Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What if we got together for learning?


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.




wa·ter·shed

ˈwôdərˌSHed,ˈwädərˌSHed/
noun
  1. 1.
    an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins, or seas.


The Preschool Big Cats were getting ready to visit Ms. Ash's seventh-grade science class, to learn about watersheds. How to explain this phenomenon to preschoolers before heading out on our in-house field trip? Let's hand the problem back to the preschoolers and ask them if they knew the meaning. 
It never ceases to amaze us how fearless our preschoolers are with their explanations and wonders. Here's what the first five volunteers discerned, simply by hearing the word watershed:
  “It means water floating.” (Jada)
  “It’s floating in the street.” (Esther)
  “Spraying on your clothes and get wet.” (Asanda) 
 “Water is stuck up a tree.” (Fhinn) 
 

 “When water is in a museum.” (Audrey)

We were on to something...but what?

To help clarify our understanding of watershed, we read a book that was recommended to us by the middle schoolers: All the Way to the Ocean by Joel Harper. In this book, two young friends are headed home from school when one tosses his candy wrapper down a storm drain, leading his friend to tell the harrowing story of what happens to our oceans when we toss trash on the ground. 

The preschoolers were excited to hear that we would see working models of watersheds in the middle school science lab. Now we were ready to head upstairs for the demonstration!

Unlike the preschoolers, who had read one book and then walked up two flights of stairs for the demonstration, Ms. Ash’s seventh-grade scientists had been focusing on watersheds for many weeks, doing considerable research to create working models of our local Anacostia watershed. Ms. Ash shared with me privately that this scientific process had many setbacks, with students at one point throwing their hands up in defeat, unable to imagine how to effectively create the watershed for demonstration purposes. "This isn't something you can give up on," Ms. Ash explained. "You have preschool visitors coming to see the demonstration. You must persevere."  

And persevere, they did!

The middle-schoolers shared a model of the Anacostia watershed with roads, homes, cars, more. They showed how the rainwater runs off across the land into the river, taking debris and trash with it. Then these middle school scientists invited the children to pour different types of liquids (regular water, “oil,” “chemicals,” other) down onto the model and watch how it moves the debris into the river. It was a real pleasure to see how kind and thought-provoking the middle schoolers were with our young ones – and a real delight to see our children so engaged. The middle schoolers seemed so mature and professional!


This is one of several watershed models created 



There were many powerful moments -

  • the children were super eager to participate and investigate, looking at the middle-schoolers with respect and awe. When the middle schoolers asked for six volunteers, ten children jumped up! 
  • one preschooler, often off-task, somewhat wild and unexpected in her movements,  had an entirely different spirit in this setting - she was so focused, careful, and controlled as she poured  pouring "oil" onto the watershed, following the guidance of the middle-schoolers. 
  • several of my more independent students sat back during this demonstration, clinging to the teaching team, content to observe the older experts...much more cautious in this new setting than in our classroom. 
  • one preschooler opened her eyes big and wide when one middle-schooler started conversing in Spanish with her, describing the watershed in her native language. The preschooler had a huge smile, seemingly delighted to fully understand. Another middle-schooler, lamenting being unable to communicate with the preschooler, noted "Gee, I should have worked harder in Spanish!"

Back in our classroom, several preschoolers worked to recreate the watershed model in our block area, recreating where the water and debris had funneled across the land with a series of wood arches turned upside down. Another child reflected - "don't throw trash on the ground."
I happened upon one student at the sink, stuffing paper towels into a cup and letting water run and overflow (thankfully, within the sink). "What are you investigating?," I asked. "I'm making a watershed. See! These paper towels stay stuck here, making a mess, and I need more water, and more water." "What if you also had messy paint in the watershed?", I suggested - and handed him our paintbrushes from the easel, which needed to be clean. "Oh yeah!" He cried and busied himself with the excitement of the dirty brushes along with the paper towels and lots of water. "These are the chemicals!" he said excitedly. "Yes, you are right. We will have to do more of this investigating ...perhaps tomorrow? Unfortunately, we are getting ready for clean up - but your watershed experiment can help with that."

That evening, I received a text from one family, reporting, "We heard a lot about your middle school field trip! Our daughter took the lessons to heart about no trash in the water! Very special day."


Yes, it really was a very special day! 


My school includes preschoolers through eighth grade (ages 3-14).  Something I love about my school is that we see this age range as an asset and we work to find ways for these ages to intersect. We know we have a unique opportunity to blend age groups and learn from one another. 

Which brings us back to the second meaning of watershed:
  1. 2.
    an event or period marking a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs.

7th graders as the experts, instigating thought in preschoolers - in and of itself, this is

watershed.



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tuesday SOL What am I going to do?


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 haven't written a blog post or a slice in several weeks. To be honest, I've had a good bit of a writer's block with early childhood reflections - have I used up all my thinking? I'm sure that is not so. I feel pulled to write in other ways, especially about social justice. I am considering starting a second blog, to have a more specific outlet for such writing.

However, today, I simply must share with you.
Let me write into the pain, dare to speak it out loud, however inappropriate it may be to put these thoughts in an early childhood blog.

This past week has reminded me of the days that followed September 11, 2001.
Except this time,
the pain is internal, self-inflicted, our nation at war with itself.
My fellow citizens are the source of the horror.

Angry America showed up at the polls.

As I experienced in 2001,
my classroom is my refuge,
where I can shut out the news,
quiet the radio,
avoid adult conversations,
ignore the outside world, and
immerse myself in loving my babies.

How happy and loved and safe I feel within my classroom walls, with children keeping me very much in their "present" ...let's build blocks, let's play with clay, let's sing songs together, let's tell stories, let's chase one another around the playground, let's be together. I have the greatest job in the world.

I teach children
to listen to one another,
to watch another's face for emotion,
to say kind things,
to speak their truth,
to care about others,
to respect our individual uniqueness,
to try their very best,
to take actions that are good for all,
to live with love.

Our newly-elected President is the antithesis of this.
He has demonstrated an appalling lack of pretty much any value I hold dear.
One week later, the sick continues to sink in: his first appointment is a white supremacist.

When I am not at school,
I am aware that I am deeply sad.

When I am not at school,
I will not be silent.

When I am not at school,
I am going to keep writing into the pain.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tuesday SOL: What makes you joyful?


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.



The root of joy is gratefulness. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.
- David Steindl-Rast


Teachers are expected to be joyful and to create joyful learning experiences for students. What makes me joyful in the classroom? What makes it possible for me to be joyful in the classroom? What are my gratitudes?

I am grateful for
  • three year olds, and their boisterous energy, their infectious laughter, their curiosity and questions
  • playing and learning alongside them
  • always coming home with something sweet, silly, or laugh-out-loud funny to share about my day
  • the freedom I am given to teach, to teach the way I want to teach. I love not following a script, but having guidelines and expectations - and the flexibility to teach the way I'd like within these
  • how much I move in my work, how physical each day is, how healthy this makes me feel.
  • my colleagues, who offer me unlimited support, encouragement, and shared stories
  • the diversity of my school and my staff, how we work to know one another, how we collaborate together
  • my Teaching Resident, who comes to work with a big smile and energy, radiating a desire to be there
  • the variety of my day and all the unexpected that happens in the midst of routine and plans - it makes me feel mentally sharp
  • the young families who are sharing their children with me

What are your gratitudes? What makes you joyful?


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!