On Monday, we started the day with a special Awards Assembly and a visit from Bruiser: the mascot for The Hamilton Bulldogs. It was a really exciting assembly, and in order to record videos and take photographs to remember some special student moments, I decided to put myself in with the kids and sit on the floor.
I’ve taught primary for 12 years, and I’ve sat on the floor during many assemblies. Here’s what I always remember: it’s uncomfortable. Like really uncomfortable. Your legs fall asleep. You feel all squished in the middle of other students. You don’t have the much-needed personal space. This is when I start to fidget. I spread out my legs. I shift positions. I’m tempted — but don’t — get up on my knees, as then none of the students would be able to see over me. I count in my head the minutes until the assembly will be over!
This is also when I start to think about rules. I’m not talking all rules here, but some of them: the ones that make me start to wonder why we have them.
- “Criss-cross apple sauce.” Ask any primary teacher. He/she will have this rhyme committed to heart. If students are sitting safely so that nobody gets hurt (i.e., in their personal space), does it really matter if their legs are crossed?
- Anything to do with lines: line up quietly before coming inside. Line up at all, for that matter. (I’m a HUGE fan of free entry.) Stand to line up as you wait. Stand without talking. (I bet that we could play some wonderful Phonemic Awareness Games — even in our whisper voices — that might support our students and their Dibels next steps.) I wonder how many problems are caused in line ups — especially when considering our neediest students — and what the impact may be for time on task if students gradually progressed inside, with staff spread out to support students as needed.
- Writing on lined paper … and more so, everybody writing on the same type of paper. I’ve had many great discussions on Twitter about the “visual noise” that lines can cause. Many students, especially those beginner writers, work better without lines. Why can’t paper type be a choice?
- Sitting at tables to work. I let my students choose where to work. Some work on the floor. Some work at tables. Some work on cushions or the carpet. Some work in a quiet area on a chair. Many vary their spots depending on the task and their mood that day. Students need places to work, but do they always need to have the same place? If some students do, can we meet these individual needs, and give others the choice?
- Raising your hand to talk. In real life, we don’t raise hands. We have conversations. We wait our turn, we listen to what others say, and then we chime in. It’s hard to know when to jump in. It’s difficult to pause and not talk on top of others. It’s a challenge to think and wait before sharing. When we have students raise their hands though (and I often do this), we make the decisions about whose ideas get heard. I wonder the value in letting students decide. I wonder the value in letting them negotiate the “talking time.”
- Eating only at snack or at lunchtime. I love the self-regulation lunch break that many Full-Day Kindergarten teachers are using in their classrooms: let students choose when to eat, and transition seamlessly from eating time to work/play time. Or let students snack while they work because can you really focus on work when you’re hungry?
These are just some of the rules that I feel as though I’ve enforced for most of my 14 years in education, but now I’m starting to reconsider. I think that students benefit from routine. I think that there’s value in structure. But are students not listening, not behaving, not thriving, and/or not respectful if they don’t follow these rules or if we don’t have them in the first place? Getting a little uncomfortable on the floor with my Grade 1’s made me reconsider this list of rules. What ones are on your mind? Why? We don’t all have to have the same thoughts about these rules, but maybe there’s value in challenging what we’ve always done and contemplating new options.
We no longer line up and wait as a class to go into the lunch room. It has cut down on a lot of issues (no one is waiting a super long time for trays, no one is spinning around in the area outside of lunch room waiting to go in) and gives those students needing more time to prepare and wash up for lunch to do so. We also use quiet library voices when waiting in our line after recess while our friends finish at the drinking fountain…sometimes we even play mirror me with our class teacher of the day leading us. We have also discussed the times when we need to be quiet in lines such as during fire drills so we can hear the directions the first time in emergency situations. I will need to give some thought to the whole criss cross applesauce seating…I ask my kids more so fingers don’t get stepped on when a student or me walks to the carpet!
Thanks for the comment, Kathy! I love hearing about your line up choices, and why you do what you do. As for the carpet, I wonder what would happen if you spoke to the students about why you sit, “criss cross applesauce.” If students could articulate the problem with fingers getting stepped on, I wonder if they could also solve that problem. Maybe there’s a way for students to sit comfortably (in ways that work for them), and still keep everyone safe. Thoughts? Most of my students do sit “criss cross applesauce,” but I don’t usually say much if they don’t. I tend to chime in the most if I think that someone might get hurt (due to how a student is sitting) and/or if a student is distracting others by his/her choices. Now I’m wondering though if students could solve these problems too. Lots to think about tonight!
I did away with assigned seating two years ago, and last year I did away with snack time. Personally I love it.
Kids choose “good fit spots” to sit anywhere in the class. We have clipboards and some will lay on the carpet and some will sit at table groups or desks.
Switching to all day snacks was trickier. We don’t have a morning snack program, and most kids walk in the door with a snack. We had to do some teaching around regulating food because they would eat the whole lunch before first recess. Also garbage is a bigger problem because it is everywhere and they have to self regulate to put it away. That said, I wouldn’t go back to having a snack time. I have a student on medication who doesn’t eat anything before noon, but 2p.m. hits and he eats everything. In our class he can do that and nobody thinks twice.
Lining up is an interesting concept, I am going to have to think about how implications… a thought provoking piece. Thank you.
Thanks for the comment, Jenn! It’s interesting to know what you choose to do and why. What grade do you teach? What do your students do during the set school snack and lunchtimes? Since I don’t teach Kindergarten, don’t have a DECE in the classroom, and have duty times over the recess and lunchtimes, I’m just trying to figure out the logistics of how this might work. I’d love to know how others do so.
As for the line ups, I understand the need for order to avoid chaos in the hallways. I agree that we need to be quiet so that we don’t interrupt others during teaching times. I just see how often line ups cause problems for some of our neediest students. I wonder about a way to reduce time spent in line ups, especially when travelling short distances. Is there a way to still be respectful and organized in the hallways without lines? I’m not sure, but I’d love to know what others have tried.
I’ve wondered about many of these things myself and seem to have come to the same conclusions as you. If I want to help students learn how to make good choices, I actually have to provide them with opportunities to make choices. I’m now prioritizing self-regulation ahead of compliance. I’m no longer “policing”…and it feels good!
Thanks for the comment, Mary-Kay! Have you read Stuart Shanker’s book, Calm, Alert, and Learning? It totally changed my perspective on self-regulation. I’ve never thought about it as much as I have after reading this book.
Do you find that you need to support some students in making these decisions? How do you do so, while still giving them some control over their choices? I’m curious to hear more about the choices that people make.