In schools, grades can operate as silos. I find that this is especially true for kindergarten. It’s not necessarily meant to be that way, but with a Program Document versus curriculum documents, the youngest children in the school, and an approach to learning that’s different than most, it makes sense why I’ve often referred to kindergarten classrooms as Kinderland. This is a term of endearment, but at the same time, it’s also a recognition that things are not the same in kindergarten. Could a little bit of kindergarten be present in all grades though?
I believe that it can, and I often speak about the fact that only the Kindergarten Program Document and the Social Studies Curriculum are explicit on pedagogy, so for other subject areas, educators can choose how they deliver the content. Why can’t play exist beyond kindergarten? What if a little kindergarten thinking influenced other grades? For years, this seemed like a utopian ideal, until I met an acquaintance for brunch. This acquaintance is a fellow educator at another school. She teaches in the junior division, and well over a month ago, she spoke to me generally about one of her students. This student “never works,” and from what she describes, “never has.” He’s still reading and writing at an early Grade 1 level, and while he sits around the classroom and doesn’t “cause problems,” is he really learning? I was very curious about this.
- How do educators evaluate him if he doesn’t work?
- How do his skills improve if he never seems to learn anything?
- Could his reading and writing skills be impacting on his work output? Are other options being made available to him?
My acquaintance mentioned that he always receives an “I” on his report card. Basically there is not enough data to assess him. I realize that I’s are sometimes necessary, but is this the case here?
It was then that she began to talk to me about Social Studies and Science, and how he even gets I’s in these subject areas. Hmmm … I wondered a little more.
- Does he have to read the content?
- How is he being asked to share his learning?
Our discussion had me wondering,
- Does he like to build? Create with LEGO?
- Could she find a short video for him to listen to about the content?
- Could he make something to show what he knows?
- Could he then discuss his knowledge with her?
She mentioned that she doesn’t have LEGO in the classroom, but that the kindergarten rooms do. Maybe he could determine the number of LEGO pieces he needs, bring down a bucket to fill with LEGO, and go and get what he requires from a kindergarten classroom. She wondered about picking up the LEGO herself, but I thought that the walk downstairs might be calming for him, since she mentioned that he often likes to move around.
This teacher wasn’t sure if the plan would work, but we thought of an activity together and she said that she would give it a try. A couple of weeks later, we met for brunch again. It worked! He was skeptical at first, but he spoke to her about what to build, and he did it. Then he talked to her about his creation, and even got a Level 3 (a B) on the rubric. It sounds like this student has never received a B in his life, and his success, not only thrilled him, but thrilled his mother. Now he’s using LEGO to share more of his thinking, and even starting to record his own videos talking about the reasons that he did what he did. Play in an upper junior grade and student success for a student that did not have success before: there is very little that makes me happier as a teacher.
This week, we met again for brunch, and she mentioned this student one more time. She said that while she’s reading a book aloud or teaching a lesson, he’s often playing on his device. She sees him quietly doing this in his desk. While she’s tempted to stop him, she said that he raises his hand to answer questions, reminds her of where she is in the book, and even contributes ideas to class discussions. I said that it sounds as though this child is using his device to self-regulate. It makes him calm enough to focus, and allows him to get the most from full-class activities. This is like when I scroll through Twitter in the staffroom. It’s not a case of me ignoring the discussion at the table, but it actually allows me to listen more, reflect on what I might want to say (if anything), and then chime in. I don’t usually think of technology as self-regulating, but in these cases, I do. Best of all, this teacher did too! She mentioned later on to me that our conversation had her thinking about Self-Reg differently, and viewing the child through this different lens. Stuart Shanker is the voice behind the Self-Reg component of the Kindergarten Document, and I love how this educator applied some of this same thinking to her older student.
This Is Not That Student, But You Can See The Impact Of Play And Self-Reg In The Example Above
Two small events that seem a little less small when viewed through the lens of the impact that kindergarten can have beyond kindergarten. A recent conversation with other educators has me thinking more about how much teachers in different grades can learn from each other. Ideally, I think that this dialogue is ongoing. In my perfect world, play exists for more than just this student in just this classroom. I imagine how much richer and deeper the learning might be as a result. But this is a start, and especially for an educator who questioned both the value of play and Self-Reg. Could these experiences gradually expand to other students, other classes, and other grades? How do you support making Kinderland a little less of a world of its own? As I was reminded of recently, sometimes it takes a while for change to happen, but when it does, it can be a truly beautiful thing.