The Complex, Messy Wonderfulness That Is Learning!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this blog post on my evolving thoughts around pedagogical documentation and how I share this learning with others. I really thought that moving away from separate blog posts may be the way to go, but then some wonderful experiences happened this week, and I didn’t know how to share these stories. That’s when I thought that maybe my professional blog is a way to reflect on this learning, for there are definitely some personal learning components to these experiences. 

The story started on Monday afternoon at the creative table with one of our Year 2 students. Many children were using this space as a Makerspace, and I happened to put out some popsicle sticks on the table. I called a few students over to help me clean up the mess at this table, and that’s when one of the boys noticed that he could make letters out of popsicle sticks. What’s particularly incredible about this is that nobody else made letters out of these sticks, and it wasn’t even my intention for them to do so. But as the popsicle sticks lay on top of each other on the table, this child thought about letter formations, and one letter became many more. 

I wanted him to think critically about the shapes of the letters as well as the letter-names and sounds, which is why I asked him the question about creating a letter B out of popsicle sticks. While one child was certain that you couldn’t make a B out of popsicle sticks, and I tended to agree, Edward decided to take this on as a challenge, and he created a B. Now I was a little disappointed that the day was almost over, and we really had to tidy up, but I asked Edward if we could keep his letters at school for another day. I wanted to try to extend this learning. I spoke to my teaching partner, Paula, and we decided to put the letters back out on the creative table in addition to the other creations that students made. We thought that we would wait and see what happened. 

As expected, other students were inspired by the popsicle stick letters, and they decided to make some of their own. There was also a lot of discussion around letters, sounds, and words. The addition of the book at the creative table, also led to some storytelling and reading, which is always wonderful to see. While Edward went back to the table to create some more letters, even better still, all of this talk about letters led to him working on how to write and spell his name. He was so proud of his new accomplishment, and we were too!

Paula and I spoke again after school on Tuesday, and since the popsicle stick letters and Makerspace experiences were still popular, we decided to leave out the materials. We added tape and felt as different mediums, and ways to see what else the children might do. Then we waited. 

On Wednesday, Edward was excited to show Paula how he could write his name: she was away sick on Monday afternoon and Tuesday, so hadn’t seen his accomplishment in person. I thought that his interest might end there, but it didn’t. He went over to the popsicle sticks and began to make the letters in his name out of popsicle sticks. That’s when he realized that he could make letters out of other items, such as blocks. His letter-writing and identification story continues, as seen in the Instagram stories below.

This letter interest was not just contained inside. Edward began to find letters outside, and other children chimed in on this letter-learning, and even extended it further. All week long, students commented on the “stick letters” they found in the forest, and even brought some back to explore in the outdoor classroom at the end of the day. One child even found a letter in a scrap piece of paper.

What’s particularly wonderful about readers and writers is that when students start to see themselves in these ways, their interest and skills gradually start to improve. This is what happened here. Now he started to think about how writing could “communicate messages that others could read,” and we explored letter-sounds in meaningful ways, as he chose to label some containers in the classroom.

Fast-forward to the next day — Thursday — when Edward decided to do something with the two old movie posters that we added to the Makerspace. When he taped these posters to the ground, Paula and I weren’t sure what he was going to do next, but he had a plan: he created a jungle. Other children got involved in the building and creation process, and reading and writing became a valuable part of this process as seen in the Instagram stories below.

Just after he ate lunch today, @paulacrockett and I noticed that Edward had unrolled a movie theatre poster and was lying on top of it. What was he doing. Trying to straighten it out. He then got tape to tape it down on the floor, and grabbed a second poster to attach to it. A worker needed to get under our sink, so Edward relocated. When @paulacrockett asked him what he was making, he said, “a jungle.” He used the blocks for trees. He also tried to create a volcano using a partially circular block to be the opening at the top. He started to label the items in the jungle, including the berries he made. As seen here, he’s reading me back the word he wrote. Friends even came to help. Edward even changed the play at the Lego table by starting to use the Lego to make dinosaurs to add to his jungle. ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #cti_languageoftransientart

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Other children got involved in Edward’s jungle. Nola made a sign to not touch the jungles, and Edward continued making and reading signs to label his jungle. @paulacrockett and I love what he made, but we knew that he couldn’t leave it in the middle of the floor so close to the door. We worked with him to problem solve and move his jungle onto a table. He then extended it even more and surrounded the table with five chairs. He asked children if they wanted to work on his jungle tomorrow, and added them to his list of five. Then he read us his numbered picture. Literacy, math, problem solving, creativity, innovation, and social skills all evident in this student-directed free play! ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #cti_languageoftransientart

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Edward’s plan to extend the jungle, also led to a great reading, writing, and math opportunity out in the forest yesterday.

Since the new location of the jungle took over the Lego table, we also had to move around some items including some of the Lego. Since we added some forest and jungle books to the jungle table, we put the Lego books over on the shelves closer to the Lego. A few children looked at these books before, but they never tried to build anything in them. Then yesterday, the new location of the books and the building materials, attracted some different students … and now they used the books. It’s great to hear the reading, math, and problem solving talk in this space!

Paula and I also spoke more about how we could extend the learning that’s happening in the classroom, and that’s when she suggested an end-of-the-day reflection meeting on what we learned. While students shared different things that they did, she also targeted certain students to discuss their learning, which inspired others, and even had children set their own plans for the next day. 

It was one of these reflection circles that led to Trinity’s exploration of letters yesterday. She got other students involved, and there was some great problem solving as part of this process.

Looking at these experiences as they connect to each other, helps us determine some possible next steps, especially around letter-sounds, and blending these sounds together to read words. But looking back, this process was also a good reminder for us about children, how they learn, and the environment that they need to be successful. Paula and I have had many conversations about this topic over the week, and here are some of our biggest takeaways.

1. Children need time. I have been as guilty as they come for cleaning things up too quickly. If areas are empty in the room, I’m usually one that’s eager to switch around the materials and use the space differently. But sometimes we just need to give students more time to come to these spaces. We also need to leave items out for multiple days for children to explore — and re-explore — in different ways. This Makerspace area remained all week long with very few changes, and we also plan on having this space on Monday. Since children continue to come here, to create, and to make some amazing connections to literacy, math, and problem solving, why would we tidy it up?

2. Sometimes moving an item to a new location changes children’s interest in it. We saw this with the Lego books this week. For weeks now, we’ve had these books over on the Lego table, and while a few children flip through them, this is usually where the interest ends. Putting them on a new shelf though, attracted different students, and students used these books in a new way. This was a good reminder for us that sometimes just a small change leads to a big difference.

3. We need to remember the developmental component in a Kindergarten classroom. There is a lot of growth in Kindergarten, and while children come to us between the ages of three and five, the difference in these ages is huge. Some children are developmentally like toddlers when they enter Kindergarten, and we need to give them the time and support to progress through this stage, as we also try to meet the academic demands of our program. I’m taking Reading Part 1 right now, and I do agree with the thinking that’s shared in the course that reading skills have to be explicitly taught. This includes letter-names and sounds. But children have to be ready for this learning, and as they’re immersed in a language-rich environment, we’ll begin to hear and see this readiness, and can then extend their learning. Once again, I’m reminded of the key question in the Kindergarten Program Document: “why this learning for this child at this time?” In my opinion, it’s a question that’s valuable in all grades.

4. Rich learning often involves the mixing of materials. I think of all of the times that we could have stopped children this week. Blocks, paper, Lego, glue, tape, and books all ended up together, but it was in the combination of materials that we moved from letter-identification and formation to letter-use. So, as I remind myself regularly, items can always be moved back to their proper place. For now, the “proper place” is mixed up with many other items.

5. We cannot underestimate the value in free play. I can’t help but think about this tweet that I saw from Anne the other day. (I’m so grateful to Laurel Fynes for retweeting it.)

If we added activity signs to any of our classroom spaces, none of this learning would have happened this week. Children used materials in ways that we didn’t expect, and mixed materials in ways that we wouldn’t have anticipated. It was the “free” nature of our classroom play that allowed for the best learning. This doesn’t mean that we didn’t question and support this learning during the process — and our documentation definitely shows that we did — but we started with the child first. Maybe this is the best reminder of all. The Kindergarten Program Document reminds us to view children as “competent and capable of complex thought.” How do you remember to always do this? What impact might this statement have on your classroom and program design?

This learning story is long, complicated, spans the Four Frames, and started with one child, but includes multiple children now. It’s a good reminder that learning is messy, complex, and amazingly wonderful … for observing the growth this week has been exactly that! How do you capture and reflect on the learning that happens in your classroom? How do you use these reflections to guide future learning — for yourself and for your studentsMaybe my new focus on pedagogical documentation will include more of these complex, multi-faceted learning stories, which shine a light on my learning and the learning of our students.


Does Modelling Need To Come First?

At the end of September, I began taking the Reading Part 1 course through our Board.

The other Additional Qualification Courses that I’ve taken have all been online, so it’s been a new experience for me to attend class once a week with others, but I’m quite enjoying it. At this week’s class, we all shared our presentations on Comprehension Strategies. It’s funny what happens when you sit back and listen to multiple presentations in a row: sometimes repetition of similar points leads to new thinking. This is what happened to me on Monday night. 

Towards the end of the presentations that night, I sent out this tweet.

Many of us — our group included — discussed the value in modelling the use of these comprehension strategies. Yes, I still support this, but now I’m starting to rethink the timing. Does modelling always have to come first?

I can’t help but think about one of my favourite Dr. Jean Clinton videos on “stuffing the duck.” 

Every day, my teaching partner, Paula, and I work hard at living by the words and ideas that Dr. Clinton shares here. And so, if kids are not “empty vessels,” and there’s value in building on their natural curiosity, then would these same ideas continue to hold true when it comes to reading? As we stood up at the front of the room on Monday night and began our presentation, I listened to the message that our group shared about “starting with modelling.”  All of a sudden I wanted to shout, “Wait a minute! Now I’m not so sure.” What message do we give children about themselves as readers and as thinkers when we insist on modelling first? How could we use modelling to extend what children already know? I love how a few repeated statements in an evening of presentations began to shift my perspective. Would they have shifted yours?


What made it a success?

I love to reflect when things don’t go well, but I also love to reflect when they do. Success is always exciting, and figuring out the “why” behind the success helps with creating the conditions for this success to happen again. On Friday, we had a particularly wonderful experience out in the forest, and my teaching partner, Paula, and I were later discussing what made this experience so great.

Here are many of our thoughts. 

1. The gift of time. We never rush our forest play. Even in the snow, ice, and rain, we try to give enough time for the play to settle, so that we can get to a point of richer and deeper learning. Friday was perfect, as when we opened the gate and headed out to the forest, we saw right away that the students needed to run. Many children played variations of tag games, as they raced with each other through the forest. After a little time running though, they settled, and that was when the conversations changed, the choices changed, and the play changed. 

2. The type, amount, and use of space. The forest is great, as we have enough room in it for all students to find their space. Some areas are covered (as seen in the videos above) and some are more open. Just as students seek out covered areas in the classroom — such as the spaces in our shelves — they also often do so in the forest. Many children find these spaces calming. The forest environment itself adds another calming element with the many vines and roots along the forest floor. This often slows down the children’s movements, and creates a peaceful feeling among the trees. The forest is also full of levels. Climbing trees is incredibly self-regulating for some children, and the spread of children both low to the ground and high in the air creates a different kind of buzz in this space.

3. Being present, but not intrusive. This is something that we continue to work on. When we’re interacting with students, we can often ask them questions that help extend the learning and make links to various math and literacy expectations. But we are forever balancing this desire with knowing when to stand back, observe, and let the children support each other. We both focused on this yesterday. We moved between asking questions to watching (and even walking away), so that children could have the space to work and to problem solve together.

4. Student combinations. The forest is an interesting space, as different children often find each other and play together. It’s when this happens that students also support each other in new ways. We are not the only ones that can model and extend learning. 

5. Small group instruction. Both Paula and I are big believers that forest time is learning time and equally as valuable as the time that we spend together in the classroom. In fact, for some children, this time outside benefits them even more. This is why we always document our time out in the forest, and it’s also why we support students in small groups in this outdoor space. There are many videos above of the two of us sitting down or standing around with groups of students, hearing their ideas, and then extending them — or even providing direct instruction — in different ways.

6. The “team” is there. Having the two of us there is key to this forest success. We can then both work with different groups of students, but also discuss our observations with each other, and even provide some ideas for possible next steps. There are times in the classroom — be it because of nutrition breaks, lunches, or prep times — that the two of us are not together. Sometimes only one person is there. This changes how we can support and extend learning … but in the forest, the “team” is always present, and that means something!

7. Variety is the spice of life! Our forest play is always varied and always directed by the students. We don’t plan provocations, and while we might discuss ways to extend learning from previous days, we try to always follow the interests and direction of the child. Not all children are interested in the same thing, and that’s okay. With the two of us there, we can support the different interests and conversations that happen in this outdoor space. 

8. So many of the 100 languages are addressed in this forest space! It wasn’t until I started teaching Full-Day Kindergarten that I heard about the 100 languages of children, but after hearing and reading about these languages, I’ve done a lot more thinking about how students share their learning. Speaking and writing are very common “languages” that we see in the classroom — in all grades — and I love the use of these languages, but I also love how The Arts and physical literacy become so present in our forest space. Physical literacy, drama, visual arts, music, and dance (movement) were all highlighted outside on Friday, and it was amazing to see how children chose these ways to communicate with each other!

What makes your outdoor learning time successful? How do you extend this learning in the classroom and re-create these positive experiences from day-to-day? I think there’s always value in reflecting, and Friday’s successes were worth some additional reflection time.


I Wonder … A LOT!

We talk about the value in students “wondering.” I think that adults should also wonder. I have a lot of current wonders: many of which revolve around our Kindergarten Program Document and our Board’s goal to have all students reading by the end of Grade 1What does pedagogy look like in practice? 

And so tonight, before I head to bed, I have to share these many wonders that are occupying the brain space I need for a deep and restful — although be it short 🙂 — sleep.

  • I wonder how educators interpret “play” in the Kindergarten Program Document. What does it look like to you? 
  • I wonder if the type of play opportunities educators provide for students change during the day, and what might these changes look like? How do you decide what to do, when? How do you address all student needs with these decisions?
  • I wonder what reading instruction looks like in Kindergarten. What constitutes “small group instruction?” How long is small group instruction? What might “guided reading” look like? How might it vary from “guided reading” in other grades, or does it vary?
  • I wonder how educators monitor progress. Do you use standardized assessments? Which ones? Is documentation equally valuable, and if it is, how do you use it to measure growth?
  • I wonder how educators balance oral language skills with reading and writing. Is it a balance? Does it vary depending on the child? How do you decide? In your classroom program, does oral language merge with reading and writing, or is it separate from them? What guides your decisions?
  • I wonder what impact outdoor learning has on oral language skills, reading, and writing. How do you leverage your outdoor space to support the development of academic skills? What have you already tried, and what do you still want to try?
  • I wonder what our classrooms communicate about our view of the child and how they learn. What message are you hoping that your classroom design says to others? What decisions have you made to help communicate this message?
  • I wonder how educators balance developmental considerations with program expectations and reading benchmarks. What have you tried? What guides your decisions? What changes have you made?
  • I wonder what impact relationships have on readingHow do we merge relationship building and academic expectations? What do “reading” and “relationships” look like in your classroom?
  • I wonder what “intervention” looks like in Kindergarten. Do you focus on Year 1 students, Year 2 students, or both? How do you make these decisions?
  • I wonder about the key phrase in the Kindergarten Program Document that is forever running through my head: “Why this learning for this child at this time?” How does this phrase impact on your programming decisions? How might it impact on an intervention model?

My head is definitely full of more questions than answers, but I’m hoping that these wonders and questions can start a conversation. An important one. One that might help me as I continue to learn new things, try new things, and better support kids!


A Broken Stapler And A Little Perspective!

After school today, my teaching partner, Paula, shared a wonderful video and story with me. Paula and I both believe in fostering independence in our students, and we try to let them solve various problems on their own … including that of a broken stapler.

I love a lot about this video.

  • From her identification of the problem and her solution …
  • To her palpable excitement when she screams, “It’s working!”

But what I may love even more is the part that happened just after Paula stopped recording. She said that this student spoke to her about a child that always fixed our stapler last year. He’s now in Grade 1 and attending another school. She said, “If he was still here, I wouldn’t have learned to fix the stapler on my own!”

While I’m sure that at some point, she would have learned this skill, she’s right in thinking that this other child probably would have solved the problem if he was still in our class. In fact, she probably would have brought him the stapler. But with nobody else to fix it, she was forced to solve the problem on her own … and she did! 

I know that as educators, we worry that we can’t do it all. We often hear concerns around class sizes, and yes, our numbers can be large. 

  • How do we support everyone?
  • How do we meet with every child, every day?
  • What do we do when so many children may need our attention at the same time?

These are all valid concerns, and ones that Paula and I have discussed before. But then a five-year old shares some words of wisdom at the end of her stapler story and reminds us that maybe we don’t have to do it all. Sometimes — no matter what our age — we all benefit from those times when we have to solve our own problems, and the feeling of satisfaction when we do. How do we support students in seeing the value in these successes? How do we remember to let go enough to allow for this kind of independent problem solving? Thank goodness for a broken stapler and a little perspective!