March 2021 Student Spotlight – Amber Dash

I was born and raised in Florida.  I currently live and teach in the historic town of St. Augustine.  I love to travel.

I began my career in early childhood soon after my son was born.  Oliver is now nearly 3-years-old.  I teach a small preschool class and love every second of it.  It makes my day to see how much these children love to come to school in the mornings.  Our favorite time together is circle time.  This is where we read, sing and learn before we begin our day.  We usually review the day of the week, the month, the colors, our numbers 1-10, our names, the alphabet, shapes, body parts, animal sounds as well as any other lesson that goes along with our class theme for the week.  We read between 3-5 books and sing songs that correlate with our weekly lesson, then we get up and dance before we play outside.  This is the time of the day I get to bond the most with my class, although I’m convinced their favorite part is lunch. Working with children has changed my perspective on life.  These children make my heart whole.  Watching them grow is the most rewarding aspect of my job.

This past year I’ve successfully completed my Florida Child Care Professional Credential (FCCPC) courses with ChildCare Education Institute.  I plan to continue my education by obtaining my Director’s Certification with CCEI as well.  I would absolutely recommend ChildCare Education Institute to anyone looking to start their career in early childhood education. With my busy schedule, I needed courses that were flexible and informative.  The FCCPC courses were a great way to learn an immense amount of information in such a short period of time.  I now feel like I am a more well-rounded teacher because of the training I received.  CCEI was the right choice for me because I felt I could grow in my career through the program.  The student services team was helpful and friendly and they were always ready to answer any questions I had.  The coursework itself was divided into sections and organized in a way that was easy to comprehend.

My passion for children grows more and more everyday and I encourage everyone to live like a child every once in a while.  You’ll be surprised at how differently you view the world.

Supporting All Learners

This month, the CCEI newsletter explores the recommended practices included in what is known as the Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  The strategies contained within the UDL Guidelines are designed to level the playing field in classrooms around the globe.  The strategies are organized into 3 categories; Engagement, Representation, and Action & Engagement. You can learn more here.

There are a number of other organizations that provide guidance on how to support learners of various levels. The Joint Position Statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) helps educators understand what early childhood inclusion means.

Here is the definition provided in the position statement:

Early childhood inclusion embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every infant and young child and his or her family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society. The desired results of inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential. The defining features of inclusion that can be used to identify high quality early childhood programs and services are access, participation, and supports.

The 3 key elements of the definition are as follows:

  • Access- this includes the steps taken to ensure that both the physical environment and the activities introduces are made openly and equally available to all children.
  • Participation– this refers to the way in which every child feels a sense of belonging and has the opportunity to participate meaningfully in all activities.
  • Supports- this means that steps are taken to ensure the child’s needs are being met, therapists provide services in the learning environment, parents and educators collaborate, and that training is available to everyone involved with the child.

You can access the full document here.

The second third resource that is helpful when considering the individuals needs of early learners comes from the Divisions for Early Childhood.  The resource is called the DEC Recommended Practices.  In the document, educators will find strategies organized into the following categories:

  • Leadership
  • Assessment
  • Environment
  • Family
  • Instruction
  • Interaction
  • Teaming and Collaboration
  • Transition

These easy-to-read, research-based recommendations are a great start for any educator hoping to create a more inclusive environment. The great thing about the strategies is, they work for all children and can be put in place at any time. The practices will promote development for all young learners and prepare the educator with the skills necessary to support children diagnosed with special needs when they enroll.

You can read the DEC Recommended practices here.

March 2021 Newsletter – Universal Design for Learning: UDL with Adults

You may have noticed that the adults with whom you work are just as varied in their knowledge and abilities as the children in your care. It is important to note that learning differences don’t stop once a person leaves school. Coworkers and enrolled family members engage with new information and demonstrate skills differently depending on the same factors we mentioned for children.  Things such as prior experiences, language differences, cultural norms, and disabilities can all impact how adults learn.

All of the recommendations provided in the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines apply to adult learners, in both formal and informal learning situations. Here are a few examples of how you can incorporate UDL into your work with adults.

Engage

  • Create safe spaces where mistakes are seen as learning opportunities.
  • Build strong, trusting relationships, where it feels safe to share thoughts and ideas.
  • Delegate and share responsibilities.
  • Provide opportunities for collaboration with the option to work independently.
  • Provide timely, specific, strengths-based feedback that highlights success and guides the individual toward the next steps.
  • Create multiple ways for adults to approach new materials, including written resources, videos, and role modeling through coaching or mentoring.
  • Tap into prior knowledge, experiences, and beliefs through self-reflection activities.

Represent

  • Make sure everyone understands keywords and phrases.
  • Provide enhanced print materials that have an easy-to-read font, highlighted key ideas, and visuals that illustrate important facts.
  • Translate important information into the individual’s home language.
  • Encourage families to have interpreters present at meetings and work to find an interpreter if one is not available within the family.
  • Provide visual reminders in the environment that contain a few keywords or cues for coworkers to keep in mind.
  • Create visual task boards to organize and track progress toward goals and project completion.
  • Checklists, agendas, and partially completed notetaking documents are also beneficial.

Action & Expression

  • Utilize technology to communicate and keep adults informed, including social media platforms.
  • Recognize the effort put forth in completed tasks, even if it is not exactly how you would have completed the task.
  • Provide continued support, demonstration of the skill, and feedback until the adult feels confident.
  • Create goals that are realistic and manageable.
  • Chunk new information into small chunks that have been prioritized.
  • Provide a variety of additional resources that adults can access independently.
  • Create systems of accountability that allow enough time to reach goals, but are realistic.
  • Introduce frequent self-reflection as a monitoring tool.

There are so many different ways UDL can be used to promote skills and boost program quality. Be sure to introduce UDL to your coworkers so that everyone can identify strategies that would be helpful to them and in their classrooms.

Here is the CAST website for more information.

For the main article Universal Design for Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Engagement, CLICK HERE

For the article Representation, CLICK HERE

For the article Action & Expression, CLICK HERE

March 2021 Newsletter – Universal Design for Learning: Action & Expression

The final set of UDL Guidelines has to do with the way children interact with materials and express what they have learned.  This area is called Action & Expression. Due to variations in abilities, children will interact with others and play with toys differently. For example, a child who has been diagnosed with a motor delay will likely have difficulty manipulating small toys and puzzles. This child’s physical delay in development may impact the ability to demonstrate certain skills. In other words, they may know where to put the puzzle piece but have difficulty putting it in place correctly due to the delay in fine motor development. Similarly, a child who has a strong vocabulary in normal conversations may have difficulty expressing emotions safely when frustrated or angry. Educators should be open to the fact that many factors contribute to a child’s ability to demonstrate what they know. In an early learning environment, action and expression might look like this:

  • Adapt blocks and puzzles. Create a set of blocks that has grip tape attached to it to make building a bit easier. Add wooden knobs to puzzle pieces that can be difficult to manipulate. Be sure to have a variety of toys available that meet the developmental needs of the children in your care.
  • Work with families to learn about any assistive technology used by children in your care. Some children with physical disabilities or speech and language delays use technology to assist them in the classroom. These tools help children communicate and empower children. Do your best to integrate these tools and help other children see them as a way to interact with their peers.
  • Utilize technology tools. Sometimes, children may want to produce a commercial or a video related to the content they are exploring. This is a rich learning experience that incorporates literacy, performing arts skills, and cooperation. Software programs allow children to paint, create books, and write their own comics. While these options should not replace pencil and paper activities, they can be used to enhance lessons, improve engagement, and provide an opportunity for different levels of expression.
  • Help children plan projects. Children may have lots of ideas for how a final project should look, but they will likely need your help determining all of the necessary steps to complete the project and creating a plan for when to complete each element of the project. Use picture cues, checklists, and other visuals to illustrate your timeline so it can be easily followed.
  • Work with children on their learning portfolios. Many teachers compile portfolios for individual children throughout the year. If you are not doing so already, spend time with children individually, about once a month, to review the contents of their portfolios. Explain why you collected certain pieces and talk about the learning experience with the child. Compare pieces of work and see if the children can see improvements in their skills. Use this time to identify new goals and create plans for how to achieve those goals.
  • Promote self-reflection. Walk children through social situations that were challenging. Ask children what they could try next time that might result in a better outcome. Create a cue or prompt that brings children’s awareness to their emotions or reactions. This cue should be taught to children prior to the need for its use. Help children recall times when something worked out for them and identify the choices they made during those situations. Make a plan to incorporate more of those choices in future interactions.

These are just a few ways that UDL can be adapted for an early learning environment.  Follow this link to read all of the UDL Guidelines on Action & Expression.

For the main article Universal Design for Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Engagement, CLICK HERE

For the article Representation, CLICK HERE

For the article UDL with Adults, CLICK HERE

March 2021 Newsletter – Universal Design for Learning: Representation

Another element of UDL relates to how children take in and understand information. This area is called Representation. You are most likely using your vision to read this newsletter. For some children, taking in information visually is not the most effective way. Children with sensory or learning disabilities require information to be presented in different ways. The way we comprehend new information is often tied to our previous knowledge and experiences. Things such as culture, home language, and family background will impact the children in the learning environment in different ways. In early learning environments, options for variety in representation can look like this:

  • Use multiple ways to represent information. Add images to labels and postings around the room. Use sign language, gestures, and picture cues in addition to spoken instructions. Have books on tape available for children to explore.
  • Support understanding across languages. Whenever possible integrate common phrases and instructions in a children’s home language into your conversations. Work with families to identify keywords that will support the children’s success in the learning environment.
  • Introduce new vocabulary words prior to reading them in a story. Take time to identify a few words that may be new to children in the books you read to them. Discuss the meaning of the word prior to reading the book. This way, when children hear the word in context, they will have some general knowledge about the meaning of the word.
  • Introduce the meaning of common symbols. Tell children what the plus sign (+), the equal sign (=), and others mean. Use math language throughout the day to reinforce the meaning of these important symbols.
  • Link new information to previous knowledge. Take time to review events from earlier in the day, week, or even year that might relate to current lessons. Use KWL charts (Know, Want to know, Learned) to help children identify what they already know about a topic. They can also guide educators in planning authentic and relevant lessons. Keep in mind, these activities are going to be more effective when completed in a small group first, so that children have more opportunities to participate. You can review the 3-4 small group charts/discussions at a meeting of the whole group once you have gathered information from the smaller groups.
  • Use prompts and scaffolding as needed. Some children will explore concepts and materials freely and confidently. Some children may require more focused support from adults to master concepts. Ask open-ended questions to find out more about what the child understands and guide them to further discovery with prompting.
  • Help children remember and generalize knowledge. Create a song to represent the steps of a new routine to help children commit the routine to memory. Use a familiar tune that children already know for this activity. Ask children to think of new ways they can use the information they just learned.

These are just a few ways that UDL can be adapted for an early learning environment.  Follow this link to read all of the UDL Guidelines on Representation.

For the main article Universal Design for Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Engagement, CLICK HERE

For the article Action & Expression, CLICK HERE

For the article UDL with Adults, CLICK HERE

March 2021 Newsletter – Universal Design for Learning: Engagement

One focus of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is Engagement, or how learners are drawn to the work of learning. According to the research, children approach learning differently, preferring to work in different ways. For this reason, educators need to offer a variety of ways for learners to become engaged with materials and content. In early childhood education, that can look like this:

  • Offer children choices and promote independence. Within the lesson plan, project, or theme, children should be offered multiple ways to connect with the material they are exploring. Opportunities for choices include:
    • The learning center they want to explore
    • How long they spend engaged with materials
    • The art materials they want to use to create a work of art
    • Whether to play alone or with a group
    • How much support they need from adults
  • Involve children in the unit planning process. When educators employ project-based learning, they are essentially building the unit or theme with the children. These projects not only relate directly to the interests of the children in the group, they include many different opportunities for children to participate in the unit in different ways. CCEI has a course that explores project-based learning called CUR118: Outdoor STEAM Activities and Project-Based Learning that you can take to learn more.
  • Work with children to identify and set goals. This is a strategy to use with older children who can communicate with you about potential goals. However, it is never too young to talk with children about the skills you notice and the next steps they could take. You could have this conversation with a child who is showing signs of rolling from their tummy to their back. You could even talk to a child about the next steps they need to take as they practice walking. For older children, you might have a goal-setting conversation about shoe tying, expressing emotions safely, or climbing to the top of the playground structure. This practice helps children see their role in the learning process, encourages reflection, and builds confidence.
  • Introduce topics that are relevant to children’s lives. Consider culture, age, interests, and abilities when making decisions about topics to explore. Pay close attention to children and what is happening in their world to ensure topics are significant to the children. During the first snowstorm of the year, you might postpone what you had planned so that you might capture children’s interest and excitement about the snow.
  • Provide authentic experiences. Rather than just talking about recycling, create a recycling program. Rather than just talking about butterflies, plant a butterfly garden. Work to solve real problems and address real issues whenever possible.
  • Create a safe and predictable learning environment. Create a space that children can truly settle into. Follow a predictable schedule, provide advanced warnings of changes in the routine, and plan smooth transitions. You may want to create space for children to go to take time away from the large group and teach strategies so children have safe ways to express themselves to others. Encourage children to listen to one another and show respect when needs are communicated.

These are just a few ways that UDL can be adapted for an early learning environment.  Follow this link to read all of the UDL Guidelines on Engagement.

For the main article Universal Design for Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Representation, CLICK HERE

For the article Action & Expression, CLICK HERE

For the article UDL with Adults, CLICK HERE

March 2021 Newsletter – Universal Design for Learning

Isn’t it amazing to see all of the different ways that children show us what they know? Some children tell us what they know, some children draw what they know. At the same time, other children will construct, reenact, write, sing, dance, and sculpt their knowledge for us to see.

Children learn and express their knowledge in many different ways and early learning environments should be set up to promote an array of learning opportunities. Typically, as children age, we begin to see the number of different types of opportunities to explore and demonstrate knowledge narrow until all children are given the same test to measure their knowledge on a particular subject. Unfortunately, this is done even though the characteristics of young learners haven’t changed.  They still enjoy expressing their knowledge in a wide variety of ways.

Fortunately, there are guidelines that educators can follow to fortify the practice of providing many modes of learning and a variety of ways that children can show us what they have learned.  Leading the way in this effort is an organization named the Center for Applied Special Technology, or CAST for short. CAST developed a set of research-based recommendations for educators to use to ensure that children are enthusiastically engaged with and challenged by the materials in the learning environment.

CAST’s mission is to transform education design and practice until learning has no limits. The organization developed the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines to help teachers meet the needs of the unique learners in their care. The UDL Guidelines provide useful strategies that can be adapted for different learning environments with a bit of creativity.

In this month’s newsletter, we will explore the UDL Guidelines that educators can incorporate into their teaching practices.  For even more information or to find the research that backs up these practices, visit https://udlguidelines.cast.org/.

For the article Engagement, CLICK HERE

For the article Representation, CLICK HERE

For the article Action & Expression, CLICK HERE

For the article UDL with Adults, CLICK HERE