The Complex, Messy Wonderfulness That Is Learning!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this blog post on my evolving thoughts around pedagogical documentation and how I share this learning with others. I really thought that moving away from separate blog posts may be the way to go, but then some wonderful experiences happened this week, and I didn’t know how to share these stories. That’s when I thought that maybe my professional blog is a way to reflect on this learning, for there are definitely some personal learning components to these experiences. 

The story started on Monday afternoon at the creative table with one of our Year 2 students. Many children were using this space as a Makerspace, and I happened to put out some popsicle sticks on the table. I called a few students over to help me clean up the mess at this table, and that’s when one of the boys noticed that he could make letters out of popsicle sticks. What’s particularly incredible about this is that nobody else made letters out of these sticks, and it wasn’t even my intention for them to do so. But as the popsicle sticks lay on top of each other on the table, this child thought about letter formations, and one letter became many more. 

I wanted him to think critically about the shapes of the letters as well as the letter-names and sounds, which is why I asked him the question about creating a letter B out of popsicle sticks. While one child was certain that you couldn’t make a B out of popsicle sticks, and I tended to agree, Edward decided to take this on as a challenge, and he created a B. Now I was a little disappointed that the day was almost over, and we really had to tidy up, but I asked Edward if we could keep his letters at school for another day. I wanted to try to extend this learning. I spoke to my teaching partner, Paula, and we decided to put the letters back out on the creative table in addition to the other creations that students made. We thought that we would wait and see what happened. 

As expected, other students were inspired by the popsicle stick letters, and they decided to make some of their own. There was also a lot of discussion around letters, sounds, and words. The addition of the book at the creative table, also led to some storytelling and reading, which is always wonderful to see. While Edward went back to the table to create some more letters, even better still, all of this talk about letters led to him working on how to write and spell his name. He was so proud of his new accomplishment, and we were too!

Paula and I spoke again after school on Tuesday, and since the popsicle stick letters and Makerspace experiences were still popular, we decided to leave out the materials. We added tape and felt as different mediums, and ways to see what else the children might do. Then we waited. 

On Wednesday, Edward was excited to show Paula how he could write his name: she was away sick on Monday afternoon and Tuesday, so hadn’t seen his accomplishment in person. I thought that his interest might end there, but it didn’t. He went over to the popsicle sticks and began to make the letters in his name out of popsicle sticks. That’s when he realized that he could make letters out of other items, such as blocks. His letter-writing and identification story continues, as seen in the Instagram stories below.

This letter interest was not just contained inside. Edward began to find letters outside, and other children chimed in on this letter-learning, and even extended it further. All week long, students commented on the “stick letters” they found in the forest, and even brought some back to explore in the outdoor classroom at the end of the day. One child even found a letter in a scrap piece of paper.

What’s particularly wonderful about readers and writers is that when students start to see themselves in these ways, their interest and skills gradually start to improve. This is what happened here. Now he started to think about how writing could “communicate messages that others could read,” and we explored letter-sounds in meaningful ways, as he chose to label some containers in the classroom.

Fast-forward to the next day — Thursday — when Edward decided to do something with the two old movie posters that we added to the Makerspace. When he taped these posters to the ground, Paula and I weren’t sure what he was going to do next, but he had a plan: he created a jungle. Other children got involved in the building and creation process, and reading and writing became a valuable part of this process as seen in the Instagram stories below.

Just after he ate lunch today, @paulacrockett and I noticed that Edward had unrolled a movie theatre poster and was lying on top of it. What was he doing. Trying to straighten it out. He then got tape to tape it down on the floor, and grabbed a second poster to attach to it. A worker needed to get under our sink, so Edward relocated. When @paulacrockett asked him what he was making, he said, “a jungle.” He used the blocks for trees. He also tried to create a volcano using a partially circular block to be the opening at the top. He started to label the items in the jungle, including the berries he made. As seen here, he’s reading me back the word he wrote. Friends even came to help. Edward even changed the play at the Lego table by starting to use the Lego to make dinosaurs to add to his jungle. ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #cti_languageoftransientart

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Other children got involved in Edward’s jungle. Nola made a sign to not touch the jungles, and Edward continued making and reading signs to label his jungle. @paulacrockett and I love what he made, but we knew that he couldn’t leave it in the middle of the floor so close to the door. We worked with him to problem solve and move his jungle onto a table. He then extended it even more and surrounded the table with five chairs. He asked children if they wanted to work on his jungle tomorrow, and added them to his list of five. Then he read us his numbered picture. Literacy, math, problem solving, creativity, innovation, and social skills all evident in this student-directed free play! ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #cti_languageoftransientart

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Edward’s plan to extend the jungle, also led to a great reading, writing, and math opportunity out in the forest yesterday.

Since the new location of the jungle took over the Lego table, we also had to move around some items including some of the Lego. Since we added some forest and jungle books to the jungle table, we put the Lego books over on the shelves closer to the Lego. A few children looked at these books before, but they never tried to build anything in them. Then yesterday, the new location of the books and the building materials, attracted some different students … and now they used the books. It’s great to hear the reading, math, and problem solving talk in this space!

Paula and I also spoke more about how we could extend the learning that’s happening in the classroom, and that’s when she suggested an end-of-the-day reflection meeting on what we learned. While students shared different things that they did, she also targeted certain students to discuss their learning, which inspired others, and even had children set their own plans for the next day. 

It was one of these reflection circles that led to Trinity’s exploration of letters yesterday. She got other students involved, and there was some great problem solving as part of this process.

Looking at these experiences as they connect to each other, helps us determine some possible next steps, especially around letter-sounds, and blending these sounds together to read words. But looking back, this process was also a good reminder for us about children, how they learn, and the environment that they need to be successful. Paula and I have had many conversations about this topic over the week, and here are some of our biggest takeaways.

1. Children need time. I have been as guilty as they come for cleaning things up too quickly. If areas are empty in the room, I’m usually one that’s eager to switch around the materials and use the space differently. But sometimes we just need to give students more time to come to these spaces. We also need to leave items out for multiple days for children to explore — and re-explore — in different ways. This Makerspace area remained all week long with very few changes, and we also plan on having this space on Monday. Since children continue to come here, to create, and to make some amazing connections to literacy, math, and problem solving, why would we tidy it up?

2. Sometimes moving an item to a new location changes children’s interest in it. We saw this with the Lego books this week. For weeks now, we’ve had these books over on the Lego table, and while a few children flip through them, this is usually where the interest ends. Putting them on a new shelf though, attracted different students, and students used these books in a new way. This was a good reminder for us that sometimes just a small change leads to a big difference.

3. We need to remember the developmental component in a Kindergarten classroom. There is a lot of growth in Kindergarten, and while children come to us between the ages of three and five, the difference in these ages is huge. Some children are developmentally like toddlers when they enter Kindergarten, and we need to give them the time and support to progress through this stage, as we also try to meet the academic demands of our program. I’m taking Reading Part 1 right now, and I do agree with the thinking that’s shared in the course that reading skills have to be explicitly taught. This includes letter-names and sounds. But children have to be ready for this learning, and as they’re immersed in a language-rich environment, we’ll begin to hear and see this readiness, and can then extend their learning. Once again, I’m reminded of the key question in the Kindergarten Program Document: “why this learning for this child at this time?” In my opinion, it’s a question that’s valuable in all grades.

4. Rich learning often involves the mixing of materials. I think of all of the times that we could have stopped children this week. Blocks, paper, Lego, glue, tape, and books all ended up together, but it was in the combination of materials that we moved from letter-identification and formation to letter-use. So, as I remind myself regularly, items can always be moved back to their proper place. For now, the “proper place” is mixed up with many other items.

5. We cannot underestimate the value in free play. I can’t help but think about this tweet that I saw from Anne the other day. (I’m so grateful to Laurel Fynes for retweeting it.)

If we added activity signs to any of our classroom spaces, none of this learning would have happened this week. Children used materials in ways that we didn’t expect, and mixed materials in ways that we wouldn’t have anticipated. It was the “free” nature of our classroom play that allowed for the best learning. This doesn’t mean that we didn’t question and support this learning during the process — and our documentation definitely shows that we did — but we started with the child first. Maybe this is the best reminder of all. The Kindergarten Program Document reminds us to view children as “competent and capable of complex thought.” How do you remember to always do this? What impact might this statement have on your classroom and program design?

This learning story is long, complicated, spans the Four Frames, and started with one child, but includes multiple children now. It’s a good reminder that learning is messy, complex, and amazingly wonderful … for observing the growth this week has been exactly that! How do you capture and reflect on the learning that happens in your classroom? How do you use these reflections to guide future learning — for yourself and for your studentsMaybe my new focus on pedagogical documentation will include more of these complex, multi-faceted learning stories, which shine a light on my learning and the learning of our students.


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