Katie Danks, GSRP Lead Teacher

Your main concerns about English learning programs for preschool students

After the initial training for GrapeSEED, my first concerns were about the duration of the lessons.

But then I started using GrapeSEED in my classroom. I was shocked by how engaged the students were. Each material only takes a few minutes to get through, you break up seat time with action activities, and the GrapeSEED characters are beautifully illustrated to draw the children into the lesson (it’s not uncommon to hear the kids relate themselves to their favorite character; “I’m Tonya!” “I’m Arty!”).

My other concern with the duration was how it would affect my classroom’s Program Quality Assessment (PQA) score. Long lesson lengths are sort of frowned upon in the early childhood community. But, again, once I started teaching the program in my classroom I discovered the benefits far outweighed any deductions in points on my PQA score. The lesson objectives in GrapeSEED closely align with the domains in Teaching Strategies GOLD (the measure I use to evaluate my students) and although the lessons may seem long, they are teaching valuable skills.

I’m proud to say our program has a 4 out of 5 star rating on Great Start Connect with the STARS Rating System! So, despite the “long” lesson lengths, we are still providing a HIGH QUALITY educational experience for our students. In fact, I believe GrapeSEED is one of the biggest contributing factors to our particular program’s success!

Specific benefits you have experienced after adopting GrapeSEED

I use Teaching Strategies GOLD (TSGold) to evaluate my students’ learning and growth throughout the school year. One of the domains that we monitor is language development. My students have shown wonderful growth in their language development as a result of GrapeSEED. In TSGold, a high level of language development is often marked by a child’s ability to “use long, complex sentences and follow most grammatical rules”. The language I hear from my students at the beginning of the year is often very informal, but as the year progresses I hear them using more and more of the “school language” they learn from GrapeSEED.

One of my favorite examples of GrapeSEED language naturally permeating into my students’ conversations happened last year. One of the young girls in my classroom was speech and language delayed. She received speech/language services through the school for a few years before she even entered my classroom. During Unit 3, I heard her use language that closely mimicked language from the story “Our Day at School”. During free choice play time, this young girl decided she wanted to make a kite in the art area. She said, “I’m going to make a kite. I need paper, a marker, and string.” She used language that closely matched the story’s language, but she had applied it in a new context. In TSGold I was able to get a number of learning objectives met with this one sentence. For language development she was using a lengthy sentence that followed most grammatical rules and she was using expressive vocabulary. For cognitive skills, she was planning and then using drawings and constructions to represent her symbolic ideas. In addition to this, she was building connection skills by applying knowledge she had learned from the story into a new context, making the learning meaningful to her own life. All of this from a child who was struggling with language skills!

The speech and language therapist in our school is also a BIG fan of GrapeSEED for children with speech and language delays. She makes sure never to pull children from the classroom during GrapeSEED lesson times because she knows the skills learned through the GrapeSEED curriculum will assist in building their language and articulation skills.

Comparing the language development of preschool students using GrapeSEED with those who are not

The community I teach in is high-risk and the majority of the students in our school district are low-income. Culturally, the language the students speak at home is very different from the language they are learning to read in books. GrapeSEED has helped to bridge this gap in language. The students are learning proper sentence structure, vocabulary, alphabet knowledge, and phonics through the program. In comparison to children in other preschools who are not receiving this kind of instruction, I would imagine those students may have a more difficult time learning to read because they have not been exposed to as much “school language” as our students. It’s one thing to hear your teacher read stories and absorb the language, but GrapeSEED allows the students to be ACTIVE participants in their language development.

Specific aspects (or features) of GrapeSEED you like the most

The physical materials in GrapeSEED are WONDERFUL! The lesson cards are big and vibrant. The illustrations on all of the materials are beautiful. The CDs and DVDs are high quality! All of the learning materials for GrapeSEED make the lessons engaging and fun for my students. I love that all of these materials were provided as part of the curriculum and the only materials I need to make myself are for extension activities. It saves me time during my planning and that’s a huge weight off my shoulders!

I also appreciate all of the on-going coaching I’ve received from GrapeSEED. From the physical observations by GrapeSEED trainers to Tonya’s Tuesday Tips in my e-mail, all of these training opportunities have helped me become a better teacher of the GrapeSEED curriculum. I feel confident teaching in front of administration, parents, and guest teachers. I’ve learned many creative ways to extend the lesson materials so that my students never become bored.

Of course, I love that GrapeSEED is cross-curricular. I teach my students with a very holistic-based approach to learning; I’m teaching to the whole child, which means I’m working on social-emotional development, language development, and physical development along with more traditional academics. GrapeSEED touches on everything my students need to learn. We learn social-skills with GrapeSEED (i.e., Nice Things to Say, We Say Please, Hello, How Are You?). We learn language skills through modeling and repetition of the stories, vocabulary cards, songs, and chants. We also develop our physical skills through the action activities and GrapeSEED writers (for fine motor development).

Would you recommend GrapeSEED to others? If so, how would you describe it?

I absolutely would recommend GrapeSEED to others and I have! I usually describe GrapeSEED as an English Language curriculum that teaches children the “school language” they will need to learn to become successful readers and learners. Then, I usually talk at lengths about the many other benefits of GrapeSEED, pulling materials off my shelves and sharing personal stories from my classroom experiences. I get a little TOO excited about it sometimes!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I came to Bridgeport-Spaulding Schools last year, the first year we began implementing GrapeSEED into the preschool classrooms. I’ve been teaching preschool for 4 years now and I’ve never been more passionate about one particular curriculum. It often feels like schools roll in the “latest and greatest” curriculums and you’re forced to try it out in your classroom for some time until you decide it isn’t a good fit or something “better” comes along and you have to start the process all over again. I never felt like that with GrapeSEED. It’s enhanced my classroom from the start and I look forward to teaching with it for years to come!