Yesterday was a PA Day in our Board, and all day long, we were engaged in professional development sessions around reading, math, and well-being. During one of the afternoon sessions, we watched a favourite TED Talk of mine. Among other things, Ramsey Mussallam’s Talk always makes me remember the importance of reflection, even when reflecting can be a challenge.
Yesterday, it was Ramsey’s Talk that inspired my teaching partner, Paula, and I to do some more quiet reflection of our own.
We really believe in the power of regular reflection, and we often spend at least an hour after school each day reflecting on our day. This includes,
- discussing our observations around individual students.
- looking back at documentation from the day, and talking about possible next steps.
- looking critically at play opportunities we provided, and what changes we could make to interest other (or more) students, to extend learning, or to meet needs that we did not meet on that day.
We’ve worked hard at creating an environment where we feel comfortable talking freely with each other, asking questions, and suggesting changes. It was this very kind of conversation that happened yesterday.
I’m not sure how the topic came up, but we spoke about the recent increased interest that students seem to have over eating right after our meeting time each morning. Why? We went back and forth with possibilities.
- Could it be because we’re starting our indoor learning time a little later than before? Not really. Sometimes we’re actually in earlier because of the weather.
- Could it be because less children are taking snacks outside with them? Maybe … although many do grab them especially if we stay in our outdoor classroom space for a little while before heading out to the forest. We could encourage more children to bring a snack out with them. Could it be more than this though?
- Could it be because of the morning meeting time? I was initially quick to dismiss this idea. We’ve always discussed a lot during this morning meeting time. It really is the one big time that we come together as a full class each day. Lately, children have demonstrated a variety of interests, so our meeting time includes elements of all of these interests. Could it be too much?
This made me think about one of Eva Thompson‘s recent blog posts that Doug Peterson highlighted in his post from yesterday. In this post, Eva makes a connection between the “31 flavours of ice cream,” and the multitude of information/options that she presented to students at once. Was it just too much? Maybe we’re also having our own 31 flavours dilemma.
While we want to get children thinking about the different play options around the room and various ways to extend their learning from the day before, there’s only so much that a child can take in at one time. Are our Kindergarten students sitting through this meeting time and wondering, where should I go first? What could I do? We wondered if having so many possibilities laid out in front of them became overwhelming. Is sitting to eat less about “eating,” and more about sitting back, processing options, and deciding what to do first? Could this be a sitting version of wandering?
We thought that we would test out this theory by scaling back our meeting time on Monday. Instead of introducing students to everything in the room, we’d pick one or two big ideas to discuss as a class, and then let the children uncover the other areas on their own. If some children are having a problem deciding where to go first, we could always pull up the images on an iPad to share just with them, or sit down with a small group and brainstorm options together. Choice is good, but do the “31 flavours” need to be shared over many sittings?
As we were having this conversation yesterday, I asked Paula if she noticed students wandering more than usual. I haven’t, but I’m usually on my lunch (or duty) when the play begins, so she would see this more than me. She said, “Maybe at first.” I wonder if the multitude of choices are making children do what I liked doing at Baskin Robbins: taking a little sample of everything before settling on a “favourite flavour.”
- Sampling is good.
- Trying new things is important.
- But maybe the sample size needs to be reduced.
If we also focused more on “big ideas” instead of specific activities, would children see more of the links between the various areas of the room, even if they weren’t explicitly discussed? I think about our “boat problem” from a couple of weeks ago. A group of students built a boat out of blocks, and decided that they wanted to make “Boat City.” We helped them create a space for this city, and they gathered materials to make the city. But after a couple of days, the building was complete and nobody touched the boats again. We got the children to clean up the blocks, and then we added in a blue sheet for the water. We found some video clips and images to inspire boat creations, and once again, children decided to build Boat City. After a few more days though, the same thing happened as before: the city was complete, and the blocks weren’t touched again. Both Paula and I thought that the students were demonstrating an interest in boats, but was their interest really in building/creating?
If we look around the classroom, we really can see this building/creating interest emerge everywhere. It’s why students spent weeks building an enormous zoo, but have never really played in it.
It’s why children have created numerous clothes and designer labels for dolls, stuffed animals, and mannequins — and even made the start of an ironing board mannequin — but never actually made a store.
And it’s why students have made the CN Tower too many times to count, but have never actually done anything in Toronto once its made.
I wonder then if this is another part of the 31 flavours dilemma. Could we be hearing interests, but could the actual interests vary from what the children are telling us? Maybe their interests are deeper than what they’re sharing. So maybe, even after we do what they ask, they’ll walk away because we haven’t gotten it quite right. It’s kind of like giving them chocolate ice cream when really what they want is Rocky Road. Both have chocolate components, but one has some additional elements as well.
Sometimes teaching is about knowing just what flavour (or flavours) to provide, and then digging into the freezer for some more when those won’t do. Or maybe, for a small group, it’s about offering a special selection of flavours to meet their dietary needs or make their palates happy. Yes, I know that I’ve really pushed the ice cream connection here, but I can’t help myself. As Paula and I figured out yesterday, 31 flavours may be too much, but how many are just enough? It may take some trial and error to figure that out. How do you decide? I hope that when we get it right, we can reward ourselves with a few scoops of ice cream. 🙂
OK, I stuck it out until the end of the post. Lots of things there, Aviva.
Our profession would be pretty grim if the only choices were chocolate and vanilla. It’s the inclusion of all of the others that create rich classrooms and
Perhaps the wisdom lies in advice given to me along time ago and I’ve tried to live by it. The plate is only so big and there comes a time when it becomes full. If you stack more on it, then there are all kinds of prices to be paid. The better solution is to remove something before you add something else. That keeps it manageable and doable.
That’s always easier said than done. I think that, as teachers, we all want to be everything to everyone. But, recognizing that there are limits is so important.
Thanks Doug! Excellent words of advice, and a good reminder. This makes me think about a blog post that Kristi Keery-Bishop wrote a while ago.
I think this is a post that I need to revisit right about now. Maybe this post will help us with figuring out some of our flavour options.
P.S. Yes, this was quite the long post (or maybe just full of lots of documentation), but I decided to put all of this thinking together. Should I have published two different posts? Perhaps. Somehow everything just flowed for me. 🙂
Well documented, it’s so wonderful to not just read about your day, but see it as well. I have come to agree that choice is essential, but can also have limits. Reaching the right balance may change from day to day and student to student. I continue to work on finding best practice – for both the students and myself.
Thanks Eva! I think that balance may be key. And maybe even when we have more choices, possibly introducing all of them becomes overwhelming. Is it a case of some children stumbling upon these choices on their own while we introduce others to the whole class? I think that we’ll continue to play with some choice options in the coming weeks.