BLOOMINGTON - Teachers at the Sarah E. Raymond School of Early Education recently let out a collective sigh of relief. For the past three years, the pre-kindergarten teachers have been involved in a long-range Illinois State University research project.
In order for research data to be accurate, the teachers involved in testing new teaching templates couldn't share their experiences with the control group.
Now they can.
Although the entire school has benefited from grants for state-of-the-art technology across the three years of the study, now all teachers can access more resources, including templates created to help teach children rhyming, alliteration and initial sound fluency using that technology.
"There is no other preschool in the United States that has this much technology," said Phil Parette, chairman of assistive technology at ISU's College of Education. "It's truly unique," he said.
Teachers use digital scanners, Blue Tooth technology, specially-designed software and a number of other resources to teach the almost 300 pre-kindergarten, at-risk students and students with special education needs.
The school received more than $120,000 from a Making a Difference Using Assistive Technology grant to buy the equipment and to train staff to use it.
"You folks are using all this stuff on a grand scale. You have done some really fine work in the last three years," Parette told teachers at a recent professional development day at the school, adding, "The work continues."
Raymond school has 38 staff members, including teachers, program assistants, occupational, physical, and speech and language therapists. It will add a second speech pathologist next year.
Children attend classes 2 1/2 hours daily in morning or afternoon; most ride a bus to school. District 87 will add two buses this year, bringing the total to seven.
Parette and his team wanted to learn how technology can best help teach at-risk, pre-kindergarten students and those with developmental delays. He hopes to publish the results of the research in academic journals
Associate professor Emily Watts and assistant professor Craig Blum worked specifically on developing ready-to-go templates that teachers can use in helping pre-kindergartners learn rhyming, alliteration and beginning sounds of words.
"They (the preschoolers) started to notice the sounds," said Stacy McGraw who teacher 4-and-5 year olds at the school.
At the end of the project this year, the data showed all students progressed in recognizing beginning sounds of words, but those who used the newly-designed teaching materials excelled even more.
Students in the control group improved by identifying 4.5 beginning letter sounds of words in a timed test. Students with the added program improved by 10.3 beginning letter sounds of words.
Children who got the additional program more than doubled the progress of the comparison group.
That's "a powerful effect," said Blum - especially because the children only spent 10 minutes, three times a week on the project. In a half-day preschool program, time is precious, so having that kind of impact in just 30 minutes is significant, he said.
"Anytime you try something new, it's a risk," Blum said. "We're happy with these results."