Dodson Teaches Importance of Movement with Learning

NISOD Excellence Award recipient and College of Southern Maryland Early Childhood Education Instructor Yvette Dodson has found that what works with kids works with all ages

Faculty Excellence Award Recognizes Work of Early Childhood Education Instructor

 

When College of Southern Maryland Early Childhood Education Instructor Yvette Dodson poses a multiple-choice question to the class, instead of students marking A, B, C or D, they answer by walking to one of the four walls in the classroom to indicate which answer they select.

It’s a technique that many teachers use with students from preschool to elementary so as to incorporate movement into the classroom, and Dodson uses the same strategies in her college classes with adults, who range from teenagers to 60-somethings. “It’s all to get your body involved. You have to be committed to your answer when you move,” she said.

Dodson has found that what works with kids works with all ages, and teaching her college students the importance of physical movement in learning can help them handle a host of situations, from childcare to preschool to early elementary education. Basic techniques, from having youngsters simply stand and state an answer to having them walk to a whiteboard, can transform an average lesson plan into one that is grounded in sound educational theory.

“One of my big things now is brain-based learning theory, and part of that is movement and how physical movement increases blood flow in the brain,” Dodson said. “You get more oxygen just by standing up out of your seat.”

A Lusby resident, Dodson, who was announced as the college’s most recent recipient of the Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Adjust Faculty during winter commencement, loves to talk about educational theory, especially when it comes to showing her students how it can help them in the workplace and at home. “One of the big components is connecting educational theory and educational research with the practical usage on a daily basis… [how to] make those worlds connect – what’s learned in school and what you actually do and practice.”

Dodson’s host of life experiences has prepared her for a mentor’s role with CSM’s early childhood students. She is a mother of seven children between the ages of 21 and 4, and she also grew up in a big family in St. Mary’s County. “I’m the oldest of five myself, so I was used to breaking things down for people, the little ones. That really inspired me to teach. It was exciting to explain things that were difficult for them.”

Dodson emphasizes the important role that caregivers provide in the crucial formative years. “Development starts before birth because of the experiences that mom has,” she said, adding that it’s amazing how a person’s growth is tied to the foundational years, “our reaction and our problem-solving abilities, and who we are as people.”

That’s why Dodson believes that early childhood educators, from parents to care providers to teachers, play an important role in society. She enjoys helping educators “understand their importance, what they do every day with children. I like to validate that and affirm that their job is important, to encourage them to keep caring and to keep giving their best for the little ones that they come in contact with.”

Dodson said that she became interested in science as a youngster. “I remember spending my whole summer out in the woods, collecting flowers, different mosses, being fascinated with nature, streams, stuff like that.” Her career path really began, though, when she volunteered as a high school senior with teachers at Park Hall Elementary School. She went on to earn a degree at St. Mary’s College in early childhood education, and eventually a master’s from the University of Maryland. She began her teaching career in Calvert County elementary schools in 1990. She earned teacher of the year in 1996, the same year she began teaching early childhood education in the evenings at CSM.

She says that her range of experiences, which includes working in childcare with infants and toddlers as well as 3- and 4-year-olds in an afterschool program, has been valuable for her CSM students, some of which want to earn their degrees and go into elementary education or early childhood education. Others are childcare providers who are looking to earn a senior staff requirement at childcare centers.

“She does use her personal experiences in the classroom,” said Mary Hunt, who supervises the early childhood program at the college. “Her examples are authentic because she’s lived them … Eve understands where her students are coming from.”

The classes also offer Dodson an opportunity to show the students how the educational theories such as brain-based learning and universal design for learning can make a difference in everything from daily lesson plans to caregiving. One example is the think-pair-share teaching strategy. “You ask [children] a question: ‘Have you ever taken a walk in the woods in the fall? What kinds of things did you see? Now I want you to think about that walk and I want you think about what you saw. Now we’re going to turn to our neighbor and you’re going to share that experience with your neighbor.’”

Dodson says if she asks 20 children all at once about the walk, she might get one or two to share their story, but they would be the only ones interested. “But if I get them to share with a partner, all of them are engaged at the same time. And they get to share their story. By connecting socially, it energizes and engages the student and gets them interested in the topic … Our brain is social. We need to connect with others.”

To foster critical thinking, Dodson says how you ask a question sets the tone for how intriguing or rigorous a lesson will be. If a teacher asks young children “‘What color am I wearing today?’ there’s only one answer to that question. I’m wearing gray,” Dodson said, pointing to her gray sweater. “But if you then ask the students to look around the room and say what other objects are gray, there can be multiple answers. You get the kids to think divergently … That’s how most of our innovation occurs, by thinking divergently.”

Dodson’s students learn about developmental milestones for each age and stage. For her Infants and Toddlers class, Dodson says it amazes students how many developmental milestones there are between birth and age 3 years. During the class, students are shown how milestones in physical, cognitive, emotional and social development come together. “If you know what’s normal for each development, you can gear your lessons or even your day toward moving them to the next level,” Dodson said. If a child is behind in some of the milestones, caregivers can direct parents to get special needs help even before a youngster starts school.

Children need to feel safe and secure in order to learn, Dodson said. They need to know they are liked and cared for. “When we feel that there is a place for us… then we can care about reading or writing or math. If that security is not there, it’s hard to want to learn… you have to have security first to be able to learn and to explore your environment. It’s the emotional attachments and relationships with people that we know and trust that form the most important foundation for learning.”

Dodson also stresses the social as well as physical connections between the caregiver and the child. “You talk to your babies as you’re doing things. You sing to them, you talk to them. Because that language goes into their ears, they learn how to talk and learn the rhythm and the cadence of language by you speaking. More is caught than taught. What you project and how you are around children is absorbed by them … even if you don’t think it is.”

Dodson‘s classes are punctuated with plenty of discussion. “What I think is really important is creating a community of learners,” she said. “We all come to the classroom with experiences or knowledge that is valuable to be shared. My job is to facilitate that – to assess what it is they come in knowing and … being able to connect it to course content so it’s useful.”

“I wish I could take her class over and over again. I didn’t want the time to go by quickly,” said Lulu Christian, 60, a childcare provider, of Dodson’s classes. “She is so energetic … if you didn’t understand something; she would go over it and explain it until you understood.”

Dodson says that many of her students need help with organizing schedules and lesson plans. Some of that is rooted in Universal Design for Learning theory and Brain Based Learning theory, and Dodson began having her students use checklists to ensure that key learning principles were included in lessons.

“Before I had the checklist, the lesson plans were really lacking in critical thinking questions, in thought-provoking ideas, in creating an environment of engagement for students. But using this for two semesters, I’ve been getting some amazing lesson plans. It gets them to think about ‘How can I get [children] to move and be actively engaged in the learning process?’”

Principles of Universal Design for Learning also mandate including components that would assist youngsters who learn things differently. Emphasizing visual organization in “chunks” graphically can be important, Dodson said.

In her second decade of teaching at CSM, Dodson says she is still learning new things. “I’m like, ‘What can I do better? Tell me what am I doing wrong?’ That’s what I did when I was teaching in Calvert County public schools. I’d find master teachers, and I’d be sitting in their classrooms looking to see what the components were that made them so amazing.”

“I really enjoy teaching at the College of Southern Maryland. I believe in what they’re doing. I like the connection they have with the community in preparing people for doing their life work. I feel like I’ve been a part of that, and that is satisfying to know,” Dodson said.

Hunt says Dodson has been an integral part of the CSM faculty. In addition to her credit classes, Dodson has also led community education courses. She’s given presentations on learning theory at state and regional conferences, and she’s headed sessions at CSM for adjunct faculty education. “She’s been willing to tackle anything and everything I’ve ever asked her to do,” Hunt said. In the community at-large, Dodson has been a volunteer and tutor.

Dodson likes to quote the inspirational story credited to Loren Eisely about a young boy on a beach where thousands of starfish had been washed ashore. Concerned, the boy begins to toss them back into the water. A man approaches the youngster and tells him that he could not possibly save them all. The boy then tosses one into the water and says, “I made a difference for that one.”

“So many students are not getting it,” Dodson tells her students. “If you take one, put them on the right track, you made a difference for that one. It’s all worth it for that one.”

For information about CSM’s early childhood development program, visit http://www.csmd.edu/SOC/EarlyChildhoodDevelopment/. For a complete listing of faculty excellence awards, visit http://www.csmd.edu/Faculty/excellence/.

 

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