are Big Ideas in their book, Big Ideas of Early Mathematics: What Teachers of Young Children Need to Know. This is a guide to assist teachers in being more intentional and knowledgeable with their activities, questioning, and language regarding Geometry.

Shapes

Defining and Classifying Shapes

 Sometimes, people think that young children only need to know the names of the basic shapes – circle, square, triangle, and rectangle.   The goal/outcome is deeper and more extensive. The goal is to help young children learn attributes of each basic shape. The Early Math Collaborative at Erikson Institute uses the activity, “Feel for Shapes” to assist Pre-K students in recognizing shapes by using their sense of touch instead of their sense of sight. The Early Math Collaborative points out:

Children need to go beyond the use of superficial shape labels to recognizing and specifying the defining attributes of shapes. As children sort and classify shapes with knowledgeable others, they become aware of rules about shapes, such as that a triangle has three sides and three angles. -“Feel for Shapes,“ Erikson Institute’s Early Math Collaborative website – www.earlymath.erikson.edu

2-Dimensional and 3-Dimensional Shapes

As teachers of young children, sometimes we focus a great deal on 2-D shapes. How often do we provide experiences and supportive math language with 3-D shapes? It is important to use the correct terms. We need to remember that a baseball is not a circle, it is a sphere.

As children are playing in the block area, we can point out how the flat faces of a solid cylinder are 2-D shapes which would be circles while pointing out that the entire solid 3-D block is called a cylinder. What other interest areas in the classroom can we focus on 2-D and 3-D shapes?

3-D Shapes – Ball is a sphere. The faces on each end of the cylinder are circles

Combining Shapes and Decomposing Shapes

 Children need time to explore shapes and discover that two triangles could make a square or six triangles can make a hexagon. Pattern blocks and unit blocks provide numerous opportunities for composing and decomposing shapes.

Children can also deconstruct a cereal box and see the different shapes and sizes of each side of the box. With assistance children can begin putting the box back together with tape.

As Creative Curriculum for Preschoolers from Teaching Strategies states in their Mathematics Volume that young children need “to recognize shapes, build with them, illustrate them in their own way, describe shape attributes, compare shapes, and sort them by their characteristics.” While doing this children are also working on other skills along with Geometry such as: fine motor as they draw, algebraic skills as they sort the shapes, measurement as they compare shapes, and language skills as they describe shapes during their play and in their conversations.

Spatial Thinking

 Describing Space

 Along with recognizing shapes, young children also need to be exposed to and utilize spatial thinking. The children are developing their understanding of where objects are in relationship to other objects, people, and/or places. Many of us think of using descriptive words only as a language skill instead of geometric concepts. When teachers or parents give a direction or statement such as “Joey is standing in front of his brother,” they are giving a precise description of where Joey is in relationship to his brother.

When children play a game by following directions such as put the plastic egg behind their back, they demonstrate their knowledge or emerging knowledge of behind. With this knowledge a teacher will determine the next steps in their lesson planning for scaffolding children’s geometric concepts.

Visualizing Space

Children benefit from experiences that can help them visualize spatial relationships. Doing puzzles helps children develop this skill. Eventually children can begin to see mentally where pieces of the puzzle go without doing a trial and error approach.

Teachers also use geometric terms such as turn, flip, and slide as they assist or observe children working on puzzles.  This spatial visualization helps children distinguish if a library book will fit in their bookbag/backpack.

As an educator or parent, research has shown that our attitude toward math will influence young children’s attitudes toward math. Even if we do not like Geometry, we do not want to state that to children. We need to become an actor and act as though we do. If we can’t answer a child’s question, let them know you will find out the answer or encourage the child to assist you in finding the answer. Geometry is all around our young children, and it is something that will be used throughout their lives.


Resources:

Big Ideas of Early Mathematics: What Teachers of Young Children Need to Know by The Early Math Collaborative-Erikson Institute

Focus in Pre-K: Teaching with Curriculum Focal Points from National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

 Principles and Standards for School Mathematics from National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Teaching Mathematics in Early Childhood by Sally Moomaw

The Creative Curriculum® for Preschool – Teaching Strategies


Sherial McKinney, M.S. Ed., is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist for STARnet Regions I and III located at Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL. She has taught in a public school district and worked in the field of early childhood education for over 40 years. She is very interested in mathematics education for young children.

 

Message from ILAECTE President

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

Welcome to another new academic year! As I move into my second year of serving this great organization, I continue to be amazed by the dedication and passion I see among early childhood teacher educators in Illinois. I am particularly inspired by ILAECTE members who work tirelessly on behalf of both current students and potential future students even in the midst of their very demanding academic lives. As we enter the 2018-2019 academic year, ILAECTE continues to be a recognized leader and respected voice in the ongoing conversation about how to best serve the needs of young children and families in our state.

As I write this, I have just been informed that Senate Bill 1829 was just signed into law! Congratulations to all that worked to see this bill through to the end. As we look to the new year and survey the current EC landscape in Illinois, the ILAECTE leadership team has established the following items as priorities for our organization:

  • Continued cultivation of a community of practice, in which members inspire and encourage one another by sharing from their own experiences in program development, curriculum, school partnerships, community partnerships, research, student mentoring, consulting, etc.
  • Continued commitment to addressing our critical early childhood work force needs through new and innovative collaborations among Illinois early childhood teacher educators.
  • Development of creative ideas to promote ECED/ECSE programs within our own institutions (including leadership), student populations, local communities, etc.
  • Continued engagement in all state-level initiatives impacting EC teacher preparation through active participation in and leadership of state-level committees, task forces and work groups.
  • Continued work toward nurturing and strengthening the relationship between four-year and two-year programs / ACCESS.
  • Continued engagement with state leadership in the implementation of a Competency Based Education model for early childhood teacher preparation in Illinois.

Many sincere thanks to our colleagues that serve as members of state-level work groups and committees in addition to their active participation in ILAECTE, maximizing our collaborative advocacy efforts. As always, I encourage you to consider joining forces with at least one of these groups to add your voice to these critical conversations. We will once again highlight these opportunities at our annual fall meeting on November 2nd.

National attention on the work that we do as early childhood teacher educators continues to increase, and there is much to be hopeful about as we look to the future of ECTE. I hope that you will engage with ILAECTE even more deeply this year as we work together to advocate for the most valuable and vulnerable members of our communities. I look forward to our work together!

 

Rebecca J. Pruitt, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Studies at Lewis University and director of Early Childhood Special Education. She currently serves as President of ILAECTE. She holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum Studies, an MS in Family Relations/Child Development, and a BA in Early Childhood. She can be reached at pruittre@lewisu.edu.