Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tuesday SOL: What are they thinking about?



This is a Tuesday
Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day. 
Check out the Two Writing Teachers website for many more reflections on teaching.



This school year, invigorated by my awesome summer training about Project Zero (see earlier blogpost), I set a personal goal of observing and documenting children's thinking. What do I notice?

I feel my teaching changing. I find myself wondering - what are they thinking? I have added the expectation that children observe closely all that we are doing. We are recalling and reflecting more together. What do you see? What is the why behind what we are doing? What do you think it means? Have we seen or done this before?

I am trying very hard to make myself pause in the midst of my teaching, to think about their thinking. What are they trying to figure out? What is on their minds? I am noticing things that I have never paid attention to before. 

One recent morning during our centers exploration, two little boys chased each other with puzzle pieces. The puzzle pieces were rescue vehicles - an ambulance, a firetruck, a police car. Vroom! Vroom! Whoo whoo whoo! They raced around the room, acting these out.

What am I thinking at this very moment? No running! Stop that!
Switch gears. What are they thinking?
They are thinking about rescue vehicles! They are excited about these, acting them out.

Honestly, thinking about their thinking changed my reaction. I inserted myself into their play. I began building a large vehicle with blocks - I placed two chairs down first, and I started to create "sides" with blocks.  "What if we built an ambulance? Could we?" I called out to them. Oh, they were so excited. "Yes!" We were immediately swarmed by many other children. Everyone began furiously building - and, telling a story. I wrote down what I overheard. 










At Storytime, I shared the words I overheard and asked if there were any details I had left out.  What is the whole story of our adventure? The children were delighted that I had listened to them and they had lots more to add. I wrote all their thoughts down and repeated them back to them.

By the end of the children's nap, I had created a simple book of the day's adventure, entitled "Big Cats to the Rescue!" 

This is the story of the day's adventure:


One day in the Big Cats, we built a helicopter, police, firefighter, race car truck.


The police come for the bad guys. The firetruck puts out fires. Helicopter goes up and helps people. It was chasing bad guys. Big Cats to the rescue!  

It was going into space because a rocketship was stuck. The planets were sharp where the rocketship got stuck. The police were going to all the planets. The Earth planets were sideways.


We live on Earth. The Big Cats were helping. The Big Cats were saving all the people on the planet. 


The End.


Of course, I had the authors sign the book for me!



Slowly, slowly, slowly,
I am helping them see.

Slowly, slowly, slowly,
I am helping them take ownership. Find their own voice. Feel responsible.

Slowly, slowly, slowly,
I am cultivating independence, curiosity, thinking.


I hope "children's thinking" will become the focus of many blogposts.



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Tuesday SOL: How does their math and literacy look?


This is a Tuesday
Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day. 
Check out the Two Writing Teachers website for many more reflections on teaching.


It is the beginning of the year, 
preschoolers in a public school setting, and 
time to complete baseline data. 
The most important focus: literacy and math. 
Yes, be sure to gather data on your student's literacy and math skills.

Hello, world, reality check.

Preschoolers.

As the clean up song played, I realized I hadn't seen her in several minutes...there she is! Standing next to the toilet. What's that in her hand? A tea cup from the house corner. Oh my. There are two other tea cups in the toilet bowl. Wait...what is on the floor? Oh my. She has been taking teacups full of water and filling the bathroom floor? 

Oh, I see. She is measuring volume. This is my mathematician at work.

I remember happening upon my son at this age, when he was supposed to be napping, only to find him and his entire bedroom doused in baby powder. Future scientist, experimenting - thinking, what might happen if?

I have a hard time focusing on literacy and math when I am in the presence of three year olds.

Glimpses - 
the little boy who wanders over behind the dollhouse to poop, immediately after we have gone to the bathroom as a class...

the little girl who chatters incoherently, in a lovely sing-song voice, talking to herself, repeating words over and over...

the little one who runs away when I start to read a book that has a picture that scares him...

another child who holds my hand all morning long, using me as her anchor to see the world.

the little girl who stands just to my side as I read a book to the class, holding a separate book of her own, and mirroring my every move with hand motions, head nods, and wide eyes.

a little boy takes apart another child's 3D art project...just wondering.

children carrying baby dolls, lovies, favorite toys, and sucking their thumbs.

a classroom that gets louder and louder and faster and faster, with gales of laughter, as children get to know each other better.

There is so much going on, much of it making me chuckle. This is when I am so happy to be "seasoned" - that this is not my first year in the classroom. Yes, I see math and literacy. And I see so much more.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Tuesday SOL: What have we done?


This is a Tuesday
Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day. 
Check out the Two Writing Teachers website for many more reflections on teaching.


We step forward into something new, and then we take a few steps back.

For the first many days, there was a open sensory table filled with sand and gems.
Joy,
delight,
exploration,
happy children.
Then it changed.
In a split second, a chaotic moment, a flash.
Children crowded together, struggling to share;
sand spewed, onto the floor, into eyes, into hair;
children were pushing, hurting, crying.

I closed the table and put a big red stop sign on the table.

Immediately, children dispersed, moved away, played elsewhere. It struck me that the children were use to 'losing privileges'. This was no big deal. Simply, move onto the next thing. This is daily life in an adult-run world.

Here's the reality - there is tremendous efficiency in an adult-run world.
I could take the sand out of the table, deciding that these children are too young and irresponsible to use it.
I could limit the table to just one or two kids, and make clean up much easier.
I could make a list of students, and assign them specific times to use the table.
I could make rules for the kids.
I could decide that I know best.

How deep is the learning if you simply have to turn to an adult to find out what to do?

The next morning, the table remained closed and the big red stop sign was firmly in place.

Children noticed.

One child tried to tear off the sign and lift the table top, to get to the sand again.
I moved over to him, crouching down, helping him to notice. "Oh my, look - a stop sign. What does this mean? What happened? Why would the table be closed?"

He made the connection. He said, "I threw sand."

The table remained closed and he helped me add more tape to the big red stop sign.

At morning meeting, I invited the whole class to recall what had happened at the sand table the day before -

"I got sand in my eyes."
"I got sand in my hair."
"She put sand on her."
"He took all the sand."
"I was being nice."
"You shouldn't throw sand!"
"Sand went on the floor."
"We had to sweep it up."

Yes, they had noticed.

I wrote the children's thoughts down on our white board in the front of the class. I shared their words with families. I told the children that we should hold on to these thoughts for another day or so, and to be thinking,

How can we play with sand?
How can we be together at the table?
What must we do?

Stay tuned!

I hope, through this noticing, we are moving towards real learning.

I am seeing that learning is many, many small and observant steps.






Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday SOL: What about restorative practices?


This is a Tuesday
Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day. 
Check out the Two Writing Teachers website for many more reflections on teaching.

This school year, my school is exploring restorative practices. Although we have not had any formal training (the school is working on arranging this), we are taking the leap of faith just the same. We were each given a copy of The Restorative Practices Handbook to read, and a couple of our back-to-school professional development sessions focused on this topic. I am so excited for us! I know there is so much to learn still, but it delights me that we are refusing to be a 'zero tolerance' or 'no excuses' school - we are, instead, focusing on the needs of the individual child, and guiding them to a deeper level of thinking. 

What is Restorative Practice?
The fundamental premise of restorative practices is that people are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.
The International Institute for Restorative Practices and Restorative Works: Learning Network are two fabulous resources for more information on this approach. There are suggestions to ask the child with the challenging behavior:

What happened?
What were you thinking of at the time?
What have you thought about since?
Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?
What do you think you need to do to make things right?

There are suggestions to ask the child(ren) who have been harmed by other's actions:

What did you think when you realized what had happened?
What impact has this incident had on you and others?
What has been the hardest thing for you?
What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

It means so much to have an entire staff consider this practice. Not simply the lead teachers. Not some random or elective course taken by a few teachers. Not some book read by one staff person and suggested for others. Everyone. Administrators. Teachers, both new and experienced. Teaching Assistants. Specials teachers.

Our discussions have been vibrant: what is it? how long will it take? what will it look like? will we say the wrong thing? how will we work in circles? what will a restorative circle look like? how will we communicate this philosophy to our families?  I believe most of us already see how our school's approach to children dovetails beautifully with restorative practice. We believe in teaching "the whole child." We know that in most discipline situations, there is a whole lot of "gray" - who or what instigated this? what else is going on in the child's life? are there extenuating factors? where is the child developmentally? We know that there is not one solution to misbehaviors. 

I think restorative practices are so respectful of children - of everyone. I believe it is rich with relationship-building between teacher and students. I know it is not going to be perfect - human relations are messy. I loved my principal's advice -

"Yes, it may not work quickly AND we don't give up. Humble yourself...most problems are resolved on a kid's timeframe." 

Here goes! A new practice underway! Happy new school year!


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tuesday SOL: A poem about in-service days


This is a Tuesday
Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day. 
Check out the Two Writing Teachers website for many more reflections on teaching.


Overwhelmed


Cold water, yes, cold water
after so many gentle days
walking,
visiting,
snacking,
napping,
loving
Cold water, yes, cold water
welcome and know
new staff,
new spaces,
new technology,
new frameworks,
new approaches
Cold water, yes, cold water
read and absorb
agenda of the day
student lists
curriculum packets
math and literacy data
accreditation process
Cold water, yes, cold water
imagine and create
new norms
restorative practices
beginning routines 
Cold water, yes, cold water
so many moving parts
interrupted thoughts
long lists of to do's,
racing time
Cold water, yes, cold water
remind yourself
you saw it coming
When you expect cold water
it is refreshing,
exhilarating,
releasing
the dust, 
the aches,
the sleep
Soak up
these in-service days
Soak up 
the new year
Soak up 
the sense of possibility.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Tuesday SOL: Project Zero - not your ordinary summer professional development


This is a Tuesday
Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day. 
Check out the Two Writing Teachers website for many more reflections on teaching.


I spent last week at WISSIT, Washington International School's Summer Institute: Connecting DC Educators with Project Zero Ideas. The following quote is taken directly from WISSIT's promotional literature about the institute and provides a good summation of this thought-provoking week:
The institute invites educators to reflect deeply on how they design and facilitate enriching, rigorous learning opportunities for their students. A “Day at the Museums” on Wednesday, August 3, will highlight the ways educators can use museums as powerful sites for learning. The week-long experience includes both large and small group sessions, each addressing the following strands:
  • Building a Culture of Thinking: How do we help learners develop dispositions that support thoughtful learning across school subjects? How do we effectively create a culture of thinking, in classrooms and school-wide?
  • Educating for Global Competence: How do learners demonstrate global competence? How do educators ensure that learners in their charge explore complex issues of global significance through multiple perspectives?

My head is full from all the rich learning I experienced and I am very excited about the school year ahead. In the spirit of wonder, I thought it would be fun to share my reflections through questions. 

How do we build a culture of thinking?
How do we grow the learning?
How do we slow down and allow children to dig deeper?
What will we notice if we slow things down?

What language do we use to encourage thinking?
What if we routinely asked, How do you think we might? What might be some possible solutions?
What makes you think so? What do you see?
What subtle shifts can I make in my language to have the mind be more open?
Am I rescuing children or encouraging initiative?
How long do I give children to respond before I jump in?
When do adults listen to children?

Who is doing the thinking? 
What if classroom discussions were more collaborative?
What is the possibility of giving children something new and meaningful?
What is a powerful learning opportunity?
What is the purpose of the work we ask of children?
When do children get the opportunity to listen to one another? to try other approaches? to make sense of something?
What is an effective listener?

How do children learn?
What is the difference between doing a whole lot of work and having a lot of learning?
What happens when you align beliefs with actions?
What if we started with student's passions and questions and built our curriculum from there?
How do we provide opportunities for children to struggle, to grapple, to figure something out?
How are children being pushed?
How are children expected to extend their learning?
What happens when children have the habit of communicating their thinking?

What does it mean to be a citizen?
How do we prepare children to be globally competent?
Why is it important to consider varied perspectives?
What does perspective-taking feel like?
What if we invited children to be in conversation with one another?
What if we teach children to reflect on their assumptions?
What is the untold story?
How do we share the other story?

How much risk do we take in teaching?
What are we modeling for students?
When do teachers take the learner's stance?
What do we focus on when we observe classrooms?
What learning is visible?
Where do we see learning taking place?
What if we slowed down and noticed the details?
What if we did reflection instead of assessment?

What is my image of the child?
How will my teaching grow and change this year?
Where will this thinking lead me?
What is my take-away?
What are my next steps?
What if I start small?






Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tuesday SOL Are birds teachers?


This is a Tuesday
Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day. 
Check out the Two Writing Teachers website for many more reflections on teaching.


Even though the school year has drawn to a close, I feel compelled to share about the children's bird exploration during May and June. It is a great example of a child-initiated project. My Teaching Resident (Ms. Keynes) noted, embraced, and encouraged the topic. I love seeing teachers build on children's interests and it is particularly delightful when it is a novice teacher who partakes in this challenge.

I love teaching in a school that allows me the flexibility to pursue topics that 'bubble up' from the children. It's true, we didn't know at the outset of the school year that we would focus on birds in the spring, but I knew that I could trust the children to be excited and eager to learn about something - there is always room for inquiry. This is the beauty of emergent curriculum, where children's own interests are the precursor and foundation of topics studied. Preschoolers are innate scientists - curious, observant, and persistent. Dare to pursue what is in their hearts! Why teach any other way?

Where did the interest begin and where did it lead?

I think the first hint of curiosity began with children excitedly sharing at a morning gathering about having seen our local eagle cam with their families. This camera provided live action of two baby eagles in the National Arboretum. Ms. Keynes decided to set up the eagle cam at the writing center, with markers and paper for children to draw their observations. We wondered - what would the children do? Would this interest them? Yes! The children worked feverishly in this area, watching the screen and making detailed drawings. The eagle cam became a daily part of our centers time. Here are just a few of the children's drawings:


Observational Drawing by RW

Observational Drawing by DE

Observational Drawing by GR
Observational Drawing by AH

Observational Drawing by NB

Observational Drawing by CB

Observational Drawing by CD

There was great conversation as children worked on these observational drawings. For example, 
NB - "Eagles fly - they fly everywhere around the sky. They land to get some food. They eat leaves."

EM - "Look at the eagle. He's eating the nest. He's eating. He's sleeping. He's eating in the nest. He's silly. They are in the bird's nest."

HF - "What does the eagle eat? I think he eats worms. No, I think he eats mice. Yes, I think he eats rats! They are very yummy."

CD - "I think they eat poop."

KA - "He's looking down at the birdie. He sees the birdie. I think they are brothers. And now he's looking behind himself. The birdie is kinda like the teacher - he's looking right at us."

That may be my favorite line:
The birdie is kinda like the teacher - he's looking right at us.
Doesn't that show the value of children being encouraged to draw what they see, to note the details?


With this obvious engagement, we delved into the study of birds, with a particular focus on eagles. Ms. Keynes asked, what do you know about birds and what do you wonder?

I was impressed with their beginning knowledge:

  • They have wings,
  • They fly,
  • They sleep in a nest,
  • They like to sit in the nest,
  • They are in the nest not on the ground,
  • They lay eggs in the nest,
  • The nests are made of mud, hay, straw, and even bird spit 
  • They will scare away anyone who tries to get the eggs
  • They have tails,
  • They have beaks,
  • They eat fish, 
  • They peck their way out of the egg,
  • There are lots of different birds, like eagles, robins, owls, seagulls, penguins
  • Eagles nests are the biggest
  • Eagles have big wings
  • Eagles' babies don't wear diapers

The children about a variety of things:
  • How do they make nests? 
  • How do they make the nests soft?
  • How do they sleep in the nest?
  • How many eggs do they lay?
  • How many days until they learn to fly?
  • How big is an eagle's poop?

We began to learn everything we could. Families pitched in, too. One family shared beautiful color photos of baby robins emerging from their eggs. Another brought in a beautiful nest that they had found. 



Children often arrived at school with stories to share -

AS - "Ms. Ingram, do you know when I was on my way to school, we were walking out of my car, I saw a robin's egg! It was small and it was blue and it was broken. I wanted to pick it up and show it to you."

LM - "I saw a bird that was so dead. Only had one leg. Even the skin was gone. It only had a beak! I saw it."

Scientists observe the details, yes they do.

Ms. Keynes taped off a circle on our gathering carpet that was the same size as an eagle's nest (these average 4-5 feet in diameter, with one in Florida being 9.5 feet!). We gathered here each day for several weeks during our bird exploration - reading books, having class meetings, and doing lots of dramatic play.

These little birdies are hanging outside their nest!

We attempted to 'engineer' a nest out of the base of a box, using lots of yarn and tape. (I loved how the children insisted on wearing goggles while creating this.)


Mo Willems' Pigeon loves our nest.


When the nest was done, children nudged further - "Birds like soft places. When are we going to put eggs in?" They delighted in creating individual "eagle eggs" out of papier mache.

Painting a round surface is challenging work!

One morning, our question of the day was "Who has the bigger wingspan - you or an eagle?" Many children insisted that they had the bigger wingspan, which made each of us teachers smile. We had each of the children lay down on the carpet and get measured against an eagle's wingspan (6 feet average), to provide a clear visual of the difference. The children also made a pair of paper wings that matched their personal measurement.

How big is my wingspan, compared to an eagle's?



One day on the playground, AM came running up to me with the excited words, "Look! A beautiful feather!" and when I looked at what she held, I saw that it was much more than this - she had a bird's wing in her hand, still attached to some of its bony torso. Oh my! Clearly this bird had been on the losing end of a predator's attack, perhaps a cat or a hawk. I tried my very best to remain level-headed and cool, although I was immediately squeamish. I wanted to encourage this budding scientist. I had her show me where she was when she discovered this "feather" and, finding no other bird parts in the area, we went inside the classroom to find a clear jar for displaying this find in our science center. Her classmate LM was delighted with this new addition, declaring "Whoa! Good Find!"

Later, AM said she wanted to share a story about what she found and so I wrote down her words:

"I want to write about the feather that I found, about the bird that I found. I found it on the playground. I put it in the jar. I don't know what kind of bird it was from. Maybe, it was a sister bird. I like that the outside was soft. I can't wait to show my Mommy. I'm going to tell my Daddy that I found a bird's feather that had bones in it. I don't know what my Daddy's going to say about the bird feather. Maybe my Daddy will say "Whoa, good find!," like LM said. I think the birdie died, cause it can't fly with just one wing; cause without part of his body, he can't be alive anymore. The End"


We didn't resolve every wonder that the children had at the outset of our bird exploration...and many more wonders appeared as we explored. The work of scientists goes on and on. Yes, the children worked like scientists, finding much beauty and intrigue in our world. Birds are teachers.