It Only Takes A Few Minutes To Make A Difference

Let me tell you a story. I came back from duty this afternoon, and as soon as I walked into the classroom, my attention was captured by an incident that was happening at one of the tables. A child was finishing off his yogurt, but as he ate, yogurt was getting all over his face, his clothes, and the table. Initially, this seemed to be accidental, but with a little encouragement from peers, things changed for the worse. I went over to say something, but when I reminded this child about eating his yogurt properly, I realized that my words were leading to a bigger problem: he didn’t want to stop, and my words were just making him angry.

I’ll admit that at first I was tempted to push the issue. As much as I may have learned from Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins about self-regulation, when faced with a challenge, I still make mistakes. But today — thankfully — I stopped and listened to that little voice inside my head that said, “Reframe Aviva. Remember those questions: Why this child? Why now? Think: how can you turn this around? Does this child really need to be ‘punished’ or does he just need to ‘eat properly and clean up?’” Today, I listened to that voice. Instead of escalating the problem, I chose a different approach.

I pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with these two students. In a quiet voice, I said, “I have a special story to tell you.” I then started my story. “Once upon a time, there was a little boy named …,” and right away the child jumped in with his name. I asked, “How did you know that?” He said, “My mom tells me that story. Can we do this story together?” Yes! So together, we made up a story about this little boy and all of the wonderful things he does to help out. We even added some funny parts, including a “Dunsiger Dragon,” who isn’t such a scary dragon after all. 🙂 By the end of the story, we both shared a few laughs, he finished and cleaned up his yogurt, and this child’s anger was replaced with happiness. It took less than five minutes to turn things around. 

At the end of the day today, my teaching partner, Paula, and I spoke about what happened. Here’s the why this child/why now question equivalent for educators: what made us better able to deal with this problem today? 

  • We were both in the classroom. With lunch hours and prep schedules, this isn’t always the case. When only one educator is in the classroom, it’s harder to sit down and spend this focused time with just a couple of children. Two educators are definitely necessary.
  • This problem was new to me. Since I was just coming back from duty, I hadn’t been interacting with these students over the break and/or dealing with this problem (or similar ones). This helped me calmly respond to the issue. 
  • We were both happy. We had a great day today, full of some amazing sharing and learning. As I learned through the Foundations courses, adults have a huge impact on student behaviour. Likely, our happiness played an important role in the messages — communicated through our words and actions — that we were giving to the children.

Today, I’m reminded of the impact we can have on kids. It often only takes a few minutes to make a difference. Are we making this difference? How could we do so more often? I’m far from perfect, but I hope that I remember what happened today, and take the time to stop, reframe, and remember to respond in a positive way. What about you?

Aviva

Full Class? Small Group? How Do You Decide?

Yesterday, we had a wonderful PA Day focusing on math. We started the day by watching this fantastic TEDx Talk by Jo Boaler all about math and the value of a growth mindset. 

It’s a talk that I think all educators, parents, and students need to hear to help change some perceptions around math. I thought of this talk a lot as we then moved into small group sessions that all focused on creating better math classrooms.

One of our sessions was on number talks. Please note here that I’m a big fan of number talks. I’ve used them in different ways in multiple grades and with much success. I think they help build students’ understanding of numbers and belief that there’s more than one way to solve problems. Compared to other times that I’ve participated in sessions on number talks, I was now doing so through the lens of a Kindergarten teacher with a new program document that emphasizes the importance of teaching literacy and math skills through play and reducing the time for full class instruction. Where do number talks fit into this?

During this session, we watched two Kindergarten number talks. The discussion around recognizing groups of up to 10 was fantastic, but both talks were done with the full class, on the carpet, for almost 10 minutes, and totally removed from the context of play. Here is what I observed as I watched the video clips.

  • Many students recognized the number amounts and could explain their thinking.
  • Some students determined the total in more than one way.
  • While many students were highly engaged in the lesson, some students were not involved at all. 

It’s this final point that really has me thinking. Instead of pulling the full class for these number talks, I wonder about doing them in small groups. What if they were linked to some of the math learning that’s happening through play and occurred around the time that these math skills were demonstrated? What if they aligned with where each child is at and what each child needs to move forward? While I’m sure that some students benefited from watching and listening to others participate, I wonder about those students for which this was way too difficult — past the zone of proximal development. What did they get out of this activityI also wonder about those students that have already mastered these targeted skills and may need to move onto something else. What was the value for them? 

I can’t help but think again about Boaler’s TEDx Talk. If we want to create entry points for all students, how are we doing so with this task? I also think about two key ideas in our new program document:

  • noticing and naming the learning.
  • constantly questioning, “why this learning, for this child, at this time?”

If we start by observing this math behaviour through play, naming it for children, and then extending it with discussions around subitizing skills, would this benefit children more? If we are really asking ourselves, “why this learning, for this child, at this time?,” would we choose a full class lesson as the best way to meet various needs or would we look at small group options instead? During this Number Talks session, we had some discussions around the questions that I’m raising here, and as expected, people expressed many different viewpoints.

While I raise these points from a Kindergarten perspective, I wonder if they apply to just Kindergarten. This morning, I met an acquaintance of mine for brunch, and she started to talk to me about “small group instruction.” She said that many educators she knows don’t pull small groups because they “don’t have time.” This is when I asked, “what if we replaced full class lessons with small group instruction? Would this better benefit kids?” I can’t help but think about one of my favourite blog posts by Kristi Keery-Bishop, where she discusses the value in letting things go: could some full class instruction be one of these things? As I continue to reflect on my teaching practices, I’m curious to hear what others do and what they think.

Aviva

Our Transforming Classroom

Last Friday, Doug Peterson featured Peter Cameron‘s “Transformed Classroom” in his This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. Peter’s initial blog post and Doug’s post highlighting it, led to the creation of an #ourlearningspace challenge. Doug recently tagged me to participate in the challenge. How could I resist?! For the past couple of days, I’ve been determined to videotape our classroom space when I arrive in the morning, but somehow, I never quite make it to this item on my To Do List. This evening I was doing some thinking, and I thought that being a bit of an “educational troublemaker,” maybe I could break the rules just a tad. You see, possibly my greatest learning from our transformed classroom is that it’s constantly transforming

Just before school started this year, my teaching partner, Paula, and I recorded this video tour of our classroom space.

There are still elements of our room that have stayed the same, but with the help of the students, many other elements have changed.

    • Our Lego table remained as one, until fewer students took an interest in Lego. Many more students demonstrated an interest in creating, so often this larger table is used for various creation options. Covering it in brown paper allows students to draw and write right on the table. Students have already created the landscapes for Toronto and New York City. Their prior knowledge about these locations is amazing! We realized that pulling the table slightly out from the wall allows more students to gather around it, and this often becomes a quiet, popular area for them to work. Sometimes we add a small chair or little bench near this table to hold various supplies, such as recyclable items for building.

    • We still have the lamp near the bigger table and another lamp over in dramatic play. The use of the lamps plus the natural light from outside allow us to turn on fewer overhead lights. The brightness from the lights can be dysregulating for some students (and adults). These brighter and darker areas in the classroom also become great micro-environments that can meet different needs of different students at different times of the day.
    • The snack table remained. We rarely sit down to eat as a full class. Students eat when they’re hungry. They’re responsible for eating twice a day: once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Paula is incredible at keeping track of this eating — with the help of the students — and reminding those students that need it, that they have to eat. Most students are great at this now and can listen to their bodies: determining when they need to take a break and eat. Not only is this area great for self-regulation, but usually eating is a quieter option. With 33 students in the class, having six students almost always sitting down to eat, usually brings down the classroom noise level. This benefits all learners: educators and children.

    • The sand table is not always a sand table, but the table itself, remained. Sensory play can be a great self-regulation option for many students, and we find that at different times of the day, children flock to this area. Many children seem to like water the most and soapy water is their favourite. Water beads are another popular option, and the addition of some scoops and pails, allow for great math connections. Loose parts added to a sensory bin often results in math talk as well. We frequently talk to the students about what they want in this area, and sometimes they even co-create the space with us (e.g., a few students decided to add paint with shaving cream to create art in the sensory bin — they not only put out the supplies, but instructed students on how to use them and supported students with their use).

  • The bead table is not always for beads, but beads always make an appearance in the classroom. Our students have recently taken to the use of iron beads, and while these little beads may be the bane of my existence — the big mess on the floor always stresses me out — they are an incredibly popular option that help many students self-regulate. The oral language and math skills that come out of these beads continue to amaze me. Students regularly create incredible works of art with just some small beads. I’m learning to breathe through the mess. 🙂 

  • We still have an easel, but it’s changed locations slightly. The easel is now closer to the Book Nook area. We found that painting was very calming for many students, and having this painting option in a quiet area seems to work for students that need this quiet to think and create. We also add a little piece of paper towel to the easel. Students learned that Van Gogh used to wipe his brush, and the colours naturally blended into each other. Now they “paint like Van Gogh,” and we get a lot less water on the floor. Sometimes we use water colours at the creative table and this provides a slightly different painting option. 
  • The Book Nook area is in the same space, but many components changed. We noticed that no matter how we used the light table many students did not use it when in this location. We moved it into our dramatic play area, and now students tend to bring more items over to it and use it in conjunction with the items in the dramatic play space. The pillows that we both love became very problematic. They take up a lot of space between the Book Nook area and the carpet, and when all of our students gather together, they become more troublesome than useful. We put away many pillows, and we tend to bring them out with the students when needed. Children often take the cushions off of the sofa and the chair to act as pillows when they want them. Sometimes things that look pretty are not always successful. We also added some “adult colouring books” and some larger puzzles to this space. These options are great for self-regulation for many students, and it’s wonderful to see students self-selecting them as needed.

    • Our carpet area is more open now. The pillows and the bench made the area look cozy, but there was not enough space for all students to comfortably join our morning meetings. We’ve recently moved the bigger bench off the carpet and along one of the edges. Our V.I.P.s (Very Important People), sit here each day, and they enjoy this special seating.
    • Dramatic play continues to evolve. It started as a house, turned into a restaurant with the help of the students, and is now slowly becoming a recycling centre, based on the children’s current interest in the environment. We figured out that we had way too many items in this area to start the year, so we reduced the amount, and the materials seem to be used more purposefully. 

    • Our drawing and writing table became a lot bigger. By moving the light table into the dramatic play area, we could move the half table from dramatic play and connect it with the smaller writing table. We shifted the shelf a bit, and now we have a full table in this space. Students are so interested in drawing and writing, and this table is often over-full. The children showed us that they needed a bigger writing space, and they helped us move the furniture around to make that happen. 

  • The shelves stayed the same. We don’t have many shelves in the room, but the ones that we have, continue to hold similar items in a similar space (some building materials changed and we added some extra art supplies too). Not only do these shelves help make materials accessible to students, but they also act as small barriers that define spaces in the room. Along with lighting, this also helps in creating the micro-environments that we mentioned earlier. 

You’ll notice that while we have technology in the classroom — including a SMART Board and iPads — they’re not necessarily an important part of our learning environment. (I never thought that I’d say this before and I’m actually struggling with writing it down.) The technology though is used primarily to capture learning (through documentation done in conjunction with the students) or inspire learning (e.g., a video provocation). Our youngest learners definitely seem to benefit from the face-to-face interactions and problem solving skills that happen without a screen. This doesn’t mean that we don’t use technology with them (e.g., we use it to further investigate areas of interest), but we’re very purposeful about when, why, and how much of it we use, and this can vary according to the child, the day, and his/her needs. 

The Reggio Approach often talks about “the environment as the third teacher“: creating a space that’s truly responsive to the needs and interests of the students. Maybe one day I’ll manage to record our classroom, but I have no doubt that it will continue to “transform” from there. What about your room? I hope that you’ll share your transformations. I think that we can learn a lot from each other.

Aviva

Could “Kindness” Be At The Heart Of Classroom Management?

Sometimes it takes a number of seemingly unrelated experiences to make you view things differently when seen together. This is what happened to me this past week. It all started when on Thursday, I went back into the classroom during Second Nutrition Break, and I saw my teacher partner, Paula, taking some “selfies” with some students in the class.

One more lunchtime selfie with our fabulous Grade 3 milk helper. #fdk #earlyyears #iteachk

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

As I watched Paula interact with the students, I was reminded of the value of “relationships,” and how taking the time to have fun with children can also show them how much we care. Not only did I have to capture these “selfie moments,” but I needed to take my own selfie with my photographer helper.

Of course the photographers need a selfie too. Connections with kids matter! #iteachk #earlyyears #fdk

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

These selfie experiences made me think back to the #BIT16 conference from a few weeks ago. I am not a fan of taking selfies, but as I met up face-to-face with some different educators for the first time, I managed to get involved in a number of selfie moments. Andrew Campbell, a fellow educator in a neighbouring Board, made note of these selfie moments during Thursday’s keynote address.

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Strangely enough, it was almost as though the keynote speaker, Shelly Sanchez, was reading our tweets, for within minutes of this discussion, she made note of an “epic selfie adventure.”

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She started discussing “us-ies,” which not only became a big topic of discussion at the conference, but also is exactly what Paula started doing in the classroom. This makes me think about Helen‘s comment on “us-ies” in her BIT16 follow-up blog postThe “friendship power” of a photograph is really quite remarkable, and I think this holds as true for children as it does for adults. 

I share all of this because I was actually thinking about these experiences today as I commented on Doug Peterson‘s blog post on classroom management. While I believe in everything that I wrote in my comment, I started to wonder about those times when even after “building relationships,” behaviour is still a problem. What do we do then? 

  • Do we become firm?
  • Do we reiterate expectations?
  • Do we consider the value in proximity?
  • Do we use a reward system?
  • Or do we find another way to connect? Could this be when that student needs this connection even more?

I couldn’t help but think about a strategy that an EA at my last school spoke about all the time. She said, “If you’re ever tempted to yell at a child, don’t. Instead, sing it!” Put your thoughts into music. Create your own tune. She always stood by the fact that the singing will make you feel better and will have a more positive impact on the actions of the child. I used to hear her singing with Kindergarten and Grade 8 students, and the approach never failed to work. Could a made up song help build relationships? Maybe again, it comes down to the value in being “kinder than necessary.” 

When I think back to my Faculty of Education experiences, “kindness” was never discussed as a classroom management strategy. I’m wondering though, if it could be at the heart of classroom management. What do you think? As I head into another school week, I’m thinking about “challenging behaviour.” Maybe it’s time to take a few extra us-ies, sing a few more songs, share a few more laughs, and see the benefits for kids. I have my plan for the week ahead. What about you?

Aviva

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Of course, I also managed to get my us-ie. 🙂

How Do We Create A “Window” That Reflects Everyone?

Over the past couple of weeks, something incredible has started to develop in our classroom. It all began when my teaching partner, Paula, mentioned to me that a student in our class has a concern. He’s really passionate about saving the environment, and he noticed how many items go into the garbage that could be recycled. He thinks we need to do a better job recycling. Even his parents have mentioned that he discusses this at home, so we know that this topic is important to him and could lead to some meaningful learning. This year, an EA (Educational Assistant) in the school works with one of her students to collect and empty the recycling bins in the afternoon. We thought that we could encourage this child to help sort the recycling prior to the collection process. Our hope was that he would help gather some other students to help, and eventually, the desire to make a difference would spread. 

After our initial planning discussion, I came in from nutrition break one day, and asked this student if he would like to help me sort the recycling. Not only did he say, “yes,” but other students gathered around too, and pretty soon we had our own Garbage Crew. 

Reading, writing, and math skills were all evident as students helped sort our recycling bin and decrease the amount of garbage that we threw away each day. We even started to use a calendar for a new, meaningful purpose and track how we did at sorting items and reducing garbage.

One student even brought in some gloves from home to use when sorting garbage and decided to get students to sign-up if they wanted to help. He created a meaningful reason to write and to collect data.

Pretty soon, this child wasn’t the only one developing lists of people to help with garbage. He inspired others to make a difference. Recently, we’ve started going outside in the morning to the forest that links onto our school property. Students noticed a lot of garbage in the forest and some of them decided that they wanted to help. Earlier this week, this child created a My Little Pony Pick Up Team to pick up toys and garbage.

Then yesterday, two students were outside exploring the forest, and they were so upset by the amount of littering they saw. They went back to the classroom and grabbed our garbage can, walked it out to the forest, and started to collect the garbage. They filled almost an entire can. This led to them doing some problem solving about how to reduce littering.

One child decided that our principal, John Gris, could get us some garbage cans for outside. She thought that writing him a letter would help. As soon as playtime started, she went to the table and started writing. She spent almost two hours writing, and started over at least five times, before she ended with the letter that she wanted.

During the process, we worked together, and she reflected on one of her drafts and what made it challenging to read. I then modelled an option that might help solve her problem, and she used this method to complete her final letter.

While “grit” is not my favourite word, this child definitely demonstrated grit because she was passionate about the subject and the change that she wants to see happen. She confidently walked this letter down to the principal, and will be thrilled on Monday when I show her his tweet that a reply is forthcoming. 

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As some of our students work to make a difference outside, others work to make a difference in the classroom. The child that initially inspired this environmental inquiry, noticed that while we’re getting better at recycling, we still have a lot of food waste. “We need a grin bin, Miss Dunsiger.” I happened to have a mini-green bin at home, so I brought it into the classroom this week. The students have just started our “food waste recycling.” They drew and wrote about what items can go inside the green bin, they help sort garbage each day to find more items for our green bin, and they police one another to ensure that non-food items do not end up inside. I may have been asked to scoop out a couple of straws this week. 🙂 

Our plan is to partner with some parents to bring home the green bin each week. This then helps become more of a “community initiative.”

While our students may only be three-, four-, and five-years-old, watching this inquiry evolve, I’m reminded about the important belief that underlies the finalized Kindergarten Program Document: that we view children as “competent and capable of complex thinking.” There are so many components of our Four Frames that become evident through the observations, conversations, and work products that have happened throughout this evolving project. Students contribute to this inquiry in different ways, but they all play a role in one way or another. 

I share all of this because we have just recently concluded our Parent Observations. During some conversations with parents over the past couple of weeks, I’m reminded about how they view our ongoing communication with them. Many parents made comments to me that are similar to the ones that Aaron Puley made during our presentation at #BIT16speaking about how they’re ultimately interested in what their own child is doing in the classroom. I’m saying this because when I document learning, I don’t always do so through this lens. Yes, at the end of the day, Paula and I look over the photographs and videos that we’ve taken, and we think about who wasn’t included and who we may need to spend more time with the next day. But we also look at the evolution of learning that happens in the classroom. We look at how ideas emerge again, how thinking changes, and where we might want to go next based on current interests. Sometimes, as much as I may notice other things happening in the classroom, I want to spend more time with some students because of their work related to our current inquiry. These students will change day-by-day, but I share this because my conversations these past couple of weeks remind me that we all view things differently. I don’t have my own children, so I don’t tend to see this documentation with a parent hat. 

This weekend, I’m left wondering, is there a way to capture everyone while still following some conversations more in-depth? How might parents use photographs and videos of other children to still find out more about what their child did during the day? I’m curious to know what others do and also hear how parents feel about different options. I see the amazing things that happen when we leave it to kids to solve some real world problems, but I’m also aware that every child may not equally make it into our documentation. Since this documentation can really be that “window into the classroom,” how do we create a window that reflects everyone? 

Aviva