Technology Enables New Early Childhood Initiatives
This year’s district-wide adoption of new preschool and kindergarten initiatives is designed to address achievement gaps and help all students become proficient readers. To that end, the four Falmouth Elementary Schools are using the Tools of the Mind two-year curriculum, inspired by the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky.
A Falmouth Education Foundation (FEF) grant awarded to Mullen-Hall Elementary School Principal Nancy Ashworth financed the technology needed to carry out the intensive student assessment which accompanies the program, providing iPads to all four of the Falmouth elementary schools.
“The focus is readiness for learning and self-regulation skills. One of the hallmarks is zone proximal development. The educator works with children to identify their zone to understand where they are and identify learning goals,” Ms. Ashworth said.
Success is measured by student performance in the TOTM skills, and through family and teacher surveys.
“We provided the tangibles – curriculum materials, a lot of training, the schedule that allows for teachers to talk, meet and plan. What we needed was some technology to support specifically with the assessment. We are asking teachers to assess in the moment on a continual basis. We’re looking at children’s ability to attend, engage, persist, solve problems, show curiosity, flexibility and inventiveness. This is a different report card,” she said.
“FEF has been so generous getting iPads into teachers’ hands for the purpose of assessment.”
TOTM includes a literacy focus, using the “Magic Tree House” series. The adventures of protagonists Jack and Annie, who visit locales such as the rainforest, space, and the ocean floor, serve as discovery lessons for youngsters. Currently, the students are studying underwater sea life.
“Children do a lot of dramatization, group interaction and playing. They’re highly engaged and they create all their own props,” Ms. Ashworth said.
“The iPads have helped by offering other ways to assess children, such as pictures, which can be saved to serve as a scrapbook for showing families and a nice way for teachers to remember. For instance, a teacher might say ‘I saw him being inventive and a team leader as the students created an astronaut’s backpack.’”
Ms. Ashworth believes the program provides a necessary balance for this particular age group. “Five-year-olds are not at the same readiness age as older children and that’s okay; we expect that. This program recognizes that and the importance of interactions, literacy skills, and self-regulation, so a child feels, ‘I can regulate myself to be ready to learn. But I need some down time too. I need to go be an astronaut for a while,’” she said.
“I’m seeing really happy and engaged children. I’m seeing kids who can tell me, ‘We’re doing dramatization. He’s Jack and I’m Annie and we’re going to the ocean.’”
Pam Goguen, who has been teaching kindergarten at Mullen-Hall for 27 years, has witnessed the program’s success. “I think it’s effective because it’s so interactive and it’s developmentally-appropriate,” she said. “It meets kids where they are and it gives them opportunities to very actively engage in the learning.”
Luke DiNicola, a student in her class, illustrated that point.
“I like learning how to build things. It’s fun,” he said.
Ms. Goguen added that dramatic play is a non-intimidating way to include shy students in group activity.
“Because it is such a constant component of this program, it gives kids who might be a little socially- resistant different settings where they can get their feet wet with interaction,” she said. “The settings change, so one day it might involve two or three kids and the next, it’s four or five. That helps build their confidence.”
Maureen Tichenor, who also teaches kindergarten, enjoys utilizing the iPad to enhance her lesson plans, such as transferring materials to the whiteboard.
“The iPad is much easier to use than my laptop. I also let the students use it for various learning activities as a reward,” she said. From an administrator’s perspective, Ms. Ashworth appreciates what she considers FEF’s encouragement of creativity.
“FEF enjoys hearing what teachers are thinking outside the box. They also look at a grant proposal in terms of its impact. How many children will benefit? Using assessment to really drive instruction is what we need to do all the time,” she said. "I’m so thankful for the grant allocation and I’m so thankful for teachers’ commitment to this significant adoption.” FEF offers competitive grants to teachers across the school district so they can provide students enriching educational experiences not funded within the school budget. For more information, visit falmoutheducationfnd.org.