New VPI+ Website Gives Educators Quick Access to Free High-Quality Online Resources
By Kathy Neesen
For many of today’s educators, the Internet houses a wide range of teaching resources, from classroom videos to teaching strategies—so many, in fact, that finding the best resources quickly when they are needed most is no easy task. Researchers at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) have designed a new website that helps teachers and educational coaches find the best online resources with only a few clicks.
The website, www.vpiplus.org, which is part of the Virginia Preschool Initiative Plus (VPI+) program, is one of several resources that CASTL has designed to support preschool professional development programs across the Commonwealth of Virginia. Ann Lhospital, a CASTL research scientist and implementation support specialist for the VPI+ program, said the new website will make the coaching process more effective. “When it comes to professional development, just talking about practice or reading about it really isn’t enough. What we’ve learned at CASTL through the years is that it’s so important for teachers to be able to actually see effective classroom practice. You have to see it to be able to do it.”
The VPI+ website provides quick access to over 150 educational video clips, as well as 200 other resources from various sources such as the Head Start National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, & Learning, the Erikson Early Math Collaborative, Teaching Channel, and even Sesame Street. The resources, carefully gathered and vetted by CASTL staff, are categorized and searchable across a range of educational topics, such as classroom instruction, social-emotional development, and individualized instruction.
Bridget Hamre, research associate professor and a co-developer of the website, said this resource serves a unique purpose. “What’s great about this website is that it links to the best educational resources that are already out there for preschool educators. It provides a way to quickly find reputable resources that are widely and freely available online but may not be easy to find.”
Drawing from expert organizations across Virginia, such as the Virginia Cross-Sector Development Group, Virginia’s Training and Technical Assistance Centers, and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Autism Center for Excellence, the VPI+ website also links to a range of high-quality videos focused on teaching children with special needs. “We were especially excited to find a set of videos focused on learners with autism ,” Lhospital said. “They include classroom footage that make strategies come to life, and they break down the instruction step by step.”
The website also includes a series of videos from the Erikson Early Math Collaborative that show math instruction taking place in diverse classrooms with preschool students who are dual language learners (DLLs). “In the videos, we see teachers not only modeling effective classroom practices that support math learning, but they also talk about what strategies they used to support DLLs and why those strategies work,” Lhospital said.
Currently, the website is being used by coaches and teachers across Virginia as part of the VPI+ program. Shelley Calabro, a VPI+ coach in the Chesterfield County Public Schools, said the video resources are invaluable because they allow her to engage in a strategy called video modeling. “A teacher and I can watch another teacher’s practice and have a follow-up discussion about it,” she said. “We can see and discuss the best practices that are developmentally appropriate for four-year-olds.”
Lhospital hopes to expand the library over the next year so it offers even the most experienced educators a strong knowledge base to work from. “As a teacher or coach, you may be an expert in one topic and know the best online resources for that particular area, but you may not know that for another topic,” she said. “It’s rare for any one individual to know that all of these educational videos exist, so the VPI+ video library can really expand an educator’s knowledge base and provide quick access to new content areas.”
The VPI+ website is part of the growing body of resources provided to educators by the VPI+ program. The program, which is part of the federal Preschool Development Grant funded by the US Department of Education, allows the Commonwealth to serve an additional 18,000 at-risk four-year-olds in new or improved high quality classrooms over four years.
The website is available at www.vpiplus.org. Both the website and the resources it links to are free and available for anyone to use. The website also houses information about VPI+, including CASTL’s Year 1 annual report on the progress of professional development in VPI+ classroom.
Read Prof. Bridget Hamre’s post about her personal experience with the VPI+ work on the Curry Blog: Cultivating Focus