Making instruments in a small group

Small-Groups and the Broader Impact

(Boston K1DS at the East Boston YMCA #3)

The Birth through Third Grade Learning Hub

Small-Group Activities

One teacher provides “high support” for one activity (e.g., writing), the other “medium-support” at a second activity (e.g., math), and the other three groups do activities they can do independently like coloring or cutting shapes. The students rotate across the five activities doing a different one each day throughout each week. Thus each teacher has an opportunity to work with each group over the course of the week, and each student participates in two types of teacher-directed work as well as in independent activities.

My Planet

While Katie was in the writing area, Gloria played a math game with another group. Each child had a picture of a rocket with circles on it where the child could place a little plastic disk. Using the conceit of a loose story, Gloria had the students add a specific number of disks to the picture and then either add or subtract disks. To build suspense, Gloria would wait, all eyes on her, and then blurt out the number. “Place five on the rocket. Add 2. Subtract 2. Add 5. Add four more. What number is that?” Several students quickly said 14. I spent time with the children in the “low-support” groups as well, and it was clear that the children were used to working independently in groups.

Individual Attention and Independent Learning

East Boston YMCA preschool director Karen Clauson has been so impressed with the OWL/Building Blocks small-group activities that she has worked with her other teachers to implement them in all the preschool classrooms. Karen has been amazed at how much the children enjoy the time and expect to have it, and how they will press to make sure small group and centers are part of each day even on shortened days. Coming back from a trip to the beach recently, the students clamored for small groups and centers on the way back, “calling us on it” to make sure Karen and the teachers were going to fit them in. Further, Karen particularly appreciates how the small group structure creates a specific time in which teachers can have closer interactions with children, interactions that can provide the basis for observations to input into the recently-introduced Teaching Strategies Gold assessment system. While her teachers conduct observations throughout the day, the small groups provide a dedicated time to gather observations, especially since each child joins both teachers in a small group each week.

In addition to more structured units and a different approach to small group activities, the BPS curriculum and coaching model has led to changes in classroom management and teacher/student conversations as well.

Management, Confidence, and Thinking Skills

“I Feel More Confident as a Teacher”

One simple yet helpful classroom management technique has been using SWPL (Songs, Word Play, and Letters) activities during transitions. The songs and rhymes are fun and engage the children. In addition, director Karen Clauson sees evidence of the impact of the overall structure and routines (including the daily schedule). In her view the children “know what they are doing at different times of the day” and “own” the different components, especially small-groups and centers, leading to “less fighting and messing around.”

From their external perspectives as director and coach, Karen and Abby independently make the point that the classroom tone and teacher presence in the Lions classroom has changed as Katie and Gloria have become comfortable implementing the structures and routines of the new curriculum. Katie and Gloria themselves agree and think that classroom management and their teaching has improved. Katie says outright, “I feel more confident as a teacher.”

Questioning and Thinking

We let them talk about their ideas more. We give them the opportunity to explain their ideas. We ask, “What does this mean?” We ask them questions so they can use their critical thinking. We motivate them to want to talk, to explain.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice *and* a “Formalized” Curriculum?

With this balance in mind and the other benefits the new curriculum has brought, especially the shift in planning time from the “what” to the “how” and the individual observational opportunities the small-group structure affords, Karen has become an advocate within the Boston metro YMCA for the adoption of a formal curriculum.

“What Changes When It Works”

Early Evidence of Change

Leveraging District Capacity

This post was completed as part of a contract between the MA Department of Early Education and Care and Cambridge Education (where David Jacobson worked at the time). Contract # CT EEC 0900 FY13SRF130109CAMBRID.

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