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.

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