My teaching partner, Paula, and I just finished our first week as a reorganized class. While we had a soft start together last Friday, Monday was the official first day of our new class, and the first time that we’ve worked together at our new school. Paula and I have spent a lot of time this week observing, conversing, and making changes. It hasn’t always been easy, but the struggle was an important part of the process and made me realize how much I’ve changed over the years.
Every day, Paula and I spend a couple of hours chatting at the end of the day about our observations. We often look at documentation together, share positive moments and more frustrating ones, and look at how we want to respond to kids the next day. Sometimes, as we stand back and observe the play throughout the day, we’ll quickly comment to each other about some of our observations, aha moments, and struggles. Just as we have for the three years prior to this, our discussions are often framed around these questions, with children at the centre of the dialogue:
- What do we want to keep or extend?
- What do we want to change or remove?
- Why might kids be reacting as they are?
- What else might they need (from a classroom space (environment) and from us)?
As we were chatting on Wednesday, I noticed that our conversations really do revolve around Self-Reg. Even when we are working through some difficulties, I realized that not once did either of us view behaviour through a misbehaviour lens. We questioned what might engage a particular child, what stressors might be at play, and/or how we can better support a student, but the discussion was not a source of blame. I love this. It made me realize though how very differently I’ve responded in the past, and how the change in the tone also changed our response to the problems. There wasn’t a defeatest attitude. Instead it was all about going back to the drawing board and trying again. And this week we went back to the drawing board A LOT, but we also got somewhere great. This blog post highlights the evolution of some of our thinking and actions.
At first, we looked at some key players. Are the needs of these students being met? If not, what might help us better meet them? If they are more settled in their learning, will other children be more settled as a result? These questions had us looking at what these children need. What are their interests? What cause them stress? Are there students in the classroom who calm them, and can we use these relationships to help change a trajectory? There was some trial and error, as we worked through these questions together. In the end, it was the label maker, which offered some unexpected calm, and brought some new children together in positive ways. The label maker also seemed to settle the play for longer, which led to less wandering around the classroom, and more focused play.
Then we considered what “behaviour” might be developmental. In Kindergarten, toddler behaviour is very normal. Some children do not turn four until the end of December. The Kindergarten Program Document gives us permission to go back into the ELECT Document to help better plan for students if required. Reflecting on some of our observations, had us wondering if we needed to consult the ELECT Document for certain children, or if we might already be doing so. Was there more that we needed to do?
Meanwhile, we also had to look critically at ourselves: were some of the problems our own? Paula and I were working through our own LEGO and dramatic play conundrum every single day. Jokingly, I think that some kids might have read my Twitter conversation with Lisa Corbett a month ago, and are testing me to see if LEGO really could be their whole day.
Afraid we'll do nothing but want to build LEGO for the next 10 months. 🙂 Maybe later in the year I'll be more comfortable with it. I have a few people who really, really, really love LEGO and want to do it all day long.
— Lisa (@LisaCorbett0261) September 7, 2019
(Click here to see more of the discussion.)
Couple this with dramatic play, which seems to happen all over the room, except for in any dramatic play space. When it did happen there, it always seemed to be really silly play with baby voices, tossing of cutlery, loud conversations, and cats. There are always cats. These two problems led to two of our more recent changes: a merging of the LEGO and building spaces, and the movement of the kitchen furniture with the sensory bin space (sand for now).
Paula and I also started to look more closely at how our kids learn. We noticed that showing video clips demonstrating play or creations in different spaces often inspired our students to do more in these areas. Photographs helped, but videos made the biggest impact. Then children could “see” possibilities.
This led to some disequilibrium of our own. Paula and I both see the value in open-ended, free choice play opportunities. We don’t want to restrict learning with materials that can only be used in one way or questions that prompt a specific response to a set of items. By keeping things open, we often see innovative uses of materials, and richer, deeper learning, both in the use of the items as well as in the conversations around them. But we were not seeing this yet here. Kids seemed to be relying on adults for ideas, and without some direction, they were not doing a lot at the different spaces. Is this why many kids were drawn back to LEGO and the superhero, cartoon, princess, fairy discussions that they know? We wanted more, and we know that our kids can do more, but we had to question: what do our kids need to extend their play? Schema. This led to us wondering, how can we build it? How can we work with parents to build it?
On each of our daily blog posts, we provide a question prompt for home. We thought about using this prompt as a way to facilitate new vocabulary and experiences at home as well as at school. On Thursday night, we gave parents this prompt.
It worked! On Friday morning, some children came in with plans, which helped focus the play in our LEGO and building spaces.
So last night, we tried to encourage the building of schema in a different way.
You see, yesterday was a great day! The play was more settled, the conversations were richer, and we were able to target specific needs through our mini-lessons. Over time, the responsive changes seem to have made a difference.
Now we realize that as the students grow and change, we’ll be back to the drawing board again. The environment as the third teacher, always has us back at it, but this was a great start. Do we all need a little success to keep up the reflections and modifications? I’m glad we found our success, and I hope that others find theirs. Even “great days” have stories beyond the Instagram posts, and maybe sharing some of our struggles, makes us all seem a little more real.