Social emotional learning and Preschool

Nearly every parent I come across parents have a strong desire for their children to succeed in school. They are always asking me how well they are doing academically, and requesting things to do at home with their child. As an early childhood educator, I know that academic success is important. There are many things I work on daily with my students to help them succeed in school, phonemic awareness, handwriting skills, math concepts and more, but my first and foremost goal for all of my children is to develop positive social emotional intelligence. In the youtube video featuring Marcus Garvey school in Chicago, several bulletin boards, classroom spaces, and lesson plans are shown devoted to SEL. At the preschool and pre-kindergarten levels, social emotional learning takes place in every lesson I teach. Each activity is a chance for the children to develop appropriate social skills and learn to control their own emotions. I say “use your words” at least ten times during any given activity. Preschoolers in my care are encouraged to use pretend play as a way to act out some of the social scenarios they will encounter as they grow. Sometimes our dramatic play area is transformed into a supermarket, so children can explore the social interactions that take place as they shop for groceries. Often, a child will pretend to be the teacher, the manager, or the boss and they will problem solve how to successfully run a team and how to get other children to enjoy working under them. For me as an educator, it is very satisfying to watch the students discussing how to fairly split up jobs or deciding how to best take turns with the cash register. I see their growth and development in their reading and writing skills, but it really shines through as their social emotional behavior. It is this that I try to stress to the parents, the importance of teaching young children appropriate behavior skills and helping them develop into socially and emotionally healthy people.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6vS0UBGSW4&feature=youtu.be

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Meaningful Curriculum and the Three Levels of Learning

I was recently given the task of training an associate Pre-Kindergarten teacher. I have been searching for a way to explain why our emergent curriculum works and why it is important to teach young children through discovery learning and play. Luckily, my reading of chapter 11 in Wolfe’s Brain Matters, coincided with my training. Wolfe describes the three levels of learning, concrete experiences, symbolic learning, and abstract learning. Children need concrete experiences to build a network knowledge on an subject. Wolfe gives the example of a small child learning about a dog. First, they see the animal and are given the label of ‘dog’. After that experience, they might see other dogs in the neighborhood, pictures of dogs, or hear about dogs, and their network of knowledge about ‘dogs’ expands. As early childhood educators, our job is to provide as many concrete experiences as possible and expand children’s networks of knowledge. In an emergent curriculum, we create developmentally appropriate lesson plans based on children’s current interests. This allows us to guide their play and learning towards new concrete experiences and expand their knowledge base through symbolic learning. When children have experienced something concrete, we can bring it back in the classroom through symbolic learning. We might read a book about dogs, have dog figurines in our classroom, or expand their animal knowledge by introducing new kinds of animals. Every learning center contains toys and materials placed there with purpose, to expand children’s experiences and help them create more knowledge networks. By presenting Wolfe’s ideas about the three levels of learning, I was able to discuss with my coworker, the significance of what we do.

 

The Growing Brain

As I read through the pages of The Brain and Learning and Brain Matters, I find myself constantly reflecting on my own experiences as a child, adolescent, and now an adult. The Jossey-Boss Reader contains an essay by John T. Bruer where he discusses brain based education vs. mind based education. Bruer explains that many brain-based educators who claim to back their educational philosophies on the study of the brain, in fact, base them on the study of the mind. One example of this Bruer gives is the idea of a ‘sensitive period’ or ‘critical period’ of learning for young children. Many educators subscribe to the idea that there are specific ages at which children’s brains are more susceptible to learning. Bruer suggests that this idea is not based on any science about the brain or brain activity, but rather on the mind of children, it better qualifies as educational psychology than it does brain-based education.

A few classes on language that I have take at SPU have discussed the topic of a critical period. The more research I do on the subject and the more in interact with my own preschool age students, the more I am apt to believe that no such period exists. In my preschool class, I have several students who came to me speaking absolutely no English. As in any situation, the need to speak the common language for simple communication purposes is present at all times, however, there are no educational demands on my young students. Students participate in discovery learning and are focused on social and emotional development alongside handwriting, math, science, and reading in my class. There is no homework given at this age, and very few academic requirements. Students have the opportunity to be completely immersed in a new language and to experiment with that language without fear or pressure. As ESL children grow older, there are more requirements put on them and learning the new language is more pressing. I believe that children learn languages (and probably many other concepts) easier at a young age simply because they are given the opportunity to do so.

Another idea from this week’s readings that I reflected a lot on, is the development of the adolescent brain. I have spent time considering my experiences as a teenager and I feel much less guilty about all the bad choices I made! Wolfe discusses sleep and the adolescent brain in chapter 6 of Brain Matters. She discusses the need for teenagers to get 10 hours of sleep, while the average teenager gets less than 8. At the same time, it has been discovered that a teenager’s internal clock is set much later than younger children, meaning they get tired much later and are not ready to wake up until around 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning. This is much later than most high school’s start their day (mine started at 7:15). I can recall the lack of focus I had in the first few classes of the day and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t wake myself up in time to be alert for school. In fact, I had a hard time getting to school at the right time, let alone being alert! It makes sense to me that teenagers need more sleep in the morning and I really hope that someday the school day will be adjusted accordingly.

Early Brain Development

Being a preschool teacher, the articles discussing early brain development are very relevant to my every day job. Pat Wolfe’s article Early Brain Development was useful in that it offers specific advice to early childhood educators and parents.

Wolfe describes the ‘sensitive periods’ of brain development when the brain is most susceptible to growth. The best way to aid development in these sensitive periods, is by providing stimulus, the more a child is exposed to things such as language, the more they will develop in the early years. On the flipside of that, if a child’s brain is not stimulated during those sensitive periods, normal development does not occur. For example, if a child is not exposed to language before age 10, because of deafness or other factors, they will be less likely to develop language at all.

I appreciated that Wolfe takes time to talk about the specific needs of children at this age. Over stimulus, such as enriched environments, extra academic help, language tapes, etc. has no effect on brain development. All children need is a normal environment with lots of adult interactions. Children will thrive given an environment where they can explore and make connections on their own.

Human Development Module 1

What struck me most while reading the first few chapters of Brain Matters and completing the assignments for module one was how much there is left to learn about the brain. Chapter one discusses the history of brain scans and the evolution of our knowledge about the organ. It showed progression and improvements over time of the way we determine information regarding the brain. At first, scans were vague and gave us little information, now they are more complex and we are able to gain more knowledge with each study. We still don’t know everything about the brain and all it’s functions. There are many diseases and disorders that stem from imbalanced or improper brain function, yet we haven’t found the sources of the problem for most. The more we are able to study the brain, the more likely we will be to help those who suffer from these neurological disorders.

I recently enrolled a young girl in my preschool class who has been diagnosed with autism. I work tirelessly her therapist to help her be successful not only in my class but in her daily life. We try and develop social skills, communication skills, and academics, but it is a struggle for her each day. Autism is something that many scientists have studied over the years and yet, neither a cause nor a cure have been discovered. I see how frustrating it can be for many children to not only keep up academically with their average developing peers, but often to simply function normally in their home lives. I look forward to the day that we have enough knowledge about the brain to help those who suffer from disorders such as autism.

Autism Literature Review Paper

During the course of my work on the Literature Review Paper, I came across some very important information pertaining to my current students. The paper focused on the reality of early diagnosis and intervention of Autism spectrum disorder. I discovered that ASD can be successfully diagnosed in children as young as 15 months old and that by the preschool years it is possible for effective intervention to be in place. I have more than one student in my current preschool class that has some indications of a disorder resembling ASD. I am not a trained clinician and therefore and unable to diagnose a child in my care, however, I feel confident in referring a family to a qualified physician or clinician for diagnosis. After reading the material regarding the importance of early diagnosis and intervention, it is clear to me that it is better to have a child tested and it be nothing than to wait. In several instances that I read about, children were diagnosed early and symptoms changed as they grew older. There have been indications in several studies that there is a possibility of symptoms morphing from those of ASD to something else as they grow into the preschool years. It is important to have children in the care of these qualified individuals to monitor such things.

Overall, I really enjoyed the research I read through during this project and am grateful for the knowledge I’ve gained in the process of writing this paper.

 

Early Intervention for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

 

The identification of disorders that fall in the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder has been on rise in the United States over the last few decades. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is defined as a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a deficiency in ability to interact and communicate with others as well as the presence of restrictive and repetitive behaviors and interests. These disorders include autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome (Ozonoff, Goodlin-Jones & Solomon, 2005). However, as of May 2013, these disorders are now all diagnosed under the umbrella heading of ASD.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is currently estimated that 1 in every 88 children has ASD. This is a large spike in cases, as in the early 1990’s it was estimated that only 4 to 8 in every 10,000 children had ASD. Another important point to note is that ASD statistically affects boys four to five times more often than girls (2005). The cause of ASD is not known at this point in time, however it is believed that genetics as well as environmental factors might play a role in the widespread disorders (Corsello, C.M., 2005).

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Symptoms of ASD, such as lack of developed social and communication skills, typically peak around ages 3-5 years-old (Corsello, Akshoomoff & Stahmer, 2013). Therefore, diagnosis and interventions have centered in that age range. There is evidence suggesting that early diagnosis of children with ASD is possible and the benefits are proving to be significant. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children are screened for ASD beginning at 18 and 24 months of age. One study conducted by researchers at the Autism Institute at Florida State University tested toddlers for ASD beginning at age 15 months. They concluded that those toddlers who were positively diagnosed with ASD, when reevaluated 1-2 years later, maintained the diagnosis, indicating that they were accurately diagnosed as toddlers. Several of the 82 children who participated in the study were not given an official diagnosis until age 24 months when symptoms became more prominent, demonstrating that while every child should be screened at an early age, not all children show sufficient signs of ASD for proper conclusion so young, and follow up is necessary (Corsello, et.al. 2013).

There are many different forms of intervention for young children with ASD. The average intervention takes place in an early childhood classroom for 15-25 hours per week and target preschool age children (Corsello, 2005). The Walden Toddler Program is one such intervention program that focuses on children with ASD who have not yet reached preschool age. The Walden Toddler Program, an inclusive program for young children with autism, serves children ages 15-36 months. Children’s learning is guided by the developmentally appropriate planned activities and environment that emerge from the children’s interests. Teachers use peer interactions between typically developing children and those with ASD to help children with ASD develop appropriate communication and social skills. This program has a high success rate with 82% of children leaving the program using meaningful language. Also, as a gauge of socialization, the amount of time spent in close proximity to other children is measured and in the Walden Toddler Program, 71% of children exiting the program showed an increase in this behavior (Downs, 2006).

Another successful intervention program for children with ASD is the LEAP model or the Learning Experience and Alternate Program for preschoolers and their parents. The LEAP model leans heavily on peer interactions for intervention. With this model, children with ASD are in an inclusive classroom with a higher ratio of typically developing peers. The typically developing children are trained to facilitate appropriate social and communicative behaviors in the children with ASD. No major studies have been conducted to compare the success rates of the LEAP model with those of proven successful intervention programs. However, in small one-on-one case studies, the LEAP model has shown to be useful in developing social and communicative skills for both children with ASD and their typically developing peers. In a controlled trial conducted in 2011, after two years in a LEAP program, children with ASD were found to have made significantly more progress towards cognitive, language, and social development when compared to children with ASD in a control group (Downs, 2006).

A big obstacle in effective educational services for children with ASD is repetitive and problem behaviors. Concerning these problems in the classroom, many educators implement the Prevent-Teach-Reinforce (PTR) model in their classrooms. The goal of the PTR model is to identify and decrease problem behaviors while increasing desired behaviors. This is achieved by the five step process of teaming, goal setting, PTR assessment (functional assessment), intervention, and evaluation. A team consisting of parents, teachers, and an expert consultant discuss the behavior that is exhibited, determine desired behaviors, and set about creating an intervention plan based on observations of the child. Once a plan is set, intervention begins. The team continues to assess the effectiveness of the intervention until the goals are reached. This model has very high success rates for children with ASD. Because problem behaviors of children with ASD are not only seen in the classroom, but can be a source of stress for families, one study took the PTR model out of the classroom and into the home to test the effectiveness in a home setting. The model was adjusted to include parents in the intervention plan. Parents were coached on exactly how to intervene in children’s problem behaviors and encourage desired behaviors. They were also evaluated on how well they followed professional instructions regarding intervention. The study concluded that when parents are properly trained and intervention techniques were properly implemented, the PTR model was successful at decreasing problem behavior and increasing desired behaviors in the home (Sears, Blair, Iovannone, & Crosland, 2012).

Whether early educators and parents decide to employ the Walden Toddler Program, the LEAP model, the PTR model or any other form of intervention for children with ASD, all research points to early intervention being vital. Data from six major studies that were conducted concerning success rates of early intervention for children with ASD was collected to create an overall analysis of early intervention.  All six studies, each one different from the next, reported three results; children showed significant IQ gains, significant language gains, and increased social behavior with decreased autistic behavior. These six studies also reported that when children received interventions earlier, they made larger gains than those who did not receive intervention until the preschool years (Downs,2006). 

A number of important challenges still face researches concerned with autism spectrum disorders. Although, all research currently being conducted on the topic of early diagnosis for toddlers with ASD indicates that it is possible for children as young as 15 months to be diagnosed with the disorder, there is much more that needs to be studied. The stability of early diagnoses and the utility of diagnostic tools for toddlers still need to be addressed. Little is known about the connection between the three standardized diagnostic measures used to diagnose ASD in young children.  During some studies conducted by Florida State University there were questions of patterns of symptom change in the first few years of life. The possibility of changing symptoms in toddlers is a question that has as of yet remained unaddressed by researchers. There is also a lack of research on what intervention programs are most successful. Each intervention plan has been used in independent studies with varying success rates, but little has been done in the form of controlled, competitive studies to determine the plan with the highest success rate (Guthrie, Swineford, Nottke & Wetherby, 2012).

Given the high rate of ASD among young children in the United States, it is vital for early childhood educators to be informed on the subject. The younger that children can be properly diagnosed with ASD, the sooner intervention can begin. Current research suggests that diagnosis can be obtained as early as 15 months of age and every measure is being made to create effective intervention programs for children of that age. There is no cure for ASD and symptoms are life-long. However, through the work of trained clinicians and educated professionals, receiving intervention as toddlers and preschoolers is widely accessible. Utilizing these interventions has made children with ASD more likely to develop appropriate social and communicative skills as they grow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.autismspeaks.org/about-us/press-releases/early-intervention-toddlers-autism-highly-effective-study-finds

Corsello, C. M. (2005). Early intervention in autism. Infants and Young Children, 18(2), 74-85.

Corsello, C. M., Akshoomoff, N., & Stahmer, A. C. (2013). Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders in 2-year-olds: A study of community practice. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(2), (pp. 178-185).

Downs, R. C. (2006). Practices in early intervention for children with autism: A comparison with the national research council recommended practices.

Guthrie, W., Swineford, L. B., Nottke, C., & Wetherby, A. M. (2012). Early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder: Stability and change in clinical diagnosis and symptom presentation. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(5), (pp.582-590). doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12008

Ozonoff, S., Goodlin-Jones, B. L., & Solomon, M. (2005). Evidence-based assessment of autism spectrum disorders in childhood and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34(3), (pp. 523-540).

Sears, K. M., Blair, K. C., Iovannone, R., & Crosland, K. (2012). Using the prevent-teach-

META reflection

During the course of this class many ideas have been brought to my attention that I hadn’t previously considered. I have only recently graduated from my teacher training program in Angelo State University, therefore, much of the theories and contemporary concepts are still fresh in my mind. However, my previous college experience made no mention of where many of the education ideas that we now study originated.

I was very intrigued when listening to Dr. Ellis’s Emergence of Eastern Education Thought lecture as they ideas that formed in Eastern Europe throughout the years is vastly different from what happens today in American public schools. Individualism was downplayed and education focused on achieving harmony with nature and discovering one’s own place within the larger picture, materialism was discouraged and family structures were emphasized and respected. The most fascinating educator mention during this podcast was Gandhi. Gandhi was known for his revolutions against colonialism, racism, and violence but above all Gandhi was an educator. He was very adamant that education be a spiritual journey as well as one that one filled with the discovery of knowledge. He proposed that instead of a school being a place where a scholar goes to get away from it all, it should be where he goes to be a part of it all. This is something that has not been embraced in American classrooms. I believe that if we were to take on Gandhi’s ideas of developing a sense of civic pride in students by making the classroom an integral part of the community students might take education more seriously. As it is today, there is not much connection for young students between what they learn within the walls of the classroom and what will happen when they finally step beyond those walls to join the real world.

Besides the embracing of Eastern educational ideas I have begun to embrace a more constructivist form of teaching. I have learned that it is more beneficial to the student to allow them to seek out knowledge rather than to present it to them. As a teacher I will make it my duty to create learning opportunities for my students and to guide them through the learning process, rather than tell them what they should be learning. Reflection is key in this constructivist approach to learning. Luckily, one thing this course was not short on was reflection.  I have been able to reflect on my own educational journey each week through different methods as well as to learn about many new ones to put to use in my classroom.