Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tuesday SOL: What makes you chuckle?

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

Five little anecdotes that have made me smile in recent days -

Who's having the problem?
Two students building together, working alongside one another to create a train track out of blocks, and one is clearly in charge. "You can't make that! I said put it here! No, not like that!" Truly, he is yelling. His classmate works quietly, creating, following directions. I observe for a bit and I am surprised that there is no back-and-forth argument. I suggest to the quiet one, the "follower" - "You know you can build elsewhere - you don't have to play with him if he is treating you unkindly." To which he responded without a moment's hesitation - "Oh no! He's my best friend!" and he continued building happily alongside.

Who loves you?
A daughter is saying goodbye to her father at the beginning of the day and she gives him a much-loved unicorn headband, which she has changed her mind about having at school. Rather than simply take this from her, he puts it on his own head and he walks down the hall wearing her unicorn headband - much to his daughter's glee.

What are you crying about?
Someone cries about a toy not shared and another student says, "Ms. Ingram, is he a baby? Only babies cry, right?" I, of course, want to change his impression about tears and so I say, "Oh no, everybody cries, at all ages. I was just crying this morning." "What were you crying about?" he asks. Another student calls out, "Was it Donald Trump?"

May I build on your idea?
I am reading a nonfiction book about bugs at story time, and I stop for a moment to ask - "Who remembers what nonfiction means?" Three hands shoot up, so I call them one by one to define the word nonfiction: 1) "It means everybody's safe." 2) "It means to be safe in your car." 3) "It means watch out for cars when you are in the street."

What is your good news?
I am laying on a makeshift bed in the dramatic play corner, pretending to be sick, while many able preschool doctors take care of me. One declares, "Ms. Ingram, I have good news! You are not sick!" "I'm not?" I ask, tentatively. "No, you are not. You are going to have a baby!" To which I burst out laughing and say, "Oh, I must share this news with Ms. Wright." The preschool doctor declares, "No, Ms. Ingram, you don't have to share this news - this is just pretend!"

Five little chuckles, out of many every day.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday SOL When to walk away?

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

One particular child has been giving my Teaching Resident a "run for her money." This little friend has decided that he will not participate in our daily ritual clean up of the classroom. When Sweet Honey in the Rock sings their delightful cue for everyone to stop playing and instead put things away, this preschooler makes a tighter grip on the toys in his hand and scoots under one of our classroom tables to hide. 

If you weren't responsible for all these preschoolers, if you weren't hoping to get the room cleared so that the day could continue with lunch and nap, maybe if you were simply there as a spectator to observe children's different approaches to clean up, I suppose you might find his antics pretty hilarious. However, the Teaching Resident does feel responsible for all these preschoolers. She has been openly wondering, How can I motivate him? What motivates him? What is so difficult about clean up? Shouldn't preschoolers be expected to help clean up their own things? Isn't following through on routine an important skill? 

As soon as the music starts, he hides under the table. The Teaching Resident has tried so many different tactics - 
taking him aside at the outset of the day and calmly stating expectations for clean up [he assures her that 'no, he will not clean']; 
taking him out from under the table and trying to guide him through the clean up, with teacher as his partner [he cries throughout the process]; 
giving him a partner to clean with [he folds his arm and continues to refuse - once, the partner joined him under the table to hide!]; 
giving him a heads up for the clean up, a gentle warning, so that he might complete his playing before cleaning [this just made him go under the table earlier]; and, of course, 
talking to his family about this recalcitrance [as the baby of the family, cleaning up one's things isn't a big expectation at home].

This little preschooler is the Teaching Resident's best teacher. He is "Exhibit A," illustrating the art of teaching - there is no one script to follow in guiding students, nothing you teach will ever go 'perfectly,' and it is essential to build good connections with each student. 

When the Teaching Resident asked for my advice about this little stinker, she shared how she finds herself thinking about him in the evenings, frustrated at her inability to figure this out. I think it is really terrific that she wrestles with this. I complimented her on how many different tactics she has tried. She has taken time to reflect, to look at it from different perspectives. He is telling us that he really, really, really doesn't want to do something. 

I believe - when we go head-to-head with a child, I think we have already lost. For whatever reason, he has dug his heels in about this expectation. Digging one's heels is the most power a preschooler ever has. I suggested a moratorium on the expectation of clean up for this one child. Yes. What if we simply ignore the challenging behavior and work on building a strong connection with him? What would happen if we let go of this specific expectation (wordlessly, without any fanfare) and engaged with him in more positive ways, for example working and playing beside him, asking questions, having conversation, being joyful? Dare to let it go. 

What will we notice? 

Reminds me of Kenny Rogers' song "The Gambler,"

You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What do you see in the cup?

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

Observational drawing by Jada

It's spring and we have a cup of caterpillars in our preschool classroom! Just this past weekend, they formed chrysalises and the preschoolers are in awe. I've tried to slow down the thinking, having the preschoolers make observational drawings of what they see. (I will share a few of these here, in this blogpost.) I knew this was the perfect lesson for the "See Think Wonder" thinking routine, which I had learned from Project Zero training last summer. As they drew, I asked What do you see? I tried to keep the children focused on simply what was visible in the jar:

I see four chrysalises. I call 'em caterpillars. And the jar. And spider webs.
I see cobwebs, 'cause they make cobwebs, and cocoons.
I see cocoons.
I see this one and it has a black part.
I see cocoons playing.
Observational drawing by Misha
There is dirt on the bottom.
I see the bodies on the circle.
The caterpillars made cocoons and they are hanging up.
I see caterpillars walking and eating food. 
Caterpillars make cocoons.
Four cocoons.
Caterpillars have pointy things.
Cocoons hang from the sky. They are shaking.
I see a spiderweb.
Cocoons. They are shaking. Caterpillars make it.
I see cocoons.

Try as I liked to have them simply focus on what they saw - what they actually observed - the preschoolers couldn't help thinking and imagining. They shared thoughts aloud that were clearly not visible. I tried to return them to observation mode with a quick, What did you see that makes you think so? However, their musings multiplied and I let them answer - What do you think?

I think there was an egg.
I think caterpillars walk around and they sleep.
The cocoon is for the caterpillar
That might be food. They eat leaves.
Observational drawing by Audrey
Something's in it - maybe a butterfly.
They come from eggs, they turn into caterpillars, and then they turn into butterflies.
And push out into a butterfly!
It looks like fish; it is the same color. It looks like a Daddy Long Legs with its leg stuck in the web.
The caterpillars will turn into butterflies and then will fly.

I never even had to ask, What do you wonder? The preschoolers were mesmerized by the disappearance of crawling caterpillars and the arrival of four chrysalises hanging from the top of the jar. Their questions poured forth - 

Observational drawing by Henry
What are the webs for?
Are the caterpillars shaking the cocoons inside?
What let's it hang?
What is the gakky [sic] thing on the bottom?
Did the cocoon on the bottom die?
What do caterpillars eat? I wonder if they eat dirt?
Is it a spider web.
Are there new baby eggs in the jar?
What are the black fuzzy things on the bottom? Is it part of a caterpillar?
Why shouldn't we touch it?
Is the cocoon on the bottom eating the food?
Would the caterpillars be scared?

Observational drawing by Gabrielle
The most frequent wonder revolved around the movement of the chrysalises - these definitely appeared to be shaking, wiggling, moving. I loved this exchange between four students -
What is making them shake?
- Because they are shaking a lot of days.
- Caterpillars are playing in their house.
- Because they are trying to spread out their wings.

It is amazing how much language and thinking comes forth when preschoolers can watch this metamorphosis right up close!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tuesday SOL: Why do we miss the essentialness of play?

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

Today, I feel a little bit like I am on a rant...talking about the same old, same old. Many years ago, when serving on a ‘Minister Search Committee’ for my church, I heard it said that every preacher has basically five good sermons – essential messages to which they keep coming back. I wonder the same thing about this early childhood blog – what are the top five things I keep saying over and over, even if packaging it or introducing it in different ways? What’s at my core? I have to believe that I write about more than five things, but I keep coming back to certain beliefs:

  1. Let children play - let them choose their own fun, make their own learning.
  2. Be present while they play - notice, converse, extend.
  3. Make the preschool classroom a laboratory, filled with tinkering, exploring, creating, wondering, discovering.
  4. Help novice teachers see the richness and importance of all of the above.
  5. Advocate for all of the above.
Yes, here I am today with more of the same. I worry so about our young children. What is happening to their childhood? I worry about how much we are preoccupied when we are around them, I worry about the strict routines to which we hold them, I worry about the academics we are spoon-feeding them rather than letting them choose their own adventures. I think about how much the world has changed for the average three year old over the past quarter century - getting dressed and out the door first thing each morning, being confined with many peers of the exact same age for eight to ten hours a day, following teacher's instructions, coming home and eating and going to bed, to repeat the same thing the next day. 

I worry about how my perspective is perceived by many as 'cute', 'quaint', 'old-fashioned.'

Just this past week, we had family conferences and I found myself 'preaching'...one dear family with an academically-able child asked if she should skip pre-k 4 and advance directly to kindergarten next year. I teach three year olds. No, no, no, no, no! Please, why? Why are we rushing childhood? Why do we think we should push children? The learning that happens when they play with their peers is priceless: problem-solving, persevering, becoming socially competent.

Thankfully, my perspective isn't seen as 'out of touch' by all - one family shared how their child loves coming to preschool each day. This Mom suggested that the classroom was like a laboratory, and added "I feel that my child needs to do, needs to make, needs to feel satisfied." She thanked me for providing a classroom that allowed her child daily adventure, a place where she can make something new happen each day. These are words I live by!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Tuesday SOL: What about critique?

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

I feel a lot of compassion for novice teachers.
I know they must wonder -
At what point is teaching done? 
At what point have I done everything perfectly?

It is May and my Teaching Resident is leading the classroom. The more she leads, the more feedback she receives. I know she is at that uncomfortable place of trying to please everyone - master teacher (me!), mentor, colleagues, principal, graduate school, on and on...and let's not forget the students.

Let's just be real - you can critique E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

How might you speed up the pace?
How might you slow it down?
Why didn't the children have more voice?
(Or conversely - the children are talking too much - How might you teach children to listen?)
What behavior management challenges are you having?
How might you change your approach with that student?
What was the teaching objective?
How do you know the students achieved this? 
What might be a more developmentally appropriate approach?
How might you make transitions more efficient?
What else is happening in the classroom while you are in small group?
Was everyone engaged? Why or why not?
How might you engage all the children?
Why did you include that?
Did you notice such-and-such?

Everyone has questions, everyone has commentary, everyone has their perspective on how things should be. Often, these ideas are contradictory. Who is right?

I don't believe you ever reach perfection in teaching. There is always room for change, modification, improvement.

Perhaps the very best student teaching experience 
helps you grow into that place where 
you seek advice from others 
while simultaneously
listening to yourself, 
trusting your instincts, 
being aware of and working on your deficits, 
daring to teach as you feel is right, and
humbling yourself for a do over.