Tuesday, July 26, 2016

10 Differences Between Preschool and Transitional Kindergarten

I am extremely excited to bring you today Virginia "Ginger" Hartnett as my blog's guest writer. She has decades of early childhood experience as program director and coordinator. She is also an engaging professional development presenter and a fighter for the early educators' rights. She is currently the Early Education Program Specialist of the San Diego County Office of Education.

She shares her expertise in regards of Preschool and Transitional Kinder and what's the difference.

How do you explain “school readiness” to a parent? The uniqueness of each child is considered very little by the education system, which focuses on birthdays as a readiness indicator. When the teacher is confused by TK legislation, imagine how hard this is on the parents of the Class of 2030. Most parents don’t get a choice about which program their school district will place their child in, but at least we can help them know the differences between PreK and TK.

Age: turning 5 between September 1st and December 2nd are Transitional Kinder students. Preschool age students are turning 5 after December 2nd.

    Transitional Kinder is the first year of a two-year kindergarten experience. It is not “being held back”.

    The teacher in a TK classroom has a multiple subjects teaching credential, and any units of early childhood education are helpful but not mandated until August, 2020. The preschool teacher has anywhere from 12 units of ECE to a Master’s Degree in Child Development, depending on the preschool’s funding source.

     Both programs are meant to rely on the California Preschool Foundations and Curriculum Frameworks for planning developmentally appropriate instruction, TK will also use Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics.

    Preschools usually have a lower child to teacher ratio, which is determined by a licensing agency that monitors health and safety.

    Expectations for behavior: because TK students are a little older, they are expected to have a longer attention span, be able to regulate their emotional state, and be more independent.
     Language: all children are language learners at this age, still working on pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Preschools usually have a less academic approach, putting more emphasis on auditory, sensory, and visual cues. TKs usually have a more academic approach, focusing on language development through group literacy activities.
     Location: TK classrooms are located on elementary school campuses, typically near the Kindergarten. Preschools can be anywhere, depending on funding, but most publicly-funded programs are linked to school districts. Many preschools are faith-based and offered at religious facilities.

    Schedule: Both TK and PreK can be full- or half-day, it depends on the enrollment and funding. It is more likely though, that TK is about 6 hours and Prek is half-day or 3.5 hours. Both programs may have before- and after-school options.

     Professional development: both PreK and TK teachers have a 21 hour per year requirement to renew their CA credential/ permit. The TK teacher is usually included with the other elementary school staff during prep days, the PreK teacher usually has conference and workshop options targeting education for 3 to 5 year-olds.

After all of this information, I think you'd be ready to explain school readiness to a parent!

You may contact Virginia Hartnett if you have any early childhood questions.

Keep learning!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Brag Tags in Early Childhood

Each season has the most popular trends. This back to school season I've noticed the scoop rockers are the most popular seating item of the moment, the mini twistable crayons are the hit gift of back-to-school, the light boxes, and the brag tags are the classroom management tool of this school year!

Brag tags are a classroom management system that highlights achievements, celebrates milestones, good character, and academic goals met. After looking and looking for brag tags that would serve my little learners goals I couldn't find one and created my own.

For my brag tags I used the CA Learning Foundations Standards that we use in our planning. I tried to include each one of the standards at my students level. My 100 brag tags are tailored for early childhood educators and their students and their developmental levels and goals.

In my classroom brag tags are EARNED! I really look for efforts, good disposition, good character, academic and social achievement in my students for earning the tags. I give them out on Friday and explain the reason they have earned the tag. Some students can earn 1, or, 2, or 3, or none (which I really try to look for opportunities for earning them). The only tags that are given are the fun ones, holidays, birthdays, first and last day, and school events like picture day.

These tags were placed in their cubbies for their first day of school!

My prepping is a family affair! I have my daughters help me cut, laminate, cut again, sort them out, and place them in the binder by category.

Once the tags are cut, I place them in the laminating sheet (using a glue stick), 
then I laminate, then I cut (again!), and then we sort, and sort!

Brag tags can be stored in many ways. I've seen them stored in tool boxes, with binder clips, and in binders. I have tried several methods already, but the one that's working for me is the binder.

Using trading cards pages I sort my brag tags. Then I use sticky tabs and create sections that works for me. I prefer to organize my tags by math, language, holidays, skills, and good character. This allows me to quickly pick the tag I'm looking for, and replenish them if I'm running low.

This could be a great job for a parent volunteer ;)

I think I can answer these two questions together. Yes, my students wear the brag tags on Fridays and Yes, they can take them home for the weekend to show them off to their families. They bring them back to school on Monday and put them in their cubbies.

Besides using a bead necklace you can use the booklet included in the product. In the booklet (you can choose from 3 templates available), your students can glue the tag onto the book and the teacher can date it.

Click on the image and get your Brag Tags!

Do you see yourself using this classroom management system?

Keep learning!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Alphabet Learning Apps

Technology is everywhere and comes to us and many shapes and forms. Children are exposed to technology from a very young age. I believe the first piece of technology they get their hands on is their parents' cell phone. Many educational toys and materials are interactive, produce sounds, and are colorful, gaining and maintaining their attention for longer periods of time.

Once the child attends preschool there's even more technology accessible for them. In a preschool classroom you can find light tables, writing tablets, interactive games, smart boards, iPads, ebooks - the list is endless.

As an early childhood teacher I'm always on the hunt for interactive applications for my students. My main criteria is cognitive development. I look for apps in which the student works on eye-hand coordination dragging from one side to the other, I look for catchy tunes and songs, and I look for problem solving opportunities.

Alphabet Learning Apps offers just what I look for in a quality 
educational application for my students.

A specific game my students can't get enough of is the 
EduKittyEduKitty ABC  from Cubic Frog. 

This alphabet game has necessary skills development 
opportunities we must offer young learners.

Learning to connect-the-dots teaches children sequence, exercise fine motor skills, spatial relationships, and cause and effect among other skills necessary for writing.

Left to right correspondence is the beginning of early writing and emergent reading. It encompasses the correct mechanism of directionality. It is also the base for segmentation words and have reading success.

Matching letter is a skill we work on regularly. Letter and word awareness is critical in early years. Matching letters involve problem solving, visual letter discrimination, and the ability to identify similarities and differences among letters.

Keep learning!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

5 Tips for Preschool Assessments


Assessments are a very important component of our every day teaching. They must be accurate and reflect the students' abilities. I'd like to share with you my 5 tips I use and follow when assessing my students.

I assess my students through the process of completing a specific task. For example, if the student is using scissors to cut a circle, I'm taking notes on fine-motor skills, approaches and initiative to the learning process, persistence, ability to stay on task, and safety while handling scissors. The circle ended up looking like a square....that's not important at this time!

During this activity, the students were to create something 
using a variety of shapes. 
My assessment notes on this activity were: share of space and 
materials, counting and naming shapes,  
patterns, and spatial relationships.

The assessment I'm performing on my students MUST be developmentally appropriate for their age. Am I going to assess my students on the multiplication facts and reading fluency?....NO! The learning activities and experiences must promote their optimal learning and the development of the whole child. Read more about another way to collect data HERE.

Best practices are well-though out plans that are effective for the specific age group. When assessing young students best practices are KEY.  My personal favorite is backward planning. I identify an area for my students to work on and develop and I backward plan from there, looking for effective, purposeful, and engaging activities for that specific skill.

In this activity we were exploring living things and the life 
cycle of a plant. 
Using a real plant, the students were drawing and talking among 
each other about the plants they have at home and the plants we have in the classroom.

This tip really hits home! "I think he knows how to count to 20", "I think I've seen him creating a pattern", "I saw her the other day writing her name.....I think". These statements are not objective, they're just speculations. We must have data to support our assessments = best practices!
In my many years of teaching I've seen teachers and specialists who assess children in "auto-pilot". When they're sick and not feeling well, when their routine has been changed, right after a long break, etc. Please, don't get me wrong, I DO understand we have deadlines and I DO understand we have other 20+ students in our class, but we must be reasonable with external circumstances that affect the students, which will reflect in the assessment not being accurate.

Practice, practice, practice! For a student to master a skill, practice is truly necessary through various opportunities and different scenarios. We must allow our students to practice, analyze, be exposed to, and apply the new information to their daily lives. 
I serve a low income community - last year several of my students had never been to the zoo and two of them had never seen or heard of an elephant or giraffe. During the unit of animals, these students had no clue what we were talking about. I found some virtual field trip videos and realistic zoo animal toys and introduced it to them.  After all of that, it became less abstract to them.

After incorporating books, puzzles, puppets, learned about the animals 
habitat they put into practice their knowledge creating a habitat for 
the giraffe and the elephant.
We finished this unit sharing family photos of their zoo trips 
and their pets at home.

These 5 tips have always helped me stay objective during my assessments, have helped me be organized, and stay on task meeting my deadlines. Learning Genie offers an electronic way to collect and organize your assessment data. I can easily pull up my phone or iPad and take photos or write down my observations super easy and convenient. Try it HERE!

 Keep learning!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

3 Tips to Manage Preschool Portfolios


Today I want to give you my insight in regards of students portfolios in preschool. There are a wide variety of options for you to create portfolios for your students. 

A student portfolio is the collection of their work samples for specific purposes. In preschool, we use portfolios to show growth progress, document developmental milestones, and for identification of strengths and areas to continue to work on.

A preschool portfolio contains work samples such as art work, photos, anecdotal notes, dictation, and videos of the student in action - my favorite! How can you include a video showing the true essence of the student performing a specific task??? Not on paper, that's for sure!

Electronic portfolios are the best thing ever! It makes it easy to maintain, to keep the information updated, and the best part is that you don't have to carry tons of papers when conferencing with parents! 

Here are my 3 tips for managing preschool portfolios.

To be organized is my number one tip! Teachers must decide which type of portfolio to create. If you want to save time, money, resources, and have a quick and easy can go electronic! See my post on electronic portfolios HERE!

You also need to assign some time - daily or weekly - to work on the students' portfolios. 
I personally have a bin in the classroom where I place all the work samples throughout the week that I will include in the portfolios. My assistant takes pictures of the work samples or scans them. On Fridays, I dedicate one hour to upload, describe, and place in their correct e-portfolio. Once those are scanned, they go home!

It is very important the portfolios are complete. By complete I mean to date all of work samples, cover all the areas you've set your portfolio to be - for example: art, science, math, writing, language and literacy. The portfolio should also show a progression of the same skill, for example: name writing practice at the beginning of the school year, then in the winter, and in spring. You can create a master checklist with the activities and work samples you are intending to include in the portfolio and make sure those show progression throughout the school year.

Visual appeal is key! Don't you love a well-organized and complete portfolio that looks incredible?! Besides using the portfolios for assessing your students and collect their data, your administration can use it for your annual evaluation....AND you can use it for conferencing with parents.....AND it can be a gifted as an end-of-year keepsake. So well, it must have a visual appeal, neat, well-organized, and showing work samples of the academic year!

This is an example of my electronic portfolio created with the Learning Genie free app (up to 28 students). This specific piece of evidence is tied to my curriculum's learning goals/assessment measures (we use DRDP 2015 in CA),  for the specific domain of Language and Literacy Development.

This is a very comprehensive piece of evidence in my e-portfolios. It explains the area of assessment and the evidence I used. I found this information very useful especially when I meet with parents and administrators. 

Keep learning!