Posts Tagged ‘school ready’

Intentional Teaching in Pre-K

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

AUTHOR: Erika Pozo, Early Childhood Education Specialist

Research on best teaching practices is very clear and consistent. Teachers who are thoughtful about what they teach and how they teach it are better able to help children acquire skills needed to succeed in school and in life. Intentional teaching requires teachers to be purposeful and effective in their instructional strategies at all times. This means that teachers take an active role in the learning process and facilitate children’s learning based on skill development, individual needs, and goals of students in the class. Intentional teachers recognize and respond to every opportunity to engage in, and extend, children’s learning, whether that learning is child-initiated, teacher-initiated, routine, planned, or unexpected (Epstein, 2007).

A key element of intentional teaching is listening; listening to what children say to the teacher, to their peers, and in their self-talk. Equally important is the response (or lack of response) teachers give to children when they do talk. Children identify a teacher as a good listener when the teacher:

∙ makes eye contact appropriately;

∙ is patient and does not interrupt;

∙ asks questions in a nonthreatening tone;

∙ is responsive both verbally and nonverbally; and,

∙ prepares for listening by removing other distractions (Jalongo, 2008).

Intentional teaching requires teachers to understand the needs of each child as an individual, unique learner. Likewise, teachers must have a strong sense of how and when to support child-guided learning experiences verses teacher-guided (or directed) learning experiences. To teach with intention, teachers must:

∙ Create a learning environment rich in materials, experiences, and interactions;

∙ Encourage children to explore materials, experiences, relationships, and ideas;

∙ Speak respectfully, reciprocally, and frequently with children;

∙ Consciously promote all areas of learning and development;

∙ Match content with children’s developmental levels and emerging abilities; and,

∙ Carefully observe children to determine their interests and level of understanding.

Intentional teaching does not happen by chance; it is planful, thoughtful, and purposeful.

To learn more about intentional teaching in the early childhood classroom, check out Ann S. Epstein’s book titled The Intentional Teacher: Choosing the Best Strategies for Young Children’s Learning. An excerpt from the book is available here.


Epstein, A. S. (2007). The intentional teacher: Choosing the best strategies for young children’s learning. Washington, DC: NAYEC

Jalongo, M. (2008). Learning to listen, listening to learn: Building essential skills in young children. Washington. DC: NAEYC

Teaching Science in the Early Childhood Classroom

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Aliza Rivera, Early Childhood Specialist

I can remember when the idea of teaching science to a room full of 4 year-olds terrified me. My fear often led to science activities that were either “safe,” not messy, or often underdeveloped. Students tended to overlook my science center and it was not utilized enough by my young students. I can even recall a memory where I encouraged my students to look, but not touch. Sound familiar? You are not the only one.

Leo F. Buscaglia states, “It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” For the longest time I was in denial of the idea that young children already come to school with an innate sense of natural curiosity about the world and how it works. I had to work on my ability to understand the different ways that young children play. I often had to stop what I was doing, listen to what my students were saying and reflect on their subsequent actions through the different play opportunities planned throughout the day. By doing this, I came to understand and conquer my fear of teaching science. I found that my fear was based on a personal struggle of not understanding how play activities connected with content knowledge and how they could come to support young children’s learning of science naturally through play.

Realizing that science is everywhere and that it can be integrated into the curriculum in a variety of ways, I began to develop a deeper understanding of essential scientific ideas rather than a superficial acquaintance of isolated facts. I embraced the opportunity in allowing my young students with sufficient time to develop a deeper understanding for the world around them.  When I began to allow more time for my students to explore, it provided me with the opportunity to observe the capacity to which the play became more complex.  When I engaged in play with my students, I began to understand the opportunities in which to question the understanding of my student’s thinking patterns and to acknowledge the different content areas they were experiencing.  When my students demonstrated to me a variety of skills that could be seen universally across content areas, then I introduced additional materials that supported my student’s’ natural sense of inquiry.

These observable skills included:

  • exploring objects, materials, and events
  • asking questions
  • making observations
  • engaging in simple investigations
  • describing (including shape, size, number), comparing, sorting, classifying and ordering
  • recording observations by using words, pictures, charts and graphs
  • working collaboratively with others
  • sharing and discussing ideas
  • listening to new perspectives (Hamlin & Wisneski, 2012)

Teachers, just like myself, who utilized inquiry and science in the early childhood classroom came to the realization that it built a natural pathway that allowed them to understand and value the thinking processes of the young learner. In doing so, they used their students’ thinking processes as learning experiences in helping guide their students to uncover explanations that were closer to a scientific idea than simply learning through isolated facts (Hamlin & Wisneski, 2012)  Developing inquiry in an early childhood classroom can transform a class from a collection of individuals into a community of learners that openly share their interpretations of the natural world around them (Worth & Grollman, 2003). Research has shown that such learning experiences can help children reform and refine their theories and explanations—to learn how to think through their ideas, to take risks and ask additional questions, and to reconsider their ideas on the basis of others’ views (Vygotsky, 1962).

Science is part of our everyday lives. How can teachers use play as opportunities to engage young learners in scientific inquiry? The key is in the types of experiences teachers create for young learners and how well they support children during play. Fostering a young child’s natural sense of inquiry is essentially building a strong foundation for the ongoing development of many cognitive skills across content areas (Worth & Grollman, 2003).


Hamlin, M., & Wisneski, D. B. (2012, May). Supporting the Scientific Thinking and Inquiry of Toddlers and Preschoolers through Play. Young Children, 67(3), 82-88.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1986). Thought and Language. Cambridge, M.A.: The MIT Press.

Worth, Karen & Grollman, Sharon. (2003). Worms, shadows, and whirlpools: Science in the early childhood classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Supporting the Young English Language Learner

Friday, September 25th, 2015

AUTHOR: Aliza Rivera, Education Specialist – School Ready

As a former pre-K teacher I often struggled with meeting the needs of my English Language Learners (ELLs), mainly because I didn’t completely understand the resources provided to me. Over time, I came to the realization that while the curriculum and lesson planning that were provided offered guidance on what to teach and when to teach it, they very rarely offered practical methods for how to teach it, which is exactly what the job of curriculum/ lesson mapping and planning is supposed to do. More specifically, I wanted to teach in a way that allowed me to maximize instructional time to meet the needs of my students’ oral language development in their native language as well as provide relevant and purposeful learning opportunities that supported and fostered my students’ English language development. I decided that I would go back to basics and build upon the relationships already being successfully formed in our classroom community.  

As I reflected, I began to understand that planning the act of having conversations with students was going to be the successful foundation that both the student and I would need to establish risk taking behaviors.  By being very deliberate in my planning I could create a love of learning that would be experienced all year long in both their native language as well as their new language of English as well.

So with the end of school year goals in mind, I began to intentionally plan backward to find ways that would support my students’ oral language development and allow for students to express and communicate their own personal experiences in multiple of ways that included listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Research has shown that students who are supported in both their native home languages (L1) and English (L2) have demonstrated increased cognitive, linguistic, and social emotional advantages (Bialystock 2008; Kuhl 2009)

Planning support for the young ELL should include:

  • Variety – I learned that students were more interested in learning a new language when the conversations occurred in different parts of the classroom, not always limiting those dialogues to one area of the classroom. By utilizing a variety of literature in different parts of the classroom like songs, chants and rhymes, students enthusiastically learn and remember new vocabulary words, classroom expectations and concepts.
  • Visual reinforcements – By adding additional environmental supports like photos and rubrics, students receive a message of which behaviors, appropriate conversations and interactions were expected of them.
  • Let them know why – When I planned for engaging in intentional and purposeful play with my students during center time, students were more likely to use new vocabulary words, phrases and sentence stems because they understood the purposes of instructional materials placed in centers.
  • Peer-to-peer learning – Actively encouraging cooperative play and planning instructional work for students to complete in pairs or triads makes students feel more comfortable with taking risks and practicing their listening and speaking skills with one another. They also learn that their classmates are another resource in helping them to learn material being taught as well as a source of problem solving support.
  • Integrate the home culture – By adding labeling and environmental print to the classroom environment, I was able to communicate to parents and students that I was honoring not only their home language but the idea that one day they were going to be bicultural, bilingual and most importantly bi-literate—able to successfully read, speak and write in both languages.


Bialystok, E. (2008). Cognitive Effects of Bilingualism Across the Lifespan. In H. Chan, H. Jacob, & E. Kapia (Eds.), BUCLD 32: Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development. Boston, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Magruder, E., Hayslip, W., Espinosa, L., & Matera, C. (2013, March 1). Many Languages, One Teacher: Supporting Language and Literacy Development for Dual Language Learners. Young Children, 8-12.

Kuhl, P. (2009). Early Language Acquisition: Neural Substrates and Theoretical Models. In The Cognitive Neurosciences (4th ed., pp. 837-854). Cambridge, MA: M.S. Gazzaniga.


The Importance of Family in Early Childhood Education: Now is the Time to Reengage

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Lori Reemts, Project Coordinator for Curriculum & Instruction

Early childhood educators are a unique brand of teacher. Much like each level of a child’s school career, the earliest exposure brings dynamic challenges and high rewards. There is much to be said for these educators who really start it all. As the end of the academic year approaches, a mixture of emotions surges for these dedicated educators.

I am proud of my students, but have my little ones grown enough to be ready for the challenges of kindergarten and beyond? 

I am proud of myself, but have I done all I can do to help foster their academic growth as well as their physical, emotional, and social growth? 

Yes! We conquered the separation issue and there is no more crying!

What about that lingering behavior challenge? I still need to address that in a more proactive and supportive way. Do I have time? There is still 3 months of school left – but I need some help. 

I started the year off with great parent involvement and communication but it seems to have slowed. How do I keep parents informed and working with me as partners for their children’s growth? Will the support needed to sustain their growth occur in the summer? Maybe parents don’t know what to do.

I love and adore my kids but – oh my – how long is it until summer again?

At this time of year it may be worthwhile to spend a little time revisiting and reflecting on progress made so far. It may be easy to slip into the daily routine and perhaps miss opportunities to renew, reignite, or reinvigorate potential partners in our students’ learning, specifically the students’ family members.

It takes a village, a simple take on the Nigerian proverb regarding raising children, seems to be an idea of increasing importance as our society grows and changes. This idea can be loosely translated in support of the importance of the teacher/parent relationship. Research has consistently shown that meaningful family engagement in children’s early learning supports school readiness and later academic success. This really isn’t arguable. Parents understand this. Parents, like teachers, wish nothing but the best for their children. Parents, unlike most teachers, sometimes feel they are ill-equipped, lacking in resources, or that they simply do not understand early learning. It is important that we continue including and sharing with our families of preschoolers so that they are more confident in their abilities to productively support their child’s learning.

The National Institute for Early Education Research released a study in 2012 which looked at changes in parental expectations for their children’s school readiness and at in-home practices.  The study found that (for the time between 1993 and 2007) parent expectations for their children to be school ready increased. At the same time, the study found a significant decrease in the time families were engaging in activities that support children’s growth in skills such as self-regulation and higher order thinking, both of which contribute significantly to children’s school readiness (Snow, 2013). In an effort to provide the best for our young ones we often overlook the simple things that are directly in front of us. Rather than assume ill-will or apathy, let’s assume a lack of knowledge and practice.  After all, parents are not required to be certified; they do not have a specialization in early childhood.

It is in our best interest to not only partner with parents and family members, to support them as we all support the student, and to reinvigorate the family efforts and involvements but to work to keep that relationship mutually beneficial, just as we would any relationship.

Perhaps your classroom once had what seemed to be high parent interest and involvement, but as the year progresses that partnership seems to have waned. Where did they go? Perhaps your classroom has never really seen family engagement at all. Again, it is important to refrain from any temptation to pass judgment, and to seek to understand the “why” so that we can be the supportive resource our students need us to be. There are some simple ways to re-engage the families, thereby reinvigorating the partnership in learning. This, in turn, supports the village that supports the child not only in a pre-kindergarten setting, but throughout their learning career.

Ideas to Begin, or Refresh and Reinvigorate!

  • Reflect on your classroom environment and climate—is it still welcoming?
  • Create opportunities for authentic and useful parent involvement (i.e., within classroom supporting students, outside of the classroom prepping supplies or materials, etc.).
  • Hold “parent academies” either in person or online prepping families for the transition from PreK to Kindergarten. Build their understanding of resources that foster student growth in self-regulation and pretend play, learning about literacy and math development, and sustained growth over summer.
  • Encourage/model purposeful play, including open-ended questioning during play.
  • Create a “reference” sheet pulling together helpful hints to help parents as they work on open-ended play; interactive reading and questioning; authentic and meaningful praise; making connections; building on small challenges to gently push toward something new or a bit more complex; repeating and extending what a child says; using interesting vocabulary; modeling expected and appropriate behaviors; and encouraging investigation in self-selected areas, etc.
  • Share websites such as
  • Use regularly scheduled opportunities, such as conferences and materials (i.e., class newsletter) to share information, hints, and celebrations.
  • Create/display/share concrete collections of student experiences (i.e., student products, in-class photos, class memory books).
  • and more!

It could be argued that families are the most influential resource that early educators have whether it is the beginning of the year or the end. Make use of this resource! Renew and keep the partnership strong through the end of the year and beyond.


Snow, K. (2013, January 1). Research News You Can Use: Family Engagement and Early Childhood Education. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from

Oral Language Development in Early Childhood

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author: Cathy Doggett, Education Specialist – School Ready

Broad achievement gaps exist prior to school entry. Four-year-olds from low income families have heard 45 million fewer words than their higher socioeconomic status peers, leading to a great disparity in vocabulary size. (Hart-Risley, 1995) English Language Learners have significantly lower vocabularies than their peers. (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012) Researchers have found a strong correlation between the receptive vocabularies of Pre-K students and their 4th and 7th grade reading comprehension scores.  (Tabors, Snow, and Dickinson, 2001)

Twenty-six of the Pre-K Guidelines are devoted to language development. Yet time spent on language development in Pre-K does not always reflect its importance.  A recent study found that teachers introduced on average only one new vocabulary word per read aloud. (Zucker et al., 2013)

Research shows that in order for language instruction to be effective, it must be:

Intentional– New vocabulary is explicitly taught. The teacher plans experiences and lessons specifically to support language development through center activities, small group lessons, read alouds, and daily routines. (Justice, et al. 2005)  Click here to view a 2 minute video example of a small group language building lesson. (Video is from the Region 13 School Ready website –

Meaningful– The teacher introduces vocabulary that relates to a common theme which reflect students’ interests and daily experiences (e.g., “My community” rather than “polar bears”).

Rich with Opportunities for Practice– Robert Marzano concluded that “to understand the word at deeper levels… students require repeated and varied exposure, during which they revise their initial understanding….…Without [these] experiences … word knowledge remains superficial…” (Marzano, 2004) Students need multiple opportunities to practice new words over time, often in playful learning centers.

Consider all the language possibilities in a Dramatic Play Center that is transformed into a weather station: mild, warm, hot, cool, cold, freezing, light, moderate, heavy, clear, partly, mostly, low, mid, high, wet, dry, sunny, cloudy, rainy, windy, stormy, snowy.

Story retelling is another great way to promote language development.  After reading The Mitten by Jan Brett, a teacher uses masking tape to create a mitten on the floor. She first guides children to pretend to be the characters and climb into the mitten as they retell the story. Later they retell the story independently in the Library Center.

The School Ready Pinterest page offers 14 different boards of ideas for transforming the Dramatic Play Center into different “places” that offer opportunities to use different vocabulary sets (e.g., farm, doctor’s office).



Austin ISD, Manor ISD, Del Valle ISD, Pflugerville ISD, E3 Alliance, Success by 6, and Region 13 collaborated to create a tool for administrators to use to evaluate the quality of language instruction and supports in a Pre-K classroom.  It’s available through the School Ready website.


Hart, B. &  Risley, T. (1995).  Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

Dickenson, D.K., Snow, C.E., & Tabors, P.O. (2001). Homes and schools together: Supporting language and literacy development. In: D.K. Dickenson and P.O. Tabors (Ed.), Beginning literacy with language. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). The nation’s report card: Vocabulary results from the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments (NCES 2013 452). Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Zucker, T.A., Cabell, S.Q., Justice, L.M., Pentimonti, J.M., & Kaderavek, J.N. (2013). The role of frequent, interactive prekindergarten shared reading in the longitudinal development of language and literacy skills. Developmental Psychology, 49, 1425-1439.

Marzano, R. (2004). Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Justice et al., (2005) in Baker, S.K., Kameenui, E.J., & Simmons D.C. (1995). Vocabulary Acquisition: Synthesis of the Research.  National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators. University of Oregon.