The Bathroom As A Learning Space … And Other Things Learned By The Power Of Observation

Earlier this week, I read a fantastic blog post by a fellow Kindergarten teacher, Anamaria Ralph. In her post, she discusses the flow of the day, with some very detailed explanations behind the different components. Anamaria references a resource, Working In The Reggio Way, that asks important questions to help with determining the daily routine.

2015-07-12_13-06-24I decided to make Wurm’s book my first professional read of the summer, and I’m so glad that I did. This book has made me do a lot of thinking and develop many talking points to explore with my partner before September.

When I look back over the notes that I made and the questions that I asked, one important word came to mind: observation. Before worrying about what we say or do, we need to sit back, watch, and listen. I used to think that I did both, but now I’m not so sure. 

  • I watched students, but did I already assume how they would behave, and were my opinions clouded by my assumptions?
  • I listened to students, but did I only listen with a single expectation in mind? Did I listen closely to everything else that they shared — or didn’t share — and did I use this information to think ahead for programming options?

My first a-ha moment came when the author discussed the use of a bathroom as a learning space. She mentioned ideas that I had never really thought about before, but made so much sense. The classroom teachers in this Reggio environment even developed their own professional inquiry based on the use of this bathroom space. Amazing! How did they get to this point? They watched and listened to students. They saw the social interaction that happens in a washroom, and they decided to re-think the possible use of this space. (Now our classroom bathroom is just one small room with a toilet and a sink, so what these teachers did may not work for us, but I still can’t help but wonder what may.) The quality observation that happened in this case, and in so many other cases in the book, made me think about the time needed to observe. 

I am left wondering …

  • How much time is spent watching children versus how much time is spent talking and working with children?
  • How many children were in these classrooms? Do numbers play a role in how we observe and what we observe?
  • With a large number of students that have English as their second language, how can we scaffold the language for them and still spend the quality time watching their interactions?
  • When do we act on our observations? Wurm’s book discusses the importance of “wait time” and wait time that is much longer than what we may be accustomed to (stretching on for even days, weeks, or months at a time). With this wait time in mind, how do we know when to act and when to just continue observing?

Wurm really emphasizes the importance of small changes. She thinks it’s valuable to make one or two changes, observe what happens, and make other changes based on these observations. This will be hard for me. I’m comfortable with change, and I tend to make changes regularly and quickly. I’m going to need to slow down. But how slow do we go? In a school and Board environment where “meeting benchmarks” is important, how do we take the time needed to make positive changes, while still helping our students get to where they need (or maybe it’s where we want them) to be? I think that this summer read will lead to many interesting conversations in the coming months. I’d love to hear more about your thoughts and experiences as I continue to consider the Reggio way.



4 thoughts on “The Bathroom As A Learning Space … And Other Things Learned By The Power Of Observation

  1. I haven’t read this book but I’ll add it to my list as I’m becoming more and more confused about the flow of the day than I ever have been. I understood the day plan or timetable became the flow of the day to eliminate as many transitions as possible and to open of the day for large blocks of learning. It took me three years but I am loving Guided Exploration all day. All my focussed lessons are done individually or in small groups as needed. I didn’t like it at first as eliminating carpet time made me feel less like a “teacher” but now I love it!!! I do meet as a big group periodically for knowledge building circles so that the children have the opportunity to share their learning and once a day for sure I do a story based on an interest that’s popped up in the class but other than that my day is wide open other than preps and lunch. I would love to try free flow first break but my classroom location and duty may make this difficult. I had heard in some boards prep teachers were encouraged to join in the class and not pull the students for a “subject” as to not interrupt the flow of the day. This in an interesting and I’m sure controversial idea.

    As you know children don’t meet benchmarks we set out for them. They develop at their own pace based on the experiences and the language or vocabulary they have acquired. Slowing down (I mean really slowing down and not micromanaging their every minute as I used to) observing (I mean really observing what they are doing rather than how they are interacting with what I wanted them to) and documenting their words (their exact language) has opened a whole new world to me! I am blown away at how little they need me to create their own learning. My job is to make them feel safe and provide them with materials and to observe and learn from them so I can offer supplementary materials based on their needs and not interrupt until absolutely necessary. This was very hard at first but the problem solving developed by my students because I kept my mouth shut can’t be recreated by a “task or activity”. It was very hard realizing my role was not as important as I once believed it to be but I do believe it was an important lesson.

    Once I stopped micromanaging and creating tasks and assessing every little thing and started watching and writing everything down I heard and saw I became a whole different teacher. For two years I had noooo idea what or why I was observing and kept asking people but now I totally get it….but can’t explain it. It’s something you just do and when you “get it” it makes sense!!

    As you know I think in your situation you would make more gains by putting those kids on a bus and exploring our city all day. I really believe you can’t recreate authentic life experiences in a classroom and therefore large groups of children in our world are always left behind because they don’t learn the vocabulary they need to demonstrate what they know. I believe once the powers that be realize this and we find away to make “life” equal for all it is then that we will see gains with our inner city type kids(and these new kids I am seeing from homes where parents work life is too busy for real life experiences). I know you will try your best as all teachers do and I wish you all the best at s l o w i n g down!

    • Thanks for your detailed comment, Lori, and for sharing your experiences (and thoughts). I agree with so much of what you’ve said here, and definitely as my time went on in Grade 1, I noticed that we had many overlapping approaches. I will say that guided reading continued to be a need for some of my students, and I think these small, guided groups may also be necessary in some cases this year too. I would like to explore more ways to support this learning during “play,” especially since I see oral language as being the first, crucial area of focus. (As for your comment about prep coverage, I know some schools in our Board that are doing this too, and I’d love to explore these possibilities more. This could have a huge positive impact on the flow of the day.)

      I think that your last paragraph is so important, and something that I kept coming back to as I read Wurm’s book. Students need the schema that comes from past experiences, and what if they don’t have these experiences? This was really the basis for my question about “observation and supporting the language needs of our English Language Learners.” I know that last year my partner tried to find ways to get the students out and in our community. I’m hoping that we can discuss some options throughout the year to help students build the “experiences” that they really need. I’d love to hear how others do this as well.


  2. My colleague and I started a list of simple things we could do in class! We get caught up in doing things once and think wow look what they leaned! In reality vocabulary takes days and sometimes weeks to learn which is why inquiries that pop up need to stick around for such a long time.
    – being snow in a small kids pool every single day not just for a few lessons.
    -play in the rain (look for and keep rain hats umbrellas and boots in class so they can take turns going outside in small groups)
    -grow veggies and flowers all the time. Lots ideas online for regrowing advacdo pits and other lettuces and such.

    I can’t recall the rest right now but even in our community we struggle with kids in all different financial situations coming to school with little or no experiences to base learning on.

    • Thanks Lori! You make a great point that in every area, there may be kids that are lacking these experiences. We need to provide them with these experiences. Thanks for sharing the great ideas! I need to collect some kids rain gear now. 🙂


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