“Better Than Wonderland?!”

On Thursday, I was setting up for the final day of the Epic Kindergarten Outdoor Play experience. I realized that I haven’t seen the worms again that a Grade 1 teacher and her daughter collected on Monday. It turns out that I needed to go and get some more worms. πŸ™‚ I was planning to head outside on my prep to dig alone, but the Grade 1/2 teacher offered up some help from a couple of children. It was the conversation that they had with me that inspired this post.

I started to wonder, what makes digging for worms so wonderful? What might this teach us as we plan future learning experiences for kids?

  • Maybe this speaks to the importance of connections. Maybe it’s less about “digging for worms,” and more about having a special opportunity to go outside and help out. The two student helpers knew that I needed these worms for a Kindergarten class, and they love to help out the kindergarteners. Could this desire to help have fuelled these positive feelings?
  • Maybe it was about doing something special. While I only took the students for five minutes — worms are easy to find in the courtyard — they saw this as an opportunity to leave the classroom and go out on an adventure with me. The adventure might have only been to a space across the hall, but it was still exciting. They could have also felt special for being the two that were chosen to help out.
  • Maybe it was about the sensory experience. I brought six Kindergarten classes out into this courtyard space over a 1 1/2 week period. While I set up many different provocations outside, the students in all of the classes were most drawn to the sensory play. This huge sandbox was often filled with all, or almost all, of the kids for the vast majority of our time outside (over an hour). While my two helpers were older than these Kindergarten students, they are still young enough to enjoy mud … and the giggles and conversations as they dug with me, show just how much they like the mud.

Just a couple of examples to show the popularity of the mud kitchen!

I keep thinking that as devoted as we are as educators or as parents to planning exciting, and at times, expensive, opportunities for kids, could something simple be just as valuable? Going to Wonderland is expensive. Digging for worms is not. According to these two kids, digging for worms is even better than Wonderland. I wonder what other simple experiences bring just as much joy. As my tweets this year show, I’m definitely focused on joy for this school year, and when kids are happy, the feeling is contagious. We’re at the point in the year when many educators are planning year-end trips or fun activities for June. What might be your “digging for worms” equivalent? Is it worth considering something simple, but wonderful? As my hands were also covered in dirt and picking up worms, I couldn’t help but feel this same joy that the kids felt. Maybe they’re onto something here.


“Connecting Versus Correcting” With The Help Of Podcasting

Over the winter holidays, I read a fantastic Ministry resource, Think, Feel, Act: Lessons From Research About Young Children. The resource features many of my favourite minds on Early Childhood Education, including a wonderful article on pages 5-10 by Dr. Jean Clinton. She challenges us to think about the amount of time that we spend correcting and directing versus connecting. While the article is focused on younger children, I believe this same thinking extends beyond our work with 3-5 year olds. I thought about this more during a few different experiences this week.

As some of my blog readers know, in my new position, I share an office space in the Learning Commons with two other educators. While I spend very little time in this space outside of the hours between 7:10 and 8:30 (before school starts), I will sometimes come back to grab something if needed. This week, I ran back in on my prep to grab my car keys, as I needed some additional chalk from my trunk for our Epic Kindergarten Outdoor Play Literacy Experience. This is when I saw our fantastic Teacher Librarian, Jenn. She was so excited, as a group of intermediate students independently unpacked, set-up, and figured out how to work the podcasting tools for a new experience in the Learning Commons.

One thing that I love about Jenn is that when she is joyful, everybody feels it. She is such a passionate educator, who is always looking out for kids first. Due to some of my own commitments on that day, I could feel her excitement, but I think that I only really got to appreciate a small part of it.

Then I came into school the next day, and I saw this brainstorming.

I am all about authentic reasons to read and write, and I not only loved that podcasting was allowing this to happen for students beyond kindergarten, but that it was causing students to get excited about, invested in, and thinking deeply about learning.

The next day, I walked into the Learning Commons again, and the whiteboard from the day before exploded with even more podcasting ideas. As a curriculum nerd, I couldn’t help but look at this board and see connections to expectations across the grades and across the subject areas.

Later in the day, I was chatting with Jenn and our principal, Suzie, a little bit more about podcasting. This took me back to over 10 years ago, and my first experience with Andy Forgrave‘s internet radio station, 105 the Hive.

When I started to think about podcasting in the same way that I thought about 105 the Hive, I realized that it’s these kinds of student-driven, high interest, engaging inquiry experiences that would allow for even more time for educators to connect versus correct behaviour. Thinking about our focus on Universal Design For Learning, podcasting is also a wonderful way for students to share thinking and learning, which could be good for all, but necessary for some.

But what about, “We don’t have time for this? We have too much curriculum to cover.”

I understand the stress that a classroom educator feels, and I know that this comes from a place of wanting to do everything we can for kids. Many years ago, when the Social Studies Document first came out, there was a lot of time talking about the fact that expectations are not a checklist, and we really should be looking to the Big Ideas and Overall Expectations as our guide. This makes the curriculum less overwhelming, but it also allows us to dig deeper and prioritize thinking. Keeping this in mind, I wonder if a podcasting approach might allow for this focus on Big Ideas and Overall Expectations, while also supporting key Language expectations around Oral Communication, Reading, Writing, and Media Literacy. What might this look like across the grades?

I’ve added some of my ideas to a Padlet (slide across and down to see more), and I’m hoping that others can share theirs here or as a comment on this post.

Made with Padlet

Imagine the learning that we could co-create online, across Boards, and even across countries that could benefit students and allow us to experience even more joy in classroom and school environments. The recording itself does not need to be perfect, and as students continue to play with podcasting, they might add in different elements (e.g., intro music), but could the key here be finding a place to start? I keep thinking about some books that I read about inquiry many years ago now, and the important link between thinking and student achievement. If we want to help our kids become better thinkers, might podcasting be a great vehicle to support this? I’m excited to be on this learning journey with our school community.


Heading Out …

Outdoors that is … This past week was a beautiful one in Ontario, and the summer weather brought with it a desire for kids and adults to get outside. I completely understand! It’s too early to get into summer mode though, and varying routine too much is sure to bring with it behaviour. So what if we embraced the outdoors as a learning space?

I know that all of the Kindergarten educators at our school go outside for at least one long block a day … sometimes more. We’re fortunate to have four different areas for outdoor play, from a fenced in pen space to a beautiful courtyard to a grassy pen area (with an additional mud kitchen) to the big playground space. Each area brings with it a little something different.

At a Reading Specialist Meeting a couple of months ago, a consultant shared her experience as a Reading Specialist and the outdoor learning that she supported at her schools. I was hooked! As my blog readers know, when I was a Kindergarten educator, I was passionate about outdoor play and the wonderful literacy, math, and problem solving opportunities that came from this environment. The consultant also shared how the outdoors can support Self-Reg, and I completely agree. I wondered if this might be another area where we could work to support literacy development in students, while also building capacity in educators, and ultimately, co-planning, co-teaching, and co-problem solving in this space.

I did some more thinking about this plan, and a couple of weeks ago, I sent out an email asking if any Kindergarten educators were interested in me planning a literacy-rich learning experience for the outdoors. It would be about 1 1/2 periods long, and I would do all of the initial set-up and planning. They could be there to experience and document the learning with their kids, and then we could reflect together and look at making modifications based on our observations. While I’ve facilitated a lot of outdoor play before, this was always in different spaces, with literacy being just part of my goal. This would be new learning for me, and it might be a colossal failure or epically wonderful, but I was open to it just the same. πŸ™‚ One Kindergarten team replied right away, so we started to make a plan.

This led to me sending one of my strange request emails to staff this past week, and I was flooded with replies. Not only did educators want to contribute nature items, but more Kindergarten educators wanted their kids to partake in this learning experience.

Soon I had everyone on board! Now to continue to plan for this experience. I’m still finalizing the plans, so I don’t want to share too much yet, but these tweets might provide a bit of a sneak peek.

I have a book on the way today (for an outdoor read aloud to provoke learning), some intentional and open-ended reading, writing, and oral language opportunities, and a little targeted instruction. I’m meeting an educator friend for lunch today to discuss my thinking and do some additional brainstorming. Having worked in all of the Kindergarten classes already this year, I know all of the students and their different strengths, interests, and needs. I want to be able to vary the environment accordingly so that this is a successful experience for all. Yesterday’s snail learning might also connect with some content-area vocabulary development and authentic reading and writing opportunities.

Not only do I hope that we can build on this outdoor play as a Kindergarten team, but maybe as next week’s spring weather transitions to summer weather again, we can look at how some of these learning opportunities could be modified for Grade 1 and beyond. How do you utilize the outdoors for instruction in all grades? What have you noticed as a result? Of course, we’re now expecting a little rain this week, but this could lead to perfect worm and snail weather, so maybe a change in the outdoor environment is not such a bad thing after all. Here’s to getting outdoors and supporting literacy learning at the same time … for nothing brings joy quite like a little fresh air.


An Update …

I don’t usually update my blog posts, but due to the nature of this one, I decided to do so. I spent a lot of time here discussing plans for the outdoor space. After meeting with an educator friend of mine, I finalized my plans for this week. I wanted to share them here in case they’re valuable for anyone else. My hope is that the plans will be tweaked along the way based on feedback from both staff and students. If you have any ideas to share or have thoughts on how to adapt these plans for different grades, I’d love to hear them!

What Does Life-Long Learning Actually Look Like?

I was going to take the weekend off from blogging due to some different family responsibilities and long weekend plans, but this is a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, so I thought that I would take a few minutes to write. Back in September when I applied for the Reading Specialist position in our Board, I indicated as part of my application that I would take Teaching English Language Learners Part 1 if I was the successful candidate. I just began the course now.

A comment on one of the discussion posts inspired this blog post. The comment indicated how educators are “life-long learners.” While I completely agree, I think that I’ve been even more intentional about my learning since starting this new position.

  • This started just after I applied for the position, when I decided to read some books about the Science of Reading. While I had some general information about this shift in reading instruction, I did not know as much as I would like to know. I thought that doing some reading on this topic would help me out if I got an interview for the position, but also help me out in my own classroom practice, as Paula and I continued to reflect on our program.

Some comments on this Instagram post, prompted me to then purchase and read, The Art and Science of Teaching Primary Reading.

  • When I later found out that I got the position, I heard from a fellow Reading Specialist that we were doing a book study on Uncovering the Logic of English. I knew that I would get a copy of this book, but I wanted to have a good understanding of what others had already discussed, so I decided to purchase and read the text. It really made me think differently about how much of English “didn’t make sense,” as maybe I just needed to learn more of the rules.
  • I then went to my first Reading Specialist PD Meeting, and received a copy of this Ministry Document. I love how we dug into this resource as part of our Professional Development. Having this Board PD definitely helps support life-long learning, as it has us exploring resources, connecting, and reflecting as a team.
  • Providing PD and supporting educators in my new role also inspired some of my reading choices. I appreciate the fellow Reading Specialists and consultants, who helped me choose resources to explore and even let me borrow one of them.

Some comments on this last Instagram post are also inspiring my current read: A Pedagogy of Play.

  • A goal of both our school and the Board inspired these next two reads. I’m glad that we’re looking at uncovering This Book Is Anti-Racist as a staff, and I’m interested in seeing how I can apply this learning as part of my position.

While I’ve always tried to read some professional books, attend some inservices, and engage in professional dialogue through Twitter, Instagram, blog posts, and in-person, I don’t think that I’ve ever been as intentional about learning and reflecting as I have been this year. Our monthly Reading Specialist Meetings at the Board Office certainly helps to support this focus on professional learning. I know though that the Reading Specialist position is only for five years max (assuming that the funding continues), so I predict that in five years or less, I will be back in the classroom in some capacity. This year has taught me that I need to prioritize professional learning in some way, regardless of if I’m in a classroom or in a Board position.

  • Maybe this will be through taking some additional AQ courses on topics of interest. I’ve always wanted to take Math Part 1. It could be time to do so.
  • Maybe this will be through reading more professional reads on topics that can help me in a classroom context: from reading and writing instruction, to STEAM and STEM ideas, to Self-Reg, to Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy.
  • Maybe this will be through expanding on my daily blog reads, and engaging in more conversations about what I read. This could be online, in-person, or a combination of the above.
  • Maybe this will be through joining some professional book clubs. Our Board usually offers some, and I might need to sign-up for more.

How do you make life-long learning a priority? It took the start of a new AQ course to really have me thinking more about the choices that I make. Maybe my sharing ideas and approaches, we can all benefit … as can our students.


Beyond The Bunny

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Easter. We’re about to start the first of two four-day weeks, with the Easter long weekend in the middle of them. If you’re in an elementary school, you have probably already see egg and bunny crafts, or even the introduction of some Easter manipulatives or loose parts making their way into play. I get it! I support 11 Kindergarten and Grade 1 classes at my school, and tons of kids are excitedly sharing with me their plans for the long weekend. Easter is on many people’s minds. But recently I was chatting with a fellow educator and friend, and our conversation inspired this blog post.

Our conversation was not about Easter, but it was about “accepting differences.” I shared with her a story that was shared with me a few years ago now. Race and gender identity were all being explored in different ways across the grades, and for a number of reasons, some people were questioning this learning. An educator that I know and respect shared a really important point: “We teach in a public school, so our classrooms are going to be made up of students and families with different cultural backgrounds and gender identities. It’s important for all students to see themselves in our schools, and for us to develop a culture of acceptance as part of our teaching practices.” Now this is not word-for-word what he said, but the messaging is definitely similar.

This stuck with me, and I thought about it as well when we unpacked some student voice at our last PA Day.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on how we can ensure that students see themselves and their families in our classrooms — be it through the learning opportunities that we provide, the materials that we share, and/or the texts that we read.

Now keep this in mind when I come back to the bunny. In October, I left a Kindergarten class of my own to start my new position as a Reading Specialist. As a previous Kindergarten educator, and now as an educator who supports Kindergarten and Grade 1 students primarily, I definitely believe in listening and responding to kids. When educators are choosing these Easter activities and read alouds, I think that they’re doing so in response to what many of their students are also thinking and talking about. This is not a criticism of these choices, and nor am I suggesting that Easter not be discussed. I mean, I just came back from a manicure appointment, where I asked for a nail design and a bunny of my own made an appearance.

But I also wonder if this week might provide an opportunity for some learning beyond Easter. While some families are celebrating Easter (and I realize that the eggs and bunnies are the non-denominational celebration of this holiday), other families are celebrating Ramadan, and others might be starting Passover. Someone like me is celebrating more than one of these holidays.

If we’re making Easter baskets with chocolates inside, there could be some students that will be fasting during the instructional day (and the time for any party food), and others that might not be able to eat the treats because they’re not Kosher for Passover. So what is possible? Maybe there’s an opportunity here to learn about the different celebrations or even apply new learning in various ways. Think about a Kindergarten class for example.

With Easter approaching, there is a lot of pretend cooking and baking happening in classrooms. Maybe Kindergarten students could explore different holidays like Passover and Ramadan, and see how their bakery could provide treats for all families to enjoy.

  • Do students need to reconsider the hours that their bakery is open to support those that might be fasting?
  • Are there special treats that people eat for Easter, Ramadan, and Passover? How do you make them? This seems like a great opportunity to also learn some new vocabulary.
  • Passover goodies need to be Kosher for Passover. Could there be a Kosher for Passover section in a classroom bakery?

Families might even have some stories or recipes to share. Maybe some want to come in and play in the classroom bakery with the kids to also be a part of this experience with them.

Easter is not being forgotten, but possibly with a few shifts, some other holidays could be discussed and explored more deeply. Could more students then start see themselves in classrooms and schools? What shifts might you make to go beyond the bunny? Another week is upon us, and I’m excited to be a part of the planning for many different literacy-rich learning opportunities.