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issue 6 winter 2009

The Early Elementary

Literature Circles Innovations in Italy:

A Conversation with Lella Gandini and Susan Etheredge

Creating Intentional Spaces

The Year in Song

Can intelligence be developed? Volumes have been written by experts who have provided evidence to support both answers to this question. So who’s right? In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck sums up the current scientific view. “Today, most experts agree that it’s not either – or. It is not nature or nurture, genes or the environment. From conception on there is a constant give and take between the two. In fact, as Gilbert Gottlieb, an eminent neuroscientist, put it, not only do genes and the environment cooperate as we develop, but genes require input from the environment to work properly.”

In this Issue Sticky Curriculum 2 BY TEACHERS FOR TEACHERS™ Spark is published by University Child Development School.

Many of us in the United States today believe that success equates with intelligence. According to popular American folklore, some people are born with exceptional talent, personality, character, and brilliance that result in their rise to success. While the “exceptional person” story sells books and movies, research over the past several decades has shown that this “fixed ability mindset” actually profoundly limits a person’s motivation to learn. (Mindset)

Literature Circles in the Early Elementary

People Who Inspire Us 8

Head of School Paula Smith Assistant Head of School Teacher Education Center Director Melissa Chittenden

Innovations in Italy: A Conversation with Lella Gandini and Susan Etheredge

Creative Fusion 12

Editor & Publication Design Jack Forman Contributing Staff Leanne Bunas, Diane Chickadel, Melissa Chittenden, Ellen Cottrell, Susan Foley, Ginger Goble, Rebecca Henry, Drew Holloway, Julie Kalmus, Brooke Leinberger, Angie Manning Goodwill, Kai Toh, Charles Kapner, Cory Goldhaber, Natasha Rodgers, Matt Swanson, Jennifer Vary

The Year in Song: A Musical Collaboration in the Early Elementary

This research has obvious implications for education. If children are more engaged and perform better when they believe that they can “learn to be smarter,” then it is incumbent on schools to set up classrooms as if this were the case. Teaching children how to develop their potential through effort is a very different kind of classroom than one designed to deliver knowledge and measure a child’s ability to produce “the answer.” For many schools in the U.S., this will require some fairly fundamental changes in the way instruction is delivered.

What Works 16

Creating Intentional Spaces

In Each Issue 1 20 22

Photography UCDS Faculty and Staff

Fortunately, young children typically arrive at school assuming that they can learn and are excited to be offered a challenge. Learning is like breathing for a young child, who has spent the first years of his or her life learning a native language, or several languages if given the opportunity, with no formal instruction to do so. “By three the little child’s brain is actually twice as active as an adult brain and remains at that level until the child reaches the age of nine or ten.” (The Scientist in the Crib)

Greetings from Paula Spark Plugs UCDS Mission Statement

For submission information, please contact Brooke Leinberger at The editor reserves the right to edit and select all materials.

© 2008 University Child Development School. All rights reserved.


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What do you tell yourself when you meet a challenge? Research indicates that if you believe that individual traits are carved in stone, you are not as likely to take a risk and fall short, thereby proving that your ability is lacking. On the other hand, Dwesk asserts that if “basic qualities can be cultivated through effort, you acknowledge that it is impossible to see what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil and training.” Those of us holding this “growth mindset” actually thrive on challenges and are more likely to see a setback or mistake as an opportunity to learn. Robert Sternberg, the present-day guru of intelligence, writes that the major factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement.”

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No one knows this better than a teacher in one of our Early Elementary classrooms at UCDS where our 3, 4 and 5 year old students are joyfully engaged in serious investigation, without regard to the arbitrary adult categories of work and play. Our teachers believe that these children are capable problem solvers who thrive when given meaningful challenges. Every aspect of the classroom is designed to convey our confidence in the child, from the way we set up the space to the way we recognize a student’s hard work and perseverance. Teachers are not only covering curriculum but also, by providing the time, space, materials and support to figure things out, are teaching young children how to learn. We believe that children can learn to develop their full potential and our students don’t doubt for a moment that they will achieve it.

Sticky Curriculum

In the Early Elementary

A group of six Early Elementary students meets with a teacher eager to share a book they’ve all read at home. A boy excitedly moves his hands as he talks while kids listen intently. Later, a girl flips animatedly to a page that she marked with a sticky note at home and talks about her favorite part of the story. Their teacher quickly writes down their observations... You are witnessing Literature Circle, a core component of UCDS’s reading program through the ages.


In the Early Elementary, students are encouraged to make a personal connection with great books, regardless of their reading level. Each year’s reading list changes along with the school-wide Theme, exposing students to a diverse collection of stories from multiple cultures, times and perspectives. Meanwhile, Early Elementary students learn how to contribute their ideas and hear others’. For the Early Elementary issue of Spark, we invite you to read what follows, the story behind the story of Literature Circles.

by J e n n i f e r Va r y Rebecca Henry Susan Foley UCDS Faculty


Long after the school day has ended,

the entire Early Elementary teaching team sits waist deep in a sea of colorful picture books. Exclamations echo throughout the room, ranging from, “Oh, this is perfect!” to “Wait, have you read this yet?” to “Amazing!” Many hours past 3PM, the enthusiasm in the room remains palpable. It seems there is no place these teachers would rather be as they each take turns holding up books, reading passages aloud and passionately advocating for favorite titles. Why such passion? Today marks the beginning of the beloved tradition and dynamic process of selecting a year’s worth of Literature Circle books for our youngest students. This year’s concept study theme, QUEST, couldn’t be more fitting. As teachers contemplated the theme over the summer, the quest was certainly on to find great picture books for Literature Circles. Judging from the vast collection of books up for discussion at the first meeting, the quest was more than successful. Contained in this collection are worn old favorites from teachers’ shelves, new books discovered in bookstores and through online searches and books borrowed from well-stocked libraries. The aim is to pick 18 books that can be divided into six sub-groups, each relevant in a different way to the year’s Theme (see box at right). With so many excellent choices, the mission can seem impossible.

Selection and Rationale: What books make the cut? Experience informs this decision. We quickly learned, for example, that simple stories often lead to predictable and short discussions. Most importantly, we learned that our youngest students have more insight and sophisticated opinions about books than those simple, short texts inspire or conventional wisdom dictates. In one particularly memorable Literature Circle, children discussed the picture book, Henry Climbs a Mountain by D.B. Johnson, which is based on the day Henry David Thoreau was jailed for refusing to pay unfair taxes. Two students adamantly echoed each other’s rather literal, not quite accurate interpretation that the main character, Henry, broke out of jail and climbed a mountain. Another child listened carefully before voicing her dissenting opinion: “Well, actually, I feel that he was in jail in that part. But he just used his imagination to climb the mountain. Your imagination can take you on big adventures.” Notably, that child was the youngest student in the Early Elementary program at the time, a

child who was only beginning to make the connections between letters and sounds. Even more significantly, during Literature Circles, such a statement from such a young child is the norm, not the exception! Literature Circles allow all children, regardless of their independent reading skills, to enjoy the same books, to share their thoughts and opinions and to discuss many of the “big” ideas and questions that books can cultivate. Thus, our expectations for Literature Circles are very high. Indeed, at the Early Elementary level, Literature Circles often provide the text for our Social Studies, History and Social-Emotional curriculum. Teachers search for books that encourage complex discussion. Sometimes this discussion is fueled by disagreement as children contemplate a difficult decision faced by a character. Other discussions are enhanced by learning about a particular period in history or culture that was unknown to many students. Respect for different opinions and a value for diversity are central themes in discussions. A teacher sits in each group to encourage active listening, to model open-ended questions and to ensure individual members are treated respectfully. Over time, the children become increasingly comfortable sharing ideas and driving discussions. The experience of Early Elementary Literature Circles sets the stage for lifelong habits as children grow comfortable and confident sharing ideas and passion for great literature.

More About Selection: Clearly, the task of selecting books is an arduous, albeit ardent job, and this year has proven no exception. As proponents begin discussing how a particular book fits the year’s Theme, QUEST, many subthemes emerge. With the Presidential Election looming at the time of this meeting, “Quest to be Elected” is one subtheme under consideration. There are four books “on the table” including America Votes: How Our President is Elected by Linda Granfield and Steve Bjorkman (a non-fiction book explaining the presidential election process) and A Woman For President: The Story of Victoria Woodhull by Kathleen Krull and Jane Dyer. However, it is Grace for President by Kelly Dipucchio and Leuyen Pham that catches the attention of the group. The heroine of this book, Grace, discovers that no women have ever been president, and she decides that she will be president one day. The teacher in the book uses a school election to teach students about the electoral process, and Grace finds herself running for President. The book has many elements we look for in a Literature Circle book. Grace is a character the kids will easily relate to and care about.

Quest Theme Books

To consider the yearly theme “QUEST” from several perspectives, the Early Elementary faculty constructed six “pods” of sub-themed books for students to explore over the course of the entire school year. These eighteen books are the end result of literally hundreds of suggestions from faculty members, each carefully read, re-read and discussed by the Early Elementary team. For more ideas of how books can support a theme, including lists from other school years, visit Spark on the web:

It is about the journey not the QUESTination: Taking time to appreciate the process Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth Eggbert: The Slightly Cracked Egg by Tom Ross and Rex Barron Henry Hikes to Fitchberg by D.B. Johnson

Quest for a Dream: Setting goals to reach a dream A Band of Angels by Deborah Hopkinson and Raul Colon Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio and LeUyen Pham Moonpowder by John Rocco

Quest for Identity: Accepting what is unique about yourself Wings by Christopher Myers Boy Who Grew Flowers by Jennifer Wojtowicz and Steve Adams Max’s Words by Kate Banks and Boris Kulikov

Migratory Quest: Animals that migrate Salmon Creek by Annette LeBox and Karen Reczuch Baby Whale’s Journey by Jonathan London and Jon Van Zyle Welcome, Brown Bird by Mary Lyn Ray and Peter Sylvada

Quest to Better the World: Seeking ways to take care of the environment Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg The Flower by John Light and Lisa Evans Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Lend a Questing Hand: Getting help on your quest The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger The Eagle and the Wren by Jane Goodall and Alexander Reichstein Jane and the Dragon by Martin Baynton

Continued >



The inclusion of historical facts about elections in our country makes this a strong contender for this year’s Literature Circles. The Election subtheme, however, is losing steam as proposals are made to move Grace for President to other subtheme groups. The book would make a wonderful addition to the Dream Quest or Lending a QUESTing hand sub-themes. As the meeting draws to an end, the process is far from complete. Notes taken during the meeting and the books under consideration are stored in the faculty room. Armed with information from this discussion, the quest continues as teachers keep gathering books that complement each other and add depth to the subthemes. Over the next few weeks, more books are added to the collection. Shameless lobbying occurs as books are highlighted and discussed in lunch meetings between bites of sandwiches. Zealous notes in favor of one book over another are left on the staff table, generating enthusiasm for favorite authors or subthemes. Grace continues to remain a strong favorite as we discuss and debate the characters and books over lunch and after school.


The character of Grace in Grace for President is reminiscent of another Grace from a series of books used twelve years ago at UCDS. The book Amazing Grace, by Alice Hoffman, was included in the collection of books that inspired Early Elementary Literature Circles as we know them today. At the time, UCDS teachers were providing kids with many opportunities to discuss literature. The first floor of our elementary building housed two classes of K-1 students and four classes of 1-2 grade students. In the K-1 classes, like all classes, there were a wide range of readers, from children who were still solidifying letter sounds to the readers devouring Magic Tree House books as fast as Ms. Pope could write them. In addition to having each child read and discuss books at an individualized reading level, teachers were interested in providing kids with the opportunity to discuss literature with a group of kids that was not solely based on reading level. As the entire class gathered to listen to the latest Read Aloud story, it was apparent that inspired conversation and clever insights were not the exclusive property of the strong readers; beginning readers had much to share! In the spirit of UCDS, it was important that kids with big ideas have an opportunity to shine regardless of individual reading levels. In the upper grades, chapter books were assigned as homework to serve many purposes, from building decoding


and comprehension skills to complimenting Theme-related studies in science, social studies or literature to introducing a variety of cultures. The teachers in the K-1 classes were inspired by this practice of sending home required reading as a way of easing their kids into the world of HOMEWORK! After trying a few different methods, they settled on having 5 or 6 kids meet together to discuss a story that was read to them at home. The requirement that an adult read the assigned book was an important one as it helped shift the focus of the assignment from a reading activity to a discussion activity. Because the story was read aloud, all students were coming to class with a level playing field in terms of reading ability. Also, because the story was read by someone else, discussions were beginning at home. By the time kids met with their groups, they already had important practice thinking about the book and explaining their ideas. The project was going so well that the teachers decided to use it to address an important issue that had come up in class. Circle times and play times were increasingly dominated by a strikingly vocal and assertive group of boys. The teachers were looking for ways to encourage some of the quietest girls to speak up for their own ideas. They carefully collected books that they hoped would serve the girls’ needs. Dubbing the collection, The Brave Girl Series, the teachers had the kids rotate through the books. The series included Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, Brave Irene by William Steig, Eleanor by Barbara Cooney, Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs and Flossy and the Fox by Patricia McKissack and Rachel Isadora. In addition to discussions about the books, each had a variety of projects (art, drama, writing, etc) to go with it. Girls were inspired enough by such characters as Amazing Grace to insist, “A girl can be Spider Man if she wants to!” The discussions were so successful that teachers of the youngest students (PreK-K) decided to try it the next year. Using the theme Balance, the teachers collected piles and piles of rich picture books. As the books were shared, subthemes began to unfold. It was clear a new UCDS tradition was emerging. It is a tradition that continues to grow and evolve, and with it, our understanding of young children’s keen ability to connect with books continues to grow and evolve. Twelve years after the Brave Girl Series, a new group of children head home with books that support the new passions, needs and themes. With enthusiasm, students race home eager to read with a grown-up. The stage is now set for kid-driven discussions, brave conversations and exciting discoveries. s

Literature Circles are a weekly event in the Early Elementary. Each week, students take a new Literature Circle book home and read it several times with a parent.

Students are encouraged to record their favorite passages, pages and observations on sticky notes, which they share with peers back at school. Conversations are exciting and unpredictable! Each week’s meeting is culminated with an artistic exploration that can take many forms.


People Who Inspire Us

SPARK: What brought you together as educators and how did you find this partnership between the two of you?

In the spring of 2006, a small team of UCDS teachers crossed the Atlantic to spend a week experiencing the Reggio Emilia approach first hand in the Italian city of Pistoia. They were led through several schools in this small town in Northern Italy by Smith College’s dynamic duo of Reggio experts: Lella Gandini and Susan Etheredge. Regaling their colleagues with stories of their experience, the UCDS cohort encouraged the school to invite Lella and Susan to spend a few days at UCDS last winter. What follows are excerpts from a lunch conversation between several UCDS faculty and our acclaimed Italian ambassadors during their visit here:

Lella Gandini: I was teaching Italian at Smith and Susan was a student there so she took the Italian class. She was my student! She already was very good but she wanted to practice, so I asked her to come babysit for my two sons who were, at that point, five and nine. Susan would practice with them, and they would play difficult games with her. Susan Etheredge: They were great teachers! And they’re both now college professors themselves. It was a long time ago, but I remember how we would play Mastermind. Both of Lella’s sons are very gifted thinkers, very deep. They would tutor me with the Italian language, but at the same time, they were teaching me logic through the game of Mastermind. When I reflect back on it now, it was one of my first experiences in considering young children as philosophical thinkers. They were both philosophers - at ages five and nine!

the very young children. I took it upon myself to become a sort-of ambassador, as we say in Italy, “ambassador without billfold.” My first article was in 1984, and the exhibit from Reggio Emilia was soon after. I was writing articles in an Italian magazine for teachers, with names that you know, like Howard Gardner. He became very interested, so he accompanied me to see the schools. The programs in Pistoia continue to thrive, but have you seen changes in how they’re presented to the rest of the world? SE: My first trip to Reggio was with the Banks Street College delegation in 1992. LG: Back then, the trips were very relaxed, say 15 or 16 people at a time, but there are much bigger delegations now. People could take photographs and it was very relaxed, but now it’s hundreds and hundreds. Continued >

LG: And then, you see, Susan went to Italy for her junior year.


is Associate Professor of Education and Child Study and Director of First Year Seminars at Smith College. She is coauthor of Introducing Students to Scientific Inquiry: How Do We Know What We Know? and co-editor (with Lella Gandini) of Insights and Inspirations from Reggio Emilia. Susan works with teachers in public and independent schools in areas related to professional development and teacher education, served as president of the New England Educational Research Organization, and co-directs the Coral Reef Ed-Ventures Program for children in San Pedro, Belize. During the 2007-08 academic year, she spent a sabbatical year observing and studying the early childhood schools in Pistoia, Italy.



is a Lesley University Visiting Scholar in 2007-09 and is the United States Liaison for the Dissemination of the Reggio Emilia Approach and Associate Editor of Innovations in Early Education: The International Reggio Exchange. She is co-editor and co-author of The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education; Beautiful Stuff: Learning with Found Materials; Bambini: The Italian Approach to Infant/toddler Care and Insights and Inspirations from Reggio Emilia. Lella has published on parenting, children’s fears, and the use and text of traditional nursery rhymes in Italy. She is the author of several books in Italian for children, as well as books about parenting and early education in Italy, where she has been a frequent contributor to the magazine for teachers, Bambini.

SE: I had Lella for my Italian elementary language course my first year at Smith. I had studied French all the way though my education, but I was eager to learn Italian, mostly because of my Italian heritage. And, I loved the language. I went junior year abroad to Smith’s program in Florence where we now have students who intern in the schools in Pistoia, a program that Lella started 15 years ago at Smith which I now have the pleasure of co-directing with a colleague in the Italian department. When I discovered Reggio, it was the year that Lella had brought the exhibit to the University of Massachusetts. I went to see the exhibit and cried tears of joy all day long because I realized that I had just found this professional and personal nexus: a merging of my undergraduate academic study of Italian language and literature with my professional work as a teacher who was very much focused on children’s thinking and learning. And here was this amazing opportunity to learn more about it and get back to Italy; so that’s how my exploration of Reggio-inspired practices began. LG: When I came to the United States, I had been reading child development research, and I realized that all the research that had been done in the States did not correspond to good places for young children. In ’7273, there were very few good places for young children: most were in basements of churches, marginal places. I was astounded that a country so rich and so rich also in research about child development, could invest so little in

UCDS parent, John Neilson loved ideas; those he found in literature and those he gained through a deep appreciation of world culture, math, science, art, music, philosophy, and physical excellence. In 1999, at the age of thirty-eight, John lost a hard fought battle against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In honor of John’s life, The Neilson Endowment Fund was created. Through the Teacher Education Center at UCDS, we use this endowment to create and share programs that offer children access to big ideas. John was an inspiration to us in life and we dedicate this, ‘People Who Inspire Us’ section to him.


SE: In ‘92 I traveled in not that small of delegation. They invited us to take photographs and even to talk to children and teachers; it was quite a privilege. At the time, I remember thinking that it felt a little intrusive to be taking photographs of children. As much as I wanted to snap that camera. it didn’t feel quite right to walk into a classroom and shoot pictures of children and teachers without knowing very much about the place and the space. Eventually Reggio developed a wonderful documentation of slides of their schools that one could purchase, once it was no longer possible for delegations to take photographs.

SE: And listen hard while those conversations are happening! Because that’s where you can be most valuable as a teacher, constructing that next step.

The first night that we were in Pistoia, we went to what was essentially the superintendent’s office, where people go to enroll their children in the schools. I remember walking through and discovering, in an administrative office, these elaborate spaces for imaginative play. I think they had things like Goldilocks - even three sizes of beds. It was incredible! Kids go on field trips to the central office of early childhood LG: Nowadays there are many more videos and education in Pistoia! It’s so encompassing of books. the whole philosophy of embracing the It was a whole children everywhere in the community, SE: I started reading everything that I the family. Are there any other cities way of thinking about could get my hands on because the that have impressed you? children: learning as metaphor, Reggio approach spoke so deeply the language of learning to everything that I believed in. LG: There are many cities that have It was a whole way of thinking good programs, but the style is and the way they talk about it about children: using metaphor different in each place. philosophically. It opened all kinds in teaching and learning, using a language of learning with children. SE: Our colleagues in Pistoia travel of possibilities for me in my own It is a very philosophical approach. to different cities in Italy as well as classroom work with children. Studying the Reggio approach opened throughout the European Union to up all kinds of possibilities for me in my talk about their work. There’s a very own classroom work with children. high level of awareness around early Then, as I made the transition to teaching childhood education in the EU. When I college age students, my practice changed and it gave a presentation about my first research continues to change, inspired by the philosophy in Reggio experience in Pistoia this fall, the director of services and Pistoia. I always thought of myself as a constructivist said there would be, at my presentation, a television crew teacher -- not someone who takes out the lecture script from France, commissioned by the French Senate to do a and reads from it verbatim. However, Reggio inspired me film on high quality early childhood programs throughout to think a lot more about the importance of relationship the EU. Our Pistoian colleagues were very proud that in learning and teaching -- reciprocal learning, really -Pistoia was one of the first to be profiled in this series, and ways to trust my students differently. As long as I was particularly showing a visiting scholar from the US coming giving them good material to read and ponder and making to understand it all. space in the classroom for deep reflection and discussion, I could trust that together we would construct meaningful LG: There is an International group that has partnered with understandings. I didn’t always need to be scaffolding so Reggio, representing all of the European States that invest a closely and intensely that next step. lot in each child. I’ve experienced a similar thing and I parallel that in my mind with beginning teaching. Beginning teachers worry a lot about– SE: Classroom management? Right! How to control the room. But you learn to worry less about classroom management and that you have to have enough to say and enough to do, and you move into the role of giving them provocations and standing back. It seems that there’s such a parallel between what’s happening with 3 and 4 year olds and what’s happening with graduate students. You enrich the environment, encourage free communication and collaboration, then in many ways stand back and just encourage great conversations to happen.


Can you talk about how the early childhood philosophy that you bring is very different than the elementary schools in Italy. Are you seeing over the years more and more of this child-centered or constructivist philosophy in the elementary schools? LG: In a way the elementary schools in Italy are less strictly academic. They do have a curriculum, but there are no grades. There was an evolution there: a few things happened. One, for sure, is the dialogue with the early childhood education system. Also, programs in Pistoia that are organized as extra curricular activities are there for elementary as well. It’s the same philosophy. There is experimentation with levels of documentation at the elementary level as well, but it’s not as easy to document in this setting. It’s impossible to ignore what’s happening in the younger ages. The programs are driven from below, rather than from above.

SE: I think early elementary teachers in the US adopt the Reggio approach more readily than the middle and upper elementary grades do. But when you think about it and when you strip away the layers, it’s fundamentally a philosophy of inquiry-based learning and engaged discourse communities. There’s an emphasis on thinking about thinking, documenting one’s learning, using a portfolio approach. We actually saw lots of evidence of those principles here at UCDS. For example, you’ve thought about your Continua as being fluid and organic but also being very helpful as a framework not only for teachers’ thinking, but for understanding individual children’s learning as well. When people come into our school from other schools to talk about a particular curriculum, what they nearly always want to talk about instead is the way that we were working together as a faculty. Do you find that people want to know more about the Reggio curriculum itself or more about the working model? SE: There was a delegation recently in Pistoia from Scotland and Great Britain interested in understanding better how our Pistoian colleagues construct and sustain a creative environment for working and learning together. They wanted to know more about how the teachers collaborate there. Certainly our teachers in the Smith College lab schools ask that question a lot too: how does the structure allow time for teachers to have deep collaboration? Time is of course always an issue. How do you find time to document the process and use it as a tool for learning? When our group went to Pistoia, there was, for some, a disbelief at first that it was possible, even the attention to aesthetics at the school, that the children would not only respect the aesthetics but that they’d actually help build it! It feels very different to some people looking in. SE: I’ve learned not to talk about this work in a comparative way. For example, in the past, although I didn’t intentionally mean to set up a comparison between these programs in Italy and what we do here in the States, when I would talk to American colleagues or heads of schools, I would hear variations on “this makes me feel bad” or “we can’t do that here.” But of course, that’s not the intent! The intent is to think about possibilities: How do these innovative Italian approaches inspire you to think differently about your teaching beliefs and practices? I find that I’m more explicit now when I talk about the Italian approaches: I emphasize that this is not about comparing the nitty gritty, the “nuts and bolts,” but rather, it’s about thinking about possibility and potential in our classrooms and schools. LG: It’s interesting to watch teachers who have tried this approach. Instead of filling children’s heads with information, try instead to listen to them and construct knowledge with them. Teachers say to me “we cannot go back to the way we were teaching before.” It is really possible to change. s

Teachers and students in Pistoia’s Early Elementary schools put tremendous emphasis on artistic expression, from displaying thought-provoking materials (top) to the creation process itself (middle) to formal display and documentation (bottom).


tion a M R O F n i g Flyin (September)

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udents l, Labyrinth st o o h sc f o k t wee factoryf natural and During the firs o y et ri va a h munal space, bags wit ptied in a com es, ribbon, filled grocery em e er w s s. As bag eave branch made object l groups to w al sm a discarded in ed rk the rungs of gh children wo u ro th es , students and leav e intertwined er w pipe cleaners p ar w d efore sealing e weft an of the nest. B e d chair. Once th r si in gs eg dents wrote o r-mache the nest, stu to placed papie in e. d si em in th it g d placin up and tucked their eggs an tyear, rolled it e th r fo week of “nes al go and our first e dictated a em ild u th B ew ’s n et n of our ng entitled “L In celebratio w wrote a so re ising” D ra l, to o es h “n sc r er at ou th building” at ge to ngs. g n so ng the okie sing-alo a Nest”. We sa umber of our Milk and Co song e em t th dan life and a grea th ceremony an in yr ool. b h La sc r ly afte by dai ly by a teacher re While inspired ti en en tt ri it was w for the year,

So ng

T he Y e

Creative Fusion



An October trip to the pumpkin patch and the mountains led Early Elementary students to set their experiences to music.


In the Early Elementary, our yearlong theme drives more than just curricula. It encourages us to

investigate deeper connections between ideas and disciplines. In the fall of 2006, brainstorming ideas for that year’s theme (FORM), Music Specialist Matt and Early Elementary classroom teacher Drew contemplated a bold collaboration. Both musicians outside of school, they wanted to give Early Elementary students the opportunity to FORM original songs and perform them at monthly sing-along events. The following is a chronicle of their year-long collaboration in music, a journey of creativity and discovery in UCDS’s Labyrinth.


(Dece ! e z a D w o n S

eter g success “P n ti ri w g n so r ous iousness fo ur spontane yrinth consc b Buoyed by o La h it e w th d d e re e tt kin”, we min uary were li Peter Pump ber and Jan m ce nt of school e u D o . m g a in ir th fa ig a b d xt se e aze. the n We mis snow day cr a ow and ice! in sn p , e d e in d w e , rain ere kne uestion we bvious we w ?” was the q w o sn and it was o f o t u u FORM o . riting group “What can yo and cond songw se s by drawing e st li th e d to a d m ts n pose ate e e d cr u d st airs, as an to share ide Working in p r e re th e e g w to e nd, w came back ay”. In the e D w t o writing. We rs n fi “S e g th r the son e had in e a structure fo the student spark that w m so in it of esire to work ormances, missing a b d with our d le erf p p u g n co ri t, u a d group and th ids and audience to do r it took to ek ed the longe m e actions for th se rs) lost It . n w ng do d the teache so n e (a th s d id e k h e ig we more th ng out, the work the so . n for the tu e two: enthusiasm n o ber e and … Lessons num e kids… and ! 1. Listen to th s a sled ride a n fu d n a st fa s 2. Make it a

Early Elementary students created an elaborate hanging nest and filled it with personal goal papier-mache eggs: inspiration for music!

Transformation in Action (October)

Wanting to shar e with the studen so important to ts the creative pr us as musicians ocess that is , we discussed Labyrinth songw how we could ta riting to the next ke level. With five (our traditional “Milk and Cook afternoon family ies” sing-along even throughout the t) scheduled year and with fiv e Early Elementa realized we coul ry classes, we qu d give each clas ickly s an opportunity juices flow and to let their creativ shine. While in e th e past each clas favorite pre-reco s would select a rded song to sh ar e at Milk and Co classes to form okies, we wante their own songs d and perform them family. live for friends an d We immediately set about craftin together. Landin g ideas to tie th g on “Songs of e year in song Transformation” with classes, we as a guide for w generated a list orking of possible song Butterfly”. titles like “Bobby the In what would be co m e th e re al theme of the kids,” our plans year, “listening were quickly toss to the ed aside! While teachers to try ou we were excited r ideas and tech as niques, the first on the way to m group of songw usic class no le rit ers, ss , began chatting pumpkins. They and singing abou were doing wha t t they always do, enough to be pa and we were luck ying attention! O y f course it was pu wanted to sing mpkins they real about, they wer ly e m ere days away fro trip to The Farm m their annual ! With a bit of m us ic al inspiration fro “Peter Peter Pum m a student, pkin I love you!” and the structur pumpkin to guid e of a transform e the lyrics, a so ing ng was born!

Tubing at a nearby snowpark excited students and inspired “Snow Day,” another step in the artistic journey of songwriting. Continued >


tawney u s x n u P r o f Props (February) uled for ong was sched them for al g n si e ki o Co create an an ext Milk and opportunity to ed that the n en an p s picture of a is ap h m so to t It just udents with a not abou st e e d er te w n e se w re d We p feeling on th ay, an ed holiday. Phil might be Groundhog D at ci ey r n re ei w p th ta ap u h er it xs d w Pun d un ized d asked what ents empath this bizarre an d an u g s st o , n h o d gs ti n n o u ti o ri w sive gr This swirl of em is drawings and cute but pen ” “Nervous.” ay. Through y! d p ig ap b nveyed h is “H h f .” o d “Scare in which he co morning !” e ed gu it lo xc o n “E o : m hero rt of musical subterranean d fueled a so an e lif w Day,” we ility. to il h P hy with “Sno ch responsib brought ap su gr g o n re yi o rr ch ca t in l drawings own abou ng bogged d unted colorfu ambivalence o ei b m f o ts en ce d n ie tu S er e . After the exp ents during th for this effort certain mom try out props play at d ld p u ea u o st d w in f el h al to h e e other could b decided h th ic h ile h w , w , ks ld ic s o cces in to h on st ach was a su and cut-outs half the class ro r p fo ap gh is u o Th en , the song were locks. to remember song. There s and sand b ts et en an d st u st ca r fo as dazzling ard such puppetry and verses were h instruments e p th ro p l gh u ca o ri Th te ce. se chorus, hys the performan ll and respon ca e ifying no th y b n ve er flower—sign was dri ap p t an gi ’ a s. — d ‘solo igh, at the en instrumental herned, raised h ai m re p ro us! or to new teac p r o e d fo e g On n th ri ed sp y en rl op hil and an ea eate “Service collaboration shadow for P e students cr our ongoing f ad o t gr h en ft fi lm ’ al S d then UCD This inst l. Each year, ol program an el o w h sc as e s n th o ti in bora rilled to have r need student colla it. We were th fy a particula ss ti w re en d id ad to to s” ergy ject ect about ho d creative en Learning Pro cess and refl an ro p e g m ti in ld te u fo n ib u ntr ill join in the st proactively co ade student gr h ft fi id ep an intr en better! to make it ev

Chickens on our Minds (April)

May and Bob, two chickens raised from eggs in the Labyrinth’s Discovery Area inspired one class to write “Chickens on My Mind.”

Labyrinth’s Greatest Hits (June)

Flip Flop and You Do n’t Stop (March)

After raising salmon and releasing them into the wild, Early Elementary students wrote “What Does a Coho Know?”


The subject-matter th at needed to be addr essed in this edition Cookies could not ha of Milk and ve been more clear: A fish tank had been communal area of th placed in the e Early Elementary fu ll of coho salmon eg salmon coming out gs—students had their ears and a song was waiting to hatch wealth of knowledge ! Students were a on the different stage s in a salmon’s life, right into creating ar and we jumped tistic representation s of these stages. So out of two we already after our first class had fantastic props of redds, alevins, fry no song yet and no s and smolts…but real inspiration for on e either. Students wo “what are we going uld routinely ask to do for our song?” The response was th certainly hatch at ou at something would r next meeting. Well, the salmon really hit next meeting was ca the pan when that nceled! Matt was fac ed with a seemingly im the brief few days be possible task. In fore the Milk and Co okies performance a presented that would song needed to be “catch” the student s interest and give th sense of ownership. em at least some Thoughts drifted to the catchiest music around: Hip-Hop. No Hop?...In an element wait…Hipary school?...Why no t? Thus “How does to go-oo-woah” was a Coho know where born, and did that ‘ho ok’ ever catch on qu was no time for memo ickly! Since there rization, Matt utilized the call and respons the verses and hand e technique for ed out ‘F” boomwack ers and one fish-shap to lay the groove alo ed tambourine ng with a djembe dr um. The song was a could be heard singin hit, and students g it in the halls for th e rest of the year!

Hatching a ta nk full of sa an incubato lmon wasn’t r full of chic enough for ken eggs ap one year! Su to say, stud peared in th ddenly ents quickly e Discovery became obse success of su A re a . ss N eedless ed with feath ch ered fowl. A turn it over to a surprising genre choic fter the e the month students to before, we d pick what kin answer cam ecided to d of song w e back a reso e were goin unding “Jazz and chicken g to !” create. The s made Matt Somehow th think of Cub e combinati on the pian a, and after on of Jazz o, the stude playing a ca nts were inst So this time tchy montun antly sold. we found ou o else—there r musical acc just isn’t an o m p a n iment before y kind of form Each Early E anything ula for this p lementary cl rocess, is th White Chick a ss was divided e re!? ens, (based into Dog Ch on students earlier in th ickens and Fl ’ description e year), and uffy s of pictures we were fasc there could they had se inated with be a Dog Ch en th is idea of Do icken, why co drew cartoo g Chickens. uldn’t there ns of these If be a Monke absurdist bir with the ide y Chicken? W ds on the w a. Soon we e h it eboard, and had Square and Snake C Chickens, Fi students ran hickens, an sh Chickens, d the possib lyrics loose Shovel Chic ilities seem with guiros, kens ed endless! a good deal appearance We let these of “bock bo by a mystery ck bocking” an adult in a ch Early Eleme d even a gu icken costum ntary had “C est e. Soon, eve hickens on their Minds! ryone in the ”

Early Elementary students performed their songs in “Milk and Cookies” community singalongs.

iting process, classes recorded To culminate this year-long songwr an th’s Greatest Hits’ CD. We also held their songs and produced a ‘Labyrin gs son the where each class got to perform accompanying ‘CD release’ concert ting crea rly proud of all of their work in they had written. Students were clea music. sion to see them so invested in the the songs, and it was a joyous occa and t away from this process. Firs There is so much that we can take our d of the importance of listening to foremost, we’re constantly reminde result a as e from their inspiration, and students! The biggest successes cam the is to their experience at school. This these songs have become relevant ter mat ally authentic songwriting, no process that leads to great, emotion ed the many stages of the process prov what the age. Involving students in their ter grea ent was in the process, the invaluable: The greater their involvem uct. investment became in the final prod down as a teacher. There are no preture ven to road ting exci an This is gs are a and no certainty about where thin written formulas, no static curricul the e makes it so exhilarating! You hav headed, and this is precisely what right n think outside of the box and lear opportunity to take risks, have fun, true collaboration, ideas multiply and alongside the students. Working in and And in the end, you realize that you enthusiasm spreads exponentially. s ack for the school year! the students have created a soundtr


What Works

Building Spaces From the Ground Up by Melissa Chittenden UCDS Assistant Head of School

Creating Intentional Spaces How to Involve the Whole School Community in the Realization of Space To create exciting, inspiring and functioning spaces in our Early Elementary classrooms, it takes a commitment from both our faculty members and the school administration. What follows is a point-counterpoint discussion of the many facets of creating child-centered, creative places in our school. Melissa Chittenden, UCDS’ Assistant Head of School and Early Elementary Division Head, emphasizes the importance of building structures for success at the administrative level. Then, Ellen Cottrell, Early Elementary Faculty member, considers the importance of intentional space from a faculty member’s perspective.

Above: The Labyrinth building’s Discovery Area was designed to be an extremely malleable space where longer term discoveries can unfold over time. The explorations that unfold require administrative and faculty support, from the planning phase all the way to clean up.


Form follows function at UCDS. Whether we’re talking about schedules, events or space configuration, all our discussions center around this initial question: what do we want the experience to be? As you can imagine, the answer to that question also depends on who is responding—teachers, administrators, parents or students. Remarkably, at the essence of each response is the same goal: to nurture and expand students’ perspectives and understandings. This shared perspective is an important hallmark of our work together as a community. We have come to realize that when planning our spaces, intentional collaboration between the faculty and administration members yields meaningful learning while strengthening overall program continuity throughout the school. Every school and classroom around the country has an existing footprint or floor plan in which teachers begin the school year. Like all teachers, UCDS faculty return to classrooms each fall, ready to re-organize materials, add welcoming color and possibly reconfigure their classroom furnishings and spaces. While UCDS teachers certainly have autonomy to organize their classrooms as they like, there is an additional element they consider—the other classrooms and common areas within their teaching level. For example, recently the teachers in our Early Elementary level (preschool through Kindergarten) returned to work and began discussing the current year’s all-school concept study of Layers. As they worked together building the curricula for that theme, they also planned intentional spaces where these experiences could occur. “What do we want the experience to be for the students? Do we want students traveling between classrooms

regularly and why? Do we want students to be able to build “layers” on existing structures and creations for extended periods and why? If so, does each classroom need the same kinds of activities and materials? For example, does every classroom need to have a block-building area or can we combine our resources and define a larger space for building that can remain “in use” for weeks at a time? If we do this, what large spaces could we use and how might this influence our classroom space and programmatic elements?” Teaching teams at UCDS have the freedom to create and recreate classroom and community spaces based on what experiences they want for their students. Collaborating with administrators by sharing design-use plans allows all school departments to schedule events in a way that supports dynamic use of space. Additionally, by sharing these happenings with teachers at different teaching levels, everyone in the school is apprised of the educational planning in the Early Elementary level, thus strengthening our overall programmatic knowledge and continuity. This collaboration played out in an Early Elementary exploration into volcanoes. Faculty incorporated this student interest into the All-School Theme of Layers by developing core subject area curricula around this topic. They also discussed ways for students to experience through many modalities the various layers of the earth found within a volcano. Looking at all the physical spaces around them, they noted a spot in the school that is, in essence, a twostory cone. This space was part of a hallway and, thus, had a high volume of foot traffic each day. Several weeks worth of meetings were spent generating ideas and problem-solving possible difficulties. Faculty began talking about how they could seal that space off from foot traffic as well as transform it to look like a volcano. Once they generated scenarios to solve those issues, the design and construction phase began to create the layers of earth inside and the brown, textured crust on the outside. At the same time, they investigated ways for each student to ascend this twenty-foot volcano, so as to simulate the journey of igneous rock from the magma chamber, through the conduit and out through the vent. Simultaneously, teachers shared these ideas with me. I, in turn, worked as the liaison between teachers and the administrative team to bring this plan to fruition. The facilities department became involved regarding the structural use of that space and making adaptations, such as attaching pulleys to make ascending possible. The communications department worked on parent notification, permissions and detour routes for the foot traffic. The Admission department Continued >


worked on their visit schedules and tour routes, and per legal council, the teachers hired professional climbing instructors to facilitate this activity. All this community excitement and meaningful learning happened by transforming a ‘hallway” into a magical and educational volcano, complete with sound effects, red heat lamps and an array of igneous rocks. The students continue to talk about this experience and easily recall the specific point to which they ascended.

Including the student voice in space planning:

As illustrated, collaborating with administrators and colleagues is valuable when constructing experiences for children. Yet, equally elemental to space design are the children and their ownership in the process. The ultimate goal is to provide the best possible experience for children—to help guide and nurture their understanding of the world around them in ways that facilitate explorations and let them “try on” roles and discover the expected in a novel way. At UCDS, communal space is seen through a lens of continual renewal. There are a myriad of community spaces dedicated to bringing the students together for in-depth explorations. This philosophy is not limited to the communal spaces within the school. Such as with the aforementioned volcano, as well as many, large-scale, long-term investigations, there are spaces dedicated to bringing the community together for in-depth exploration. Flexible space is planned into classroom layout as well, providing students with further opportunities for shaping their own experiences. One classroom houses a small teacher-constructed platform that creates a stage for both improvisational shows and student-organized productions; it also doubles as a book nook. Another classroom’s “dress-up” area contains large cardboard boxes and panels that easily transform into houses, castles and whatever student imaginations allow. In Ellen and Annie’s Early Elementary classroom, a large area is dedicated to kid-inspired space that changes continually throughout the year. For instance, during the theme year of Layers, this creative area started as what many would consider a typical “house” set up, with utensils and supplies purchased at Goodwill. It soon transformed into a restaurant, and later again became a space shuttle, humane society with veterinary clinic, performance venue, salmon hatchery and river and finally a technology shop. With each transformation, students were the driving force behind the generation of ideas, planning and creation. Meanwhile, some behind-the-scenes work at the administrative level helped this creative process continue. s


Tuning in to what kids are talking about (Integrating students’ ideas, energy and ownership into the transformation of a space) by Ellen Cottrell UCDS Faculty

Kids’ conversations are rich with information—their lives, their interests and importantly, their social and cognitive development. Sitting unobtrusively on the outskirts of a game or listening in on the conversations of imaginary play, our classroom’s teachers use laptops, small voice recorders or paper and pencil to keep running records of children’s conversations. Reviewing a collection of these together later on helps to reveal themes and opportunities for exploration. At the playdough table: “Last night, me and my family had a pizza party for my dad’s birthday.” “I love cheese pizza!” “My family always goes to Zeek’s [Pizza] because we can walk there.” “I’m making pizza with pepperoni on top…do you want some?” [Pretends to take a big bite] “YUMMY!” This particular exchange, when compiled with other students’ interactions at other points in the week revealed an interest in restaurants, both from the customers’ and proprietors’ points of view. With this information, our next step was to take these observations back to the children, sharing with them both the dialogue and themes we noticed. The idea soon emerged from the students of converting our “house” space into a restaurant. We facilitated this conversation by posing questions…If we turn this space into a restaurant, what kinds of things would we need? How could we get them? Are there things in our classroom that we could use? The conversation was electric, with a brainstorm of everything from cooking supplies to a cash register to pizza and pasta ingredients. Many students offered to bring things from home, including one who was excited to ask his mom if

he could borrow her chef hat. Many of the materials we used were recycled—either donated from families or gathered from the recycling bin at the end of the day. Kids signed up for committees to make the things that we needed: one to craft and laminate menus; another to make aprons using two donated white sheets, scissors and staplers; another to cut paper into rectangles and staple them together into pads for the wait staff to write down orders; and a last group to gather classroom supplies and to design and layout the restaurant. We worked over the course of one week to bring our restaurant to fruition, with a grand opening at an all-Early Elementary investigation. Students from other classes became the customers and students in our class tried to negotiate how to work with others to operate the restaurant smoothly. The restaurant was a popular choice for nearly a month, with everyone getting to try out different roles within the space—customer, wait staff, chef, hostess, cashier, bus person, coat check. Over the course of our time with the restaurant, two things happened. Our students became fluent in how to work with others and share responsibility for creating a common good (in this case, how to serve their customers and keep them coming back for more). They also felt the power of ownership over their experience, that is, how to generate an idea, plan and follow all the steps to get there and revel in its fulfillment. After the restaurant had run its course, one student shared during a group meeting that she was reading Midnight on the Moon with her mom and “wouldn’t it be fun if we built a space ship in our classroom?” “Yeah,” agreed another, “’cause we always like building space ships with Legos, and it’s something really interesting to us. We should build one so we can learn more about them!” So began our foray into creating a space shuttle, this time, with students at the controls of what, why and how to get there. By the end of the year, our kids’ ideas launched nearly a dozen inspired transformations of a space that at one time merely housed cubbies. As we listened more closely to our students’ ideas, we began to look at all of our classroom spaces with a new perspective. The teachers at our level talked to each other, and we collectively asked ourselves, “what do we want our students to experience?” Once we agreed that our kids’ creative ownership really was one of our core values as teachers and as a level, we put a floor-wide emphasis on these kinds of creative spaces. Then, when we let the administration know our plans, they immediately got involved in the process, supporting our plans. Once again, the form in our school followed the function. When teachers voiced their passionate ideas, the administration supported our year of kid-driven discovery. s

At right: a classroom space once used to house cubbies becomes a dynamic canvas for community-driven ideas. At various points in the year, this corner of the room was a dining room (top), a restaurant (middle) and a theater (bottom). New student-driven ideas lead to contant renewal.



Spark Plugs

UCDS Programs Alison Gopnik, Ph. D. Andrew N. Meltzoff, Ph. D. Patricia K. Kuhl, Ph. D. The Scientist in the Crib

Lella Gandini In the Spirit of the Studio Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia

Beautiful Stuff

What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind


The UCDS Studio Program Drawing from the most current scientific research on early learning and brain development and inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, the UCDS Studio program celebrates each child as unique, competent and ready to learn. The Studio provides a stimulating, secure environment for children to explore, question, discover and create. The arts are integrated as tools for cognitive, linguistic and social development and expression as children build understanding, make connections and foster relationships.

Space available for infants and toddlers! Contact for more information.


Learning with Found Materials Lella Gandini, the self proclaimed “ambassador without pocketbook” of the Reggio Emilia method found in Pistoia, is widely published. For this issue of Spark, we’ve selected two of her recent books that emphasize the tremendous attention to detailed aesthetics that members of our faculty found in their trip abroad. In the Spirit of the Studio concerns the connection between studio-based exploration and learning. Beautiful Stuff emphasizes balance between child-driven exploration and teacher-driven choices in such an environment. Both have been popular selections in our Teacher Education Center.

The Scientist in the Crib’s three authors were guests of the UCDS Teacher Education Center during the 2007-2008 school year. They presented to faculty, staff, parents and the larger community about their groundbreaking research in the area of early cognition. The guiding metaphor is the similarity between scientists’ carefully postulated, tested and refined theories and infant and toddlers’ careful study of their surrounding world. One is left with an accessible and stunningly inspirational handbook for early brain development. Head of School Paula Smith references this book in this issue’s opening letter.

Carol S. Dweck, Ph. D. Mindset The New Psychology of Success Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck discusses the difference between fixed and growth mindsets. With a growth mindset, she argues, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. This principal is teachable to all ages of thinkers, from Early Elementary students to their grandparents. UCDS Head of School Paula Smith references Mindset in her opening letter.

Susan Etheredge Insights and Inspirations from Reggio Emilia Introducing Students to Scientific Inquiry (How Do We Know What We Know?) In addition to her close collaborations with Lella Gandini, Susan Etheredge taught several current UCDS faculty members when they studied at Smith College’s School of Education. Her book Introducing Students to Scientific Inquiry presents year-by-year suggestions for building an Elementary-based science curriculum. The forthcoming Insights and Inspirations from Reggio Emilia, co-edited with Lella Gandini, captures and celebrates 30 years of the Reggio Emilia innovative presence and inspiration in North American early childhood educational thought and practice. Release is set for March, 2009.


UCDS Board of Trustees Officers Eric Fahlman, Chair Bill Nicholson, Vice Chair Janet Donelson, Treasurer Nan Garrison, Secretary Members at Large David Bolin Eric Sanderson Greg Headrick Julie Petersen-Dunnington Julie West Prentice Kate Marks Kelly Webster Michelle Goldberg Peggy Rinne Perry Atkins Roger Page Ex-Officio Members Mike Riley Joelle Harrison Paula Smith University Child Development School 5062 9th Ave NE Seattle, WA 98105 206-547-UCDS (8237) Fax 206-547-3615

The UCDS Mission University Child Development School is centered around the lives of children and is dedicated to the development of their intellect and character. We actively encourage, and the school everywhere reflects, the process of joyful discovery that is central to meaningful and responsible learning. Teaching is individualized and responsive to the talents of each student, and the curriculum is rigorous and integrates the concepts and skills embedded within the major disciplines. Our students are chosen for their promise of intellect and character and are selected from a cross-section of the community. Our faculty members are leaders in their fields, supported in advancing their studies and encouraged to share their knowledge widely. In pursuit of these ideals, and in recognition of obligations beyond the school itself, we strive to be an innovative leader in education, serving as a model for others.

University Child Development School


Spark #6, Winter 2009  
Spark #6, Winter 2009  

Literature Circles at University Child Development School