Saturday, January 28, 2012

All Those Things We CAN do!

Recently a new program to help evaluate classrooms was implemented at the preschool level in our area. The evaluation involves training a group of teachers to make brief observations of classrooms.  During these observations the observers tally the number of children considered "on-task" in the classroom during very brief (3-5 min.) time periods. 

To be honest, I wasn't sure at all how this would go!  My classroom is very much, what I consider, a 'flexible' community!  The children are rarely all doing the same thing.  While it may APPEAR to others that certain children are not actively engaged with materials, it may really be that the children are overwhelmed by sensory stimuli and are attempting to self-regulate, they may need time to process what is happening or they may simply need to observe an activity many times before engaging in it. 

As the peer observer entered our classroom for the first time, I was curious to see if interacting with Bob the hamster would be considered "on-task"!  I looked around.  Wow!  Every single child was watching, interacting with or feeding Bob!  The children were clearly engaged in the activity by choice.  There was no need to redirect any child.  For those who needed mini-breaks from the group, it was simple enough to turn a back to the group and engage with a toy on the shelf for a minute or two before returning.  The children were talking to Bob, blowing kisses at Bob and some were using words to describe what he was doing while playing!

The peer observer popped in a second time to observe our calendar time routine.  Every single child was watching, vocalizing, verbalizing, singing or signing parts of our routine!  Well, I would say that was "on-task"!  It is amazing now to hear almost all the children vocalize while we are "reading" our morning message each day. 

A stranger would never know that we are all supposedly saying the very same thing!  While a stranger may not understand all (or even any) of the words some of the children are saying, each and every child clearly WANTS to be part of the group and is proud and eager to help read that sentence.

Finally, the peer observer came in for a third time.  We were in the midst of small groups (IEP goal work).  I was working one on one with a child, one of my teacher associates was working one on one with a child and my other teacher associate was engaged with the rest of the children on the carpet building bridges, roads and tunnels with blocks.  Again, we were all on task! 

Nearly all of the children in my classroom will move on to elementary school next fall, so at this point, these children are very familiar with the group and classroom.  It is so wonderful to see how far these children have come! 

So, while I'm not sure if our little tally marks added up to "on-task" from the observation perspective (although, from my quick conversation with the observer afterwards, I'm pretty sure they did) it gave me a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how much progress this group has made. 

It helped me remember all those things that we can now do!  I hope that the peer observer saw the following things we CAN do while observing the classroom! 
  1. We can engage with other children through smiles, words, gestures, vocalizations or proximity.
  2. We can interact with a small animal gently.
  3. We can be part of a community.  We enjoy helping others and are proud of what we do together.
  4. We can follow directions within our routine. 
  5. We can participate with a group of other children for 10 min. or more.
  6. We can understand, remember and request various favorite parts of the routine of the day.
  7. We can make connections with our learning.  We know that if it is cold outside, we will need to wear a coat.  We know that if it is very cold outside, we will go to the gym to play.  We know that we will get to listen to "Thriller" if we go to the gym.  We know that we can choose to ride a bike if we go outside. 
  8. We can remember and talk about activities we have done in the past.  We know that each day we sing the "Winter" song.  We know that the words "hot cocoa" are in the winter song.  It reminds some of us of the "train" movie we watched nearly a month ago and the hot cocoa we drank...and we must mention this each and every day!
So, I guess there was something to be gained from this 'evaluation'.  Go ahead, tally how "on-task" the kids are...this group of kids loves coming to school each day! 

They're "on-task" because they simply REFUSE to be left out of anything!  :)


  1. I hope the peer observer saw the same things!!! Sounds like the kiddos were engaged! It can be hard for an outsider to understand what some of our kiddos go through with sensory and processing issues!

    1. Rachel- I was surprised that the observer commented that she was very impressed. I have to remember to NOT compare where my class is with other classes! I actually sometimes forget all the progress they HAVE made! Silly me- I was glad I had the opportunity to remember where they started and all the progress they've made!

  2. Pam,
    This was very interesting to read, and good for you for tallying up for yourself all the progress your children and group have made since the beginning of the year!
    How rewarding when you took time to actually acknowledge all the positive growth, this must be for you.
    I have a question - are any of your children within the spectrum of autism?
    I presently have a 2 year old child who is being assessed and I'm sure she is autistic, and I'm wondering if she can also grow towards interaction with her peers in the group, or if that is not likely. She is totally wonderful and amazing to me, and actually has developed a bond with me...anyways there is always so much to learn. I'm finding some wonderful resource books to read soon through Kindle.
    This new year I've had an interesting challenging experience with 3 children from the same family who have special needs of some kind, and are in the process of assessment, and my small child who is probably autistic, as well as 4 other children of typical development. Because there are no grants in place there is no person to work with me, although when possible we make my group smaller. I've grown quicky, as has the whole group!
    It's amazing what can happen, and how children learn!

    1. Hi Brenda! I definitely believe a child with autism can and wants to learn to connect in some way to those around him/her! Start with simple turn taking activities (rolling a ball, painting with bells in a cake box- pushing it back and forth to a friend). Be careful about insisting on eye contact, don't force an interaction. Work with what the child already loves! It sounds like you already have a great bond with the child! This will be the basis for extending the social interactions to others! You then become the connection for awhile between this child and another! There are some wonderful books out there as well as web sites! It sounds like you are doing an absolutely wonderful job! The fact that the child has a bond with you is wonderful! Feel free to e-mail me if you would like more specific info. sometimes simply talking out a challenge is enough to come up with a plan to work through it!

  3. Many thanks, Pam...I'm going to try these, I think she will love the painting with a bell, and as well now I get what you mean...about extending my relationship with her to one with the kids.
    I'll definitely be back to let you know our progress.


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