Sunday, June 9, 2013

Begin with the End in MInd

As the final bell rings this school year, many teachers are already thinking about next year! And...let's be honest, many teachers are breathing a huge sigh of relief for some much need and well deserved personal time or family time!!! Or just time to do whatever, go to the bathroom, eat lunch or sit down!

For me, I have had the incredible opportunity to have the last two years as a stay at home mom with my sons! It has been a blessing that I will always cherish. But, over the last several months I felt a stirring in my heart to return to the classroom in a way that allowed me to balance my love and passion for teaching as well as my family.

I remember my first year teaching in the public school. Just out of college filled with excitement and passion for doing fun and "cute" activities with the children. Of course, we would learn, play and have so much fun together! Well, we did those things...but I am not sure I fully understood the end of the year expectations and how to reach those goals with measurable, meaningful work.

As my parents helped me move into my first classroom just out of college,  my dad asked me for old time sake, if he could capture me with my "first students" that I began teaching so long ago as a child. :)

Moving into my first classroom in 2004

Over time (and tears) I began to learn how to merge passion, innovation, and creativity through creating standards based  activities, games and lessons with measurable results. The only way to achieve this balance is to know that planning has to START with the END in mind. Also, that planning is not only curriculum and instruction but, it is also creating an environment conducive to learning through integrated thematic instruction and classroom layout and design. No teacher is perfect at all of these things but I do believe that great teachers are always striving to do these things better each year.  That is my hope. I won't ever be perfect but I hope to always be getting better! As the saying goes, "When you know better, do better."

Clip Art found:

As I approach this new adventure in private preschool with little 3 year old kiddos, I have started to seek out resources that will guide our curriculum and instruction. It would be an easy temptation to approach this part time teaching position with the mind set of "what will be fun?" or "Is this a cute activity?". But the truth is "cute" without purpose and/or meaning doesn't create dendrite formation! Children's' brains need developmentally appropriate, purposed activities and lessons to stimulate brain growth and synapses!

Unfortunately, while some view preschool years as simply child care, it is among the most critical and formative years for brain growth and stimulation of new synapses between axons and dendrites in the brain! Here is a abbreviated "brain research" summary through a clever song found on this website.

Picture from:

                                   "The Dendrite Song"
(sung to the tune of "Clementine" sent in by Leah B., a graduate student in elementary education at Long Island Univ. Leah gives credit to Bruce Campbell for composing this song.)

Use your dendrites,
Use your dendrites,
To connect throughout your brain.
Take in info, analyze it,
Grow some new ones
Axons send out
To the dendrites all around
Across the synapse
Jumps the impulse
New ideas can now abound.
Is what the brain needs
To make dendrites stretch and grow.
New connections
Make us smarter
In what we think and what we know.
Use your dendrites,
Use your dendrites,
To connect throughout your brain
Take in info, analyze it,
Grow some new ones
All this to be said, where do we begin? In my research, I have found that specific pre-k standards are a little more difficult to find!  That being said, I was thankful to come across the Good Start, Grow Smart South Carolina Early Learning Standards for 3,4 and 5 year olds. On the Official website of the State of South Carolina, teachers can easily download a 124 page document filled with very clear and detailed learning expectations and standards. The document includes well organized, purpose driven, age appropriate learning standards.

The document is organized by:
 Introduction and Purpose
Approaches to Learning
Social and Emotional Development
English, Language Arts and Literacy
Physical Education and Health

Though this free document is going to exhaust your ink cartridges, it is worth it! I am in the midst of creating my standards binder which will hold my "Good Start, Grow Smart" standards as well as my rubric to show measurable results. Though this is not required at the preschool where I teach,  it is a teaching tool for me. These standards create a road map for my year long curriculum.  The standards will guide my planning and preparations to make the most of the activities we do! 

In addition to the standards document for the State of South Carolina, I wanted to see what other preschool teachers are using to assess their students' learning. On Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT), I found a free resource that can be used in and of itself or as a guide to create a standards based assessment for your own classroom. Teacher contributor, Jessica Rosace from North Providence, Rhode Island created a great FREE resource to assess your students' learning. Please visit her TPT store, through the above link to download your own copy. Another great preschool progress report is listed on TPT at by teacher contributor, Caylee Amott from Ft. Collins, Colorado. It is another great FREE resource to begin planning your next school year! For your free download, please visit Caylee's store here.

When I finish putting together my standards binder, I will try to upload a few pictures of it. Although this seems like an awful lot of work, it is not wasted. What is wasted is precious time spent on "cute" activities that are not purpose driven towards creating developmentally appropriate learning experiences that will continue to create synapses in the growing minds of these precious little children we are so fortunate to teach!

PS. I came across a interesting lecture (23 minutes) on brain research on this website,you can listen to the lecture online if you would like by visiting this link. 

                                                                                                    Until next time,


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