All across the state our coaches and teachers are working hard to create collaborative goals, implement high quality strategies, and providing initial assessments of where young learners are at in their skill development through our amazing online progress monitoring tools. It’s an exciting time, but an extremely busy one too!
Many of our committed local project coordinators have set up and delivered free community trainings on infants, toddlers, and three year-olds. They have also sought out and enrolled home-based providers in our online learning system, BEECH (Beginning Education: Early Childcare at Home), which is specifically designed to meet the needs of this unique group of providers. Both the infant, toddler, and three-year-old training and BEECH are new components to TSR! this year. It's exciting to see the project reach these critical groups with great information and tools. With these new opportunities, TSR! is helping local areas take big steps towards a community response to school readiness.
Speaking of communities, TSR! project managers have been fanning out across the state, meeting with TSR! participants. The focus for the meetings is “data informed decision making.” Participants are given great information on the various types and uses of assessments, how to think about data in the classroom, and how local TSR! results compare with state data on child progress. Over half of the TSR! communities have had a visit already. There is high energy at these meetings, as early care and education administrators are hungry for this type of practical knowledge, which is so important to driving improvements in the classroom. We are so thankful for the support and efforts participating early care and education program administrators put into the project. TSR! would not be possible without their commitment and support.
Words matter. Especially to young children.
In late September media outlets across the United States were reporting a new study out of Stanford University that points to a deficit in language development among lower socioeconomic children. The study, which was published in Developmental Science showed radical differences between rich and poor children in language development. According to Stanford News, “by 18 months of age toddlers from disadvantaged families are already several months behind more advantaged children in language proficiency.” The Stanford study is consistent with Hart and Riley’s 1995 study, documenting a 30 million word gap between rich and poor children. Researchers spent 2.5 years observing the language of Kanas City families; they found that children’s vocabulary differs greatly across income groups, so much so that the average child of a family receiving welfare benefits is likely to hear 30 million fewer words by age 4 compared to her higher socioeconomic counterpart of the same age.
There is broad acknowledgement among educators that early vocabulary and language skills are important and seem to point to the origins of the achievement gap between children of lower and higher socioeconomic status—a gap that persists through high school. Thus if children are arriving to pre-kindergarten already behind in their language proficiency, it is critical that early childhood programs do their best to create environments and practices that build vocabulary and language skills.
According to Andrew Biemiller at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, “there is evidence that fairly simple programs in day care and primary classrooms can double normal vocabulary rates,” so failing to focus on language development in early childhood is a significant opportunity missed. According to Biemiller, research has demonstrated that “child-care programs organized into small groups, with one staff person responsible for the children in their group, resulted in significantly greater language gains. When one person was responsible, teachers made fewer negative commands and more verbal explanations.”
Intentionally introducing language building moments into the classroom is what will help young children “catch-up” in their language development.
Here are 5 strategies from the National Institute for Literacy and Children’s Learning Institute to include in the classroom to intentionally close the word gap!
Read with a small group. Shared reading is most effective when done with a small group of children; this allows the caregiver to draw each child into the book through questions and conversations about the pictures.
Focus on Vocabulary. Pick books that include new words and ideas, and be sure to call attention to new and interesting vocabulary words in books that intentionally help children understand the core meaning of words:
- Tell the child what the word means
- Point to a picture in the book that illustrates the word
- Connect the new word to words the child already knows
- Give examples of the word
- Encourage the child to use the new words in conversations
Build on themes. Pick books that are about the same theme.
- Reading several books on the same theme gives children a shared topic for extended, rich conversations
- Use new theme-based words and encourage children to use them
Create theme-based activities to further encourage children to use and learn new language
Talk Talk Talk: Use conversations throughout the day in all environments and stages of the day: arrival, Circle time, small group, outside play, transitions, and meal time:
- Get down on the child’s level and make eye contact
- Listen to what the child says
- Ask open ended questions (try getting the children to predict what might happen)
- Give the child time to think about questions and wait for their responses
- Engage children in back and forth conversations of 3 or more turns
When children are ready, include letter knowledge activities:
- Examine names and meaningful words daily to connect the meaning of the word, the letters in the word, and the sounds letters make
- Use environmental print to connect meaning to print for the child
- Engage the child to associate the name of a letter with the symbol
- Ask the child to tell what letter makes a particular sound
- Ask the child to produce the sound when shown a letter
- Use children’s names in multiple places around the classroom
- Create and use an interactive letter wall
Midland-Odessa: Building a School Readiness Community Across 38,000 Miles
In the last four years, Midland-Odessa has transformed from an isolated area in West Texas to a community experiencing rapid growing pains from a fast and furious economic boom – more than a quarter of the nation’s natural gas is produced in Midland-Odessa. Midland and its sister city Odessa, eighteen miles west, are at the epicenter of the “Petroplex,” where the oil and gas industry has brought an economic boom to the area, bringing many families and businesses over the last few years. The economic boom has been so fast paced that the area is still adjusting to the expanding industry and the new residents – available housing is extremely scarce; so much so that a night’s stay in a common motel can cost 200 dollars! Area schools have also had to adjust, welcoming many new students.
Midland is also home to the Region 18 Education Service Center, a long-standing lead agent and valuable partner of the Texas School Ready! (TSR) Project. Region 18 covers 19 counties, 39 school districts, 6,300 teachers, 70,000 students, and over 37,000 square miles! A participant in TSR since 2005, Region 18 has brought the TSR model to hundreds of classrooms across Region 18; for several years, they have expanded beyond their geographic boundary into new areas. Region 18 is extremely committed to early childhood education and TSR as a vehicle to positively affect young children. For the past 3 years, Region 18 has committed its own resources to increasing the reach of TSR, allowing the model to reach more classrooms in the area.
Region 18 encompasses a very large area, and a very large TSR service area. In West Texas, travelling long distances is a way of life. Although the economic boom has brought a lot of activity to the area, there are still vast distances between schools participating in TSR with Region 18. However, the vast distances in their TSR service area doesn’t mean that Region 18 hasn’t been able to create a collaborative community around TSR and school readiness. Lori Smith, the TSR Coordinator for Region 18, has been with TSR for 9 years and has worked for many years to support TSR and develop the school readiness community in Region 18. She and her team of coaches manage to foster a deep community of administrators and teachers that really embrace the concept of school readiness. Little things have helped. Lori’s team has a Facebook page for the participants in the project. They also create and distribute a great local newsletter that includes examples of classroom activities and helpful tips.
In TSR, Region 18 serves 41 schools in 14 cities. Despite this large network of schools spread over a large geography, Region 18 facilitates collaboration among participants across their 37,000-square-mile service area in several ways. Lori said, “TSR Coaches in Region 18 know our geography is challenging, but also see the benefits of traveling these long distances. The teachers in the remote areas of our region need us the most, and are very appreciative to be a part of TSR and to receive personal interaction with coaches. We are working on ways to support our remote coaches and remote teachers in the same ways as those with in-person coaching.”
A great example of Region 18 working to meet the needs of its teachers is in Presidio I.S.D. on the Texas-Mexico border, which is four and a half hours from Midland and a long journey for a TSR Coach. Because of the long distance, TSR Coaches planned their classroom visits to coincide with eCIRCLE classes. Lori said, “We created a plan to ensure the teachers in our most remote locations, like Presidio I.S.D., would be able to participate and collaborate with other teachers through eCIRCLE classes. An important aspect of eCIRCLE classes are group work and sharing experiences – something our teachers in Presidio I.S.D. wouldn’t be able to participate in because of distance. To solve this, we set-up video conferencing to allow the Presidio teachers to work with their peers attending eCIRCLE classes at the same time at our office. This really allowed the teachers to participate fully in eCIRCLE. They really appreciated how hard we worked to include them, and now they work just as hard to make TSR work in their classrooms.”
One of the most important aspects of building a community around school readiness is getting "buy-in" from groups who can influence the effectiveness of a program and its outcomes. These groups include teachers, parents, administrators, community leaders, and others. For Region 18, an important group to include is administrators. Lori said, “Our collaboration and involvement with administrators improved in 2010 when we switched our meetings to every other month and ensured that each meeting is dedicated to a meaningful topic that administrators can use immediately when they return to their schools. Now, administrators leave from our meetings energized and ready to support their staff in TSR.” Even small changes can make a big difference for the community.
Looking forward, Region 18 is continuing to look for ways to modify their service delivery model and continue to build a community around school readiness. Like all TSR lead agents this year, Region 18 enrolled local home-based child care providers into the Beginning Education: Early Childcare at Home (BEECH) online professional development system. In the future, Region 18 is considering bringing BEECH participants together for monthly Saturday meetings to help them go through the system and learn from each other. Lori said, “Home-based child care providers spend a lot of time working with children without other adults present, and without the support of other early childhood professionals. We believe that this group will really benefit from a collaborative monthly meeting where they can meet, get technical support for the online courses, and discuss what they are learning in BEECH.”
The school readiness community built around TSR in Region 18 shows that any region, no matter its size, can create a collaborative and supportive early childhood community. The success of TSR in Region 18 is proven in the results at the end of each year for teachers and children, and when administrators, who truly appreciate the benefits of TSR, ask Region 18 when they can enroll new teachers into the program. Keep up the great work!