It didn’t work. I had a vision: a plan in my head of exactly what my new Grade 1 classroom would look and feel like. For a while now, I’ve been learning alongside amazing Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers that share their ideas and stories using the #ReggioPLC hashtag. I read about Full-Day Kindergarten classrooms that showed the very best of what play-based learning has to offer. I was inspired! I wanted this environment for my Grade 1’s. I thought about what I did last year with my Grade 5’s, and I knew what was possible. This was going to be great!
But then it wasn’t — or at least, not exactly! My Grade 1’s were not being inspired to read and write. They wouldn’t even look at the books. I tried finding out about their interests and looking for materials that would engage them, but I was getting no where. The students loved playing, but just playing. They were reluctant to engage in conversations. They didn’t see themselves as readers and writers, so they were hesitant to try. Many students are still learning the letters of the alphabet, learning to recognize their name, and in need of some pre-reading and pre-writing activities. I needed to be responsive to student needs.
As a teacher that truly believes in the value of play-based learning and inquiry, I couldn’t go back to a letter-of-the-week program and Jolly Phonics worksheets. There needed to be a middle-ground. That’s when I chose to ask for help. I emailed an educator that I really respect and admire that has a background in developing literacy skills, and I asked for her advice. She shared numerous ideas of how I could teach reading through writing, and how I could use a Writer’s Workshop format to still have students inquire, but with mini-lessons to teach different skills to the different students that need it. After reading her email response and thinking about her questions, I went and looked at Lucy Calkins’ book, and I made some changes.
We still have a Language Inquiry Block time, but the students are spending this time reading and writing (and listening and speaking). They’re choosing the topics. They’re exploring different forms. They’re working with me in guided writing and guided reading groups to help target different individual needs. They’re not necessarily playing — or not in the traditional sense — but they are excited about learning, and more students are now going home to read and write. Yay! At the end of the day yesterday, a student said to me, “I asked my mom if we can stay in tonight because I really want to write!” This makes my heart happy!
Students shared their learning in different ways during Writer's Workshop today. pic.twitter.com/0Ak0y9zJHs
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) September 9, 2014
In just under two weeks, all of the “I can’t’s” — when it came to reading and writing — are being replaced with “I can’s” and “I will try’s.” This is big! So as I sit back and reflect on my couple of weeks of changes, I begin to question if I still have a “play-based program.” Maybe play-based needs to look different in Grade 1, or maybe it needs to look different depending on student needs. Maybe I can still have the open inquiry block that I wanted, but maybe that will need to come later in the year as the needs of the students change. What I do know is that inquiry does not need to be an all or nothing option. When things weren’t working, many people advised me to look at “direct teaching.” I do direct teaching. But this teaching doesn’t include worksheets. This teaching is not rote learning. This teaching is not always full-class. This teaching still encourages students to think, question, and explore their interests, but it also provides them with the foundational skills they need for academic success. Maybe this teaching is really a blend of the “old” and “new,” as I think that inquiry can include both. What do you think? How has your classroom changed now that you’ve met your students? How do you make inquiry work for you and your students? I’d love to know your thoughts on this!