Last year, I wrote a blog post where I reconsidered some school and classroom rules. After almost three months in Kindergarten and lots of reflection time, I have another list to share. This isn’t necessarily about school or classroom rules, but more “routines” in general.
- The carpet is the best place to learn as a group. A carpet can be really uncomfortable. Some students don’t have enough space to move. There are often distractions around the carpet. I also wonder how often all students need to learn the same thing at the same time. Are they really all at the same point in their learning? What if direct instruction was given in small groups at comfortable gathering spots around the room?
- We need to start the day with direct instruction. Why is that? What if students explored first, generated thoughts and questions, and then we instructed from there? I have a confession to make (something I never thought that I’d say): we rarely pull our class together as a full group before 2:30 in the afternoon. From the time when the students walk in at 8:50 until we connect together at 2:30, the children are exploring, creating, communicating, problem solving, and connecting with each other and with us independently or in small groups. We put out provocations. We give more support/scaffolding to those students that need it, but most students, move freely around the classroom and we provide the direct instruction/support at the different areas, and with different students, throughout the day.
- Pencil/paper work is the goal. Please don’t get me wrong here. I have nothing against a pencil or paper, and I think that both tools can be used in wonderful ways to share thinking and learning. And while I question if pencil/paper work is the goal, I also question if iPad or computer work is the goal. I just wonder sometimes if we feel that students are really only sharing their thinking and learning if they’ve written about it. Today, I had a JK student that created a slide out of two tires. Not only did she test the slide out, but she encouraged others to give it a try. This creation of hers, not to mention the explanation, connected with Science and Oral Language expectations. The game that she created also helped many students self-regulate. The creation of this design included problem solving and perseverance. Could she have drawn and written about her design plans? Absolutely! But even the recording of the video (shared below) shows me her thinking and learning. Sometimes it’s the manipulation of real objects in creative ways that allows students to demonstrate the most learning of all.
- Play-based learning only works in Kindergarten. As students get older, I know that the curriculum expectations change. “Playing” would likely become more sophisticated. Maybe it would even be more like “tinkering” … or truly “inquiring.” But no matter what we call it, I can’t imagine why all students can’t learn through hands-on, meaningful learning, that involves asking questions, collaborating and communicating with others, and sharing thinking in various ways. Why does “growing up” mean the cessation of play?
- A period-by-period switch in activity (or subject) is the best way for children to learn. I know that with schedules and prep coverage, this happens a lot, but frequent transitions are hard for many students. Even if they aren’t hard for yours, I can’t help but wonder what learning is lost during each transitional time. Maybe by integrating subjects, we could at least cut down on some of the transitions. Would learning be “deeper” if we really gave the time to explore/examine topics of interest?
- We need to prepare our students for the future. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve heard this statement. I often wonder why this future must be so bleak, and if maybe, by teaching students to be engaged and self-regulated learners, problem solvers, and critical thinkers, we’re preparing them best of all! Can’t the future involve growing up to do what we love? Can’t it involve choosing the tools that work the best for us? I think about my goal for this year, and I’m guessing that if we focus on these areas, all will be well in the future.
What do you think? What else would you add to this list? While I feel strongly about the points shared here, I know that there are other perspectives. Please feel free to question these thoughts. I think it’s when we have these conversations that we learn most of all. Let’s converse!
I was really struck by your blog post. I teach grade 7 this year, and I firmly believe that we need to connect more with each other across the divisions. I would love to come into a kindie class for the day, observing through the lense of, how can I apply what I see here in a junior/intermediate classroom…what does this look like in grade 7? One thing that really stood out to me is the importance of play. I really want to learn more about how I can bring in meaningful and purposeful play in the upper years. What does it look like?
The other point that resonated a lot with me was the one about “preparing kids for this BLEAK future”. I agree that we need to stop preparing kids for bad pedagogy, and instead work on developing critical and creative thinkers who will be able to advocate for themselves in a variety of learning and real world situations.
Thanks for your comment, Christine! I love your willingness to see what’s happening in other grades and think about how it can be applied to yours. I feel so fortunate to have worked in all grades from JK-Grade 6, and each different experience, helped me with my next one. I actually got to appreciate “play” and “inquiry” more after my experience in Grade 5, and it was then, that I wanted to go back to JK/SK. I hope that you do get to spend some time in Kindergarten, and I’d love to hear more about how you make “play” work in Grade 7. Why must any grade just include worksheets and desks?
I also think that your last point is such an important one. Imagine what people can do if they become critical/creative thinkers, advocates for their own needs, and skilled problem solvers? Then I think that we have a very bright future!
Interesting that your passion for inquiry developed further after teaching junior. I NEVER thought I’d even entertain the idea of teaching Kindie, but it does cross my mind from time to time now. I am so inspired by the whole program being driven by the kids’ wonders, questions and passions! I can’t think of anything better!
It’s definitely an amazing thing, Christine! The FDK expectations are more open-ended as well, which also helps. Then again, staying focused on the overall expectations really helped me when looking at inquiry in the junior grades.
As for what “play” includes, I wonder about the idea of “tinkering”: including coding and Makerspaces. Both provide opportunities for “play,” but also connect with many math, language, and science expectations. I know that the Grade 4 and 5 teachers at our school are really delving into Makerspaces this year. Brian Aspinall and Enzo Ciaradelli on Twitter are also J/I teachers that use coding a lot in the classroom. They might be worth connecting with as well. Good luck! Keep me posted on how things go.
Love the questioning of the “typical” classroom presentation. The more I experience other classrooms in my new role, the more I think that there is no real need for whole group instruction. I see so many students who are disengaged during lessons. It makes me wonder how many of my students were really not with me when I was teaching – even though I did have loads of hands on activities, used inquiry and movement breaks and promoted self regulation skills.
I think that movement towards “tinkering” and “play” in junior and intermediate grades is starting. It will take teachers really knowing their curriculum well and creatively back mapping student learning/inquiry tasks onto the curriculum. I agree that focusing on the overall expectations is key to success with this process.
We need to bring back wonder and excitement to learning for junior and intermediate students. Encourage questioning and build critical thinking skills. What better way than through student interests and exploration?
Thanks for pushing the thinking forward! Happy Friday!
Thanks for your comment, Sarah! I totally agree with you about full class instruction. I think about the number of times that I’ve met with students as a whole group, and how much time on behaviour management. Maybe the students were really saying to me that for various reasons, this wasn’t working for them. I think we need to listen to our students. Everything we teach as a full class, we can teach in small groups, but with a greater focus on individual needs.
I also agree with you about junior and intermediate students. While there is a growing understanding of play and inquiry in the younger primary grades, I still hear too often that we need to prepare students for “desk work” in the older grades. Why? I work with fabulous teachers (of all grades) at our school that are really creating the Maker Culture in their classrooms. They’re giving students choice and voice, while really developing thinking and application skills (along with knowledge). I think there’s value in looking at what this might look like in all grades. We could bring back the “wonder” and “excitement to learn.”
This brought me a smile. “Carpet Time” certainly had a different context for me. My entire classroom was carpeted. I learned so much about static electricity and leather soled shoes my first year of teaching.
I think that it’s good that you’re asking these question. Do you ever try to change it ala your musings to see if it made a difference?
Obviously, I can’t completely empathize because I was a secondary school teacher and we had various classes and students were exposed to various ways of handling things. Something that I learned early and kept going for all my classes was to never fall into a routine that resembled a rut. When students are on rotation, it’s nice to have them in your class on time so I started to do things that were exciting right at the beginning of the class. They all showed up on time (for the most part) to see what it was that we were going to do. Because the class was computer science, we could do various interesting puzzles and games and call it problem solving and algorithm design if anyone ever asked.
I remember my student days and how certain classes really were ruts. When I heard that advice, it changed my teaching (and workshops) forever.
I know that it’s not necessarily applicable or transferable to you but I still would maintain that, whatever you do in those first few moments, will set the stage for the remainder of the time period/day/cycle….
Thanks for the comment, Doug! I liked your secondary school take on “carpet time.” 🙂 I will say that I’ve changed my teaching a lot this year. I’ve done everything on the list that I questioned, and I’ve also gone back, and made the changes that I talked about. I’m noticing a huge difference with the changes. I think it’s hard to come up with one way that works for all classrooms, as the make-up of our class will definitely vary from others. The key is to start with our students: where are they at? What do they need? How can we support them best in their learning? Sometimes that means making some uncomfortable changes for us to help them meet with success.
This year, I’ve really linked with the prep coverage teachers. Some extend the classroom learning in our room during prep time, and others take them out of the room, but try to link our current areas of interest with their instruction. I think this benefits students, big time! I know that with rotary, having these big blocks of learning time are more challenging, but even just connecting with the rotary teachers and trying to extend topics between the classes could work. I remember doing this last year with our Phys-Ed teacher. We were learning about structures in class, so he taught the students yoga, and they made some human structures. They then connected their knowledge about structures (from science) with their knowledge about structures (in physical education). I’ve done this with Music teachers in the past as well. When I taught Grade 5, we created a Big Body Bonanaza to showcase our work on the human body. The Music teacher worked with the class on creating soundscapes and experimenting with found sounds. Then the students made their own “sound” to connect with their organ system. It was great! I think these kinds of connections benefit both teachers and students!
I did love the examples that you shared. I think that you created some great provocations here, and the students used them to get excited about the content they were learning. They also seemed to help the students think, question, and learn. Does it get better than that?
I’d be curious to know what others think and what they’ve tried! Thanks for chiming in on the conversation!