My work with Project DIRECT thus far has been incredibly meaningful and fulfilling. Between juggling coursework, lab hours and meetings, thesis writing, and an ongoing graduate school search, Wednesday morning preschool hours are a welcomed treat each week. There’s no better feeling than walking into a classroom and immediately having 25 little faces light up with excitement to see you. This is by no means my first experience working with preschoolers, However, Kenner Discovery School (KDS) has allowed me to enjoy greater freedom and independence in the classroom than I’ve ever had before. I love being able to participate in classroom activities and work one-on-one with the children as I choose. What’s more, I can’t express enough how warm and welcoming the children and teachers have been at KDS – the environment is the perfect atmosphere for truly being able to engage in working with children of all abilities, backgrounds, and personalities. KDS is lucky in a number of ways, one being that there are a plethora of available resources, and another being its diverse student body. The opportunity to work in a classroom where children are all working together towards a similar goal despite ranging from practically illiterate to reading and writing at a 3rd grade level is an extraordinary thing to see, and an even more extraordinary thing to be a part of. I look forward to many more Wednesday mornings at KDS to come!
My work at preschools has changed greatly since my beginnings in the Baker lab. From cleaning tables to helping out with teacher lessons, Project DIRECT has truly helped to establish comfort in volunteering at preschool environments. This past semester has found me with the goal of executing a service learning project seeking to engage some of the learners that get bored with the pencil and paper method of work. Specifically, my project consisted of me creating a six-sided cube, with small, one-syllable words that kids could practicing rhyming with, printed on each side of the cube. Kids would then be called at carpet time to throw the cube, like a die, and say a word that rhymed with the word the cube landed on. Overall, the kids seemed very receptive to the method of learning, and displayed enthusiasm over rolling the die. Through the die project and thinking on the times I have spent working with Project DIRECT, I appreciate the experiences in preschool classrooms Project DIRECT has brought me.
Preschool hours are what I look forward to every week. My Tuesday mornings are punctuated by a chorus of little voices calling out "Miss Claudia!" and running up for hugs, which is an incredible way to start a day, and I would recommend it to anyone. I really love giving these kids some one-on-one attention during Center Time that the teachers sometimes are unable to give them when trying to handle the entire classroom. I also get to help out during lunch and snack time in managing the chaos that is 11 hungry four-year-olds. I love getting to know each child individually and understand each of their strengths and areas that need strengthening. I also have the amazing opportunity to work in this class with children on the autism spectrum, with many different IEPs (individual education plans), and some non-verbal children. This mixed classroom full of neurotypical and non-neurotypical children has taught me so much and I've really fallen in love with each and every child in this class. For part of my service learning project, I'm helping to create an organizational tool to help the teachers organize center time and help hold the children accountable for their activities. I really feel like my presence in the classroom is a help to the teachers and is a fun new experience and adult to interact with for the children.
My work as a research assistant with Project DIRECT has varied significantly in the past two years, providing an assortment of experiences that will inform my future career in research. In my first semester in Dr. Baker’s lab, I had the opportunity to participate in data entry associated with program evaluations regarding the teacher training that had been in progress at several of our partner schools. In this process, I had the ability to learn from teachers’ experiences with our program from their own words, suggestions, and critiques. These lessons have informed my current participation in “Helping Hands,” a Project DIRECT program focused on collaborating directly with teachers in our partner schools to establish long-term and community-informed relationships. One morning once per week, I have the opportunity to provide any assistance that a teacher may need with her kindergarten class. From a trauma-informed lens, I have been able to provide specialized and extended interactions with students that often show behavioral problems, and I have developed incredibly positive relationships with children that may otherwise perform poorly. Teachers have also given me the opportunity to lead small groups with some kindergartners, giving them more free time to focus on their class and plan. Overall, working as a “Helping Hand” has given me a firsthand experience in understanding the strengths and challenges teachers and students face, doing so in a way that provides any aid needed. Through a bottom-up approach, these qualitative lessons, in turn, can inform the trauma-informed research we conduct at Project DIRECT. Participating in research that seeks to translate our current literature into effective interventions and public policy has been a defining experience in my own pursuit of a career in evidence-based policy, and I am incredibly thankful to Dr. Baker and Project DIRECT for the opportunity to participate in this work.
This year I’m working in a classroom of wonderful kids at Crocker College Prep. The students in my classroom have skill levels all across the board which has been a new challenge for me. Some are far above the average in math, for example, and can count to 200 and are already experts at adding and subtacting, while others are still struggling to count to 5. This semester, I’m lucky enough to be shadowing the school’s speech-language pathologist for a few hours a month, as I hope to study speech-language pathology in graduate school.
Additionally, I’m working on a service learning project alongside the teachers of my classroom this semester. Although I am still deciding on exactly what I’d like to do, my project will likely involve center-time. More specifically, I’d like to focus on center-time transitions and/or teaching the students about proper care and organization of the items in the center (e.g. dress-up clothing, blocks, art supplies, etc.). I’m really looking forward to continuing to develop my project, and to making it come to life in the next few months!
The start of this new semester at McNair has been fabulous! I have been able to learn all the children's names and understand each of their personalities. My favorite part of every Wednesday is walking into the classroom in the morning and hearing "MS. TORI!!". The students have flourished within and outside the classroom. I am lucky enough to be at the preschool for a big chunk of their day leading a variety of the activities on Wednesday. Specifically, I love to assist them in updating the calendar and playing games that involve matching, which I do in front of the class. Using popsicle sticks, we are able to equalize the opportunity of who gets to come up and help.
Another thing I help out with is working at the name writing station during small groups. It has been amazing over just a few months to see the progress these students have made with their names. A lot of them are working on writing site words such as "me" and "have". I have enjoyed my time so much here and I cannot wait for this upcoming week when we are making shirts of their own Mardi Gras Parades!
Externalizing problems in young children can prove to set classroom-wide obstacles in creating an effective learning environment for all children. Externalizing behaviors can be described as any act of disruptive behavior that associates with difficulties in a child’s life such as family abuse, crime, and psychiatric disturbance. In this study, programs aimed to reduce externalizing behavior in classrooms were utilized. Tackling these externalizing behaviors seeks to improve a child’s receptivity for learning and in turn eliminates the exacerbation of these behaviors into children’s adult lives.
Namely, two programs were used to tackle these externalizing behaviors. In the first, an program called The Incredible Years had children watc short videos in which social situations are modeled. The students then discuss how they would have acted in such a situation and practice these actions with a teacher and parent. Between these sessions, children would work on homework regarding the themes of appropriate prosocial reactions. The second program, which focuses on academic improvement, was Dialogic Reading. In Dialogic Reading, students (3-5 at a time) and teachers read a picture book together. Students would also read individual with their parents at their own homes.
Results from these intervention programs showed promise, with over 85% of parents satisfied with the outcomes of the programs. Specifically, The Incredible Years saw improved circle time, which allowed for more time on planned academic activities and less time focused on gathering the children’s attention. In addition, Dialogic Reading had broad positive effects on adult-student interactions.
No research study is perfect, but considering the challenges placed by this experiment allows for better improvement of future experiments. For example, the workshop which debriefed the skills needed by teachers for these programs was offered for only one day. Thus, improvement of carrying out these programs would best improve if more time were given to train these teachers. In addition, participation in the programs was limited to the competing demands that families face every day. It helps that food and child care were offered, but future directions could look at what could make access to participating in the study even easier. Finally, the concern of extrinsic motivation arose in some of the parents, worrying that their children would not want to work on their externalizing behavior for the sake of bettering themselves, but rather to earn a reward. This facet of the program eventually decreased after some time.
With this, these programs of addressing externalizing behavior show promise in addressing exacerbating classroom problems, leading to more effective learning within preschools.
Arnold, D. H., Brown, S. A., Meagher, S., Baker, C. N., Dobbs, J., & Doctoroff, G. L. (2006). Preschool-based programs for externalizing problems. Education and Treatment of Children, 29, 311-339. pdf
My first few weeks at McNair this semester have been great! I started originally at the preschool in November, and it's been so fun to see the kids growing and learning over the past months. The spring is always an exciting time in New Orleans, and in the past weeks the kids have had a lot to celebrate. Last week, they played some games and had a second line around the classroom in honor of Mardi Gras, as well as counted 100 of their favorite things about preschool to commemorate the 100th day of school. This week, they practiced writing their names and coloring inside the lines to make Valentine's Day cards for their friends.
Usually, the kids are able to have two blocks of time in the classroom- one devoted to a group activity (such as writing sentences, using sight words, or practicing their names and letters) and one devoted to centers, where they are able to choose between various activities such as rhyming games or using play-doh to make letters.
I've loved being able to see the kids on a weekly basis, because I've noticed that every time I visit they are getting better and better at skills such as writing their names and learning sight words. When I first started, they were just finishing their letters and numbers- now, they are able to read some words, write their full names, and even count to 100. I'm excited to see where they will be by the end of the year!
I’ve had a wonderful past few weeks at the preschool, and even felt a bit prematurely nostalgic this past week when another teacher came in to discuss graduation! Recently, a new music teacher has begun to visit about three times a week, with new instruments (last week was rhythm sticks), songs, and dances each day. The first time she came was on a day that I visited, and it also happened to be picture day. It turned out to be a bit of a hectic day; students were excited and a bit over-stimulated due fancy picture-day outfits and the two classroom visitors. At one point when both teachers were occupied with picture day duties, an opportunity was created for me to both gain control of the classroom and lead the class in an activity. It was challenging (especially because it was just before lunch time!), but I was eventually able to re-gain attention, and even teach one of my favorite call-and-repeat songs. Although my priority is with helping the students, it is wonderful that I am able to get classroom leadership experience simultaneously.
Aside from teaching the occasional song, my main and recognized role in the classroom has become queen of the art center. Everyone now knows my rule about Play-dough, paper cuttings, and paint: “If you get it on the floor, out – the – door!” In other words, I’ve created a rule that spilling on the floor constitutes a switch out of art to a new center. One teacher told me that the rule has started to stick even when I’m not there, which is great. Last week at art center, I witnessed a real-life example of “scaffolding”, which I’ve been learning about in my educational psychology class. I asked one student to grab me a purple crayon, and when another student saw her struggling to do so, she first pointed to where the crayon box is kept on the shelf, and then helped the first student find a purple one. When the helping student recognized that the first student was capable of this task, but not able to complete the task on her own, she came alongside to help out. I feel lucky that I’ve been placed in a classroom where I’m able to witness similar displays of compassion each time I visit.
This past week I was lucky enough to volunteer on a day when my preschool class was going on a field trip to visit potential kindergarten classes. The field trip was motivated by national school choice week which encourages parents to look into potential school options available to their children. Where I grew up, I was fortunate to have a town with great public schools. Pretty much everyone in my town went to one of two elementary schools, which consolidated into one middle school, and then into a large high school which was shared with a neighboring town. In New Orleans there are hundreds of possibilities! It is so important for parents to know their options and find a great fit for them and their children.
For our field trip, we visited a language immersion school where the children spend their entire day learning in either Spanish or French, depending on the program they select starting in kindergarten. I was so impressed as we were greeted with, "bonjour!" from several groups of students. I am curious how these children perform in subjects usually taught in English at most local schools, but I am sure that they will be better able to maintain their foreign language skills than I was from my brief introduction to Spanish back in middle school.
Most of the tour was focused on answering any questions the parents had; however, at the end of the tour, the students were allowed to go outside and play on the jungle gym. It was fun to see them explore a new playground. The monkey bars at our preschool had recently been removed for safety reasons, so there has definitely been a void in some of the gross motor activities that they crave so much. There was a huge dome-shaped toy in the yard for the children to climb up and hang off. All of our children were immediately climbing to the top and jumping down, while shouting lines of encouragement to each other. It was so interesting to watch these young children learning how to make decisions about how high they could climb and still feel safe or be able to get down on their own. One of the smaller children in the class would only climb up one step before leaping back to the ground, while many of her peers were 3 or 4 steps above her. That didn't stop them from cheering her on as she led a chant with her name in it saying "jump, jump, jump!" I spoke with one of the other teachers about how wonderful it was for them to be getting excited about school. Now, everything in the classroom is really centered around getting them ready for the next phase of their education. I'm sure they will all do wonderfully wherever they end up next year.
Welcome to the Project DIRECT blog! Here, you'll find updates from the team on our current programs, personal posts from our researchers, and current research in the early childhood field you might find useful.