There is a lot of pressure on teachers to account for their time, for what they do, for how they do it, and what results because of it. My friend Cathy quoted her friend Sandy (by all accounts, a spectacular teacher) who recently said, “We used to spend all of our time thinking about what was best for children. Now we spend all of our time proving what we do is best for children.” Yep.
No matter where you work, you will feel some pressure to prove what you are doing is working for children. Your funders have expectations, your licensing bodies have expectations, your director has expectations, your accrediting body has expectations, and you, yourself have expectations. Oftentimes, these expectations are in direct contradiction with each other. That is why if we need to find ways to prioritize the child at the center of our work, no matter what else is asked of us. As long as we keep true to this focus, in a family-centered practice, we won’t stray too far afield.
Although many of the aforementioned groups will also expect you to regularly assess children’s learning, as long as you are using your assessment results to improve the teaching and learning in your program, you are doing just fine.
Building curriculum around children’s interests and learning needs is a good place to start. You know how this works. You set out a basket of scissors and paper and then observe as children attempt to use the scissors to cut the paper. You keep a clipboard with a list of the children’s names nearby and you make notes about their attempts. You may even keep scissors and paper out on the art table for a few weeks and make a chart with dates so you can observe the children over time.
At the end of the two weeks, you look at your data. Who can use the scissors unassisted? Who uses the scissors but struggles with cutting? Who puts the wrong fingers in the holes? Who, when assisted to put the correct fingers in the scissor holes, uses the scissors correctly? Examine your results and think of ways to encourage scissor use in the future. This will require observations about what the children are interested in so the draw to the scissors is child-initiated. This is how we build curriculum using assessment data.
This past week I observed a group of young 3 year-olds as they listened to stories being read aloud by their teacher. She picked a book and then when they wanted another book, she chose another. I asked her why she didn’t use this as an opportunity to let the children vote to choose the book. She said that they children were unable to vote; that when asked to vote, they voted for every book, and it didn’t work.
It got me thinking about how the process is developmental and the only way children learn how to vote is by voting. Over time and through experience, children learn. I encouraged that teacher to use the children’s name cards and the books to vote for one choice. It is simple. Lay each book (yes, I would have the children vote between two choices before they vote for 3) on the rug and have the children one-by-one come up with their name cards and choose which story they want to vote for. Once they lay their card on their choice, they are finished. Some children will want to change their vote later, but telling them that they can vote again another day will reassure them that they can choose something different another day.
This method teaches the children about voting. It also provides a visual representation of “how many” votes each book received. Once they master this, they can use their hands to vote, one child can count the votes, another one can write the numbers down, other children can figure out which has more, and then voting becomes a regular part of your group’s curriculum.
Observe who does what, how they do it, and who struggles. Keep accurate data and then consider ways to build opportunities into your curriculum that will support the children’s learning. Be sure to continue the observation process. This will provide all the fuel you need in order answer to each of the stakeholders who want you to prove what you are doing is good for children.