Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What are we doing?

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.

I have been obsessively watching the New York Times “undercover video” at a NYC public charter, which shows a first grade teacher berating her students. There have been several great pieces written in response to this article, including Michelle Goldberg's on Slate.com and two pieces in the Huffington Post - Alan Singer and John Thompson. But I need to vent a bit, too!

What stuns me, what I can't quite shake, is what is revealed by everything in the background of the video, everything behind the scene of the teacher and the young girl. These things stay the same even when the teacher isn't yelling.

I'm talking about the classroom environment, the classroom community, the classroom itself.

Look closely.

The room is sterile. I do not see any children's work on the walls, I don't see anything personal. I see many charts written by the teacher. I see a large flag for a university. How much voice do children have in this environment, when everything in the room is of the teacher? There is a permanent calm down chair. (And you go to this not when you are worried or sad or upset, but when you make academic mistakes.) What a sad routine in a young child's classroom.

Most importantly, look at the peers of the young girl. Throughout the video, the young children sit calmly, quietly, cross-legged, hands folded in their laps, perfectly still. Is this healthy, for children to not even flinch when an adult raises her voice? When a peer is chastised? What has led them to such a state of dullness? They do not flinch when the teacher rips up the young girl's paper. They quietly raise their hands, when the teacher insists "Somebody come up and show me how she should have counted." The teacher is upset, the young girl has been disciplined, and no one in the classroom looks sad or particularly concerned. In fact, they are ready to simply do it better than the young girl did...to ignore her issues, pass her right by, conditioned to step right over others  and take care of oneself. This sends chills up my spine. This is the classroom community. This is not a healthy learning environment. What about children's emotions? What about being part of a community, working and learning together? What will these children be like as adults, as future citizens?

How many schools operate like this?

What are we doing?


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What if we made a map?

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.

We had such a crazy start to our day, today. Yesterday's 'wintry mix' concluded with torrential rains this morning, causing a two-hour delay for school. My commute was exhausting. I arrived at school completely soaked, having negotiated sidewalks flooded with melting snow and running water, and I witnessed my umbrella breaking into three parts due to the high winds. Yes, it was a wild walk from the metro to school. I am thankful that I had a day with preschoolers, who would readily accept me in wet clothes and socks but no shoes. We could have fun together!

I knew that arrival time would be frenzied for families, too, with children arriving at varied times. I also knew that our time at centers would be truncated...we needed to get right into the fun.

I cut a large piece of cardboard to cover our table, and this, in and of itself, delighted the children. We had never done this before! I got out our markers and our rulers. I challenged the children to think about the maps we had seen in Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton. What if we drew a map of our city? Of course! Yes! We can do this!

The children traced the contour of found objects to create buildings, houses, stores, ballparks (Go, Nationals!), and playgrounds. The rulers made great roads and train tracks, plus the children could measure which roads were longer, which were shorter. The children searched through the found objects to create make-believe people (marker caps were particularly good), and the children counted steps as these 'marker people' walked the roads. The children also enjoyed drawing people, animals, sunshine, and other features on the map.

Before we knew it, it was time to clean up. Tomorrow, we'll continue our work - writing labels or perhaps using the map as a base on our floor in the block corner...maybe we'll build 3-d buildings for the map, out of our small blocks. We'll see!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The treasure that is Bev Bos

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


Roseville Community Preschool
Today, I need to share about the loss of early childhood educator Bev Bos, who died this past Thursday, February 4th. We lost a tireless and passionate advocate for early childhood play. These words grace the walls of her Roseville Community Preschool in Roseville, California:

Our challenge is not
 to prepare children for school,
to prepare schools for children. 

- Docia Zavitskovksy

How to organize for exploration (RCP)
Bev Bos threw open the doors of her preschool and invited others to see how to do this right. I had the delight of attending her week-long "Good Stuff for Kids" conference in summer 2011, just before my new school opened. What a glorious week! I attended the conference with my friend Janise, also a preschool teacher, and devoured ideas and possibilities for my own classroom. Bev and her team showed us ways to set up classroom learning space so that children might easily explore and discover, demonstrated fun science and art activities that emphasized process not product, showered us with great new picture books for read-alouds, gathered us in sing-alongs, and shared so much insight and inspiration about being with children.

Outdoor play at Roseville Community Preschool
Bev taught us to not only think about children but to follow their beck and call, to fill our classrooms and our curriculum with their delights - constructive, interactive, unending exploration of
how things work, 
why things are, 
what does this do, 
why might that be, 
how about this. 
Your hands show that you've had fun!
She recognized the consummate scientist in every child, providing them with unending opportunities to explore with all their senses. Perhaps my favorite Bev quote that my students hear me say all the time,
"If you  go home from school without dirt under your nails, I haven't done my job."

Oh, how she loved children, each individual child! She embraced their storytelling, sitting alongside them in the midst of their play, wherever they were in the classroom, listening, and inviting them to answer, "How does your story begin?"

She was truly present with children.

What do you want to investigate?
She loved to read to children, collecting so many fabulous picture books, and - here's where I just tremble at her respect for little ones - she dared to stop reading if they weren't captivated by a book she had chosen to read, saying "Today, this is not the book they need." (How many of us are this flexible with our plans? How many of us are allowed to be this flexible?)
Sit and play here - Roseville Community Preschool
        Bev never demanded that a single child sit and be present at her read-alouds, her storytelling, or any large group gathering. She figured if they didn't come over, she wasn't sharing anything of real value to them at that moment. Every time I have a whole group gathering, her brazen faith in children crosses my mind as I sadly fail to duplicate it.  Think: most of us in public schools are held to an unrealistic expectation by our administrators that every young child be participating in our whole groups; so many schools have the added expectation that children be seated and quiet while the adult leads.  Shouldn't we question this expectation? Bev would surely want us to do so.

What would happen if we added this to that?
Bev knew our schools were very different than her own and she challenged us to find some part of her approach to recreate. In what ways might we find a little more time outside? More opportunities to muck about, to play with water, mud, dirt, sand?  How can we make our activities more process than product? What loose parts can we bring in, reuse, invent with? 

A labyrinth made from shoes at Roseville Community Preschool
Her inspiration works magic in my classroom each and every day. This past Thursday morning, I looked to see a few of my more solitary preschoolers working together in the block area. I had never seen them work together before; these preschoolers prefer to play alone or alongside their peers rather than 'with.' However, there they were, creating a ramp from pieces of wood - attaching it to the big cozy chair in the classroom, setting its base on a couple of large blocks, funneling the ramp into a succession of three small buckets. They raced a variety of small cars, trying to get these to jump into each of the buckets, predicting which bucket each would land in as it rolled. Though we had guided on many previous days, no teacher was in this center with them. They were on their own and delighted to explore.

Outdoor play materials at Roseville Community Preschool
I heard their happy companionship, the beginnings of friendship - 
"My car goes next!"
"The yellow car is super fast"
"Second bucket! Second bucket!"
"Let's do it this way - how about we try this?"

Hearing later about her death and reflecting on the beauty and surprise of these solitary friends finding one another over loose parts, I wonder,
Was Bev giving my classroom one last embrace, as she left us?

Bev (center) with two of her many groupies - Janise and I

"If it's in the hand and in the body, it's in the brain."  
- Bev Bos

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

How do you know they are engaged?

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


We are in the midst of a found objects exploration.

Every child brought in ten inconsequential "extras" from home...small things you might typically throw out, but that work so beautifully in our art, math, and storytelling. We have buttons, soda caps, metal pieces, ribbons, wires, game pieces, and so much more. Everyone finds them irresistible. 

There is a lot going on in this one photo:
several children working simultaneously at the table,
separate but together,
two - leaning on one another, back to back,
everyone, intently focused on very small finds,
even searching the floor when one slips from the hands,
holding onto stuffed animals while they work...

I love how so many children can work so closely together, in a small space, and stay happy, content, focused.

Children find real meaning in these small treasures, and
I find real meaning in their engagement.

Here are some of my found objects from a walk on the beach in Saco, Maine over winter break - pieces of sea glass.