I’m really starting to think that the Full Day Kindergarten teachers have it right. Students learn through play. They need opportunities to wonder, to explore, to talk, and to reflect. And the flow of the day matters. Even as a Grade 5 teacher, I can learn from and embrace this Kindergarten model.
This year, as we explored the possibilities of inquiry more in the classroom, I knew that we needed to make some changes to our current program. Over the Winter Break, I did a lot of reflecting. Then yesterday, we jumped in with this new plan. I’ll admit that I haven’t made all of the changes yet. I still want to begin the quasi-literature circles, and I plan on doing so next week. But I started with the “talk time,” I changed my daily posted schedule to Language and Math only, and am now completely integrating Science, Social Studies, Health, and The Arts. I just finished the second full day back at school, and so far, this new plan has been a huge success!
Here are my observations to date:
- The students that I was most worried about have been terrific with the changes. I really wanted to be cognizant of keeping a routine/structure that would meet the needs of my students with autism. To me, this new routine had less structure than before, but I forgot about something: longer blocks of time mean fewer transitions. Many students, including those with autism, often have the hardest time with transitions. Minimizing these transitions during the day increases the success for ALL of my students. I can then use Social Stories and task analysis to provided added structure for those students that need it.
- Reading and writing can happen naturally. As I’ve started teaching the junior grades, I’ve taught more and more students that are reluctant readers and writers. How do I inspire them to read and write? Embed reading and writing in everything that we do. Today I watched students research and read about aneurysms so that they could perform surgery online (thanks to this wonderful game shared by our vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop). They even started the day reading, writing, and talking about the human body (our Science unit) thanks to the placement of plaques, the laying out of sticky notes, and the presence of recording devices. And then there was even a group of students that worked together and read instructions to start building a skeleton. They were showing their understanding of what they read in what they created, and they were excited about doing it!
- Students need thinking time. I hate to say it, but I always felt so pressured by the bell, that sometimes I rushed students just to make sure that we ended on time. This didn’t benefit me or the students. I was left feeling stressed and the students were stopped before they had the chance to make connections and think deeply. As I stood back and watched our math learning in action today, I realized the value in slowing down and giving students the time that they need to work through the problem, to push past the single solution, and to see the various possibilities. And then there’s the value in the reflect and connect stage, where students have these aha moments and get to really make sense of what they just learned.
- There’s tremendous value in standing back, watching, and listening. As I’ve circulated around the classroom these past couple of days, I find myself taking a few extra minutes to stand at the periphery of the group, watch, and listen. Even though it’s tremendously hard for me — and trust me, this is the case — I try to resist the urge to talk. I can learn a lot just through observation. Watching today, I got to see a group of students that went beyond what a math problem was asking them, and even started measuring desks and measuring the classroom to see if their solution would work. They took a real world problem and made it even more real world! When I posed today’s question, I had a basic answer in mind, and by jumping in too early, I probably would have steered the group to this single answer. By watching first, I saw them get to an answer that was so much better! Then later, I could come in with questions to help clarify their learning and see any gaps in understanding. With the added bonus of bigger blocks of time for the different subject areas, I also have more time to observe first and then react.
- Embrace this system, and students will choose to learn even when it’s not required. With the extreme cold temperatures today, students were inside for both nutrition breaks. Before I left for lunch this afternoon, I took a quick look around the classroom, and I was thrilled to see the number of students that chose to explore one of the human body apps: talking together about how the heart, lungs, and digestive system work. And in fact, one of the groups that was playing Minecraft together, were using one of the human body books to create and explain the workings of the heart. This wasn’t an expectation. This was a choice that the students made because they wanted to learn more. Needless to say, I went down to the staffroom smiling today!
Our Storify Story From Today
So I’m going to continue with these January changes that allow the students and I to learn more than ever before and have fun doing it! What advice can you offer me as we move ahead with our updated daily routine? I’d love to hear your ideas!
It was great to hear the student dialogue, discussion and debate. The students’ excitement about sharing their understanding amongst themselves and taking turns being “the expert” allowed them to “own” their learning …as opposed to the “stand and deliver” method that I often resorted to as an intermediate teacher. Great stuff!
Thanks Paul! I’m finding that the students are remembering and understanding the content better (for the long-term) because they are “owning” this learning. Best of all, I really can meet all of the students where they’re at because I have so much more time to sit down, observe, and work with groups of students. I am spending less and less time standing at the front of the classroom … and I think that’s a good thing!
Thanks for the help and encouragement along the way!
I must say that your new routine really helped with the learning. Your classroom had more enthusiasm in your classroom, because they learnt in a fun way. They have developed the casual way of having fun through learning since kindergarten, and it is great that you have brought it back to them. Not many teachers can do that.
You have an interesting way of orginazing your daily routine. In what I call ‘your blue points’ , you have taken the wisest words, and you are right. What I would add is: Learning happens naturally.
For example on your indoor recess, they started learning naturally. I am sure you did not force them to. Because of your extensive learning, it has setteled into their minds to learn in your free time.
ADVICE: Note that if you over press them with all of these ideas, then they might get of track a little. Everyday, perhaps add a new activity, one step at a time. For many students, it takes time to adapt to a new routine and stratergy.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Yusra! I loved the enthusiasm in class this week, and I’m excited to continue this “fun learning” all year. Students should want to learn, and learning should happen naturally. As students grow up, they won’t always have an adult there telling them to read this article, do this assignment, or study this information. In my opinion, students need to become intrinsically motivated to learn, and as a teacher, I need to help them with this. I’m so glad that you saw this happening in the classroom through the photographs and tweets from yesterday.
You also make a great point about taking things slowly! The changes I’ve made so far are ones that are not that different from what we were doing before the Break. Each day, I try to add a little bit more. This will help the students adjust to the new routine and ensure they continue to be successful.
Please keep looking into our classroom and sharing your thoughts on my posts here! It’s great to have this student perspective!
No problem! 🙂
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