Trainers at Tools often hear from teachers and school administrators about how well children in the Tools preschool and kindergarten programs are doing. Districts implementing Tools show fewer incident reports, higher levels of parent satisfaction, and fewer discipline problems. Teachers report less aggression and fighting, and more positive social interactions. Districts implementing Tools in both preschool and kindergarten also report reduced levels of referrals to special education. Kindergarten teachers report that children can stay on task, work independently at centers, set learning goals, and stay motivated. Teachers also share that they have fewer classroom management issues and improved ability to individualize for children.
Kindergarten reading scores are going up
An elementary school principal has shared with us middle-of-year Reading data collected in kindergarten classrooms. This elementary school serves low-income students and has been considered low performing for a number of years. Eighty-eight percent of its students are eligible for the federal free lunch program and 94% are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Just under half (48%) of the students are English language learners. On the 2011 state assessment, only 36% of third graders attained the proficient level or above in Reading, 13% in Writing, and 32% in Math, which were the lowest scores in the district. The 2012-2013 school year is the first year of Tools of the Mind implementation in preschool and kindergarten classrooms and the effects of Tools on student achievement are already evident.
Below are charts comparing Reading scores for two kindergarten teachers for the year before Tools implementation and for the year Tools implementation began. The Reading scores were obtained by administering DRA2 (Developmental Reading Assessment), one of the most widely used assessments of reading skills extending from kindergarten to sixth grade.
This graph shows Teacher 1 before and after implementing Tools.
This graph shows Teacher 2 before and after implementing Tools.
The principal commented that the mid-year (January) scores in the Tools classrooms were similar or even higher than end-of-year scores in the same classrooms in the previous years.
The number of behavior incidents goes down
Red Bank School District is a small suburban community in New Jersey with urban-like characteristics. With 74 % of students eligible for free/reduced lunch and approximately 50% of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students eligible for bilingual/ESL services, Red Bank has been identified as a high-poverty and high-needs district. Since starting to implement Tools of the Mind in preschool and kindergarten classrooms, the district has not only seen an increase in students’ achievement scores, but also a marked decrease in behavior incidents—teachers who used to file 20–30 incident reports a month are now filing fewer than 10 a year! Laura Morana, the superintendent of the Red Bank School District, describes her experience with the Tools program in the Handbook of Prosocial Education.
When implementing Tools of the Mind in their classrooms, many teachers not only learn more about what their students can do, but they also learn about themselves as teachers and learners. Below are the reflections of three teachers on their 2010–2012 experience with Tools. These teachers were part of a research project in which Long Island University/Post researchers partnered with the Wyandanch Union Free School District to bring Tools of the Mind to the district’s pre-kindergartens. The director of the project, Dr. Lynn Cohen, and other participants also shared their experiences in a special issue of the NAEYC’s Play, Policy, and Practice Connections newsletter.
Denise Bragin, Wyandanch Union Free School
“The children in my classes have shown tremendous growth in both self-regulation and literacy skills, through engaging in play planning. Children support each other while waiting for my one-on-one attention. They learn how to take turns, change their plans, and handle disappointments. Through writing their plans, they recognize that lines have meanings. I have observed wonderful progress in my students, particularly among dual language learners (DLLs), while verbalizing their plans. Student involvement in play planning has provided a foundation for higher-order language and social interaction during play.”
Yolanda Thompson, Wyandanch Union Free School
“During play time, students engaged in play within six centers, with a common theme by way of varied modalities. Students learned vocabulary in the context of play themes. Helping to establish a foundation of each theme, mediator cards were provided upon visiting the themes so my students knew what was expected from them. All aided in helping students understand their roles while at play centers. Each child knowing his/her role kept order, and made for fun, learning, and discipline at the centers.”
Marina Andreou, Wyandanch Union Free School
“Tools of the Mind has undoubtedly provided me with a bountiful portfolio of insightful methods and strategies to promote student achievement in the early childhood classroom. I have evolved from a teacher who teaches to a teacher who has developed a passion for learning. I have witnessed the tremendous growth in most of my students and am proud to have been their teacher.”
Although Tools of the Mind was not designed as a remedial program, its instructional strategies, as well as its emphasis on building classroom community, have proven amazingly beneficial for children with special needs. Below are letters we received from special education teachers and administrators, describing their successes.
Letter from a Special Education Teacher
“Some of my speech and language children have difficulty talking, having no language or very few words. In Share the News, children feel comfortable and confident about using words. They might have one or two words, but this activity helps them feel like everyone else. I absolutely love Buddy Reading and the Flannel Board and Story Discussion activities—children with any type of disability do well in these activities. Children feel their verbal contribution is important, and holding something as simple as a stick makes them feel like everyone else and encourages verbal expression.
“In Tools’ partnered activities like Making Collections, speech and language children can use gestures such as thumbs up or thumbs down, allowing children to give feedback to one another. However, even in this activity, my speech children often use language and they learn from each other.
“Tools of the Mind activities such as Share the News, Making Collections, Buddy Reading, Play Planning, Play, Story Discussions, etc. help special needs children in these areas:
- Establishing and maintaining eye contact
- Developing friendships
- Self-regulation development
- Using expressive language
- Social interactions
- Makes transitioning easier
- Initiating social interactions (appropriately listening, sharing, taking turns)”
Letter from a Special Education Teacher
“I have a student with Down syndrome in my full day preschool class. During the past two years, she has made great gains in her play planning. This student started with little fine motor skill and was unable to make a purposeful play plan. At the beginning, she was able to use picture cues and some verbal skills, and was able to sustain a low level of play for 5–7 minutes.
“The progress I have observed in the classroom relates to her self-regulation development and play skills. This current school year she is able to develop a plan with great purpose and create a verbal scenario. During playtime, she is able to carry out her plan for more than 10 minutes, at the level 3 stage of play.
“Her self-regulation ability has developed in other areas, I believe, due to the increase in her cognitive ability to plan ahead—something she developed in play planning. She is able to maintain her attention for longer periods of time during large and small groups. She need less one-to-one help during demanding activities.”
Letter from an Affective Specialist
“I have been pleased with Tools of the Mind in the following ways:
- I have been hopeful about children reaping social benefits from Share the News, and have heard children talking about their parents, families, and their feelings! This is wonderful to see and hear.
- There has been so much improvement in Buddy Reading; in particular, some of the younger children are catching on to the concept of books/stories, the way to hold a book and turn the pages, seeing the context of the illustrations, and talking (the social aspect) with their partner.
- Children who struggled to join the group are now participating fully in movement, and I’ve observed increased self-regulation overall with these activities.
- Graphic Practice serves as a soothing, structured time for the children, even if they struggle to hold the marker correctly (for example). They are learning how to sit at a table and participate, a skill they will need for kindergarten.”
Letter from a Motor Specialist
“I’m thrilled that kids have to use writing tools on a daily basis. They are actually using efficient grasp patterns (more often) since they get consistent practice. The partner Freeze Game has helped the kids with self-regulation issues even more, since they get feedback from their peers and not staff. This year I’m seeing tremendous progress with visual-motor skills during Graphic Practice (teachers are also more comfortable with teaching and demonstrating the patterns, which results in the kids doing better). In addition, many special ed kids can now turn book pages one at a time, use correct book orientation, and show improved visual attention, thanks to Buddy Reading.”
Letter from Michael & Theresa
“We have a family of five—Dad, Mom, sister Chelsea, 10, brother Vincent, 5, and little Carmen, 2. Vincent is our primary focus for your concern. When we moved to Arvada we had little expectation from the Head Start program, as we couldn’t find any class space for Chelsea in Denver County, where we moved from.
“The beginning of Vincent’s first year, we were introduced to the Tools of the Mind curriculum by the teachers. Being that we had no idea about how to educate a child, we were leaving all our trust in their capable hands. They explained that they would teach Vincent to self-regulate. We talked and giggled just a little. (Have you ever tried to get a 3-year-old to mellow out enough to pay attention to the task at hand for more than five minutes?) This being Vincent’s second year, we have seen things formerly unbelievable to us. We see capabilities in him that we may never have seen were it not for this program. He is spelling words! He doesn’t quite have the vowel idea down yet, but he is spelling. The other day, on the highway, he was sounding out T-W. Then he says, “T-W-L-V. That’s how you spell twelve!” This is just one example of how he continues to amaze us on a daily basis. Our oldest is a highly intelligent child as well. However, she did not know as much as half of the things that Vincent does. She could not comprehend the differences between today, tomorrow, and yesterday. She didn’t begin to try spelling on her own until about first grade. I really don’t like making the comparisons between the children. I don’t know how to get the point across effectively without doing so. We are so completely astounded at the progress Vincent is making. His table manners have improved tremendously, as has his comprehension of what you and I would believe to be basics. The calendar is the most tremendous idea, in my personal opinion. There isn’t anything about this curriculum that we don’t like. We do believe that Vincent is going to excel in public school, due to these teachings.
“I highly recommend this school to parents all of the time. I am an apartment manager. When I have an applicant come into my office with a young child, I could go on and on about this curriculum. I think sometimes they get tired of hearing about it. I just believe in what they are doing with my son. I consistently give the number to interested parents in order for them to begin the registration process. I am really keyed up about the progress Vincent is making. I am also looking forward to seeing what happens in kindergarten.
“In addition to this fun way of learning, I am dually impressed with the teaching staff. They have been so unbelievably supportive and helpful in clarifying any of the questions that we may have. They are encouraging and absolutely delightful to know. I hope that this method of learning is continued and supported until our baby comes to the classroom in the fall of 2006. There aren’t many things that we have such renewed faith in regularly. This just happens to be something that we have the extreme pleasure of being a part of. You have done a fabulous job of designing this set of courses and putting it in the every capable hands of three very wonderful teachers who are aiding these children in their, hopefully, ongoing quest for knowledge. I couldn’t have asked for better people than Judy Edwards, Becky Goshorn, and Lea Conda, with whom to share this thrilling experience. They take personal pride in teaching. It shines through. We appreciate the time and energy it takes to keep such a great program in operation. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of this.
Sincerely, Michael & Theresa
Letter from Maria
“Mi nombre es Maria. Tengo dos hijas, Paloma de 5 años y Jazmin de 17 dias. Palomita entró a su programa no sabia nada de ingles, solo español. Pero ahora habla muy bien los dos idiomas se expresa muy bien en inglés lo habla perfectamente. Le facina ir a la escuela porque quiere mucho a sus maestros y tiene muchos amigitos y estoy muy feliz porque esta en su programa porque le veo mas a listo par air a kindergarten. El sistema de ensenanza esta muy bien, el amor que los maestros les dan a nuestros hijos con nada le pagamos en otras escuelas no los tratan tan bien. Yo recomiendo Head Start a otros papas porque para mi hija a sido fundamental en su educacion en todos los sentidos sin mas por el momento mil gracias.”
My name is Maria and I have two daughters, Paloma is 5 years and Jasmine is 17 days old. When my little Paloma entered your program she didn’t know any English, only Spanish. But now she speaks both languages very well. She expresses herself well in English and speaks perfectly. She is interested in going to school because she likes her teachers very much and has many friends and I am very happy because I can see she is very ready to go to kindergarten. The curriculum is very good and the teachers give so much love to our children even though we don’t have to pay for the school. I would recommend Head Start to other parents because it has been fundamental to my daughter’s education. In all heartfelt meaning and without words for the moment, a thousand thanks.
Letter from Andrea
“I am writing this letter on behalf of my children, Dustin and Jessica, who had the blessing of being taught with the Tools of the Mind curriculum.
“Dustin is seven-years-old now and came to the Head Start in the ‘99–00 school year. Dustin only had one year practicing the learning techniques of the curriculum before he moved into kindergarten. Dustin is going to be in second grade for the ‘03–04 school year. I can hardly describe what the teaching and learning experience at Head Start did for my son. Dustin is not only the best reader in his class, he has an understanding of words and can express them in the most appropriate manner. Dustin from the beginning in kindergarten had a very special way to figure out different patterns and word constructions. Without Head Start and their program, I believe, truly from my heart that Dustin would not be as advanced as he is and I am so grateful for the opportunity my son was getting by learning with the curriculum.
“Jessica is three-years-old now and comes to Head Start in the ‘01–02 school year. Jessica will have two years of practicing and learning in the Vygotsky curriculum before making her transition to kindergarten. I can only say again that I am so blessed my children had the opportunity to learn at Head Start. I know Jessica will, just like her brother, blow the challenges of kindergarten away because she is already so advanced in her skills of counting, and understanding and building word patterns.
“As for myself, I hope that all children will have the opportunity and pleasure to be taught by the Tools of the Mind and I am so thankful that my children were one of the few that had this wonderful and helpful learning experience.”
Letter from Mary
“I would like to commend the Head Start program on the outstanding education level my children have been exposed to. Just like any parent, we wanted the best for our children. Our financial situation allowed us to put my son in a very expensive child learning day center. When our cash intake decreased dramatically, due to many negative business turns, we were unable to afford the learning center and were very thankful to qualify for the Head Start program. We were very surprised to find out that the education my three boys got from the Head Start program more than surpassed the other schools! As a matter of fact, my husband was embarrassed that his kid had to go to (school name removed). He now is very thankful and brags to everyone on how smart his kids are and how (school name removed) has contributed. Besides the everyday learning, they were exposed to many different interactive projects and programs. These programs are important, especially since children need much diversity. I am in full support of all who have contributed to the success of my children and I know this program will be reflected in the years to come. It has already helped my kids put their negative energy into a fun and exciting learning mode.”
Letter from Huibin
Translated from Chinese:
“We thank everyone in Head Start gave our daughter (Ying) such a good care and good teaching in last two years. And thank everyone in charge and supporting this program.
“Our whole family immigrated from China in 2000 with very little English. Our life is not stable, very limited income. We were so worried about our daughter’s education.
“Luckily we found Head Start program, our daughter could go to school! In last two years, under good teaching method, she learned art, counting numbers, games, alphabet, recognized words, singing, etc. It’s a big change from not knowing any English before to be able to use English to communicate now. At home, she becomes our little English teacher.
“We hope this education program can last forever. Kids like our daughter can go to school and have a good start. Thanks again!
“Wish Head Start continued doing better.”
Letter from parent (anonymous)
“I am the mother of a preschool child on the autism spectrum (ASD). Where I live, children with ASD are often placed in segregated preschool settings with only children with special needs. When I asked that my child be placed in an integrated setting alongside her typical peers, I was told my daughter “would not learn” in an integrated setting and that she needed a self-contained program.
“We were very fortunate, because we found a program with a Tools of the Mind integrated preschool classroom that she could be placed in, and it’s been just what I hoped for. Having typical peers to play with and provide appropriate language and play models has proved to be so important to her development. My daughter loves school and is able to mix in with her peers. The other day we attended a classmate’s birthday party at a gym and to my amazement, she followed along with everything the other children and the instructor did. She was able to transition from the parachute to the soccer balls to the hula hoops, even though music was blaring in the background the whole time. Even attending a birthday party can be a huge feat for many children with ASD. I think the work that Tools of the Mind does to help children develop self-regulation helped to get her here.”
Letter from Denice (preschool director and a parent)
“I would like to share my positive experience of the Tools of the Mind curriculum. I have been a director of a preschool for over 15 years. I have been fortunate to have overseen the implementation of many curriculums throughout my career. The most successful and fulfilling curriculum for the children, by far, has been the Tools of the Mind curriculum. I can speak professionally, but MOST IMPORTANTLY, I am speaking personally as a mother of two very intelligent little boys. Both my boys have been extremely fortunate to have been educated with two years of TOM [Tools of the Mind] preschool. My eldest son Mickenna’s birthday is in late September so he started preschool at tender age of two. TOM allowed him to adjust to the preschool program through hands-on activities which instilled in him a true love for learning. After Mickenna’s completion of two years in the TOM preschool program, under the love and guidance of a fantastic teacher (whom I must add was a “STRONG” believer and “SUPPORTER” of TOM), he once again was fortunate to be placed in a TOM kindergarten classroom, under the beautiful and creative supervision of yet another strong believer in TOM. He thrived unbelievably and at the age of five, he was beginning to read!!! He is now (after three very enjoyable and successful years in a TOM classroom) in the first grade LAUNCH program, where he just made the high honor roll for the first marking period. (GO TOM!!!!!!!) We are such proud parents!! My husband and I attribute his success to his wonderful dedicated teachers and the Tools of the Mind curriculum!! Mickenna’s story is truly one of SUCCESS!!!!!
“My youngest son, Dayle, is now in his second year of TOM preschool and is constantly astonishing us with his expanded vocabulary and both his letter and word recognition. He, too, has developed a true love for learning and reading. Throughout every conversation, Dayle is comparing sounds with letters and words. He constantly walks around the house singing school songs and rhyming words. Our friends and family are amazed by his educational progress. He really enjoys writing and reading his own stories. Dayle, like his brother, has learned self-regulation, which has enabled them to stay out of trouble in school. (Thanks TOM—it has also made for more conscientious children about their behavior, making my parenting job much easier!!) Dayle is yet another TOM success story!!! The TOM curriculum, along with my sons’ strong and dedicated teachers, has developed my sons into well behaved and intelligent young boys. They both have acquired the love for reading and learning, which is a priceless characteristic for a child in this generation. When children love to learn and read the only result is SUCCESS!!! I thank the Tools of the Mind education and my sons’ loyal and incredible teachers for helping parent them into “TWO PHENOMENAL LITTLE BOYS!!!!!!!!”
With sincere gratitude, Denice