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Rebecca Isbell

Rebecca Isbell, PhD, is a motivational speaker and consultant in early childhood education. She was Director of the Center of Excellence in Early Childhood Learning and Development and a professor of Early Childhood Education at East Tennessee State University, where she was recognized as a distinguished professor for teaching. Dr. Isbell has served as the director of the lab school for young children and currently serves as a consultant for this program. She designed a pilot site for Tennessee Early Childhood Training Alliance, now a state training program for early childhood educators.

Rebecca has conducted research on the positive effects of storytelling on young children's language development and is involved in the annual National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. For a number of years, Rebecca has presented at international, national, and regional early childhood professional meetings. She is a sought-after presenter and keynote speaker for early childhood conferences and training meetings. Her interests cover a range of topics in early childhood education including: learning environments, learning centers, literacy development, music/art and drama, creative thinking, and infants/toddlers.

Rebecca Isbell lives in Jonesborough, Tennessee.

More About Rebecca Isbell

For Sensory Integration: Early Childhood News Director's Choice Award

For The Complete Learning Spaces Book for Infants and Toddlers: Distinguished Achievement Award, finalist

For Real Classroom Makeovers: Benjamin Franklin Award, finalist

For Tell It Again! 2: 

Praise for The Inclusive Learning Center Book:

"Any teacher who wants to use developmentally appropriate practices to include children with special needs in learning centers will find this a necessary addition to the library."


"The Inclusive Learning Center Book focuses on interest centers. It offers an overview of traditional centers--block, library, and writing, for example. It also gives an overview of more unconventional centers, such as the private place, the tactile center, and the ball center. Each center descriptions contains learning objectives, lists of props that support discovery, curriculum connections, and a sampling of activities and appropriate accommodations. Inclusive Lesson Plans and The Inclusive Learning Center Book share a significant strength. They are both enthusiastic about helping teachers building meaningful preschool experiences for every child - and offer tools to help every teacher succeed. The introductions of both books review the basics of early childhood education. Each offers both experienced and novice teachers ideas for expanding traditional themes. Both books provide guidance on modifications and accommodations for chidren with disabilities. But most importantly, both ofer support to programs and teachers who want to make the successful inclusion of children with disabilities a hallmark of their work."

--Texas Child Care

"The authors bring unique backgrounds to The Inclusive Learning Center Book. Christy Isbell is a pediatric occupational therapist with specialized training in both Sensory Integration and Neurodevelopmental Treatment. Her experience in evaluation and treatment of preschoolers with special needs strengthens the adaptations and evaluation methods section of the book. She coauthored with Rebecca Isbell The Complete Learning Spaces Book for Infants and Toddlers, designed to help busy teachers meet the challenge of creating an effective learning environment for very young children.

"Rebecca Isbell is Director of Tennessee's Center of Excellence in Early Childhood Learning. She has worked to create inclusive environments that are good for all children. She is also a Professor at East Tennessee State University where she received the Distinguished Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching. In addition to The Complete Learning Spaces Book for Infants and Toddlers, she is the co"author of Early Learning Environments That Work!, which explores how to utilize furniture, color, materials, storage, lighting, and more to maximize children's learning in any and all classroom environments.

Praise for Sensory Integration:

"Sensory Integration is recommended as required reading for all preschool teachers, and would be highly informative reading for the parents of chidren with sensory disorders as well."

--The Midwest Book Review

"I will be a better teacher because of this book."

--RaeLynne Snyder, Master Teacher at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center

"The book describes details about different types of sensory integration problems, such as the avoider, the seeker, and the under-responder in these areas: visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular, and proprioception. Many practical suggestions are given which teachers and parents can use to help the child function better. This is a valuable handbook of well organized information including references, resources, a glossary, appendix, and index."

--Betsy B. Lee, EdS, Learning Abilities Books

"Great ideas. I like the case studies--very informative and well written. Very good resource for staff."

--2008 Directors' Choice Judge

"In a format written for the practitioner, this book defines Sensory Integration Processing (SIP), explains why it is important in the development of preschool children, and discusses what happens when this normal process of development goes awry….With great detail, yet in a style that is easy to read and understand, the authors explain each possible scenario when children present with visual, auditory, ortactile issues….This book is a wonderful tool for the preschool teacher. The plethora of strategies and techniques are shared in such away that the teacher will know what strategy to use specifically for which child’s needs….I highly recommend this book, as it provides sensible options to help children with Sensory Integration Disorder learn in the typical classroom.”"

--Childhood Education, June 2008

"If you're concerned that your young child might be struggling with learning through the senses of touch, sight, sound, movement, taste, or smell, read Sensory Integration: A Guide for Preschool Teachers... You'll find an abundance of practical solutions for sensory challenges, explained in plain language, for helping children with specific behaviors."

--Melissa L. Morgan, "Practical Homeschooling"

Praise for Early Learning Environments that Work:

“This welcome book summarizes everything we have known about designing environments for young children and adds newer inspiration from Reggio Emilia classrooms. Everything we are learning from brain research and child development study underscores the importance of an environment with which children can interact, and the importance of teachers in designing that environment. This will be one of the essential books on the early educator's bookshelf.”
—Gwen Morgan, Center for Career Development, Wheelock College

Early Learning Environments that Work is a great addition to the resources currently available to teachers and directors trying to put together quality environments that support children' s development. Filled with practical ideas and pictures and grounded in an understanding of emergent curriculum, this is book that will be put to use right away.”
—Jim Greenman, author

"Wonderful ideas & images that encourage children and teachers to watch, wait & wonder! Early Learning Environments that Work incorporates the best of all the environmental adaptations available in our field."
—Diane Umstead, Program Manager, Child Care Aware

Praise for Tell It Again! 2:

"This would be a wonderful educational ritual to add to your routine...the authors of this book can help you. They have selected a number of excellent tales that fit the developmental needs and interests of young children..."

--Young Children

"Tell It Again! 2 is an essential resource for parents and grandparents."

--Family News

"If you're looking for a way to jump-start your child's imagination, start with a story from this book and see where it takes you."

--Christian Parenting Today

"You've made my workload easier. The stories are very doable with the young children. The hints and directives at the side of the story help me to recall the sequence of events. The activities, questions and storytelling tips bring out the story and help the children to think what if they were Jack or the Little Red Hen."

--Janet Yap, Hawaii State Library

"The way the stories are presented in this book make it simple for a teacher who is new to storytelling to approach it with confidence."

--Laverne Nelson, University of Arkansas

"This is an extremely good book!"

--Amy Roberts, McPhaul Child Development Center, University of Georgia

"Great book!"

--Beverly C. Oglesby, kindergarten teacher

"I own all the books written by Isbell and Raines, and I will buy anything they write."

--Anne Waldruff

"Tell It Again! 2 is a wonderful way to keep traditional literature in the classroom."

--Terry Green

Q: In The Complete Learning Center Book, you have created a variety of learning centers and included integrated learning webs. Why are learning centers beneficial to a young child’s learning process?

There are so many reasons that learning centers are a great activity for young children. First, it provides the opportunity for children to choose where they will play, helping them become independent and follow their specific interest. Next, it is active learning at it best as young children interact, talk, and collaborate. Learning Centers are designed for small groups so 3 to 4 children are working together. In the Center each child has more opportunity to impact the play and the events that take place in the area. During Center time the teacher can observe the children as they are using skills and are involved in meaningful activities. These reasons, and many others, make Learning Centers very important learning experiences for young children in early childhood classrooms.

Q: You have written books about making learning environments work in the preschool classroom. How can preschool teachers determine the best learning environments for their classrooms?

It is important to look at the specific children that are in your classroom, their developmental level, their interest, and backgrounds. This will help you design a classroom environment that matches this specific group of children and their unique needs. The environment should provide an emotional safe and supportive place where young children will be nurtured to grow and develop. Opportunities should be provided that are teacher directed as well as child centered. This means that the place where group/community time is held should be focused so children are engaged, listening, and participating. But, there must also be time and spaces for creative explorations that stimulate children's thinking and draw them into enriched experiences. For example, by providing a new space for young children to create and display their art work or share their “writings” you are encouraging their artistic and emergent literacy abilities. Watch the children and see if they are involved, interested, and active in the learning process—if not, find ways to enrich the environment so learning will be evident and visible.

The environment impacts everything: learning, behaviors, attitude, and engagement. By designing a wonderful environment that nurtures development you provide a classroom where children are excited, and involved in learning.

Q: Why does storytelling have such a positive effect on children’s language development?

In my research and writing on storytelling I have found that young children appreciate a story told. It draws them into the story, mesmerizes them, invites their participation, and nurtures their visual literacy. As the teller, I am able to have good eye contact, adjust the story to the children, and their comprehension of content is improved. A great story can work for a teacher throughout his/her professional career because it can be used many times over the years. You know when the story works because children say, “Tell it Again” and you should!

Q: What has it meant to you to be involved with the National Storytelling Festival in your hometown of Jonesborough, Tennessee?

I was involved in the National Storytelling Festival from the beginning. The first year, almost 30 years ago, 75 people set in a wagon in front of the Court House and told stories. Now there is a multi-million dollar International Center in Jonesborough.

In October of each year 10,000 people come to sit under huge tents and hear storytellers from all over the world share their art. It is an inspiring experience—and it has nurtured my interest in storytelling. I believe every early childhood educator can be a teller of stories. When we select and tell appropriate stories we can impact language, literacy, and empathy as we interact with young children.

Q: What was involved in designing the pilot site for Tennessee Early Childhood Training Alliance? Why do you think working on this project was important for the children of Tennessee?

I was on the original state steering committee that designed and implemented this training. We wrote and field tested the modules that were used in the orientation, 30 contact hours of training that was the foundation for further training leading to CDA, AA, BS, Master's degree, and now the PhD in Early Childhood Education. I have had wonderful opportunity to watch women, who had no training in Early Childhood, move through the levels of TECTA training and become amazing early childhood professionals. What an exciting experience it has been for me to be a part of this wonderful journey.

Q: What is Center of Excellence in Early Childhood Learning and Development? What does the Center do? How did you become involved?

Dr. Wes Brown and I wrote the proposal for establishing a Center of Excellence in Early Childhood Education and Learning which is funded by the state of Tennessee. This year we are celebrating our 25 year of having this designation. The Center provides the stimulus for research, training, and service that relates to providing a quality environment for young children, their families, and those who work with them. Eight years ago I was selected to be the Director of the Center. I continue to be a Professor in Early Childhood Education at East Tennessee State University and teach course in the early childhood program.

Q: You are a speaker, a teacher, and a writer. What aspect of your career do you enjoy the most? Why?

I appreciate and enjoy working with people in early childhood. I find them interesting, positive, dedicated, and hardworking. Speaking and teaching allows me to interact and learn about them, their needs, what is happening in their place, and the amazing young children in their classrooms. But writing lives on and can be used time and again to help teachers in their challenging work. So I must admit, I enjoy all three but for very different reasons.


Books by Rebecca Isbell

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