Yesterday was the 100th day of school, and after having our day of exploring “100,” I had a new found appreciation for the Full Day, Early Learning Kindergarten Program and the “emergent curriculum.” As many of you know, I taught Kindergarten for eight years before moving to Grade 1 and then Grades 1 and 2. I loved teaching Kindergarten. I ran a very structured Kindergarten program though, and I had many concerns about a play-based model. Don’t get me wrong here. I was, and still am not, a teacher that uses a lot of worksheets. I believe in the benefits of rich tasks, collaboration with others, and open-ended activities that encourage students to investigate and explore. I like structure though. My concern with the newest Kindergarten Program model is that if teachers don’t enforce that students go to certain activities, will they ever go to them? Will students choose to read and write if they don’t have to? Will they get enough variety in math exploration if they are not told to go to various centres and complete certain activities? I had my doubts, but yesterday, my impression changed.
Since it was our 100th day of school, I decided to set-up different literacy and math centres related to the number 100. In the morning, I broke students into groups, and I had them go to the various centres. Each centre had lots of choice incorporated in both tool and final product, but the students did not “choose” where to go. In the afternoon, I let the children decide. I had four open-ended math activities all based on counting to 100, as well as on our new math topic of shapes and symmetry. Since I also had a scheduled small group Skype with a teaching candidate from the University of Regina for part of the afternoon, I didn’t want to be moving students around between centres, so I told them that the choice was up to them. Before the second nutrition break, I spent 5 minutes quickly introducing the four centres, and then I explained that the students could go where they wanted to go. They could move between the centres at their own pace. They could choose to work alone or in a group, and they could borrow any of the digital cameras or iPod Touches to videotape their thinking and exploration. The only rule: they needed to be working.
It was incredible what happened. Below are numerous videos that students recorded as well as ones that I recorded:
Without explicit instruction from me, or even the timer going off that I tend to use so much, the students are engaging in meaningful math and literacy dialogue with others. They’re working together to solve problems. They’re explaining their thinking. They’re taking risks, and learning from their mistakes. These students might only be in Grades 1 and 2, but they’re still directing their own learning. It makes you think that if the same is true for Kindergarten students what independent, self-motivated students we could all have in our classrooms.
I know that it takes time to get to this point. Since September, I’ve been modelling the types of discussions I hope to hear. Students have had many structured opportunities to have these discussions. They know that they can play and explore and still learn, and with many opportunities to do so, they know various ways to share their learning with me. Yesterday taught me the importance of giving students even more of this “choice time,” and I definitely will do so now.
What are your thoughts on this? How do you get students to a point where they can have control over their own learning? I would love to hear what you think!
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Aviva, I used to be the teacher that told my students what to do and when. I am no longer that teacher. For example during our first term together my students learned a variety of ways to practice word work. Over the course of a week I would rotate everyone through different stations. I spent the appropriate amount of time teaching them why/how to use the stations correctly and what type of learning I was looking for at each station. With the new year and the new term I no longer tell my students how to practice. They now choose and practice in a way that is most meaningful to them.
My students have choice with their reading, writing, and word work options. They often have choice with their math options too. I think our job as teachers is to give them a foundation but to encourage and support as they discover the world. I think sometimes when we make all the choices for them they fail to learn how to think for themselves.
As you are aware this has been quite a professional growth year for me. I’ve made a lot of changes with my teaching, including letting go of a lot, but I’m really pleased with the out come so far. My students are reading, writing, and doing math in ways that are meaningful to them. Obviously I am still around to guide, prompt, redirect, and encourage when necessary but for the most part they have taken a lot more control of their learning and I can’t ask for any more than that. It’s exciting times I tell you.
One thing I need to improve on is getting my students to vocalize their learning better. I am super impressed with what you’ve been doing with your students. Asking those important questions, and listening too. While I think I do this, I know I could do this a whole lot better. Yet another goal for me to add to my list.
Thanks for sharing your learning with me. I love the way you constantly push my thinking and make me critically analyze what I do with my students and why.
Karen, this is like a wonderful blog post of its own. I love how you’ve reflected here about the changes you’ve already made and changes you want to make. Dialoguing with you has helped me reflect on my teaching practices and make so many changes too. Thanks Karen!
Hi Aviva, I am a student at Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. I am in the process of renewing my teaching degree after being out of the field for many long years. I have been subbing as well. I am astonished at how much teaching has changed. Like Karen I was taught the teacher-is-the-authority instead of the teacher-is-the-mentor method. I have not yet been convinced of the effectiveness of this new teaching when students get to the “real world.” As the manager of an editorial department at a trade publication, I found my younger employees to be excellent in what they wanted to do, and awful at what was required but uninteresting, not to mention an attitude problem as well. I have also found high school students taking advantage of the station-learning concept to just listen to music and play games albeit math, English or science games. I can see the advantages, and like you, most teachers seem to find students in elementary schools responding well to this type of teaching. It would be interesting to find out if the effectiveness of high-school-to-real-world transition works. Was my experience the norm? Very thought provoking post. I look forward to other comments. I will be posting once more on your blog and around March 1, I will be posting a summary of the posts I have commented on at Terri if you want to check that out.
Thanks for your comment, Terri! While I don’t have high school experience myself, I follow some wonderful educators on Twitter like @learninghood, @bloggucation, @danikabarker, and @msjweir that can all share their similar approach in various high school situations. I hope that you can dialogue with them about this and get a better feel for how this type of approach could work in the high school setting.
This is a spectacular showing of inquiry based learning in your classroom. I applaud your ability to step back and allow the students to show you their innate curiosity and desire to learn, explore, communicate, and grow. Far too often, we (as educators) tend to prescribe the learning and the activities that lead to it. This certainly can not engage each unique and diverse child who all have their own interests, experiences, and strengths. By communicating their ideas and working together, these students are also displaying those ideas and explaining them to their peers – I love how they are collaborating and supporting each others learning. This definitely breaks the blackline master / photocopy / one-size fits all mould and your classroom looks excitingly dynamic as a result.
Thank you for sharing! Your students are superstars!
Thanks so much for your comment, Aaron, and your kind words! I’m so glad that I did what I did here, and I’m finding myself doing this more and more often now. It’s amazing how much students can direct their own learning and how much they can help others while doing so. I would never have imagined that an activity like this one could have been as successful as it was. It’s because of this that I’m now looking at revamping my literacy work station time after the March Break and building in even more student choice. I can’t wait to see how it works!
My students will love to hear your kind words too! Thanks for the continued support!