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.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tuesday SOL How do I make space for writing?

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 imagined my summer would begin with a bounty of quiet time for writing. I imagined waking up early, as on a typical school day, and - rather than racing into school - capturing these early morning hours for rich reflection. I imagined.

There is so much I want to share, to remember, to hold onto about this year.

Certainly, I can participate regularly in the Tuesday Slice of Life again.

My summer break began yesterday and reality is different than imagination. There is too much going on around me. I am not alone with my thoughts. Take today, for example. My husband surprised me with the news that he is working at home today - which is delightful for him but makes him "underfoot" throughout precious early morning minutes when I imagined him commuting and me writing. Plus, he has the quiet back room for his work, not me. As soon as he disappeared into the back room with a conference call, my sons Wade and Bryce started their day...noisily and excitingly. Still, I sit and write. Is it my imagination or are they pacing the very room I am in? They are, most definitely, loudly bantering about Tom Petty and John Cougar Mellancamp songs - providing me with annoying, varied earworms. I have thoughts to write - please let me be! Both boys had friends stay the night, meaning that there was a late night of Catan and boisterous laughter, resulting in numerous dirty dishes and the sad realization that the Father's Day blackberry cobbler has been entirely gobbled up. (Perhaps it is a good thing that I don't get to feign breakfast with this). My thoughts wander away from my writing goal of this Tuesday slice. Bryce starts a small summer job today and is worried about the logistics and timing of his commute...Wade is finishing packing, running errands, tying up loose ends, before he and his friend Robert drive to Texas for a vacation...before both begin new careers...have I shared that Wade is entering an alternative certification program to become an early childhood teacher? Like mother, like son? So much anticipation, so many questions, so much of me demanded, so much chatter, so little writing.

Except, I force it. I am going to write a slice today, yes, I am. Push out the words. Insist. Demand. Require.

Not my best writing. Not the way I imagined. Not quite my point.

I realize I just have to channel my teaching self - that ability to accomplish the desired goal in the midst of many interruptions and unexpected twists.

Write on.

This past school year, I kept a writer's notebook in my classroom, and I turned to it to make space for struggles, questions, concerns, dreams, expressions, children's voices. I wrote in it at the outset of my day or even the evening before, to remind me of what needed doing. I took notes in it during children's activities, so that I might remember. I wrote in it when things happened that I didn't understand, so that I might puzzle about it later.

My most exciting find - I discovered the power of writing in the moment, in the midst of hard conversations. Because I was carrying this notebook everywhere, I simply turned to it in the midst of strong emotions...daring myself to write first before speaking, to capture what was being said to me and to gather my thoughts before responding. What power this habit gave me! Truly, it was writing as mindfulness technique - helping me to be present and calm. I now know that I can make writing space whenever...and that the written word soothes me, gives me voice, advocates in ways that don't come immediately to me in the moment in spoken word.

At this past Friday's closing circle for staff, we shared either a hope or something we had learned from the school year. I told my peers about my find...this school year, I learned how beautiful, cathartic, and essential writing is for me, helping me to pause and make space in the midst of the turbulence of teaching. Writing is an incredible tool for me.

This summer, I hope everyone finds their own restorative, reflective outlet (perhaps writing, perhaps not), so that we return to teaching with vigor and renewed possibility.

Happy summer!

Yes! I wrote a Tuesday Slice of Life! Goal accomplished.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tuesday SOL: Is this how the year ends?

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.

A blur of days, celebrations, moments, to do's, as the year winds down. How does it close so quickly? Somehow, everything fits in: silent auction, plays and performances, end of year rituals (walk to the metro, water fun day, children's sharing box), reading our favorite books, washing and scrubbing the classroom toys...entering data, writing report cards, preparing for the final Learning Showcase.

As a result, I'm keeping this short.

Enjoy these portraits of my teaching staff by a charming preschooler - from left to right, these are
Ms. Keynes, Ms. B, and, me, Ms. Ingram :-)