Challenging Learners of All Ages

This blog post was written by Kacey Auletto. Kacey is a senior at the University of Dayton studying Early Childhood Education, with concentrations in pre-kindergarten special needs and urban education. She is currently spending the summer as an intern at Battelle for Kids in the Strategic Measures department. 

Close your eyes and picture this classroom setting: two students are sitting at adjacent desks, examining each other’s work. One student says to the other, “You added a lot of details to your writing.” The other shares, “I tried to add many as I could to make it better.” Now open your eyes. Were the students you pictured in high school, or maybe sixth or seventh grade? What if they were first graders? Are young students capable of this kind of thought processing? The answer is yes, through the inclusion of formative instructional practices in the classroom.

One thing I have learned from being a pre-service early childhood educator is that people underestimate the intelligence and ability of children ages 3-8. For the last three years, I’ve heard countless variations of “Oh, so you’ll be playing and coloring for a living!” The general public does not realize that from the moment a child is born, he begins learning. The period between birth and eight years of age is when the most significant learning takes place. As part of my upcoming career, I would like to share a little bit about what young children can really do.

But first, I do have a confession to make. Until now, even I have underestimated the ability of young students to understand their own learning. It was hard to admit to myself that I may not have been giving the children I work with enough credit. But, after completing the FIP in Action: ELA Kindergarten Opinion Writing module, I came to the realization that there is so much more I can, and will, do to enhance instruction of my future students. Here are a few of the realizations I came to as I took this module:

1. The importance of clear learning targets for students: One of the core components of FIP is the development of clear learning targets through the careful deconstruction of standards.  While most educators would probably agree that these targets help to guide instruction, this module took it one step further to emphasize the importance of sharing these learning targets with students. This helped me realize that even students as young as kindergarten are able to identify and own the steps on the path to mastery. The teacher used a student-friendly visual representation of the learning progression and allowed the students to use meta-cognitive skills to understand what they can do and what they need to work on. 

2. The need for evidence and documentation: A common misconception about the early elementary years is that because there are no formal grades and no standardized tests, there is little concern for assessment data. In today’s era of accountability, elementary teachers are held to the same standard as secondary teachers and will be asked to provide evidence of student learning just as often as any other teacher. This is a daunting task for a new teacher, but the module showed me quick and effective ways to collect evidence of student learning on specific learning targets. Something as simple as a daily question, which can be implemented as early as pre-kindergarten and as late as high school, allows the teacher to assess where students are in relation to where they need to be, and work with them on an individual basis.

3. The power of student feedback: Giving effective feedback is certainly a challenge for beginning teachers. It’s so easy to just tell students, “Good job!” or “Nice work!” even if they have not quite mastered the skill. The interactive module activities helped me to hone in on some strategies for providing both success and intervention feedback, and demonstrated how the modeling of this feedback even encourages students to give feedback to each other! Peer feedback can be just as meaningful, and more powerful, than feedback from the teacher, and when students can critically examine the work of their peers, they will learn to self-evaluate in a similar manner. Effective student feedback not only promotes higher quality work, it also encourages student ownership of learning. 

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Taking this module opened my eyes to several teaching practices and techniques that I would never have thought of on my own. While developmental milestones are important to consider, teachers must also challenge their students and create an environment of accountability and ownership. By keeping students involved in the practice, teachers can deepen the significance and relevance of learning. I strongly recommend this module and the other FIP in Action modules for any pre-service teacher looking to get some (almost) “hands-on” experience before heading out into the field. For me, they are much more applicable than classroom lectures. The module format gives concrete examples and materials that are relevant and applicable to classroom situations that teachers will inevitably face in their career. I look forward to participating in more FIP modules to deepen my understanding of formative instructional practices and challenge you to do the same.

Are you a pre-service educator or a recent graduate in Ohio interested in taking the FIP modules? The FIP modules are available for pre-service educators at no cost through July 31, 2016. Contact us here for your access code.