Learning Spaces & Literacy Instruction: Re-Thinking Possibilities

I’ve been thinking a lot about spaces lately, and re-thinking the learning that can happen in different spaces. Let me explain, as I stumbled upon these wonders in some unlikely places.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time in many kindergarten classrooms. As my blog readers know, I’m definitely passionate about kindergarten and play-based learning, so I was excited to have some opportunities to get to know these younger students at the school. At this point in the school year, almost every kindergarten class has at least a few three-year olds, and these students will not turn four until possibly the end of December. This means, that you are probably programming with some toddlers in mind. Sensory play tends to be extremely popular with students of this age, and it is also calming for many kids (or so it seems). I’ve observed many children as they’ve played with sand and play dough, and I’ve even immersed myself in some of this play.

Sensory materials like sand and plasticine can be wonderful for mark making. I’m also thinking about the oral language instruction that can take place as part of this play. Could this be an opportunity to play aloud with letters, sounds, and words? I know that many educators at our school use Heggerty, and I’m new to this program, but I’m curious if some of the components of Heggerty or even some components of UFLIparticularly the phonemic awareness part, the visual drill, and the auditory drill — could be explored and taught in sensory spaces. By inviting certain children to join this play, you could really target the instruction to the students in front of you. Storytelling, vocabulary development (oral language), and maybe even beginning writing (and reading), could also be explored in these sensory spaces.

Another kindergarten experience in the past couple of weeks has me thinking about spaces more. I happened to join two different kindergarten classes while they were eating lunch. I was going to write a “lunch story” with them, but as students spoke about what they were eating, I decided to make a list of healthy foods. I sat down with the students as they ate, and they gave me ideas to add to my list. We explored letter-sounds and new vocabulary words as part of this process.

One thing that I noticed during both of these writing experiences was how interested students were in contributing to the lists and exploring letter-sounds with me. Usually, a full class carpet time can be a challenge for many students at this age, but sitting at the tables with the food in front of them, and engaging in quiet conversations that somehow seemed to span the room, changed the level of student participation and engagement in a wonderful way. Could reading and writing around other topics happen in a similar way?

I had a great conversation on Friday with an educator about literacy instruction, play, and classroom spaces. These other experiences from the past couple of weeks have me thinking more about the environment and full class instruction for students of all ages. I’m still processing my thoughts, but I’m excited to connect with a few educators next week to chat about some possibilities. How do you balance full class and small group instruction, and what do both look like in your classroom? How does your classroom layout support these different learning opportunities? I’d love to hear more as I continue to contemplate the overlap between the environment and targeted instruction.


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