This is part 8 of my interview with Marilee Cosgrove of the Fullerton School District. Our focus was on “Lessons Learned” –creating an effective quality pre-school program in a public school context. This section discusses the magic book their work is based on, and working with feathers and mud.
Q: Okay, what about the cynical person who says “so what?”
A: The data shows our kids make great strides, and we hew pretty closely to what people know works today.
Q: Is there a sacred text? Loris Malaguzzi or something?
A: It is not one book – it is an approach to education that is supported by the top theorists and educators. We read, study, dialogue and reflect constantly and are inspired by other schools that practice the constructivist approach to learning.
Q: But how do you orient someone who comes from a K-12 background and has test score stress? How do you tell them that the lighting and paint colors in the classrooms matter, and that having rocks and feathers and mud are important? Where do you start with people who aren’t familiar with what you’re doing?
A: “What are you doing with feathers and mud?” That is the question. What is the intention? What concept will be investigated? We are held accountable that the children are learning. The DRDP15 has 8 domains and 56 measures. Everything in the classroom is intentional – to support a specific type of development. Plus, we’re pretty autonomous, so the District trusts us to understand their program and provide the first layer. So, then, it really goes back to the book.
Q: The Magic book!
A: State-funded preschools use a beautiful foundations book -” the pre-school learning foundations” with a curriculum framework, which is linked to the Desired Results Developmental Profile, which is a tool that teachers have to use – it’s mandated by the state. But those materials are absolutely beautiful, and they lend themselves to the teachers being able to articulate their intentionality, and deliver on the outcomes, and we have a lot of data on the outcomes.
Q: You rely on the California Department of Ed materials?
A: Yep – The California Department of Education early learning and Support Services Division Preschool Learning Foundations and Curriculum Framework, which is aligned to the assessment tool DRDP15. It’s great! [Link below]
We have our vision, what we do and why we do it, our teaching pedagogy and overarching principles for the classroom. The State materials are our guide: they are extremely developmental – it’s social, emotional and inquiry-based. It just depends on who is taking that information, and how they’re implementing it. The information is beautiful, it’s superb. Not everyone takes the time to read The Pre-school Learning Foundations – it takes some time (it’s hundreds of pages) but it’s beautifully and clearly written. The California Dept. of Ed web site has it – the Pre-school Learning Foundations – as a PDF: there are 3 volumes, and a curriculum framework that tells you the “why.”
Q: So you feel like that is your best bet, your pedagogical basis?
A: Yes – and we can put our own specifics in there with how we do it, but what we want to do correlates perfectly with what the state wants to see. And our assessments and our tracking show that it works with our diverse population.
Q: There isn’t a lot of controversy here, then, for people who are paying attention.
A: Yes! Every class you take, every paper, every conference says the same thing: Soft Skills, Soft Skills, Soft Skills! The social emotional is the first foundation piece that pre-school needs to focus on and they need to be considered throughout. The documentation our teachers provide documents and tracks where they are, and our DRDP data shows huge gains in social emotional growth throughout the first years.