Yesterday, my partner, Nayer, and I had the opportunity to listen to Karyn Callaghan speak as part of a Kindergarten Networking Session through our Board. Karyn challenged our thinking in many ways, and as we spoke together in the afternoon and then again this morning, we decided that we were going to try to make some small changes based on our new learning from Karyn. We outlined these changes in our Daily Shoot Blog Post that we published tonight.
Reflecting back on today, here are some of the things that I noticed after making these changes.
The Best Surprises
1. One of our biggest concerns was that the students in our class often crave adult interactions and attention, and we wondered how we could really focus on just one or two students — for any given period of time — without being pulled away by other children. We were pleasantly surprised to notice though that we could observe successfully in this way. It was definitely beneficial to have one adult more accessible in the room to the larger group of students while another adult focused on smaller groups of students — or sometimes even individual students. Looking around today, I also noticed that children tend to gravitate to us when they can see us more easily. If we get down on the floor with the children, sit down on a small chair with the children, or even crouch on our knees beside a group of children, we’re a little less obviously visible and a little less likely to be called upon. Just because the students don’t “see” us, doesn’t mean that we can’t see them, and this leads to even better observations.
2. “Intentional interruptions” really do work. I would have never believed just how valuable they can be until I saw what happened today. This afternoon, a group of boys were on the carpet, and they had pulled over two big tires, some wooden pieces, and a bunch of small toys. I’ve seen them do something similar many times before, and usually this play ends up resulting in Nayer or I suggesting a different activity — often off of the carpet. I thought back to one of the slides that Karyn showed us yesterday, with a small group of boys building on the carpet. The boys in this slide often had social interactions similar to our group from today, and the educator in the classroom did something different than we usually do: he offered up a challenge that got the boys using the materials in a different way. I decided to try this. I took a basket of animals off the shelf, and I asked the boys if they could figure out a way to move the animals from one tire to another one without just lifting them up and walking them over. One student suggested building a bridge, and this was when the play started to change. I further challenged them to figure out a way to get the animals out of one tire and into another one, but with the animals only touching wood as they go. This led to an exploration of ramps. Then the children saw that the ramps and the bridge started to break, so they began to use tape to attach the tires. One challenge changed the entire direction of the play.
3. Sometimes we need to ignore the mess. I find this really hard to do. When I see students moving materials from one area of the classroom to another one, I start to think about everything that’s going to need to be sorted before the end of the school day. While on one hand, I know that play often becomes richer when we allow this to happen, it’s often hard for me to control my own impulse not to say, “Keep that there,” or “Why don’t you use that over in this area instead?” Since I know this about myself, I decided that if I was really going to let children move materials freely around the room, I needed to see less of the mess, so coupled with my first point, I got down low. This worked!
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) May 17, 2016
4. There were fewer problems today. I keep on thinking about the “why,” and I think that this could be for a couple of different reasons. First of all, the children really got to direct their play. Granted, they usually do, but with not interfering when students moved materials around the classroom or used areas differently than we intended, they were able to take more ownership over their learning. I wonder if ownership also leads to increased engagement, which ultimately, reduces problems. Secondly, we didn’t respond to problems immediately. This doesn’t mean that we ignored them, but we watched, listened, and stayed back a bit. We let the children work past the screams and problem solve, and in the end, most problems seemed to be resolved quicker than when we get involved. This makes me wonder how often we really need to get involved.
Still Contemplating …
1. While it’s great to let children move materials freely around the classroom, this also means that it takes longer to tidy up, and we didn’t budget this extra time for today. Most children are really tired by the end of the school day, so their interest in tidying up is even less. I could feel my own stress level rise, as I saw the clock, realized we had to get packed up for home, and observed the pile of grass seed all over the floor. Thankfully Nayer suggested that the children start getting ready for home, and she worked with a couple of students to finish the sweeping and the straightening. Tomorrow we’ll start earlier.
Some spilled grass seed led to this during clean-up time today. They got the straws & started blowing. pic.twitter.com/3FFNF2V3lS
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) May 17, 2016
2. I spent a lot more time watching specific groups of students today, and while I observed and heard more from these students, I know that I missed thinking and learning shared by other students. Nayer captured some of these other conversations, but we also both missed a few. So now I think about tomorrow and I wonder, do I continue to observe the students that I did today? Do I observe other students instead? How do you balance this so that you see and hear the most from everyone?
3. I’m still thinking about documentation and the role of curriculum expectations. I have never been a fan of listing expectations or putting the numbered expectations on our documentation. I’ve always questioned, “Why do this?” That said, I know the curriculum expectations well, and I’ve usually identified the subject area and/or strand as part of the documentation. Karyn made me wonder about this yesterday though, when she talked about the richness of play, and the fact that it really is so much richer than a list of discrete skills. Overall, today I resisted the urge to label expectations. Could educators see links between what’s shared and the curriculum expectations? I think so … but I didn’t make these links explicit. I’m struggling with this one, for I wonder, without pointing out the link are we helping others see the curriculum value in addition to the play value? Does this matter? Do these two ideas mesh?
Our Kindergarten Networking Team meets again on June 6th, and I hope to use the time between now and then to continue to work on refining my documentation skills and applying some of my new learning. Maybe I’ll also get to figure out the answers to some of my questions, while likely thinking of new ones in the process. Any words of advice as my partner and I continue to grapple with what Karyn shared? The school year may be coming to an end, but the learning isn’t over yet for educators or children!