Consider these two teacher conferences: Teacher A bases the entire conference around a traditional paper-and-pencil developmental checklist. The parents are walked through each area, told that their daughter is making "remarkable progress" in logical thinking and social-emotional development, but is "still developing" in language. As the parents gather their coats and leave, the teacher overhears the mom say to the dad, "I guess we need to work on Samantha's letters."
Teacher B plops a large folder on the table full of dated writing samples and several Polaroid snapshots. One of the pictures shows their daughter on the playground, going down the slide for the very first time. The expression on her face tells a wonderful story. Also in the folder is a neat eight-page laser printed report, organized by each main learning area and backed up with dated anecdote events. A highlight of the conference is a short digital movie, edited on the classroom computer. The movie includes a fun clip of their daughter "reading" an upside down book to the rest of the children. As they leave, the teacher overhears the dad whisper: "Wow! I had no idea Chelsea was doing all that!"
Welcome to the Age of Gadgets
I was both of those teachers, and over the course of the past several years, I have learned firsthand that using technology-enriched materials can help parents better understand their child's development. For instance, a seemingly insignificant event, such as the first trip down a slide, can actually represent a major milestone in a child's life. In this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words!
As an early childhood teacher in the year 2000, you have at your disposal amazing tools such as disposable cameras, cassette recorders, scanners, and Webcams — all of which can help you assess children. Here are some examples of tools that can suit anyone's technological comfort level.
Strictly Low Tech
- Disposable Camera: At up to $15 each, these are great to keep in your top desk drawer for those "I wish I had a camera" moments. Some models come with a built-in flash. (They're worth the few dollars more.) Children can use these too.
- Polaroid Camera: A preschooler — the 3-year-old daughter of inventor Edwin Herbert Land — inspired this 1947 invention when she asked to see pictures "right away." The film is expensive, but seeing the picture develop gives children an instant feeling of satisfaction, as well as sparking their curiosity.
For assessment: If you take photos a lot, you'll find that you've captured some truly important milestones. You can display pictures on bulletin boards. They can later go into a child's portfolio.
- Cassette Recorder: There's nothing better than a child singing or talking about an important event, and cassette recorders make it possible to capture these sounds. Recorders come in all shapes and sizes and are very easy to use. A table model works best for children, as long as the "play" and "record" keys are clearly marked with stickers.
For assessment: Keep one cassette for each child and store it in his portfolio. Use this tape to collect recorded sounds throughout the year. At the end of the year, send the "sounds of preschool" tape home to parents.
- Digital Cameras: These cameras look and operate like a regular snap shot camera with one important difference: There is no film (hence, digital). Plug the camera into your computer and select "import picture" from the file menu of just about any photo editing program (such as Adobe PhotoDeluxe or Microsoft PictureIt!, which you'll need to have loaded on your computer). Your pictures will appear on the screen. Once they're in the computer, you can combine them into a collage and print them — in color if you have an inkjet printer. For assessment: Use a digital camera just as you would a regular camera. Because you don't have to worry about the expense of wasted film, you can also give the camera to children and ask them to take pictures of things that are important to them.
- Scanners: After the scanner is connected and the appropriate software loaded onto your computer, you basically use the scanner as you would a copy machine: Lift up the lid of the scanner and place a child's drawing or attempt at writing face down on the glass. A few seconds later, you have a perfect, color image on the computer screen, ready for adjusting or saving.
For assessment: No more messy file cabinets! Simply scan a child's dated work and save it in the computer. You can show parents the samples throughout the year.
- Your Own Classroom Web Site: A classroom Web site helps teachers supplement newsletters. Several Internet Service Providers (such as America Online) and Web hosting sites (such as Geocities) have templates to help you through the creation process.
For assessment: If you update frequently, parents can get an ongoing sense of their child's development.
- Digital Video Camera: These expensive devices (about $800) work like digital cameras but enable you to produce your own movies. Once you've plugged the camera into your computer, you can edit the footage and add subtitles, background music, and fancy screen transitions.
For assessment: These home movies, which look professional, are great for parent/teacher conferences or back-to-school nights.
So consider yourself lucky. You have at your disposal some of the most amazing gadgets that have ever existed on the Earth.
Warren Buckleitner, a contributing editor to Early Childhood Today and Scholastic Parent & Child, is editor of Children's Software Revue. All the software he recommends has been tested with young children.