Here’s To One Amazing Village!

Friday morning, I started off my day as I always do by reading Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. One post that really caught my eye was a recent one by Jen Aston. In this post, Jen discusses her experiences with a daycare, and the impact that some positive daycare experiences have had on all three of her children. The description of these play-based, Reggio-inspired daycare centres really appealed to me, as I saw a lot of parallels to our own classroom program.  I really tried to capture this in the comment that I left on Jen’s post.

Jen’s post stayed with me all day yesterday, and had me thinking even more this morning. I think it’s this belief that “it takes a village to raise a child,” which has resulted in the classroom success that we’ve seen this year. 

This year, our Board has started to focus on reading skills in Kindergarten and Grade 1. One of the Board’s goals is to have “all children reading by the end of Grade 1.” Now before concerns are expressed around what’s developmentally appropriate for Kindergarten children, and how this goal aligns with the Kindergarten Program Document, let me say that the goals for Kindergarten reflect the expectations under the Developing Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours Frame in our document. To support this new goal, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board hired Reading Specialists, who go into Kindergarten and Grade 1 classrooms to support reading development. (Please note that this is a very simplified definition of their jobs, so I apologize in advance if I have not accurately defined the roles of Reading Specialists.) I’d like to think that my teaching partner, Paula, and I made reading one of our priorities before this year, but with this new Board goal and the support of a Reading Specialist, I think that the two of us have thought even more about how we’re developing reading skills, programming for students, and supporting those children that are struggling. Maybe the extra time thinking and talking about reading made a difference for kids, as without a doubt, our students this year have met with even more reading success than in any other year of my teaching career: with ALL of our students on target for meeting or exceeding grade level reading benchmarksWhy the change? I think it’s the village that made the difference.

  • First there is the targeted intervention. Our Kindergarten Program Document regularly refers to this question: why this learning for this child at this time? Any professional development that we received from our Reading Specialist, curriculum consultants, Kindergarten consultants, and even Speech and Language Pathologists, emphasized the importance of this targeted intervention. They really got us thinking about where are our students at, what do they need next, and how can we support them in getting to this next step? In alignment with the pedagogy embedded in the Kindergarten Program Document, Paula and I made the decision not to withdraw students when we support them, but to embed these targeted mini-lessons within the context of play. This takes a lot of communication between the two of us and careful observation of students to figure out exactly when and how to provide this small group instruction, but we do make it happen … every single day
  • Next, there is the access to a group of professionals, who all come with a different knowledge base and various ideas about how to support students. Yes, I am one of the lucky ones. I teach at a fantastic school in a middle-to-high class area, with supportive parents, and incredible children … but not all of our students started the year at benchmark. In fact, when we looked at our SK students back in September, we were concerned about almost 50% of them. Not all of the children recognized letters of the alphabet or knew their letter-sounds. Some students were still at the lower rungs of the Phonological Awareness Continuum and many of our children were very reluctant readers. Only 1 of our 11 SK students was already reading. So we definitely had some work to do, and we needed to pay attention to many different perspectives. Our Speech and Language Pathologist gave us a great understanding of phonological awareness. We were able to determine at what level of instruction each child was at, and then focus on the areas of need. We embedded many phonological awareness games into our transitional times to help develop some skills with the whole class, while also working with individual and small groups of students during play to meet other needs. Paula, as a Registered Early Childhood Educator (R.E.C.E.), also has an amazing understanding of child development. She knew where the kids were at, what areas we might need to work on first, and how to tell when children are truly ready for reading. We also have a Curriculum Consultant and Early Years Team, who we have consulted at different points during the year. Their program knowledge helped us figure out how we could support struggling readers while still holding true to the Program Document and the play-based learning that we believe in and do. We also have a couple of different Kindergarten classrooms at our school, and seeing what other people are doing, talking about various options, and exploring new possibilities, especially for our targeted students, make a difference. Finally, thanks to an incredible Professional Learning Network through Twitter and Instagram, we don’t just have to rely on the amazing people in our Board. We’ve got so many people out there, in other Boards and from around the world, who are willing to support us with ideas, resources, and great questions, all of which help us improve our program.

  • There is also our Reading Specialist Teacher. Sandy Batenburg has been great! I had the pleasure of working with Sandy, when she was a Learning Resource Teacher at Dr. Davey School, and I think that our previous connection definitely helped as we built a new relationship this year. Sandy and I do not always see eye-to-eye, but we have a lot of respect for each other, and are always willing to engage in good professional dialogue. Sandy has a lot of experience working with children with a variety of needs, and she had many ideas about how to support our targeted students. While we initially arranged an intervention model where she worked with about six of our students just outside of our room, we didn’t like the idea of pulling children from play and making reading (and writing) as separate from other learning. This is something that we don’t do, so why were we doing it with her? Recently, after talking with Sandy, we’ve made some changes, and now Sandy supports students within the classroom twice a week. It’s great that she can connect with more children, that Paula, Sandy, and I can plan together, and that we can all learn from each other. The kids benefit, and we benefit!
  • Parents are another very important part of this equation! Parents spend even more time with their children than we do, and for some children, the connection with their mom or dad will allow them to take risks at home, which they will not take in the classroom. This home/school connection is so important to us! We use our classroom blog as a way to share what children are learning in the classroom, but also as a way to share possible extension activities for home. This year, we added a Family Contributions link to our Class Blog, where we post home experiences that parents share with us. Sometimes, with the permission of parents, we also tweet or Instagram home learning examples. It’s great to see parents capturing the process of learning, as well as the final product!
  • We’ve moved even further away from reading levels. Now, we don’t even send home levelled readers. Students helped us remove the levels from the readersYes, at times we read texts that might be levelled, and we will choose different books depending on our group of readers. That said, students have stopped talking about what level they’re at. They understand the value in reading everything, as highlighted by this discussion outside yesterday morningWe’re thankful for Fountas and Pinnell, who reinforced the value in not telling children their reading levels, and a Speech and Language Pathologist, who emphasized the importance of making take-home reading in Kindergarten about vocabulary development and comprehension, not just decoding.
  • Last, but not least, we have a wonderfully supportive administrator, who watches our day through our class blog, engages regularly with children, and notices the student growth as part of our program. Our principal, John, continues to contemplate what learning looks like in Kindergarten. As many people who know me, realize, I am not one to stay quiet. I will ask questions. I will push back. And John and I have had many great conversations around play and reading instruction. His wonders make me think. They often cause me to go back and learn more, and they almost always result in greater dialogue with my teaching partner, Paula. But it is this back-and-forth dialogue, continual reflection, and changes to our program, which ultimately benefit kids. John is definitely an important part of our village, and I appreciate how he embraces a diversity in approaches, especially when he can see the potential learning opportunities for kids.

Learning doesn’t happen by accident, and it doesn’t happen alone. It really is about a series of approaches with the support of many different people who make a difference. Yes, I’m thrilled with the success of our students this year, but I’m just as thrilled with the connections we made to make this success possible. In the coming months, I want to reflect more on what can make next year even better. Before I forget to do so though, I really want to pay tribute to the village that made this year’s growth possible. Who’s in your village? What impact has this made on your kids? Thanks to our village for helping raise such amazing kids!

Aviva

2 thoughts on “Here’s To One Amazing Village!

  1. What a great post Aviva. And what a fantastic group of professionals supporting learning in those young ones! Early Education is so so important. I love the goal for the end of Grade one in reading.

    As well, the public work you do by blogging the wonderful things you are doing and questioning in your program is such a great influence in that big Kindergarten village!

    • Thanks Jen! I think that your post really made me stop and think about just how big that village is, and just how important it is for kids (and for the adults that teach them). We really do need to work together, and in theory, I think that we know this, but in reality, I think that it takes some planning and a little bit of “letting go” to make it work. Reading is definitely an essential skill for children, and impacts on their long-term ability to succeed. This goal, if nothing else, I think has made educators stop, reflect on their program, and explore other ways to help support early literacy. It definitely did that for me. For that, I’m grateful.

      Aviva

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