Yesterday was a fantastic day! We’ve actually had two great days since we’ve been back at school after the holidays, and it’s hard not to enjoy the calmness and feel the excitement over the learning that’s happening in the classroom. In the past, when I’ve had a great day, I’ve really wanted to “freeze time.” My thinking has always been, let’s keep with what we’re doing, as we must be doing something right. I think there’s something to be said for this thinking, but I also think there’s something be said for making some changes.
At the end of the day yesterday, my teaching partner, Paula, and I reflected on our day as we always do. It was during this reflection time that Paula suggested a slight change in room design. Over the winter holidays, I bought a big bucket at Walmart to use on the LEGO table. The thought was that we could add some sticky notes, thick popsicle sticks, tape, and plasticine, along with our sign books, to inspire students to create signs and possibly even a LEGO City in the bucket. Before the Break, we saw a lot of similar play at the LEGO table, and we wanted to intentionally interrupt this play, extend the reading and writing possibilities for some students, and see what happened.
When we added this bucket on Monday, it didn’t take long for children to move it from the table to the floor. Then it just sat there. Speaking to Paula, she thought that it was too deep for the students to use well, and they really wanted paper to draw the roads and places in the city. They even measured and cut out their own piece of brown paper to add to the LEGO table, which they used to start creating their city. The problem was that some students didn’t want to make a city, and one child got really frustrated when his landscape was being used for something different. We chatted at the end of the day on Monday, and thought that maybe we could put the brown paper inside the large bucket, move the bucket onto the ground, add a separate container of LEGO along with the plasticine, sticky notes, popsicle sticks, and tape, and encourage students to create in this new space. We even added a few big pillows around the bucket to attract children to it.
Yesterday, we stood back and watched. A couple of students used this bucket for their LEGO creations, but largely just because they were waiting for an open spot at the eating table. We put this bucket near the table, and it drew them there. After they ate though, they didn’t go back to play more. Maybe they would have today, but maybe not …
Meanwhile, we have a couple of boys that are finding it harder to settle into play. It’s not that they are causing problems or failing to learn, but they tend to wander a little more than other students, and when they do settle somewhere, we’re wondering if their choices are really providing them with the best challenges for more thinking and learning. On my way to duty yesterday, I said to Paula, “I wonder if they need a project, but what might interest them? What could we do?” I went off to duty, and Paula watched, listened, and thought. This is when she suggested to me, “What if we move the eating table over a bit, and put the big bucket over by the unused shelves? We could then bring over the recyclable materials, email parents asking for some more empty rolls, and inspire students to create between the bucket and the shelves. They could make ramps or marble runs or maybe even a structure to use with the rice in the sensory bin.” I loved her idea!
The same students that we wondered about are the ones that continue to use the piece of wood near the LEGO table to create a ramp. However, their ramp is always the same size and used in the same way. Maybe the use of found items along with the various levels made possible due to the shelves and the bucket could result in some more thinking and learning. This might draw these students from other places around the room, and even hold their interest for a longer period of time. There are all kinds of opportunities here connected with math, science, and language learning … not to mention the connections to inquiry.
So even on a wonderful day, we shifted the learning environment to make room for something new. Our chat yesterday made us remember about the need for constant reflection. As educators, are we always looking at how to improve? Are we taking a close look at the needs of each of our students, and sometimes making changes to better support those couple of students that need it most? How do we avoid just being happy with the status quo? Even on the best of days, there can be little changes to make things that much better … maybe even for just one or two students. Reflection is necessary. Any educator or administrator will tell you that it matters. How do you give yourself enough time for this reflection? How do you include various viewpoints to help you see (or consider) something that you might not have on your own? Once again, I’m reminded that “a little Paula can go a long way.” 🙂