Archive for June, 2011

ACCESS day keynote at PDI

Ben Mardell

We had a full day on Monday starting with a lovely breakfast and then our keynote address by Ben Mardell,: Creating and assessing powerful experiences in early childhood classrooms

Ben Mardell is an associate professor in early childhood education at Lesley University and a researcher on the Making Learning Visible Project at Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. For the past 25 years, Ben has taught and conducted research with infants, toddlers, preschoolers and kindergartners.  He is the author of From Basketball to the Beatles: In Search of Compelling Early Childhood Curriculum and Growing Up in Child Care: A Case For Quality Early Education and a co-author of Making Learning Visible: Children as Individual and Group Learners and Making Teaching Visible: Documentation of Individual and Group Learning as Professional Development. Recently, Ben has begun competing in sprint triathlons.

Ben had met with Debra Murphy, ACCESS VP of Professional Development, earlier this year to plan the presentation. There is so much we can learn from him that it was difficult to choose what to focus on! I really appreciate the thought that went into the presentation. Debra took extensive notes during the session, especially as folks were reflecting on what he was saying, so we will share those detailed reflections at a later date. The big ideas pulled directly from his handout include:

Four Elements of Powerful Learning Experiences

  1. Children and adults learning from and with each other in order to deepen learning
  2. Ongoing documentation in order to shape and extend learning
  3. A focus on generative ideas that are central to one or more domains of knowledge
  4. A rich environment that promotes inquiry and high-quality work

I just want to say that I truly enjoyed his talk, his encouragement in terms of helping us to find ways of making our students’ learning more visible, and his generosity in sharing the work that he has done within early childhood settings in Providence – please see the “Places to Play in Providence” document, you will be glad you did!

Places to Play in Providence

For the project, children from early childhood settings in town worked to think about and document places to play in Providence. With the help of their early childhood teachers, the children created a book to give to the “thousands” of teachers who were coming here to Providence to spend time in their town for the conference. It has been wonderful to read through their book, and think about the kind of learning process a project  like this reflects. Participants of Ben’s ACCESS talk were then delighted to look at additional drawings that children had done and send each child a personal post card thanking him or her for sending their drawings to the teachers at the conference.

Writing post cards to thank young children for their drawings











We had a very special treat in the afternoon when a couple of groups of children actually visited the conference center and came to our session to see some of the “thousands” of teachers who came to their town. It was a wonderful start to a very rich day of sessions!

a boy and his teacher talk about his drawing with Nancy Gabriel, VP of State Affiliates



Greetings from Providence!

The NAEYC  2011 National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development  is in full swing! I’ve seen many familiar faces as I’ve walked the halls of the convention center and the hotels affiliated with the conference. This morning the conference began with an opening talk from Lilian Katz and a respondent panel including Debbie LeeKeenan and Anna Mercer-McLean. I enjoyed this session very much. I think I could listen to Dr. Katz talk for a very long time indeed! It felt like we were in a very important class that was beginning today.

There are a few highlights I’d like to share with you and, those that attended, I would like to invite you to add your response as well.

She talked about early childhood education as a foundation and described that foundation as the kind you must build when building any structure. She talked about the importance of understanding the soil you are going to build upon and of course what type of structure you want to build and what kinds of stresses (earthquake, fire, etc.) you want to build-in safety systems for. I believe she suggested that as early childhood educators we need to know about the child in front of us and what kinds of early experiences we want to provide for the children we serve. It was a simple message with a simple metaphor, but it did help me to think about how we approach any learner. It was a good reminder to know the learner and to think of what that learner needs to be successful and withstand the inevitable stressors that they will face.

She also talked about continuous contingent interaction as it is described in the neurosciences. I think I’ll need to read more about this to fully understand it, but my interpretation based on what Dr Katz presented is that participants’ behaviors in a sequence are contingent upon the other participants – like a conversation. We listen and base our next reaction on what we have heard. I would like to explore this further as I think it may be useful as an educator of adults. I believe that our students need to experience this level of collaboration in their coursework. They will grumble about collaborative projects but I think this is because many students have not had the opportunity to truly participate in continuous contingent interaction and that we need to help them learn this process as it relates to interacting with grown-ups as well as young children.

One other message really struck me, especially as we move forward in thinking about assessing student learning. She mentioned that she does not particularly like using the term “outcome” which is something we all use in assessment speak. We align our outcomes to the standards and use rubrics to measure those outcomes or at least parts of those outcomes. As I look at my notes, I’m not entirely clear on what Dr. Katz dislikes about the term but she did compare outcome to the end process in digestion – it just didn’t seem to work for her as a term in relation to learning in early childhood! I’ll need to think some more about that point.

One final point that I appreciated was her warning not to confuse excitement with education. I want to think some more about what this implies for our students in the adult classroom. I find it rather easy to engage early childhood students. We get to do lots of hands-on activities in our classrooms and from the hallway I think students often look excited and engaged. I’d like to think more about the  learning process during these activities and how these experiences help my students to learn. Perhaps it is most important to think about why I think particular activities are so important to spend time on during my course session. It is  important to consider why we are doing what we are doing even if what we are doing seems to be working well! Can I claim that my students are learning just because they are excited about a hands-on activity in class? I really want to think about that some more.

Later in the day, some members of the ACCESS Board met with Gail Perry and Frances Rust from the editorial board of the NAEYC publication Voices of Practitioners. If you have not looked at this publication yet, I encourage you to spend some time looking at it. I think you will find it to be compelling and useful. ACCESS and Voices have a partnership and we are working to provide opportunities for ACCESS members and their partners in the ECE classroom to write about their experiences doing teacher research. There are some exciting collaborative ACCESS/Voices projects planned for the second half of this year and we will continue to report on them as they unfold. In the meantime, check out some of the articles on Voices for your summer reading!

There were many other sessions and activities that ACCESS members participated in during the pre-conference workshops and the first day of sessions. I’m just sharing what I observed personally but I hope that others will be encouraged to include a response and share what you learned today.

As you can see, it was a rich first day! Tomorrow is the big ACCESS day when we have sessions all day long. I’m truly looking forward to our program this year and will do my best to keep you informed about what we are sharing with each other here in Providence and how that process can support all ACCESS members as we continue these conversations throughout the year.

Are you Smiling?

Well, it’s the end of another semester. The spring semester is always such a marathon, isn’t it? I think this has to do with the number of projects that must be finalized and meetings that must happen before the academic year ends and that kind of thing. I find it to be a challenging time of year and when June rolls around, it often takes awhile before it occurs to me that the marathon is over, at least for a while.

I’m a huge fan of TED talks and I watched one the other day that really resonated with how I’m feeling right now. Even when there is so much to do and so much to plan for, I think it is important that we find time to take good care of ourselves and the people around us, including colleagues and students as well as family and friends. Take a few moments and check it out:

The Hidden Power of Smiling 

I hope to see many of your smiling faces next week at the NAEYC Professional Development Institute in Providence. I always look forward to seeing folks in person. I plan to take lots of pictures and video clips to share the experience with everyone and I will be posting updates throughout the conference. I know there are many ACCESS members out there who are not able to attend the conference this year. Our goal is to capture the spirit of the conference and share it across the community so we can keep the momentum going as we plan for the second half of 2011!

take care

Sending a smile to you!

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