When you're lucky enough to be in a room with a dozen young children every day, you learn that sometimes the tiniest detail can be the most important. It might be the first time a child figures out that those black squiggles are actually words, or that courageous first trip down the slide. Your challenge is to recognize the significance of these events and then to document them for each child's records.
Can technology help this in process? You bet. But I've learned firsthand that technology can also complicate your life. Keep in mind that any new gadget is only useful if it helps free you up to focus on the children and not on the object itself. If it does help you to do your job better, then it deserves your precious time. Here are some handy tools for record keeping, listed from low- to high-tech.
They don't use batteries — but they are a great way to document key developmental moments over the course of a day! Keep a few in your pocket or on a nearby shelf. To draw a parent's attention to something specific, you can stick them directly on a classroom newsletter or on a note going home.
TIP: Write a sticky note to parents about something positive their children did each week. Attach the notes to children's cubbies on Friday afternoons, so parents can retrieve them at pick-up time.
Cassette Tape Recorders
Did you know that there are a variety of small, portable voice recorders you can carry in your pocket? They make it easy for you to keep notes on what a child does, including first attempts at reading, singing, counting, or telling a story. For children learning English as a second language, a tape recorder is a great way to track their emerging verbal abilities throughout the year.
TIP: Track verbal growth over time by asking a child to describe the same object or picture at different points in the year. You can play the tapes back for parents at conferences, more effectively demonstrating the strides their children have made.
These underutilized devices have many assessment possibilities, including making quick copies of a child's artwork for storage in a portfolio or documenting early writing attempts. You can also make multiple copies of a class newsletter, highlighting interesting anecdotal events.
TIP: Make a child's day by taking a small section of her first writing efforts and using the photocopier to enlarge it for display.
A picture IS worth a thousand words when it comes to tracking a child's developmental growth. There are many cameras, ranging from $10 disposables (great for field trips) to $400 digital cameras. Polaroid® cameras are useful because they offer instant results.
TIP: Get a disposable camera and snap a group picture. If possible, use a cement block or brick wall as the backdrop. The lines of the wall are great for showing children's changing heights. Shoot a few more pictures every few months. At the end of the year, develop the film and post the pictures in the classroom.
They're just like regular cameras but they don't use film. Instead, you plug them into a computer and download them for immediate viewing. You can print out the pictures with a color printer.
TIP: Digital photos are great for posting on a classroom Web site or using on invitations to classroom events.
A powerful tool for documentation is the camcorder, with its ability to record events over time. Not only can you record a child's first attempts at reading, but you can also capture children's reactions to the sights and sounds of spontaneous events such as that very first snowstorm. Tapes can be shared at parent meetings and conferences.
TIP: Circulate tapes to parents so they can copy and keep them. Remember to remove the tab from the back of the tape to protect it from being accidentally erased.
These operate just like a photocopier, except the pictures end up on your computer screen instead of on a sheet of paper. Once a child's work is scanned, you can e-mail it to parents or send it home on computer disk. Families can then post the work on a personal Web page or share it via e-mail with relatives and friends.
TIP: Kids love to see their work as it is being scanned, slowly appearing on the computer screen. Keep one folder on your computer desktop for each child, so you can store his work (an electronic portfolio).
Computers and Software
There are several software programs that measure a child's abilities in the areas of early reading, math, and logical thinking. JumpStart Preschool and Kindergarten (both from Knowledge Adventure), Reader Rabbit Preschool (The Learning Company) and Clifford Reading (Scholastic) all keep records of children's skills. Teachers can check a child's progress at any time and print out reports.
TIP: Younger children can type in their names independently if you keep them on name tags near the computer.
Pick Up a Polaroid
Polaroid Cameras have come a long way since they were first introduced by inventor Edwin Land, in response to his preschool daughter ("I want to see the picture right away!"). The idea hasn't changed — just push a button and get a picture. They're ideal for those times when a child grows attached to a block structure that eventually needs to be taken down. The one drawback is the expense of the film. Here's a closer look at two new models ideal for classroom use.
The Spectra 1200 FF Instant Camera ($90) is a compact folding camera that represents the latest and best in instant-camera technology. Features include the ability to take larger, 4-inch pictures, a built-in flash, two focus zones, and a film counter. Pictures cost about $1.10 each.
Much cheaper is the I-Zone Instant Pocket Camera ($25), which takes pictures in the form of tiny one-inch-tall photo stickers. Features include a flash and the ability to take up to 12 pictures. Children absolutely love the photo stickers, which are ideal for labeling a child's cubby or name tag. Pictures cost about 60¢ each to take.
Call 800-343-5000 or visit www.polaroid.com.