Is it about “watching” instead of “asking?”

Last week, our superintendent visited our school, and as part of his visit, he went around to the different classrooms to talk with students and observe some learning in action. As our principal and superintendent came in and chatted with our kids, I found myself standing back and watching and listening to the conversations. The next day, I had a similar experience when our instructional coach came in for a visit. I found myself once again wondering, What do others see? What do they think? 

That’s when I started to think about a change that I made recently. I used to always approach groups of students and ask, “What are you doing?” (I’ll admit that sometimes I still do.) But in the past couple of weeks, I’ve tried hard to instead, walk quietly up to groups of students, watch, and listen. 

  • What are they saying?
  • What are the students doing? Are they all doing the same thing, or are they doing different things?
  • If the play is similar to the play that I’ve seen happening many times before, how might I “intentionally interrupt” the play to extend the learning?
  • How does this play connect with some of the Kindergarten Program expectations? What Frames?
  • What might be my next best move to build on the learning or to create some new learning opportunities for students? (Sometimes my “next best move” is to do nothing at all, and just keep listening and observing. Reflecting on this documentation later and discussing it with my teaching partner, often helps us determine what to do next.)
  • What possible literacy and/or math learning is already developing from this play, and what learning could develop with the right prompt or provocation from me? In our new document, literacy and math learning is not supposed to happen in its own block, but throughout the day and through play. Sometimes this happens naturally, and our job may just be to help “label this learning” for students (e.g., giving them the right math terms to align with what they’re already doing), and sometimes, students benefit from a gentle nudge (e.g., If you want to turn our dramatic play area into a restaurant, what might we need? What if you made a list with some of your ideas?).


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These two boys were employees at a Chocolate Shop, and they had money (rocks) from selling their chocolate. They estimated how many they had, and then counted with Mrs. Crockett.

It’s as we stand back and answer all of these questions, that I think we start to see the learning happening and the potential for more learning as well. If I’m not thinking in this way, I could look around the class and think,

  • The students are happy.
  • Everyone is doing something.
  • The children appear to be engaged.
  • Some children are working alone and some children are working together.
  • There’s at least one mess somewhere — usually more than one.
  • Sometimes the children can talk about what they’re doing, and sometimes they can’t.
  • There’s a quiet hum in the room. It’s louder in some areas and quieter in others, but there’s definitely always some noise.
  • Students move freely around the room. From an outsider perspective, would that mean that there appears to be a “lack of structure?”

Our Kindergarten Program Document though is changing the way that learning happens and the way that we plan for these learning opportunities. Instead of starting with the expectations, we start with the interests of the child and align these expectations to those interests. Sometimes children will articulate those interests to us, and sometimes, we have to watch and listen closely to figure out what they may be. Students can also show their learning — for all expectations — in one of many ways: saying, doing, or representing. This gives a lot of freedom in what children can do, and it means that we have to watch and listen even more closely — and sometimes for an even longer period of time — to see this learning happen. According to Growing Success — The Kindergarten Addendum, parents can also tell us about learning that happens outside of the classroom, and this can become evidence of meeting expectations. The learning environment then is much bigger than the classroom walls, and the time needed to truly understand it becomes much bigger as well.

I’m so glad that we share our classroom learning online, as then even those people that come in for quick visits — be it educators, administrators, or parents — can gain a more thorough look at the learning that happens each day. Play-based learning is still a new approach for many people — myself included. Each year, I get more comfortable with what this approach might look like in the classroom, and how I can help others see the learning that happens through play. What do you think when you watch play in action? How do you make the learning explicit to children and to others? I would love for all stakeholders in education to chime in here, for as our new Kindergarten Program Document rolls out, I think these are discussions worth having. 


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