How Do We Share The Stories Behind The Data?

For years now, I’ve been analyzing data based on kids that I know. These kids aren’t numbers. They’re not test scores, math scores, or reading scores. For each of these children, I can also answer all of the questions below.

  • Did the child have breakfast this morning?
  • Did I make sure to connect with the child before the testing started? Did we talk, read a book together, or share a snack?
  • Did I pick a good time for the testing? Did the child get to run around first? Did the child get to connect with friends? Did I choose the morning or the afternoon? When is that children calmer? More focused? Better able to show me his/her best?

Then there are the results of these tests. Scores only give me part of the picture. What about the human component?

  • Where did the child start? Where is the child now?
  • How did the child approach the task?
  • Did the child’s attitude towards these tasks change during the year? If so, how?
  • What about the contributing factors to the score? Reading, writing, and oral language are so heavily connected. How am I viewing each of these pieces in the scores themselves?

I keep thinking about a DRA (reading assessment) that I did at the end of the school year. When I asked this child to come read with me, he said, “I know I can do this. I’m a much better reader now. I’ve worked hard on this!” This kindergarten student recognized his growth as a reader. This was the same child last year who told me, “I can’t read!” As I listened to this child read, I quickly recognized that he relies a lot on sight words, and that continuing to focus on letter-sound combinations and how they connect with picture cues will help him attack more challenging words. This may also increase his reading confidence, which will help with fluency. While these observations helped me make note of some next steps (ones that my teaching partner, Paula, and I also focused on recently based on his reading in class), I also continued to listen as he worked his way through the given text. On paper, this child is now reading at the beginning of Grade 1. His score is a good one, but his story is a better one.

I keep coming back to this story today, as earlier, I read these great tweets from Kristi Keery-Bishop.

I think that Kristi read my mind yesterday, for I was certainly experiencing some similar thoughts. Yesterday, I had my first day at my new school. As part of our morning staff meeting, I had an opportunity to dig into some kindergarten data. The problem: I didn’t know any of these students. They were simply numbers on a page, and the numbers had me wondering more than analyzing.

  • What other factors are at play here?
  • Did the child show growth over the course of the year? In what areas?
  • What does targeted intervention look like for this child?
  • How might Self-Reg, and stressors in the Five Domains, figure into this data? How might we address these stressors?

By posing questions to members of the kindergarten team, I heard some stories about these children, but other voices were missing. What about the children’s voice? Imagine if unpacking the data also meant bringing the child’s voice, the educator’s voice, and maybe even the parent’s voice to the table. I think about how much Paula and I learned over the past three years by having many diverse voices as part of the learning and as part of the next steps. We know the value of pedagogical documentation when it comes to supporting student learning. How might some school-wide learning stories add to our understanding of data and our development of next steps? How do we share the stories behind the numbers? It took to being the new person on staff to realize that numbers are rarely enough.


One Hit. One Wonderful Moment. What Will You Do?

There are many different things that inspire my blog posts. Yesterday, it was a conversation between two students that later had me uttering the words to my teaching partner, Paula, “I need to blog about this!”

We were outside in the forest when a child came up to me. She wasn’t crying, but she did have a frown on her face and she told me that she was “upset.” She explained that she was playing in the forest when a child came up and hit her. Hmmm … this sounds strange. Thinking about how Paula usually responds I asked, “What happened first?” She was insistent that nothing did, and the child just hit her. I wanted to find out more, so I called over the other child. I explained to him what this student told me, and he said, “But she was being rude. I didn’t like it!”

I then had a choice to make. After finding out a little more about the rudeness, I explained to this little boy that, “It wasn’t okay for her to be rude to you, but hitting is an extreme reaction. What could you have done instead?” He had a few ideas, so I suggested that he think about this for the next time. Then I said to him, “You need to figure out a way to make things better with her.” He said, “Like, ‘Say sorry.'” I explained, “This might work, or it might not be enough. I’m not sure. You should go and talk to her.” She was standing behind me, so I moved away slightly, but still within hearing distance. This is when something incredible happened.

I heard the two of them talking. The little girl actually apologized to him for “being rude,” and he apologized to her for “hitting.” They stood there and had a good three-to-five minute conversation around feelings, and then chose to go off and play together. They never play together. I didn’t have to say another word to the two of them, and they never came back to me to check in or see if the apology was “good enough.” These two kindergarteners worked out a solution that worked for the two of them. And just like that, I realized how much these kids have grown.

Our students might be some of the youngest children in our school. They might still be learning how to read more challenging words, write longer sentences, and explore more difficult math problems, but they’ve figured out something terrific that will last them well beyond kindergarten: the ability to solve problems. On their own. Without the support of a teacher. Minus a script, a trip to the office, or hours of discussion. Sometimes we think that kids are too little to take on this kind of problem solving. I understand. I believed this at one point as well. But in the past three years, thanks to Paula, I’ve learned that even our youngest learners are far more capable than we may have ever imagined. A lot rests on us — as the adults — to show our kids that we believe in them and then give them the opportunity to show us just what they can do.

In the last few days of school, educators and parents are sure to be presented with problems. Some may even be ones that haven’t surfaced all year, but are now, thanks to the increased stress and change in routines that are true in these final days of June. So when a child approaches you, what will you say? What will you do? What message might your seemingly small actions give to kids?  Never before have I loved a hit quite so much!


From The Bathroom To The Bus: How Do We Capitalize On Non-Traditional Learning Spaces?

I remember earlier this year when Stew, a teacher in our Board, made this comment to me: “Aviva, I feel as though you can find the learning in just about anything.” I’d like to hope that I can. I think that it’s our Kindergarten Program Document, which really has me exploring how expectations align with everyday practices. My teaching partner, Paula, and I are big proponents of connecting expectations to child-directed play. We believe that direct instruction can, and does, happen in the midst of free play, and that literacy and math can be explored in so many authentic ways. As we enter the last week of school before the summer holidays, I decided to write this post highlighting some unconventional learning spaces. My hope is that these same areas might provide learning opportunities throughout the summer months.

The Bathroom – Kids in kindergarten are obsessed with bodily functions. Nothing is more amusing than peeing and pooping, and toilet talk is like the great naughty moment that sucks everyone in but also results in hours of tattletaling. Since children are so taken by the bathroom, why not capitalize on the problems in there with some literacy connections? Our bathroom door this year is covered in signs:

  • reminding children to only use toilet paper,

  • telling children that the bathroom is only for one child at a time,
  • reminding children not to add foreign objects to the toilet,

  • and indicating when the bathroom is occupied versus free. 

Then there are all of the notes to the caretaker when we’re out of toilet paper, there’s paper towel in the toilet (despite the signs), the toilet paper dispenser is broken, and the toilet is overflowing.

While there might not be a Mr. Angelo at your house, bathroom literacy can still occur. Why not have children write notes for more items needed, keep a shopping list of bathroom supplies, and/or make friendly reminder signs for the bathroom door? Just make sure that your child does not stop to read the signs when there’s a real bathroom emergency!

Outside – We love our outdoor time, and start our day outside in the forest regardless of the weather. There is no limit to the reading, writing, oral language, and math opportunities that can happen outside. Below are just some examples of how literacy and math are woven into our outdoor time.

There are probably more examples above than anyone will listen to or read in totality, but I think this shows how even free play outside provides so many learning opportunities. With some beautiful summer weather (hopefully), get outside and watch and listen to the conversations that happen there. Maybe even invite some of your child’s friends along. Where are the connections to literacy? To math? To science? How can you introduce some new vocabulary, provide a writing opportunity, or encourage reading to find out more? 

In The Car – We didn’t go in a car with the kids, but we recently went on our year-end field trip, and had a wonderful ride in a school bus. I was really taken by the social interactions, math learning, and reading opportunities that took place on this drive.

These conversations made me think about the car games that I used to play with my parents as a child. I shared this website link with parents, but this article just highlights some examples. As you go on some summer drives in the coming months, don’t forget that learning can stem from watching your child, talking to them, and looking out the window together!

Most people know that I’m not a fan of blackline masters and activity books, so my hope is that this blog post might provide a different option for learning in July and August. I don’t want the summer to be full of homework, and there’s something to be said for the deep learning that can come from free play. Just look at this example of ours from the other day.

What do you think? What other suggestions might you add to this blog post? As summer vacation approaches, I think there’s value in giving more authentic options for summer learning.


The Dark Side Of Puppets, Bubbles, And All Things Fun!

My teaching partner, Paula, has taught me a lot of the past three years. While I’ve blogged before about many of the things that I’ve learned from her, there are also a couple of more. Paula showed me the dark side to puppets and bubbles. What?! How can these two seemingly harmless things come with a dark side? Let me explain.

Puppets. The paper bag variety is likely the most popular option, especially in young primary grades, but we can’t forget about the popsicle stick choice. There are also those nice expensive puppets with the mouths that open and close. Just place them on your hands, and they’re supposed to result in hours of fun. I was taught all about the benefits of puppets in Faculty of Education courses, and later, through teaching experience. “They are so good for oral language development,” I heard. And I can understand this. Puppets are all about getting kids to talk, but also to listen and respond to each other. Have you ever watched kids play with puppets though? This is a case, I think, of where theory does not align with practice. Here’s what kids do — sometimes when you’re looking and sometimes when you’re not looking: they open up the puppet’s mouth, stick it in the other person’s face, and make an “Argh, argh, argh” sound as the puppet tries to snap and bite at the other person. You know that you’ve seen this before. If not, give kids of any age — even teenagers — paper bags, and have them make puppets. Or even give them one of the expensive varieties. I guarantee you that there will be snapping, sounds, and almost no real conversation. If you want the wonderful oral language opportunities that you’ve read and heard about, then you need to be right there with the puppets. Don’t move. Don’t walk away. If so, kids will definitely be back to the “argh, argh, argh” puppet play. 🙂

What Paula and I value a lot in our program is the independence of our students.

  • If they want more paint, they get it.
  • If they need a chair, they find it.
  • If they’re looking for glue, they can even hold and pour the big bottle. Trust me: it terrified me the first time that I saw this in action, but this child did it then, and every time past then.

  • Knives, hammers, screwdrivers: our kids know how to use all of these items responsibly, and they do, in so many different ways. 

We love to be able to sit down and start at a space, ask questions, possibly provide an inspiration, and then walk away. Absolutely nothing in our classroom requires us to be there indefinitely. In fact, if it does, then we don’t do it. And the problem with puppets is that to truly use them in the dream-like ways that we hear about, you really cannot venture too far away from them. Plus, even if they do work, they can often only be used in a single way with a single purpose. I think that the richness of learning comes with the open-ended creativity that stems from open-ended materials. I wonder if puppets are really that open-ended. 

Then there are bubbles. When I was at another school, I used bubbles with our kids all the time. We often made them outside. 

Bubbles look like so much fun. Joyful almost. And I guess that they are, but they can also be incredibly dysregulating. Bubbles often cause screaming and running. They’re up-regulating. Some kids need to be up-regulated, like the child that comes in tired each day and needs energy to learn. But when we use bubbles in a central space, as a whole class, those few kids that might benefit are likely to be lost in the sea of others that might not. In fact, looking back now, I wonder if some of the behaviours that I noticed in the afternoon were caused by our bubble blowing in the middle block. Was my attempt at supporting Self-Reg, actually doing the opposite? This is when the “self” piece of Self-Reg is so important. If bubbles are pulling together the whole class, is the “self” component being lost?

This week, another school year comes to an end. Along with puppets and bubbles, I’m also not a big fan of cupcakes, cookies, donuts, ice cream, popsicles, freezies, and other party fun. I probably sound like a big Grinch. Maybe I am one. It’s not as though I don’t want to celebrate a successful year, but just like some kids, I have many mixed emotions about the year ending. Both Paula and I are moving schools at the end of this year, and while we should probably have our classroom almost cleaned out by now, we’re actually in the midst of adding more to it with the Grand Opening of our Pet Salon on Tuesday. Monday also brings with it, requests for Pet Salon items.

Bring In Old Hair Supplies

Shoe Boxes Or Small Boxes

Sometimes celebrating can also be achieved through consistent routines, child-directed play, and the love of what is normal. Paula and I might end up sleeping over at the school on Thursday to get everything cleaned and organized 🙂 , but we will get it done. The last few days of school, often bring with them opportunities for added fun. How might kids interpret these different activities? What might be another side — a darker side — to some of them? I often hear the words, “But children love ___________ [fill in the blank accordingly].” Not everything that children love is good for them though. Do we need to reconsider some of these options? Paula gave me a different perspective on puppets and bubbles. Maybe there are also different sides to other things “fun.”


The Pet Makeover Hairstyling Salon: An Exercise In Letting Go

We are nearing the end of another school year — my 18th one teaching, in fact. I could probably count and tell you how many days are left, but the thought of it, is causing a #pukealert, so I’d rather live in blissful ignorance knowing that the final day is coming soon. (Now maybe I’ll manage to get all of the paper work, filing, year-end assessments, packing, cleaning, and moving done before the last day of school … miracles do happen 🙂 I wonder if it’s all of the extra paper and pen tasks at the end of the year, which cause increased stress for me). One wonderful thing about June, especially in kindergarten, is the increased independence at this time of the year. A recent makeover of our dramatic play space helped me see just how much kids are capable of doing all on their own.

For Father’s Day, we decided to turn this small area of the classroom into a Raptors Stadium. Kids filmed special messages to dad, and we filmed some keepsake ones (hopefully) to send off to each of the dads in our classroom.

My teaching partner, Paula, and I never really thought about how to use this space after Father’s Day. Our kids were busy doing some thinking though, and on Thursday afternoon, they presented Paula with a plan that quickly extended from there.

When Paula went on her lunch, I got involved in some other areas of the classroom, and that’s when I noticed that there were still students working in this little cardboard space. What were they doing? I was beyond thrilled to walk in and overhear a planning meeting for the new Pet Makeover Hairstyling Salon. Even without our suggestion, they were brainstorming ideas, building off of what the other person said, and recording their thinking, just as adults do in a meeting of the minds.

Paula and I were so impressed with their dedication to this project that we turned around the Raptors Stadium cardboard at the end of the school day, and thought that the students could begin a design transformation. Now since we already reused some of the cardboard, part of the design process would definitely include some problem solving. I said that I would pick up additional materials on the way home that night, and then we’d see what the children did the next day. I knew that Paula would be away for an appointment, so it might be harder to get into this space as much as usual, but I’d see what I could do to still support the learning in there. It turns out that children are incredibly capable of supporting each other in the learning process.

Seeing where the design process is going, I couldn’t resist buying some books yesterday to act as mentor texts in this space. Students can use the books to draw and write more about the cats and dogs and what they need. The texts are all accessible for them, and will align with the sight word development and decoding skills that we’re currently working on in class. They also provide some great links to media literacy, and a closer look at font sizes and types. We saw the value in adding text to the Raptors Stadium space, so we wanted to do the same thing here.

Then there was the child’s note about items to purchase for the salon. How could I say, “No?!” I might have spent way too much money at Michael’s yesterday, but I couldn’t resist. I had to also include some notes back to this child, for there’s always value in sneaking in some reading, when possible. Maybe this will even change how she uses a list, and the notes that she adds to lists that others write.

It feels really strange to me to let kids completely control a space, and when Paula’s back tomorrow, maybe one or both of us will get into this area more. But I can’t help but look at how students are negotiating the design of the area, the materials to add, and the details of the plan. Would our involvement make things better or worse? Maybe the best thing we can do right now is to stand back, observe, insert a few questions for contemplation, and then watch the kids do what we know they can do: own the area. I keep coming back to this quote that Paula shared with me recently. It’s one by Piaget, which I’ve heard many times before, and always makes me think.

This Pet Makeover Hairstyling Salon is all about discovery learning, and there’s something incredibly special in each of the discoveries.

  • As the school year comes to an end, how are the children owning your classroom space?
  • What have you done throughout the year to get to the place where kids are at now? 
  • What are some things that you’ve had to let go of to give students this kind of ownership?
  • What does this say about them as thinkers and doers of learning?

While I’m sad to see this year end, I’m always happy to see our wonderful kids in action!