7. Improving Differentiation during Morning Meetings
Children’s individual learning needs are not met during morning meeting times.
Strategy: Using active games, visual aids, finger rhymes, and songs to differentiate activity.
The Context: The action research took place over one complete semester in a Pre-K classroom in a non-public elementary school. Full-day sessions were offered in a mixed-ability class that included children with diverse learning needs. There were 14 children in the class with a certified teacher and assistant teacher. The whole school including the Pre-K classroom used the Responsive Curriculum teaching approach.
- An open-ended game enabled children to be a king and make up a rule of their own, and enabled their individual learning needs to be met.
- Flexible wait times in games reflected children’s individual abilities, and resulted in their individual learning needs being met.
- Incorporating games that allowed movement helped meet children’s individual learning needs with regard to timing, attention span, and developmental-appropriateness of their activity.
- Finger rhymes enabled children to solve mathematical problems in individual ways.
- Finger rhymes, where teachers asked differentiated questions, enabled children to supply different, but acceptable, answers.
- Open-ended and active treasure-hunt games enabled children’s individual learning needs to be met.
- The use of games, visual aids, finger rhymes, songs and Sign Language resulted in the teacher and assistant teacher sharing the workload. One led the activity while the other recorded observations. The observations were used to plan subsequent differentiated lessons to meet children’s individual learning needs.
- Cards with single digits on them enabled teachers to differentiate mathematical concepts that matched individual children’s understanding.
Whole-group, educator-led morning meetings failed to provide for each child’s individual learning needs to be met. As a result, children were often restless and not learning. The inclusion of active games, visual aids, finger rhymes and songs enabled activities to be more open-ended and differentiated. Children’s increased engagement during morning meetings gave educators time to observe their learning responses. Educators’ changed teaching roles resulted in the assistant teacher recording daily observations of children’s responses. The lead teacher used the observations to plan next-step, differentiated activities that accurately provided developmentally appropriate activities that supported each child’s individual learning needs and improved their engagement.
The Teaching Challenge
Educators identified their teaching challenge as failing to provide sufficient diversity and inclusion during morning meeting. They described the difficulty in meeting children’s diverse learning needs and ensuring they were all included during a large group time. Morning meeting typically consisted of a story, letter of the day, literacy and number activities. The team listed four difficulties connected to diversity and inclusion of each child during morning meeting.
First, teaching a mixed-ability class during whole group times was daunting. Educators tended to respond to more able children, i.e., those who volunteered answers, more than to those who did not. The educators’ goal was to include all children in their teaching, regardless of ability and not leave any children out. However, teaching to children’s diverse learning needs required different approaches which made the process very difficult. For some children, sequencing events in a story created a challenge for them. Others could not recognize a rhyme or the beginning letters of words, but for others, this material was too easy. Some children lacked social skills and were inattentive. Others were physically fidgety or simply unable to remain still at all. Some were less mature and this created a problem finding teaching material that was appropriate for each of them. Other children appeared to come from homes where learning was not highly valued, and so those children tended not to reflect school values.
Second, promoting inclusion in the classroom was difficult. Educators wondered how they could better include all children in lessons, a requirement at the time of the “No Child Left Behind” Act. Since the act required that all children, regardless of their abilities, be included in activities, educators were compelled to provide all children with opportunities to learn the same content. Educators’ dilemma lay in the near impossibility of this, given the starkly diverse learning needs of the children in the class. Complicating this, no Individual Education Plans existed to alert educators to what children’s special learning needs were. During morning meeting, educators asked administrators how they could better include the children with special needs. However, finding a good fit between the content they had to teach and the needs of slower-paced learners persisted. Educators wanted less able children to be included, to be like their peers, and not feel different or embarrassed by their lower ability levels. Educators were hard-pressed to find a way to accomplish this.
Third, responding to children’s inattentiveness was highly demanding and took the educators’ focus off what they were trying to teach. Some children, although physically present, were “somewhere else mentally” during morning meeting. They daydreamed and did not pay attention to taught activities. Educators thought they had children’s attention when they were all quiet, but this was not the case. In reality, when children did not understand material, they “zoned out.”
Fourth, differentiating teaching material was a challenge because young children of mixed-abilities required different stimuli to hold their attention. Educators wondered how to differentiate material so that children’s different learning needs could be met during circle time. This was important, given that some children would have to repeat Pre-K. When educators taught to one ability level, they felt they caused embarrassment to children of a lower ability level. They worried that the sharper children might giggle if the slower students wrote incorrect answers on their boards. Educators asked, “What do we do about children who work slowly and cause others to become restless? How do we get the whole group back on task?” Educators noticed that some children already suffered self-esteem problems and were afraid of embarrassing themselves. Younger and less able children actively resisted answering questions by saying to educators, “I didn’t have my hand up. I’m not answering,” which in itself showed a level of awareness, implying that intellectual ability was there but not as easy for teachers to identify.
Educators expressed their values about diversity and inclusion. Although educators wanted to accommodate diversity and meet children’s individual learning needs, they felt the downward pressure of Kindergarten standards upon them. Educators remarked that Pre-K children had to meet those standards so they would not be behind when they entered kindergarten. Educators were willing to do extra work to compensate for any gaps in children’s knowledge, and they recognized that they needed workable teaching strategies to help them meet children’s diverse learning needs. They were genuinely irritated that they had not been taught these strategies, specifically in the areas of math and English Language Arts. Educators were worried about the ethical problems that could arise by teaching and treating all children the same. Children’s diverse learning needs required diverse teaching approaches. Educators were ambivalent, because they offered some children 1:1 support, recognizing that not all children were the same. However, educators provided children with additional support in an attempt to prevent them from falling behind.
Aims of the Action Research
The following aims were identified to help educators: (1) use varied teaching approaches to meet the diverse learning needs of each child in a mixed ability class; (2) promote greater inclusion of every child during morning meeting; (3) increase every child’s attentiveness during morning meeting; (4) differentiate material to better support each child’s diverse learning needs; (5) align educators’ practice more closely with NAEYC Standards (2009) regarding diversity and inclusion; and (6) improve teacher candidates’ opportunities to complete Practicum assignments that aligned with those NAEYC Standards.
Alignment of Teaching Challenge with NAEYC Standards
The importance of teaching in ways that promoted diversity and inclusion was emphasized and integrated throughout all NAEYC Standards (2009). The commitment to diversity and inclusion was to ensure that the developmental and learning needs of each and every child were fully supported in the preschool classroom. Learning was more likely to be successful, and inequalities that might have led to persistent attainment gaps were minimized. Developmental and learning needs can include children with delays, disabilities, gifted and talented, cultural and linguistic diversity, socio-economic diversity, and individual learning-style preferences. The following standards respond to these learning needs: NAEYC Standard 1: Promoting Child Development and Learning, where teacher candidates show they use developmental knowledge to create healthy, respectful, supportive, and challenging learning environments for young children. Standard 3: Observing, Documenting and Assessing to Support Young Children and Families, teacher candidates practice responsible assessment, to promote outcomes for each child and Standard 5: Using Content Knowledge to Build Meaningful Curriculum, teacher candidates use their own knowledge, appropriate early learning standards, and other resources to design, implement and evaluate meaningful challenging curricula for each child, specifically in language, literacy, and mathematics.
A 20-minute video was recorded to form a baseline assessment of the teaching challenge. A checklist of identified teaching challenges was devised by the team, and used to record the frequency of these challenges seen in the video:
|Teaching to children’s individual diverse needs||5|
|Inclusive practices exist in activity||0|
|Table 7.1: Baseline assessment of the teaching challenge|
A total of 32 examples were observed in two categories related to diversity, and inclusion during morning meeting. The most common category was children’s inattentiveness (27) that manifested as children moved around and disrupted the flow of teaching. Six children moved to put sweaters in their cubbies, and three others moved to get tissues to wipe their noses. The seating arrangement, where children sat on the floor facing the teacher, perched on a high stool, compelled several of them to repeatedly turn around to see who was behind them. As children sat listening to letter and sound recognition work, individual children, selected by the teacher, did directed tasks, e.g., writing a beginning letter on the white board. At this point, several boys wriggled backwards and forward to move to another space to sit with other children. Others sat on their haunches, rocked from side to side, and used their arms to stabilize their weight. Some children talked to their neighbors. Some girls stroked their friends’ hair and played with hair accessories. Others shuffled on their bottoms and played with trainer shoelaces.
Five activities were differentiated to meet children’s diverse learning needs. The teacher wrote a morning message to the class that consisted of the day of the week, and the name of the class leader. The message illustrated the use of capital letters and the meaning of written text.
Selected children were individually asked to answer questions at various levels of difficulty, or asked to carry out prescribed tasks. Educators asked all children in the class to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with particular concepts by giving a thumbs-up or thumbs down.
There were no examples of inclusive practices that enabled all children to participate in activities in different ways. The consistent format for writing the same morning message meant that content focused on classroom organization and prescribed letters of the week. Considerable “wait” time existed, because only one or two children actively participated during morning meeting. The rest of the class waited and became restless.
The team identified three teaching problems. First, children’s inattentiveness, resulted in learning deficits. Educators deduced that children’s inattentiveness was not behavioral. Rather, they believed the teaching pace did not match children’s individual learning needs, and was, therefore, problematic. Some children were inattentive because they were bored, others had lost track of the lesson and several wanted to participate even if they did not know the answers to questions. Educators questioned the developmental appropriateness of their teaching Pre-K children.
Second, educators recognized that their teaching was not differentiated because no system of assessment existed to identify each child’s diverse learning needs. As a result, educators could not plan their teaching according to each child’s diverse developmental levels. Instead, the Responsive Classroom curriculum imposed a daily routine on the classroom in which the teaching of letters and numbers was embedded. Educators were aware that when they asked children “closed” questions that required only “right” answers, the needs of more able children’s individual learning needs were met. At the same time though, the needs of less-able children were ignored.
Third, educators said they wanted to use inclusive practices, but were unable to because no child had yet been diagnosed with special educational needs, and their specific learning needs were not immediately apparent to educators. By “inclusive practices” in their classroom, educators meant that their teaching should fit and challenge each child’s current development and learning ability. The formal assessment made this difficult.
The teacher candidates and the college librarian used a range of key words connected to the teaching challenge to find relevant journal articles. The teacher candidate selected the following articles for the team to read:
(1) Jalongo, M.R. (1996). Teaching young children to become better listeners. Young Children 51 (2): 21-26.
(2) McVicker, C.J. (2007). Young readers respond: The importance of child participation in emerging literacy. Young Children 62 (3): 18-22.
(3) Roskos, K.A. Christie J.F, &. Richgels D.J. (2003). The essentials of early literacy instruction. Young Children 58 (2): 52-60. Online: www.journal.naeyc.org/btj/20030.
(4) Torbert, M. (2005). Using active group games to develop basic life skills. Young Children 60 (4): 72-78.
Since the teaching challenge incorporated a number of teaching elements, the team thought that combining a number of strategies, rather than using just one, would have greater impact. The team chose to implement three strategies from two articles: (1) Use a repertoire of active teaching approaches during morning meeting that included games, visual aids, finger rhymes, and songs to increase children’s attentiveness (Torbert, 2005); (2) interact with children in reassuring ways to promote inclusion (Jalongo, 1996), and; (3) assess each child’s understanding of concepts taught and use assessment outcomes to plan differentiated activities (Jalongo, 1996).
The strategies were checked for their developmental-appropriateness in Wood (2007) which said:
…4-year-olds learn best through varied approaches that include being read to, acting out stories, fairy tales, and manipulating math materials. Teachers need to focus on observing behavior and asking questions that lead children toward the next level of cognitive exploration and understanding (p31). Inclusion is best promoted by the lead teacher acting as primary care-giver who remains with her group of children for most of the day (p13).
Creating an Assessment Tool
The completed assessment grid seen at table 7.2 was used each time the team viewed strategy implementation videos. The purpose of the assessment grid was twofold. First, identify desirable outcomes of strategies; and second, observe and monitor the impact of strategies on the teaching challenge.
Video 1: Implementing Strategies
To promote desirable changes to their teaching during morning meeting, the team wanted to implement all three strategies as soon as possible. To increase children’s attentiveness, they chose to use a wider repertoire of active teaching approaches than they had before. Games, visual aids, finger rhymes, and songs were included. After one week’s implementation, the following frequencies were observed and recorded during a 20-minute video of morning meeting.
|Inclusion is promoted||6|
|Teaching is differentiated||0|
|Children learn literacy knowledge||10|
|Children learn mathematical knowledge||5|
|Visual aids support attentiveness||2|
|Finger rhymes support attentiveness||0|
|Songs support attentiveness||0|
|Games support attentiveness||5|
|Table 7.2: Impact of active games on teaching|
Team reflection after each video is viewed:
- Is the strategy working? How?
- Is the original teaching challenge being improved upon? How?
- Is children’s learning improving? How?
- Is your understanding of your teaching changing? How?
- Is your teaching changing? How?
- What do we do next in our teaching? How?
Twenty-eight frequencies were recorded to show the impact of using active games during morning meeting to promote diversity and inclusion. During this video, the use of other strategies–finger rhymes and songs–was not included. Three games were used: (1) if I were a king; (2) matching picture cards and initial letter cards; and (3) a treasure hunt. Three examples of using visual aides were observed that included: (1) a crown; (2) picture cards with corresponding letter cards; and (3) number cards.
All children were fully attentive on six extended occasions when they participated in three games. In the first game, six children, one at a time, pretended to be a king by wearing a crown and said what they would do if they were king for a day. This literacy game was open-ended, and children were encouraged to say whatever they wanted. As a result, educators did not need to ask differentiated questions.
In the second game, ten examples of children learning the letter “k” for king were recorded. In this game beginning letters and sounds were emphasized. In pairs, children matched a picture card of an object, e.g., an apple to the corresponding initial letter card “a.”
In another game, children were asked whether the two picture cards they drew out of a kangaroo’s pouch had the same starting sound, e.g., banana and bird, yes, and kangaroo and mittens, no.
In the third game, five examples were observed of children playing a number game in which they were asked to hunt in the room and find examples of numbers that were less than five and more than six.
These literacy and number games resulted in all children being fully attentive, which suggested that diversity and inclusion were effectively promoted through active games, open-ended questioning, and exploration of numbers.
Educators evaluated that overall the strategy of using games with visual aids during morning meeting was successful in increasing children’s attentiveness. As a result, diversity and inclusion were effectively promoted. The assistant educator said that she saw, “good things, and that certain children had surprised her with really good answers, for example, one king said he would make sure that all children were happy and there would be no war.”
Regarding the use of visual aids, educators noticed that children’s concentration was improved when they reached into containers and acted with materials. Children were interested in comparing the picture cards to see if the pictures started with the same sound. However, passing just one kangaroo’s pouch around the whole class for children to choose letter cards from resulted in them having to wait for their turn and some became restless.
The original teaching challenge was improved upon because the video showed how children were attentive when they were able to participate in games and visual aids.
With children’s increased attentiveness in place, the assistant educator had time to start implementing the third strategy, concerned with assessing what each child understood during morning meeting. The assistant educator commented on how, as an observer, she was able to see more of what children did. However, the use of K-W-L assessment charts, (what I know, what I want to know and what I learned) used in the Responsive Curriculum, was not an assessment method that provided information on each child’s learning.
As an alternative, the teacher candidate suggested recording anecdotal observations of each child during morning meetings. She had learned this assessment method in college courses, and it was deemed appropriate, because it would provide information about each child’s individual learning progress.
The assistant educator wrote down daily observations on five children during morning meeting. She shared the observations with the lead educator who used them to assess each child’s understanding, and to plan related challenging activities for the next morning meeting. Educators took on new professional roles as they worked collaboratively to gather evidence about every child’s learning, and assess the impact of the strategies. Educators preferred to observe children because observations showed how each child’s mind worked and reacted to activities (see fig.7.3).
The team reported how writing down anecdotal observations enabled them to understand how children used mathematical calculations to come up with answers, e.g., when the educator said “Show me eight fingers. Eight children went swimming. Two got cold and got out of the pool. How many children were left in the pool?” A child answered by holding up fingers, and saying, 5 + 1 (rather than 6). Educators realized that many Pre-K children were not yet able to use the mathematical skills of adding fingers on two hands together. Observations at figure 7.3 showed educators how many children did not understand the literacy and math concepts embedded in games and visual aids. Educators found that their teaching had to respond to children’s current conceptual understanding before children’s further learning could take place.
Regarding the impact of the strategy to promote inclusion, the assistant educator commented that children did not like the lead educator sitting on the floor as it was difficult for them to see her and to follow finger rhymes. As a result, the lead educator sat on a low chair that enabled her to be more visible to the children but remain close to them. Children responded with more patience when they were told that everyone would get a turn either today, or tomorrow. Educators commented they were developing more reasonable expectations about children’s attentiveness. It was not reasonable to expect 100% attentiveness during morning meeting, but it was reasonable to expect most children to be attentive most of the time. The team reflected they would no longer see their teaching as a failure if all children were not attentive 100% of the time.
One educator said: “If there’s too much of a wait, he can’t stay focused. He’s fast and he must not be side-tracked by waiting. We have to adapt our teaching so that his wait time is not too long.” This finding was an important indicator regarding how educators taught. Rather than thinking that children caused challenges to their teaching, educators realized their approach needed to change. The team decided to continue implementing their increased repertoire of teaching approaches, and further develop differentiated planning to meet each child’s diverse needs.
|Children are attentive||7|
|Targeted children answer differentiated questions||7|
|Children learn letters||3|
|Children learn numbers||2|
|Visual aids support involvement||4|
|Finger rhymes support involvement||7|
|Songs support involvement||1|
|Games support involvement||1|
|Table 7.3: Impact of using finger rhymes and games|
When educators used more active games and finger rhymes during morning meeting, they recorded a total of 35 frequencies. This was an increase from the number of frequencies observed in the first video. On seven occasions, all children were fully attentive, and inclusion was promoted as they simultaneously acted out with their hands and sang the finger rhyme, “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Children laughed as they sang, made noises and copied the teacher’s hand movements signifying “down came the rain and washed the spider out.” The teacher asked differentiated and open-ended questions about the spider that enabled three children of different abilities to give three different but acceptable answers. In contrast with the first video, there was a 7-fold increase in the frequency of differentiation.
The teacher asked children to consider the letter E during the finger rhyme. In pairs, children went on a treasure hunt around the room to find the letter, E. Children found the letter printed on shoes, on shape posters in the word square and hexagon, and in children’s names written on the front of drawers. The concept of searching out the letter E was continued as one child at a time wore “elephant’s ears.” In conclusion, the teacher extended vocabulary work by exploring the word, “enormous.” The teacher asked for three different definitions of the word that enabled three children to participate by using different examples. The frequency of children learning letters decreased from the first video (from 10 to 3). The drop was explained by activities being more active and better understood by children, but they took up more time.
The number of the week was 7 and was explored as children counted to seven. The concept of larger and smaller numbers was explored as children picked number tiles out of a bag and said whether they were less than, or greater than, the number 7. Visual aids in the form of elephant’s ears and a bag of number tiles supplemented the teaching on four occasions. More frequencies in the use of finger rhymes (7), songs (1), and games (1) were observed in the second video than the first.
The team reported that the implementation of the strategy using more active games, finger rhymes, and songs improved children’s attentiveness. Using finger play was found to be particularly effective, e.g., while reading Zinnia’s Flower Garden, by Monica Wellington, children role-played planting rows of seeds with their fingers.
During finger play, children were more active and not as fidgety. As a result, their participation and attentiveness increased.
Educators reported not having to intervene over inattentiveness as much during morning meeting. The assistant educator said, “I am a distraction. They don’t need me as much, and I now stay back and can spend more time observing.”
The lead educator identified her improved time management skills as a factor in children’s improved attentiveness. She now organized morning meeting into three blocks of activity focused on language, literacy, and mathematics, and used her wider repertoire of teaching approaches in all three blocks. She judged children’s attention spans and pace of learning more accurately by understanding that it was not possible for all children to have a turn during each morning meeting. Instead, she encouraged children to play in small groups and asked them to communicate with each other, rather than with her directly. Incorporating playful games, rhymes, and visual aids, activities had resulted in the children being more attentive, and had increased the ways they learned letters and numbers. In the short term, the use of a wider repertoire of teaching approaches had created more preparation work for educators, but at the same time, was creating a bank of activities that educators would use again.
One positive outcome of the strategy of using games, rhymes, visual aids, and activities was that learning had become more social and the classroom was more inclusive. Activities frequently involved children working with partners and teaching things to each other. Working in small groups and in pairs resulted in children and educators changing roles. When one group finished an activity before another, children tended to help each other. Children were occupied doing things and learned more actively than when they were expected to sit and listen.
Educators identified movement as another positive outcome of the strategies. Movement was said to help children learn, focus their attention, and communicate together. Movement during songs and games provided opportunities for target children (who were observed in need of more help) to be involved in activities. The assistant teacher said she had “been blown out of the water” by children’s responsiveness in number games. For example, making patterns with number cards when children stood in a line making a repeated pattern by holding up the numbers 1,1; 8,8; 1,1; 8,8.
The team reported how they had developed a professional partnership resulting from the assistant educator recording observations of five children’s learning during morning meeting each day. The lead teacher and the assistant teacher used the observations to assess the five children’s understanding of concepts taught each day, and also planned differentiated learning activities for the five children for the next day.
Educators enjoyed the partnership and the open-minded approach to teaching that had developed. They liked the way that, as one participant said, “it’s all coming from the children.” The assistant educator’s role of recording observations gave the lead teacher accurate information about each child’s attainment. As a result, she understood current learning needs, and was able to plan differentiated activities for those children. These activities included asking specific questions built on what they had already done, and more open-ended questions that had many right answers, rather than just one. Instead of educators using the Responsive Curriculum routine to drive morning meetings, educators now used each child’s individual observations as an indicator of their current learning needs.
The team decided to continue with differentiating activities during the final stage of the project.
Using Games to Increase Differentiation
|Children are attentive||9||On 9 occasions|
|Targeted children answer differentiated questions||5||Five children were asked questions based on yesterday’s anecdotes|
|Children learn letters||2||Not clear why particular letters have been chosen – q, z|
|Children learn numbers||2||Why 1 and 8? Note 1+8=18|
|Visual aids support involvement||4||Children like the sun. We could have many suns to promote more involvement|
|Finger rhymes support involvement||0|
|Songs support involvement||1|
|Games support involvement||1|
|Table 7.4: impact of and inclusion differentiated activities on attentiveness|
Twenty-four frequencies were recorded on video. Children were observed to be attentive and inclusion was promoted on nine occasions. This was the highest recorded frequency of attentiveness throughout the action research and was judged to have resulted from the planning of differentiated and open-ended activities during morning meeting. Children were attentive as they were asked to think of words that begin with QU and Z. They said the words quiet, quick, zebra, zany and zig-zag. When exploring the letter S, children were invited to hold a visual aid of the sun and were asked an open-ended question about what they enjoyed doing on a sunny day. One child participated by saying that she would ride her bike and another said she would play outside.
Children were asked to pick out number cards with either number 1 or 8 written on them. Children were then asked to find a partner so they could make up the number 18. Children were asked what number came first in 18, 1 (representing ten) or 8. Then children were asked to find the two number cards that made up number 18 and hold these cards up in front of them. The activity concluded with children being asked addition and subtraction operations using numbers 1 and 8. Children’s addition answers 1 + 8 = 18 and 1 + 8 = 9 and subtraction answers 8 – 1 = 7 and 8 – 1 = 5 indicated their current number fluency and what aspects of teaching needed adjustment to suit each child.
The strategy was deemed to be working. In particular, when the team asked children more open-ended questions they were more attentive.
The original teaching challenge was improved upon when children were given more latitude in their thinking. They were able to contribute more freely to discussions.
However, some children were reluctant to speak in front of the whole class.
Previously, educators thought these children were embarrassed, but now they wondered whether their reluctance was explained by lack of understanding.
Educators thought about ways to increase each child’s participation and encouraged them to speak in pairs. The benefits of this were attentiveness, increased inclusion and the elimination of wait time. All children in the class participated in discussions at the same time. Educators could observe what children said and assess their understanding.
The concept of using numbers in activities was discussed and made more relevant to children, e.g., a child’s birthday or the number of a child’s house, was introduced. Educators also considered it more developmentally appropriate if numbers were restricted to fewer than ten, because place value was too abstract a concept for most Pre-K children to understand.
The video revealed the importance of educators’ teaching each mathematical concept by using context and consistent language. This was to avoid confusion to children when teaching conservation of number, i.e., place-value pattern, addition, subtraction, and numbers less than and greater than.
Educators recognized the importance for focused plans by making sure that concepts were connected. They thought it was best to differentiate teaching by using observations recorded by the assistant teacher that indicated children’s individual learning outcomes from the previous day, and to focus on one concept at a time. To make children’s mathematical operations more concrete, the team decided that manipulative materials, e.g., cubes, bears and tiles would be used during morning meeting.
The team determined that the aims of the action research were met. A more varied repertoire of active teaching approaches had helped to meet the diverse learning needs of each child in class. Inclusion of every child had been promoted during morning meeting by increasing social interaction among children, and between children and educators. Each child’s attentiveness had been increased during morning meeting. Each child’s diverse learning needs were better supported by differentiating material that was made possible by the introduction of a system of observation.
Educators’ practice was more closely aligned with NAEYC Standards (2009) regarding diversity and inclusion. Standard 5: Using Content Knowledge to Build Meaningful Curriculum was the first standard to be better aligned. A wider repertoire of active learning approaches used during morning meeting resulted in the design, implementation, and evaluation of challenging curricula for each child. This was specifically in the content areas of language, literacy, and mathematics. Standard 3: Observing, Documenting, and Assessing to Support Young Children and Families was better aligned through the introduction of a responsible assessment method. The recording of daily anecdotal observations on five or more different children enabled educators to assess those children’s current attainment and plan the next day’s activities in ways that promoted appropriate outcomes for each child.
NAEYC Standard 1: Promoting Child Development and Learning was aligned and enabled the teacher candidate to show she used developmental knowledge to create healthy, respectful, supportive, and challenging learning environments for young children. Strong evidence also existed for alignment with Standard 6: Becoming a Professional. The ELC team enabled alignment with Standards 6b and 6c: concerning engaging in collaborative learning and integrating knowledgeable, reflective and critical perspectives on early education to be met. This was particularly supportive of the teacher candidate writing and implementing Practicum assignments that aligned with what was taught in college.
The team evaluated that the three strategies, when used together, had been successful in improving the original teaching challenge for diversity and inclusion. The prospect of teaching a diverse class during whole group times was no longer daunting. Using a repertoire of active games, finger rhymes, visual aids, and songs, effectively promoted children’s attentiveness and inclusion.
The strategy of sitting closely to children and letting them know they will all have a turn allows the children to be more relaxed. Educators thought their own “in the moment” developmentally-appropriate interactions with young children had successfully promoted inclusion. Children were more social and physically active, and as a result, classroom community was better developed.
The use of responsible assessment meant educators spent less time “policing” children and more time analyzing children’s learning needs. Observations had made it possible for educators to know what each child understood and to prepare differentiated activities for the next day that closely fit each child’s learning needs. The possibility existed to ask particular children “closed” questions that assumed different levels of ability and also met their individual learning needs.
Educators’ values changed as a result of the action research. The reading of professional articles resulted in their being more knowledgeable about teaching strategies. These strategies improved their teaching and helped them overcome their ethical concerns about diversity and inclusion. Educators became less concerned about the pressure of Kindergarten standards, and instead were more concerned with using developmentally-appropriate content and materials for the children in their Pre-K class. The increased use of a repertoire of active teaching approaches resulted in a more developmentally-appropriate Pre-K curriculum. It enabled educators to enjoy the current stage of learning and not be concerned about the next. Educators’ fears about children being embarrassed as they participated in activities were reduced. A built-in system of assessment that addressed diverse learning needs, enabled educators to plan differentiated activities for each child, both in small groups and in paired activities.
Educators acknowledged that their action research was not complete. However, the teacher candidate had fully contributed to the action research throughout the semester. She was able to act on the improved congruency between NAEYC Standards, the teaching in college, and the implementation of course assignments in the Practicum classroom.