Tag Archives: Professional Development

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25 Goals for Developing Your Young Learners

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The Inspire Early Learning Program revolves around 25 developmental Goals in five Areas of Development. At the STEPS School in Omdurman, Sudan we have completed three of the four workshops introducing these goals.

We started with the basic idea…

You can help your students develop knowledge and skills in important areas to prepare them for school and for life!

(Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001)

To illustrate the four types of knowledge, consider an orange. What are the facts about an orange? Its color is orange, it’s round, it’s sweet, it’s fragrant, etc. What are concepts involving an orange? They are a fruit. (Are all oranges fruits? Yes. Are all fruits oranges? No.) They are food. What are procedures related to oranges? How to peel an orange. How to grow an orange. How to make orange juice. Finally, what metacognition is associated with oranges? Well you tell me! What are you thinking right now about oranges? I like oranges. The fragrance lifts my mood. And so on…

Skills = 25 Developmental Goals

We will unpack each goal with examples and activities that promote that particular skill. The five Areas (or Domains) of Development are…

  • Social/Emotional/Personal
  • Physical
  • Communication
  • Thinking (Metacognition)
  • Approaches to Learning 

Active Learning

Activity-based instruction is learning and building knowledge and skills through DOING. It will often feel like fun and play. Students are engaged & interested. When teachers shift their thinking from students sitting in chairs in straight rows and “repeat after me” lessons to active learning, their effectiveness increases significantly. One challenge in making the shift is knowing what types of activities work best for active learning. How does a teacher evaluate an activity? We’ve developed a rubric just for that purpose.

Part of each teacher’s “homework” is to create at least one new activity for the classroom and try it out. We spend a fair amount of time using the rubric above to evaluate the quality of each other’s activities (Yes! Including the instructor’s). The teachers show amazing creativity in how they apply these concepts.

Trial Run

The owner of the STEPS School in Omdurman invited us to present this series of workshops with his Preschool and Kindergarten teachers. His hope is to open this up and offer the workshops to other preschools in the area. We hope that will become a reality.


Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pin- trich, P. R., … & Wittrock, M. C. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives, abridged edition. White Plains, NY: Longman.

Fun with a water activity!

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Strategies for Accelerating Language Learning (or Any Learning)

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Here are 10 research-based strategies for accelerating language learning or any type of learning.

|  Determine what is worth practicing (Marzano, et al., 2001).

As we all know, practice takes a lot of time and consumes significant effort. For that reason we don’t have time to practice everything to the “mastery” level. For some words simply being “familiar” with them is enough. Sometimes we “recognize” a word, but can’t find it’s meaning, even with context. Sometimes we recognize a word and the context helps us remember the meaning. Sometimes we recognize and use the word regardless of context (mastery). We will typically only “master” 50% of the vocabulary floating around in our brain.

Massed Practice and Distributed Practice. The brain remembers better when we practice small bits many times as opposed to large chunks a few times. Our brain also benefits from a highly compressed routine of practice at the start of learning a new skill. Then, that skill can be “refreshed” by practicing at longer and longer intervals.

For language learning this means, choose what you will use most to practice the most. Mass the practice for the first week. Then, because you are using the new skill, you can slowly stop the formal practice because you will be practicing it in conversation. Remember, you don’t want to reinforce a mistake, so be sure your practice is accurate and correct (especially pronunciation).

Remember the See, Say, and Do strategy. When you do each of these things it engages a different brain system. You are giving the brain triple the capacity to store and retrieve the information.

|  Memorize information through storytelling techniques (Allen, 2008).

Stories are easier to remember than lists of words. By linking words together into a story, the brain has an easier time recalling them. You are creating a “chain of associations” for the words. Try to fill the story with visual imagery.

|  Connections link learning to life (Allen, 2008).

Our brain has multiple systems for storing and recalling information (See, Say and Do Strategy). The more we connect something new to something known (background knowledge), the easier it is for us to recall. At the most basic level, this means when you are talking about something, have the physical object present. If you are learning vocabulary for fruit, have the fruits on the table to touch, smell, taste, and see.

Experiences through multiple senses strengthens learning.

Another application of this idea is use something tangible to represent something abstract. For instance, if you are working on a vocabulary list, assign one word to one of your own body parts, e.g. hand, finger, forearm, neck, stomach, etc. Then every time you say the word, touch or associate it with that body part.

|  Movement magnifies learning (Allen, 2008).

Movement has been shown to deepen learning and enhance recall. The obvious first application is to actually move for any words that are movement related. When studying the word for “sit,” actually sit. When studying the word for “eat,” actually eat or at least make the motion of eating. This is also known as “Total Physical Response.”

This concept can also be applied to words not usually associated with movement. You can attach any movement to a word and then do the movement with the word. Then chain the movements together to work through the words. Or maybe you like to dance, assign a certain dance step to a word and build a routine while saying the words. Maybe work it into your exercise routine!

5  |  Novelty intrigues the mind and fires curiosity (Allen, 2008).

Do something to make your practice “novel.” Vary the routine. Go practice in a different place. Do different activities. Make it novel.

6  |  Make it social (Allen, 2008).

Add a socializing component to your practice. Work together in small groups or pairs. Don’t just sit on your couch and spend an hour reading flash cards. It will be 58 minutes wasted. That time is better spent engaging the content in a socializing context. Play a word game with new vocabulary. Do a vocab scavenger hunt. Make it social.

7  |  Do you see what I mean (Allen, 2008)?

Make it visual. As often as possible connect the concept of the word to a visual image. Looking at the printed word is okay, but that’s not really the best way. Look at a picture of the concept. Draw a picture of the concept and rehearse the word.

8  |  Reflect on the learning (Carraway, 2014).

At the end of your practice session, leave a few minutes to reflect on what you’ve learned. Take about 15 minutes to just sit quietly and let your brain process all that it has just taken in. If you drift off for a short nap, it’s okay!

Jensen (2008) also recommends building in a “settling time” and rest. Short walks, or time for some physical activity between learning sessions increases the brain’s ability to continue absorbing information.

“Too much, too fast, it won’t last!”

9  |  Revisit the information right before bed (Jensen, 2008).

Re-read your notes, look at the pictures, rehearse the gestures, etc. from your practice session earlier in the day. Don’t consider this a “study time,” but rather just a short refreshing. It’s at night during REM sleep that the brain wires and stores the information from the day. By doing a short review, you are moving that information “up in the queue” to be stored. Did you catch that?…REM sleep is critical for building long term memory. Get enough rest!

10  |  Give your brain the chemicals it needs (Jensen, 2008).

The brain uses certain chemicals to store and retrieve information. Some foods that are high in lecithin include eggs, salmon, and lean beef, and they help boost recall. Other foods have been found to support memory function and they include: spinach, lean proteins, most vegetables, and salmon.


For more ideas and detailed explanations…

Allen, R. 2008. Green light classrooms, teaching techniques that accelerate learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Carraway, K. 2014. Transforming your teaching, practical classroom strategies informed by cognitive neuroscience. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Jensen, E. (2008). Brain-based learning: The new paradigm of teaching. Corwin Press.

Marzano, R., Norford, J., Paynter, D., Pickering, D., & Gaddy, B. 2001. A handbook for classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

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3 Strategies That Increase Achievement

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I had the pleasure of leading a workshop at one of Khartoum’s most effective international schools, STEPS, in Omdurman. For three hours, we discussed and worked through three main classroom strategies that increase achievement. We also sprinkled in 8 “bonus” strategies along the way. Most of the strategies were used in the presentation, so we not only presented them but experienced them as well.

The 3 main strategies included…

  • See, Say, & Do
  • 1-2-3
  • 100% Response (Triangle, Circle, Square)

The 8 bonus strategies…

  • Think Aloud
  • Modeling
  • Open-Ended Questions
  • Make it visual!
  • Make it social!
  • (small group interaction)
  • Fruit Salad or Mixed Grill? (de-compartmentalize the learning)
  • “Think your way to understanding” rather than “Memorize your way to knowing”
  • It’s About the Application

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Inspire: Phase 3 – In the Classroom

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The top goal of every professional development team is “enactment.” It’s one thing to sit in workshops and absorb new ideas, but it’s something totally different to enact them in the classroom. Our goal for Phase 3 of the Inspire Early Learning program was to see the strategies and concepts enacted in the classroom and at home.

The preschool leadership (Imam Khalid) invited us to join the teachers during the preschool day. During that time we worked right alongside them demonstrating and encouraging enactment of what we’d studied together.

Once or twice per week, we’d stay for an extra hour after the kids left and debrief about the week. It gave us a chance to share examples of our successes and challenges. Our main focus was “What went right this week?” Because the examples were specific, it encouraged the individual teacher and provided a practical example for the others.

There was one little girl who was especially used to getting her own way. To say she was highly independent would be a understatement! All the teachers would try to motivate her, but because of her persistence in getting her own way they would give in after a few attempts. She quickly learned that she could get her own way. This was especially obvious at “line up” time to start the day. She would simply not stand with her own class, but would continue playing.

Noticing that the teachers were not getting the job done, I took her on as my personal project. One of the strategies we used together is called “1-2-3.” It’s basically three steps. You (1) go to the child (rather than shout across the room at them), kneel down, call them by name, (2) describe the behavior you see that you want changed, (3) tell him or her what you expect them to do (and wait).

So morning after morning, I would go and kneel down, call her by name, and say you are not with your class; it’s time for you to line up with your class. I would take her by the hand and lead her (not forcefully, but calmly and respectfully) to her line. After three seconds, she would bolt back to where she had come from. I would repeat the process. Sometimes 5 or 6 times in a span of 3 minutes during the short lineup time.

This pattern continued for several weeks. All the teachers watched as I persisted and she persisted. I could tell they were thinking, “Good luck!” Finally on one morning, I knelt down and said the same thing I’d said literally hundreds of times before. This time, however, she skipped off to her line and joined her class. You can’t imagine the teachers’ responses. They all started smiling and whispering to each other. Finally, it had worked. Was the challenge over, not totally, but mostly! From that point on, she lined up with only occasional prompting.

What’s the point? The strategies that we’ve studied work. It may take time, but they work, and both the teacher and student are stronger as a result of the consistency in using them.

Throughout the three months of working side-by-side with the teachers we all grew together. I consider those children and ladies dear friends and believe in their future.

We also invested time with the parents in Phase 3. We designed quick-reference cards that explain the 25 Goals and give practical, everyday activities that parents and caregivers can use to promote development at home. They are not lessons, and we stress to the parents that you don’t need to “teach” these per se, but rather involve your children in the activities of life that you are already doing!

The cards include overviews of each Area of Development, age-level characteristics, examples, key questions, and tips for activities at home.

Arabic Card — Side One | Two

We met weekly with the parents and introduced the Areas of Development incrementally. We explained the Goals and demonstrated some of the activities. Each week we’d answer questions and ask them to share about their experiences using these activities at home.

We talked about Goal 1 (Sense of Identity and ValueI have an awareness of myself as an individual and feel important to my family and community) and explained that sometimes when children “act out” it’s because they want time with you, their parent. Children want to feel important to the members of their family. One mother, with big tears running down her cheeks, said, “You mean my child wants to spend time with ME?” This was a new concept to her. In the weeks following she revisited this idea, always with a big smile, as she reported about things she and her daughter had done together.

Interacting with both the teachers and the parents during Phase 3 proved so helpful in enacting the concepts found in the Inspire! Early Learning Program.

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Inspire: Summer Intensive Workshop

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With the success of the Inspire Early Learning pilot, one of the village preschools invited us to work with their teachers during the summer break. We conducted an intensive series of workshops (3 months).

The purpose of the pilot was to (1) demonstrate the viability of this program and the concepts, and (2) to train trainers from a local organization’s community development team (trainers of trainers). With those two objectives behind us, we launched a series of workshops that unpacked the concepts in a deeper way for the preschool teachers. The trainers of trainers participated to give examples of what they experienced and to deepen their own understanding.

The basic format of the series was to meet twice weekly for two hours. One of those sessions included an extra hour with children so the teachers could “practice” and apply their learning in an authentic way.

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EduCAN - Learning Centers

Learning About Learning Centers

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Last night in the village where we live, we held another professional development session for preschool teachers. This week, we added children for part of the session so the teachers could have “hands-on,” authentic experiences. They created learning centers each highlighting 1 of the 25 goals for preschoolers’ development from the Inspire Early Learning Program. For a first run, the night was a smashing success.

Learning centers are a new concept for this area, and the teachers’ enthusiasm is contagious. More than that, the preschoolers had a great time, worked on small and large muscles (motor skills) and had a sensory experience.

Working with other-culture people sometimes pushes us toward finding what is different, but we also see as we live life alongside our Nubian friends that we all want our children to learn, to be happy, to have opportunities. So thankful.

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EduCAN Inspire StoryTime

Inspire: Launching the Pilot

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Remember what started this whole adventure in creating the Inspire Early Learning Program? It’s true that necessity is the mother of invention! One of EduCAN’s primary guiding principles is to practice sustainable development. If that phrase is new to you, one of the things it means is doing development in a way that will outlive your direct involvement.

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Lets get to work

What is Inspire?

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Okay, here we go…let’s get to writing!

The Overview

To give this program shape, I have to answer the question, “What is the Inspire Early Learning Program?” Basically, it’s a simple introduction to the principles of early childhood development. It’s an accessible approach to providing quality and meaningful learning experiences for young children. Consider it a guide to helping adults develop their young learner’s basic skills they need to embark on the life-long quest of building knowledge. It seeks to lay a solid foundation that prepares children to enter the more formal environment of “school.”

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Inspire Early Learning Program — 5 Areas of Development

The Inspire Early Learning Program Is Born

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I don’t think “a preschool program for villages” makes a very good title. I thumb through my mental thesaurus for single words that have a positive connotation for education. As I think of each one, I immediately do a Google search to see it’s taken. Of course it’s taken—it’s a great word! This happens over and over, but I do not give up.

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Village near Aswan

“We need a preschool program for villages”

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Pam, my wife, and I live in Aswan, Egypt in a small Nubian village along the Nile. I am privileged to serve on the board of a local organization that does community development. As we sat in the board meeting, the director said, “We need a preschool program for villages.”

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