This year, we were all given Marian Small’s Open Questions For The Three-Part Lesson: Measurement, Patterning & Algebra to read, discuss, and contemplate as we plan for math learning. I started reading it over breakfast the other day, and I shared this photograph just before I began.
While I’ve only read the Kindergarten section of the book so far, I think that I may have figured out the answer to my wonder.
In our Kindergarten class, we don’t set-up these questions for our students to answer, but we do purposely place objects around the room and provide items for children to play with that will lend themselves to this kind of math learning. Then my teaching partner, Paula, and I spend our day observing, talking, and playing with kids. It’s as these math learning opportunities happen through play that we insert the kinds of questions or extensions that are suggested in this book. So, for example, we might not start by putting out two different-sized containers and asking how they compare, but when students start to fill one container with sand, we might present another one and ask a similar question. Or, when it comes to patterning, we might not use the same materials, but as students create patterns with the Perler beads, we’ll often ask them to create patterns with the same number of red and blue beads or more red beads than blue beads. This would just extend the learning that’s already being shared using these materials.
For me, Small’s book is not about activities to set-up to do with every child at the same time, but a list of great suggestions to extend the math learning that’s happening through play. By starting with the play, the students understand the context for this learning, and we can then bring the thinking to the next level. I know that this can certainly be true in Kindergarten, but what about in other grades? Do we have to start with the activity, or could we begin with the child instead? One thing that I love about the Kindergarten Program Document is that it’s explicit that we observe the child, determine interests, and link the expectations to what the child is already doing, instead of starting with the expectations and planning the activity to go with them. This was a very backwards approach for me at first, but I think that it speaks to the child being at the heart of the document and the heart of the learning. Shouldn’t this be true in all grades?
I have never been a fan of math textbooks, and when we use resources as just lists of activities to do, I wonder if we’re truly considering the diversity of our learners, their interests, and the meaning that this math can have for them. But when we use a resource as just that — a resource — and link our observations of learning with the extension questions suggested, does this become more meaningful? I think child-centred, interest-based learning would benefit students well beyond Kindergarten and still allow educators to meet expectations and observe learning. Small’s book makes this possible, but is this how people are using it, and does that matter? For me, this is a case of not just what children are learning, but how they’re do so. What about you?
If nothing else, this line of thinking has you challenging and/or affirming your professional practice and I think that’s the best benefit that you can have. There are all kinds of programmed instruction resources available but hopefully no district expects anyone to lock step their way through it. One of the most valuable resources in any classroom is the professional judgement of the teacher and, having weighed all of the resources, selects what will enable every child to achieve.
Thanks for the comment, Doug! It’s your last line that really stuck with me. What works for one child may not work for all, and knowing our children, allows us to select different resources or different components for the same resource, to better meet their needs.
I love the idea of making sure that we give all students the opportunities to engage in purposeful play, inquiry, etc. I think that this is essential to providing opportunities for students to take procedural learning into conceptual realms, and really see if something makes sense because it is taking place in a more natural setting. I too have many questions about how this can look in different grades. I think it is time for me to pull this book back out and take a closer look – thanks for the inspiration!
Thanks Deb! I would love to hear more about what you figure out and what this might look like in different grades. Please do keep me posted!
I love that you are thinking critically about how to use this resource intentionally and with purpose keeping the students in mind. That is the essence of the art of teaching. There are many wonderful resources out there now. But we always house have to come back to “why this at this time for this learner”.
Thanks Kit! I totally agree with you about this essential question, and it’s as we think this through that we often provide the best program for all learners.