Dolores Appl
Professor of Early Childhood Special Education

Ph.D., University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
M.S., Northern Illinois University
B.A.S., University of Minnesota-Duluth

In the Classroom: Engaging Students — Setting High Academic Expectations

University of Maine at Farmington Professor of Early Childhood  Special Education Dolores Appl’s main classroom goal is to link theory to practice — to simulate the experiences and responsibilities Early Childhood Special Education students will likely find in their future classrooms or in other work environments. She does this by starting with a classroom discussion and presentation of theoretical content and research then moving toward a guided practice of those theories and finally by having her students apply those classroom theories and research to actual practice.

Each Early Childhood Special Education student is required to apply course content in practicum settings. For instance, in the classroom Dolores might discuss child development issues, theories, and research. Then at the practicum site, those Early Childhood Special Education students will work with area children and families on activities that focus on the same issues, theories, and research they discussed in class. This process allows Dolores’ students to actually see and try out those issues, theories, and research in practice.

Outside the Classroom: Innovation and Excitement — Putting Theory into Practice

A big part of the Early Childhood Special Education program at Farmington involves students working hands-on with children and their families. They do this at the on-site UMF children’s programs and through a number of inclusive programs for young children and their parents. These programs include pre-school, childcare, and parent-child playgroups.

One playgroup option available to families with younger children is an evening group, based on the Parents Interacting With Infants (PIWI) model. The playgroup practicum allows Early Childhood Special Education students to work alongside Dolores with families and their very young children in informal, semi-structured interactive settings.

The playgroups are organized according to developmental observation topics. An example of a topic is “Container Play,” which describes how young children play with items placed inside containers and why they play with containers a certain way at different developmental stages.

In a playgroup session focusing on how children play with containers, the Early Childhood Special Education students will begin by describing to parents the theory and research they learned in the classroom. They then demonstrate it with the young children as parents interact with their young children during play that features various activities involving containers. At the end of the session, the Early Childhood Special Education students discuss with the childrens’ parents the developmental process and issues they just saw in practice.

Here, in the playgroup practicum based on PIWI, the students not only work closely with the young children, but they also work closely with the childrens’ parents — a valuable component of the program. It is also this “classroom theory and research turned into practice” component that makes UMF’s Early Childhood Special Education program stand apart.

A True Academic — Areas of Special Interest

Dolores Appl said she has always been interested in 3- to 5-year-olds and did her dissertation on beginning Early Childhood Special Education preschool teachers.

During her doctoral studies Dolores learned the PIWI model and became more involved with infants, toddlers, and their parents.

She also has a very strong passion in preparing teachers to provide quality programs and services for children of all needs and all abilities. You see, Dolores strongly believes in inclusiveness — the right for all children, with and without disabilities, to participate in quality programs.

Collaborating with UMF Students on Scholarly Publications

Dolores worked with 2009 UMF Early Childhood Special Education student Amber Royea on an article for Early Childhood Education Journal, entitled “Every voice matters: The importance of advocacy.” The two presented “A parent-child playgroup approach that addresses individual family goals” at the Maine Parent Federation Conference, held in Portland, Maine.

She and 2009 UMF Early Childhood Special Education student Kassandra Melton presented “Parent-child playgroups as a natural environment for addressing individual goals and state early learning guidelines in a developmentally appropriate way” at the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, held in Washington, D.C.

Dolores worked with 2008 UMF Early Childhood Special Education graduates Maegan Cunliffe and Jennie Holbrook on a project incorporating the Maine infant-toddler learning guidelines into the playgroup curriculum, which is based on the PIWI model. They presented their work at the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, held in Dallas, Texas.

She collaborated with 2007 UMF Early Childhood Special Education graduate, Shannon Brown, conducting research on father-son interactions that was published, “A father’s interactions with his toddler: Personal and professional lessons for early childhood educators (Early Childhood Education Journal).

In addition, Dolores worked with UMF Early Childhood Special Education graduate student Tobyn Pratt on a professional manuscript (published in 2007 in Early Childhood Education Journal) that explores how childrens’ books can be used to help youngsters understand children with special needs — as a way of promoting an inclusive community in classroom settings.

Outside of Academia — Personal Interests and Activities

Outside of her academic life, Dolores Appl is hard at work renovating her 1860’s circa home in Farmington and enjoys cross-country skiing, gardening and other Maine outdoor activities.

She also enjoys following the accomplishments of her young grandchildren, who live with their parents in Austin, Texas.