As our Board continues to focus on “all children reading by Grade 1,” we’ve been reminded to look back at some resources that came our way a number of years ago. These resources — particularly around modelled reading — have some great lessons to teach children about comprehension strategies, such as inferring and making connections. I’ve used these lessons in the past. I’ve even pulled pieces of them since then. The other day, my teaching partner, Paula, and I spoke about some of these lessons. How might we be able to use them, and how might we adapt them to still support our learners in a play-based Kindergarten Program?
The more that we spoke, the more that I realized that my biggest struggle is the program nature of these resources. I’ve never been great at following a program. Please don’t get me wrong. I definitely believe in the value of planning, and based on discussions that Paula and I have each night, I even do a detailed daybook plan for each day: explaining how our play spaces might align with the Four Frames of the Kindergarten Program Document. That said though, the most important note in our daybook and to any of my supply teachers is that, “We always try to be receptive to kids. Watch them. See what they do and how they respond to the materials in the classroom. Listen to what they say and what they ask, and then make changes accordingly.” Yes, expectations matter. I might even go as far as to say that benchmarks matter too, if only as the reminder about the need to support ALL students in meeting with success. But kids matter first!
I still remember a conversation that I had with a previous principal of mine, Paul Clemens, after my last Teacher Performance Appraisal (T.P.A.). Evaluations are stressful, and as supportive as Paul always was, the weekend before my T.P.A., I was trying really hard not to throw up. In an effort to feel more relaxed, I came up with a very detailed script for my T.P.A. lesson. I didn’t hold the script in front of me, but I did memorize it. And in typical Aviva fashion 🙂 , I also asked one of my Grade 5 students to record the lesson, as I wanted the opportunity to look back on it later.
It was as I re-watched the lesson that I thought of a comment, which I made to Paul during our debriefing. While I was really pleased with the questions I asked and my wait time — I actually counted in my head to ensure I gave enough time — I found myself so focused on the script that I was not as receptive to students. If I wasn’t so focused on what I was going to say next …
- I might have gone over and supported that student, whom the E.A. brought out of the room half-way through the lesson.
- I might have tried to engage a couple of the students that didn’t have their hands up, but that I knew could contribute to the conversation. What might they have to say?
- I would have picked an even more diverse group of students to answer some of my questions. I knew what some students were going to say, and I realized that they would help move the lesson along, so I chose them first. But what about some others? Would hearing from them have supported these students in being even more successful in the follow-up activity, as I would have been able to hear their thinking and ideas?
- I would have asked more questions and said less. I wanted to keep the lesson to less than 15 minutes, and I was afraid that if I got students more involved in the building of my sample system and the creation of the steps to follow for theirs, I would have gone over time. What might the students say? What might they do? The need for control had me sticking to a script.
Probably the best thing that happened was when I knocked over the Lego skeletal system. I might have wanted to cry at the time, but the need to go off script, actually had me engaging with students more after this point. Maybe that was the crash I needed to bring me back to focusing on kids instead of on the words in my head.
This makes me wonder then about program scripts.
- When do you use them?
- How do you use them?
- How do you ensure that you still keep focused on the children, even when paying attention to the script?
From textbooks to teacher’s guides to read aloud or guided reading scripts, we’ve all followed a lesson at some point. There’s likely even research behind the decisions made in these scripted lessons. But as I watch and listen to myself following a scripted lesson, I like the sound of myself even better when I watch and listen to myself following kids. Maybe there’s a way to do both well, and there might even be advantages to both approaches. I think that many programs bring me back to those T.P.A. jitters, and maybe that’s why I have such reservations. Convince me! As Paula and I examined and debated the reading comprehension programs to the learning that comes from them, we saw some benefits for kids. Could this be where our focus needs to remain … even if we may go off script?