Saturday, March 25, 2017

sol17-25 Should we expect that?

I am participating in the
Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC).
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day of March 2017. 
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

I was once told during an observation,

"Some children left the table after only a short while, meaning that they were not engaged."

Does it?

Well, I suppose, it might. You could probably make a case for this...whatever was at the table wasn't interesting, or the teacher didn't engage the child, or...

However, I don't think how long a student stays in one place necessarily indicates that they are stimulated by the work.

Should preschoolers be expected to stay in one place, to engage in a center?
What if they think of something else they want to do, in addition to this?
If they reach a stopping point, do we respect them enough to let them slip away?
Isn't it possible that they will perhaps return to do more in this center later?
What does engagement look like at age 3 and 4?
Should teachers be insisting that children stay put, working in one place?
Is the value of an activity directly related to how many students do it and for how long?
Should teachers insist that every student participate in every activity?
What do preschoolers learn when they get to decide what interests them?

I have open centers, student choice. On the best of days, I have nearly 90 minutes of this time for preschoolers, with a range of things for them to do, investigate, play, explore, learn. This means, preschoolers move freely from and between block building, science investigations, art exploration, dramatic play, writing, and more. There are three teachers in the classroom and at least one is a "floater," moving about the room and observing closely; another teacher (or sometimes two) is anchored to an activity, guiding students in specific ways.

I believe preschoolers should have the right and the privilege to leave the table, move away from a center, try another activity. I believe, as much as possible, they should be able to choose their learning. I believe that this flexibility of choice is developmentally appropriate practice.

Certainly, my hope is that I have stimulated them with the activity that has been introduced.
Of course, I know some preschoolers who resist new things, and I work with these students a little more, helping them to stretch and try.
Simultaneously, I am trying to cultivate longer attention spans and the ability to keep at something, even if it gets hard or doesn't go the way you expect.
Even so, I believe it is possible to work on things over time and sometimes taking a break is just what is needed.
Hopefully, I am observant about each individual student, noticing what they do and reflecting on what they need.
Argumentatively, there are so many individual circumstances that could change all meaning of what just happened!

I guess you can tell that this line from my observation report didn't sit well with me!

I walk away from my writing a lot. I'll write something, wander off and wash dishes or run a load of laundry, perhaps even go teach for the day, and then return to my writing, read through it, write some more, revise, and maybe wander off again. 

Do we respect this flexibility and choice in our youngest learners ?


  1. I agree, especially with young ones. If you are allowing choice, then they get to change their minds! I move around as you said you did, and if I decided to do one thing where I wasn't satisfied with my choice, I would change it. Interesting questions posed, Maureen. I'll share another side. Imi, the younger granddaughter stays with things for a long time. She's 5 now, but when she was in another pre-school at 3, the teachers allowed her to stay in one area for a long time. She didn't choose to move on, didn't bother anyone, just played. My daughter's concern that because she was so content, the teachers allowed her to ignore learning about anything else. She didn't even have to go to teacher-led activities! Well, they did change schools, and it was a tough transition for her to learn that sometimes she needed to participate in other activities. This mostly was connected to literacy learning, FYI.

    1. I love that you wrote such a detailed comment. It shows the importance of the teacher's role, in observing and guiding...there has to be balance. They need to be nudged into certain activities, allowed to wallow in their desired play, exposed to great opportunities. It's not as simple as it appears. Thanks!

  2. The evaluator made the mistake of trying to interpret the meaning of the youngsters' behavior without evidence. In other words, did he/she ask a youngster what the center was about? What did they think about it? Did the evaluator ask you, the teacher, what you thought of the behavior? It would have been more appropriate to write the observation that "some children left the table after only a short while" and then confer with the teacher about that. It could be that, for some children, that "short while" was the longest they had ever stayed at the table and their goal was to increase their engagement time. There are so many possibilities!

    1. Yes! Thank you for this. I totally agree. Observations should include conversation and reflection with the teacher.

  3. I agree with the questioning. How children make decisions is part of the learning. Sometimes they just sample and then return to go deeper. Choice is something we don't offer as kids get older. The whole "engagement" thing is so subjective.

    1. Thank you! I totally agree that engagement is subjective - we need to question what we think we see, ask more questions.