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Washington State University
College of Education

February 2011

Mrs. B’s kindergarten combines research, joy

Kindergarten teacher Dee Baumgartner
Dee Baumgartner

Once visitors pull their eyes away from the engaging 5-year-old faces and the colorful learning materials that crowd Dee Baumgartner’s classroom, the next thing they’re likely to notice is the teacher’s energy. Mrs. B’s cheerful stamina is amazing, especially considering she’s been teaching kindergarten since 1968.

Everything she says to the students has a rhythm and purpose. Her methods are based on research findings — often ones that reinforce what decades of experience have taught her.

Dee, a WSU alumna (M.Ed. ’73), recently invited Dean A.G. Rud to visit her class at Pullman’s Franklin Elementary School.  (He accepted, and it was a delightful hour. Pictures here.)

Winner of the College of Education’s 2009 Miller-Manchester Teacher Mentor Award, Dee has helped many WSU teacher education students gain experience her classroom. On the day of the dean’s visit, elementary education student Laura Mathis was on hand.

Asked later about the influence of research on her teaching, she mentioned her participation in research grants that involved the teaching approach championed by Madeline Hunter and Bloom’s Taxonomy, a classification of learning objectives. “Both of these helped to lay a strong foundation of what makes teaching good, and the types of questions and activities that challenge students at all different levels of learning.”  Another major influence was her preparation, through WSU, for National Board teacher certification.

kindergarten student
Hand-on lessons engage the senses of Jillian McLean and her classmates

“My ability to write with children was influenced by the opportunity to be part of the Northwest Writing Project through WSU and the fine tutoring of Dr. Sherry Vaughn,” she said. “Right now, I’m delving into brain research by looking at Robert Marzano and John Medina.”

“I have truly reveled in (Medina’s) 12 brain rules. When I learn that repetition is really important to new learning, I make sure that I do two-minutes spots of review. When I learn about the need for using many of our senses when presenting new material to my students, I say ‘right on’ and get out Jello-flavored playdough to help students learn those tricky letter names.”

A lot has changed since she started teaching, Dee said. “That is probably what has kept me fresh and loving what I do. The greatest change has been the statement to my students of the ‘target learning’ for a particular lesson.  I always knew it, but didn’t communicate it clearly until recent years.”

In other words, she starts a lesson by telling the children what they will learn and asking if they understand that. To reinforce the lesson, she ends it by asking them to describe and then demonstrate what they’ve learned. And they do it. “Kindergarten students are amazing.”

Students learn art of book selection

WSU student Molly Nelson
Molly Nelson and her vibrant poster

When Molly Nelson was a kid, she liked to read. But unlike some of her classmates in WSU’s teacher education program, Molly didn’t notice the bumpy gold seal imprinted on the front of some of the books she picked up.

Now, the sophomore from Issaquah is keenly aware that the Caldecott Medal designates America’s best picture books. This semester, she read 12 medal winners as part of her Department of Teaching and Learning children’s literature course. In a class assignment, she had to pick one book and create a poster that captured its theme. Her choice was Gerald McDermott’s Arrow to the Sun.

“What I liked about this book was the design was really simple, but the colors were bold,” Molly said of the Pueblo Indian tale. “I did my best to re-create that.”

The future teachers put a lot of time into the assignment. While Clinical Assistant Professor Barbara Ward didn’t grade them on artwork, she was impressed with how attractive the posters turned out.

Students' posters reflect book themes

Barbara, a Pullman faculty member, modeled her “visual literacy project” after one used by Professor Terrell Young at WSU Tri-Cities. Both faculty members are former elementary school teachers. Both are researchers who are active in national and international literacy organizations. Both report that their students enjoy the literacy project, which teaches them how to evaluate books.

“I believe that if we foster a love of reading and an appreciation of quality literature in our preservice teachers, they will fall in love with reading again and feel confident in selecting books to use in their classrooms,” said Barbara. “I want my students to leave WSU ready to teach in a literature-based reading program.”