What made it a success?

I love to reflect when things don’t go well, but I also love to reflect when they do. Success is always exciting, and figuring out the “why” behind the success helps with creating the conditions for this success to happen again. On Friday, we had a particularly wonderful experience out in the forest, and my teaching partner, Paula, and I were later discussing what made this experience so great.

Here are many of our thoughts. 

1. The gift of time. We never rush our forest play. Even in the snow, ice, and rain, we try to give enough time for the play to settle, so that we can get to a point of richer and deeper learning. Friday was perfect, as when we opened the gate and headed out to the forest, we saw right away that the students needed to run. Many children played variations of tag games, as they raced with each other through the forest. After a little time running though, they settled, and that was when the conversations changed, the choices changed, and the play changed. 

2. The type, amount, and use of space. The forest is great, as we have enough room in it for all students to find their space. Some areas are covered (as seen in the videos above) and some are more open. Just as students seek out covered areas in the classroom — such as the spaces in our shelves — they also often do so in the forest. Many children find these spaces calming. The forest environment itself adds another calming element with the many vines and roots along the forest floor. This often slows down the children’s movements, and creates a peaceful feeling among the trees. The forest is also full of levels. Climbing trees is incredibly self-regulating for some children, and the spread of children both low to the ground and high in the air creates a different kind of buzz in this space.

3. Being present, but not intrusive. This is something that we continue to work on. When we’re interacting with students, we can often ask them questions that help extend the learning and make links to various math and literacy expectations. But we are forever balancing this desire with knowing when to stand back, observe, and let the children support each other. We both focused on this yesterday. We moved between asking questions to watching (and even walking away), so that children could have the space to work and to problem solve together.

4. Student combinations. The forest is an interesting space, as different children often find each other and play together. It’s when this happens that students also support each other in new ways. We are not the only ones that can model and extend learning. 

5. Small group instruction. Both Paula and I are big believers that forest time is learning time and equally as valuable as the time that we spend together in the classroom. In fact, for some children, this time outside benefits them even more. This is why we always document our time out in the forest, and it’s also why we support students in small groups in this outdoor space. There are many videos above of the two of us sitting down or standing around with groups of students, hearing their ideas, and then extending them — or even providing direct instruction — in different ways.

6. The “team” is there. Having the two of us there is key to this forest success. We can then both work with different groups of students, but also discuss our observations with each other, and even provide some ideas for possible next steps. There are times in the classroom — be it because of nutrition breaks, lunches, or prep times — that the two of us are not together. Sometimes only one person is there. This changes how we can support and extend learning … but in the forest, the “team” is always present, and that means something!

7. Variety is the spice of life! Our forest play is always varied and always directed by the students. We don’t plan provocations, and while we might discuss ways to extend learning from previous days, we try to always follow the interests and direction of the child. Not all children are interested in the same thing, and that’s okay. With the two of us there, we can support the different interests and conversations that happen in this outdoor space. 

8. So many of the 100 languages are addressed in this forest space! It wasn’t until I started teaching Full-Day Kindergarten that I heard about the 100 languages of children, but after hearing and reading about these languages, I’ve done a lot more thinking about how students share their learning. Speaking and writing are very common “languages” that we see in the classroom — in all grades — and I love the use of these languages, but I also love how The Arts and physical literacy become so present in our forest space. Physical literacy, drama, visual arts, music, and dance (movement) were all highlighted outside on Friday, and it was amazing to see how children chose these ways to communicate with each other!

What makes your outdoor learning time successful? How do you extend this learning in the classroom and re-create these positive experiences from day-to-day? I think there’s always value in reflecting, and Friday’s successes were worth some additional reflection time.

Aviva

I Wonder … A LOT!

We talk about the value in students “wondering.” I think that adults should also wonder. I have a lot of current wonders: many of which revolve around our Kindergarten Program Document and our Board’s goal to have all students reading by the end of Grade 1What does pedagogy look like in practice? 

And so tonight, before I head to bed, I have to share these many wonders that are occupying the brain space I need for a deep and restful — although be it short 🙂 — sleep.

  • I wonder how educators interpret “play” in the Kindergarten Program Document. What does it look like to you? 
  • I wonder if the type of play opportunities educators provide for students change during the day, and what might these changes look like? How do you decide what to do, when? How do you address all student needs with these decisions?
  • I wonder what reading instruction looks like in Kindergarten. What constitutes “small group instruction?” How long is small group instruction? What might “guided reading” look like? How might it vary from “guided reading” in other grades, or does it vary?
  • I wonder how educators monitor progress. Do you use standardized assessments? Which ones? Is documentation equally valuable, and if it is, how do you use it to measure growth?
  • I wonder how educators balance oral language skills with reading and writing. Is it a balance? Does it vary depending on the child? How do you decide? In your classroom program, does oral language merge with reading and writing, or is it separate from them? What guides your decisions?
  • I wonder what impact outdoor learning has on oral language skills, reading, and writing. How do you leverage your outdoor space to support the development of academic skills? What have you already tried, and what do you still want to try?
  • I wonder what our classrooms communicate about our view of the child and how they learn. What message are you hoping that your classroom design says to others? What decisions have you made to help communicate this message?
  • I wonder how educators balance developmental considerations with program expectations and reading benchmarks. What have you tried? What guides your decisions? What changes have you made?
  • I wonder what impact relationships have on readingHow do we merge relationship building and academic expectations? What do “reading” and “relationships” look like in your classroom?
  • I wonder what “intervention” looks like in Kindergarten. Do you focus on Year 1 students, Year 2 students, or both? How do you make these decisions?
  • I wonder about the key phrase in the Kindergarten Program Document that is forever running through my head: “Why this learning for this child at this time?” How does this phrase impact on your programming decisions? How might it impact on an intervention model?

My head is definitely full of more questions than answers, but I’m hoping that these wonders and questions can start a conversation. An important one. One that might help me as I continue to learn new things, try new things, and better support kids!

Aviva

A Broken Stapler And A Little Perspective!

After school today, my teaching partner, Paula, shared a wonderful video and story with me. Paula and I both believe in fostering independence in our students, and we try to let them solve various problems on their own … including that of a broken stapler.

I love a lot about this video.

  • From her identification of the problem and her solution …
  • To her palpable excitement when she screams, “It’s working!”

But what I may love even more is the part that happened just after Paula stopped recording. She said that this student spoke to her about a child that always fixed our stapler last year. He’s now in Grade 1 and attending another school. She said, “If he was still here, I wouldn’t have learned to fix the stapler on my own!”

While I’m sure that at some point, she would have learned this skill, she’s right in thinking that this other child probably would have solved the problem if he was still in our class. In fact, she probably would have brought him the stapler. But with nobody else to fix it, she was forced to solve the problem on her own … and she did! 

I know that as educators, we worry that we can’t do it all. We often hear concerns around class sizes, and yes, our numbers can be large. 

  • How do we support everyone?
  • How do we meet with every child, every day?
  • What do we do when so many children may need our attention at the same time?

These are all valid concerns, and ones that Paula and I have discussed before. But then a five-year old shares some words of wisdom at the end of her stapler story and reminds us that maybe we don’t have to do it all. Sometimes — no matter what our age — we all benefit from those times when we have to solve our own problems, and the feeling of satisfaction when we do. How do we support students in seeing the value in these successes? How do we remember to let go enough to allow for this kind of independent problem solving? Thank goodness for a broken stapler and a little perspective!

Aviva

My #VisibleLearning Around Pedagogical Documentation

Every year, I like to consider ways that I can improve my teaching practices. I try to develop my goals/plans with the kids in mind: always considering how these changes could positively impact on them and their learning opportunities at school. As many of you know, I’m incredibly passionate about the value of documentation, but also how documentation can further solidify home/school relationships and increase parent engagement. Over the summer, I spent a lot of time looking at my documentation of student learning, but also thinking critically about how I can improve in this area. Pedagogical documentation is highlighted in the updated Kindergarten Program Document, and it was an important part of staff development in the role that I played at Camp Power this summer. As I thought more about pedagogical documentation and read more about it, I began to contemplate an uncomfortable question: was I really engaging in “pedagogical documentation” or just “documentation,” and did I need to make some necessary changes to my practices? It was this question and my thinking around it that led to one of my goals for this year: moving from “documentation” to “pedagogical documentation,” and making this thinking and learning more visible to parents.

Over the past month, I’ve addressed this change in different ways. Initially, I decided that I was going to do a few more thorough Learning Stories each day, which included PicCollages and videos of student learning, details about this learning and the connections to the Four Frames, and possible Next Steps. I chose to place them on our class blog in the same section that I placed our story of each day.

The Berry Picking Expedition – A Joint ELP 1 and ELP 2 Adventure!

The Bug Graveyard

A Broken Shelf

The Ship Titanic …

The Stump Problem

The Burr Problem

Construction Work

A Stick Alphabet

I had mixed feelings about these stories. On one hand, I loved taking the time to really look closely at one or two bigger areas of learning, either in the classroom or outside. I loved how this learning involved students from two of the Kindergarten classes, and often events or activities from a number of days. Even though my teaching partner, Paula, and I identified next steps in our discussions with each other, writing them down made me more aware of them, and often changed how I responded to student interactions and learning possibilities the next day. I wonder if this led to more targeted instruction for students.

On the other hand, I also struggled with these stories.

  • They took a long time to write, and I usually wrote them late at night, when I was tired and found it harder to clearly articulate my thoughts. 
  • By the time I finished writing them, it was normally after 9:00, which meant that parents may not even see the blog posts that night, when they could possibly reflect on this learning and extend it at home.
  • Usually the time that I put into writing these posts, meant that I didn’t have a chance to write a professional blog post on most nights. I really value the reflection that comes out of these professional posts and the dialogue on them, and I wondered about the impact of writing fewer of them.
  • I also didn’t know what to do about “what comes next.” While the Next Steps in these Learning Stories helped with focusing instruction, I continued to wonder how I could share with parents the impact of these goals. Should I write another blog post? Edit the original one? Or not share this impact at all?  This last option did not sit well with me.

This is when I tried another approach. Recently, we’ve been embedding part of a more specific Learning Story into our Daily Shoot Blog Posts. While we still make a general comment about the day, we also hone in on some of the bigger learning that day, and discuss Next Steps to further this learning in the coming days and/or weeks. This way, we can also make links to previous days, and how our current plans address student needs.

A Look At Our Day

A Look At Our Day

A Look At Our Day

I’m not sure if this latest solution is “just right” yet, but I do like how I can merge the story of our day with more focused Learning Stories. I’ve also tried to embed some Next Steps into the documentation that I share through my Instagram account

It was interesting to see these different examples of math today. First, Joshua decided to draw a picture. I suggested he count the markings he made. I thought he would just write the total, but he wrote a number for each mark. We’ll keep working on marker/pencil grip. Then a discussion about healthy and unhealthy foods over lunch today led to a collection of data on this topic. Milla decided she wanted to write the list and number each item on it. She ended up numbering the extra spaces that we can hopefully fill in next week. We can keep working on number reversals as well. Then Brayden decided to collect data on if people play basketball, hockey, or both. @paulacrockett suggested he look at a hockey book to spell that word (which he did), and since basketball is such a long word, she suggested he use the syllables to help hear all the sounds. This is what he did, and he got most of them. He then went around and asked people what they played, and reflected on the data as he collected it. Next we can work on tally marks and groups of 5. SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #engagemath

A post shared by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

I’ve been thinking back to a presentation I saw a couple of years ago by Karyn Callaghan. She spoke a lot about pedagogical documentation, and the value in seeing this documentation not as evaluation, but as truly celebrating the work and learning of the child and what we can do to further support this learning. This is not about comparisons. None of us are perfect, and “Next Steps” should truly be valued as part of the learning process. I see this as equally important for me, and one of the reasons that I’m trying to be open as part of my learning journey. Thanks again to Lisa Noble and the #visiblelearning hashtag that I’ve continued to follow closely since learning about it. My renewed interest and professional goal around pedagogical documentation will remain an important part of my “visible learning.” What’s yours? What advice can you offer me as I continue to grow in this area? Here’s to a wonderful year of new learning, new reflections, and growth!

Aviva