What made it a success?

I love to reflect when things don’t go well, but I also love to reflect when they do. Success is always exciting, and figuring out the “why” behind the success helps with creating the conditions for this success to happen again. On Friday, we had a particularly wonderful experience out in the forest, and my teaching partner, Paula, and I were later discussing what made this experience so great.

Here are many of our thoughts. 

1. The gift of time. We never rush our forest play. Even in the snow, ice, and rain, we try to give enough time for the play to settle, so that we can get to a point of richer and deeper learning. Friday was perfect, as when we opened the gate and headed out to the forest, we saw right away that the students needed to run. Many children played variations of tag games, as they raced with each other through the forest. After a little time running though, they settled, and that was when the conversations changed, the choices changed, and the play changed. 

2. The type, amount, and use of space. The forest is great, as we have enough room in it for all students to find their space. Some areas are covered (as seen in the videos above) and some are more open. Just as students seek out covered areas in the classroom — such as the spaces in our shelves — they also often do so in the forest. Many children find these spaces calming. The forest environment itself adds another calming element with the many vines and roots along the forest floor. This often slows down the children’s movements, and creates a peaceful feeling among the trees. The forest is also full of levels. Climbing trees is incredibly self-regulating for some children, and the spread of children both low to the ground and high in the air creates a different kind of buzz in this space.

3. Being present, but not intrusive. This is something that we continue to work on. When we’re interacting with students, we can often ask them questions that help extend the learning and make links to various math and literacy expectations. But we are forever balancing this desire with knowing when to stand back, observe, and let the children support each other. We both focused on this yesterday. We moved between asking questions to watching (and even walking away), so that children could have the space to work and to problem solve together.

4. Student combinations. The forest is an interesting space, as different children often find each other and play together. It’s when this happens that students also support each other in new ways. We are not the only ones that can model and extend learning. 

5. Small group instruction. Both Paula and I are big believers that forest time is learning time and equally as valuable as the time that we spend together in the classroom. In fact, for some children, this time outside benefits them even more. This is why we always document our time out in the forest, and it’s also why we support students in small groups in this outdoor space. There are many videos above of the two of us sitting down or standing around with groups of students, hearing their ideas, and then extending them — or even providing direct instruction — in different ways.

6. The “team” is there. Having the two of us there is key to this forest success. We can then both work with different groups of students, but also discuss our observations with each other, and even provide some ideas for possible next steps. There are times in the classroom — be it because of nutrition breaks, lunches, or prep times — that the two of us are not together. Sometimes only one person is there. This changes how we can support and extend learning … but in the forest, the “team” is always present, and that means something!

7. Variety is the spice of life! Our forest play is always varied and always directed by the students. We don’t plan provocations, and while we might discuss ways to extend learning from previous days, we try to always follow the interests and direction of the child. Not all children are interested in the same thing, and that’s okay. With the two of us there, we can support the different interests and conversations that happen in this outdoor space. 

8. So many of the 100 languages are addressed in this forest space! It wasn’t until I started teaching Full-Day Kindergarten that I heard about the 100 languages of children, but after hearing and reading about these languages, I’ve done a lot more thinking about how students share their learning. Speaking and writing are very common “languages” that we see in the classroom — in all grades — and I love the use of these languages, but I also love how The Arts and physical literacy become so present in our forest space. Physical literacy, drama, visual arts, music, and dance (movement) were all highlighted outside on Friday, and it was amazing to see how children chose these ways to communicate with each other!

What makes your outdoor learning time successful? How do you extend this learning in the classroom and re-create these positive experiences from day-to-day? I think there’s always value in reflecting, and Friday’s successes were worth some additional reflection time.

Aviva

A Broken Stapler And A Little Perspective!

After school today, my teaching partner, Paula, shared a wonderful video and story with me. Paula and I both believe in fostering independence in our students, and we try to let them solve various problems on their own … including that of a broken stapler.

I love a lot about this video.

  • From her identification of the problem and her solution …
  • To her palpable excitement when she screams, “It’s working!”

But what I may love even more is the part that happened just after Paula stopped recording. She said that this student spoke to her about a child that always fixed our stapler last year. He’s now in Grade 1 and attending another school. She said, “If he was still here, I wouldn’t have learned to fix the stapler on my own!”

While I’m sure that at some point, she would have learned this skill, she’s right in thinking that this other child probably would have solved the problem if he was still in our class. In fact, she probably would have brought him the stapler. But with nobody else to fix it, she was forced to solve the problem on her own … and she did! 

I know that as educators, we worry that we can’t do it all. We often hear concerns around class sizes, and yes, our numbers can be large. 

  • How do we support everyone?
  • How do we meet with every child, every day?
  • What do we do when so many children may need our attention at the same time?

These are all valid concerns, and ones that Paula and I have discussed before. But then a five-year old shares some words of wisdom at the end of her stapler story and reminds us that maybe we don’t have to do it all. Sometimes — no matter what our age — we all benefit from those times when we have to solve our own problems, and the feeling of satisfaction when we do. How do we support students in seeing the value in these successes? How do we remember to let go enough to allow for this kind of independent problem solving? Thank goodness for a broken stapler and a little perspective!

Aviva

My #VisibleLearning Around Pedagogical Documentation

Every year, I like to consider ways that I can improve my teaching practices. I try to develop my goals/plans with the kids in mind: always considering how these changes could positively impact on them and their learning opportunities at school. As many of you know, I’m incredibly passionate about the value of documentation, but also how documentation can further solidify home/school relationships and increase parent engagement. Over the summer, I spent a lot of time looking at my documentation of student learning, but also thinking critically about how I can improve in this area. Pedagogical documentation is highlighted in the updated Kindergarten Program Document, and it was an important part of staff development in the role that I played at Camp Power this summer. As I thought more about pedagogical documentation and read more about it, I began to contemplate an uncomfortable question: was I really engaging in “pedagogical documentation” or just “documentation,” and did I need to make some necessary changes to my practices? It was this question and my thinking around it that led to one of my goals for this year: moving from “documentation” to “pedagogical documentation,” and making this thinking and learning more visible to parents.

Over the past month, I’ve addressed this change in different ways. Initially, I decided that I was going to do a few more thorough Learning Stories each day, which included PicCollages and videos of student learning, details about this learning and the connections to the Four Frames, and possible Next Steps. I chose to place them on our class blog in the same section that I placed our story of each day.

The Berry Picking Expedition – A Joint ELP 1 and ELP 2 Adventure!

The Bug Graveyard

A Broken Shelf

The Ship Titanic …

The Stump Problem

The Burr Problem

Construction Work

A Stick Alphabet

I had mixed feelings about these stories. On one hand, I loved taking the time to really look closely at one or two bigger areas of learning, either in the classroom or outside. I loved how this learning involved students from two of the Kindergarten classes, and often events or activities from a number of days. Even though my teaching partner, Paula, and I identified next steps in our discussions with each other, writing them down made me more aware of them, and often changed how I responded to student interactions and learning possibilities the next day. I wonder if this led to more targeted instruction for students.

On the other hand, I also struggled with these stories.

  • They took a long time to write, and I usually wrote them late at night, when I was tired and found it harder to clearly articulate my thoughts. 
  • By the time I finished writing them, it was normally after 9:00, which meant that parents may not even see the blog posts that night, when they could possibly reflect on this learning and extend it at home.
  • Usually the time that I put into writing these posts, meant that I didn’t have a chance to write a professional blog post on most nights. I really value the reflection that comes out of these professional posts and the dialogue on them, and I wondered about the impact of writing fewer of them.
  • I also didn’t know what to do about “what comes next.” While the Next Steps in these Learning Stories helped with focusing instruction, I continued to wonder how I could share with parents the impact of these goals. Should I write another blog post? Edit the original one? Or not share this impact at all?  This last option did not sit well with me.

This is when I tried another approach. Recently, we’ve been embedding part of a more specific Learning Story into our Daily Shoot Blog Posts. While we still make a general comment about the day, we also hone in on some of the bigger learning that day, and discuss Next Steps to further this learning in the coming days and/or weeks. This way, we can also make links to previous days, and how our current plans address student needs.

A Look At Our Day

A Look At Our Day

A Look At Our Day

I’m not sure if this latest solution is “just right” yet, but I do like how I can merge the story of our day with more focused Learning Stories. I’ve also tried to embed some Next Steps into the documentation that I share through my Instagram account

It was interesting to see these different examples of math today. First, Joshua decided to draw a picture. I suggested he count the markings he made. I thought he would just write the total, but he wrote a number for each mark. We’ll keep working on marker/pencil grip. Then a discussion about healthy and unhealthy foods over lunch today led to a collection of data on this topic. Milla decided she wanted to write the list and number each item on it. She ended up numbering the extra spaces that we can hopefully fill in next week. We can keep working on number reversals as well. Then Brayden decided to collect data on if people play basketball, hockey, or both. @paulacrockett suggested he look at a hockey book to spell that word (which he did), and since basketball is such a long word, she suggested he use the syllables to help hear all the sounds. This is what he did, and he got most of them. He then went around and asked people what they played, and reflected on the data as he collected it. Next we can work on tally marks and groups of 5. SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #engagemath

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I’ve been thinking back to a presentation I saw a couple of years ago by Karyn Callaghan. She spoke a lot about pedagogical documentation, and the value in seeing this documentation not as evaluation, but as truly celebrating the work and learning of the child and what we can do to further support this learning. This is not about comparisons. None of us are perfect, and “Next Steps” should truly be valued as part of the learning process. I see this as equally important for me, and one of the reasons that I’m trying to be open as part of my learning journey. Thanks again to Lisa Noble and the #visiblelearning hashtag that I’ve continued to follow closely since learning about it. My renewed interest and professional goal around pedagogical documentation will remain an important part of my “visible learning.” What’s yours? What advice can you offer me as I continue to grow in this area? Here’s to a wonderful year of new learning, new reflections, and growth!

Aviva

One More Way To Make Your Students Love Books As Much As You Do!

Yesterday morning, I started out my Friday as I always do: reading Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs postOne of the posts that he highlighted was Stepan Pruchnicky‘s post on making your students love books as much as you do. He includes a wonderful list, but I wonder if there’s one more point to add to it: don’t level your library. 

For years, we’ve had two types of books in our classroom:

  • groups of books that are sorted by topic/interest.
  • groups of books that are sorted by level.

Most students only chose to read the levelled books as part of the Take Home Reading Program, but then this year, after many discussions and a lot of reading, we decided to change our Take Home Reading ProgramThis blog post by Fountas and Pinnell may have influenced our decision the most. We teach the youngest students in the building, and if their decision to explore a book is based solely on what words they can read in it, they may decide to never open a book. In the long run, what value does this have in producing life-long readers?

I understand why people level books, and I even understand the value in picking books that children can read on their own, but our very youngest readers are likely to need support with all reading materials. Often the easiest books are pattern-based, and as adults, we’re the ones that establish the pattern for the child. At times this may build confidence in reading, but how are we continuing to build reading skills?

  • There’s value in children telling stories based on the pictures.
  • There’s value in having children listen to stories and developing comprehension skills.
  • There’s value in reinforcing letter-sound skills within the meaningful context of a book.
  • There’s value in helping children understand that there are many reasons to read — from interest to information — and that even as adults we read items of varying degrees of difficulty. If we really want to read something, sometimes we’ll work that much harder at decoding and comprehending it, as the content matters so much to us.

Here are two things that I struggle with though.

  • If a child sees him/herself as a non-reader because even the text in the easiest book is too challenging for him/her to read.
  • If a child gives up on reading because the number (or letter) on a bin makes him/her feel as though he/she is behind in reading and/or less successful than his/her peers.

And so, a few days ago, we worked with a small group of children and we started to remove the levels from the book bins. 

Amazing things happened during this process. 

Students started to understand why reading matters. Why do we read?

Students started to access books that they wouldn’t have read before. Even though these books were challenging, they began to really use decoding skills to help read the words on the page. 

All students were drawn to the books. Children that spent the most time with the books were not the ones that usually do so. More children WANTED to read and to engage with text. 

Book sorting from today (for our at home reading program). #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram

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Students also got excited about reading and wanted to bring books home with them. The more they read, the more proficient they’ll become at reading. 

I’m curious to see the impact that removing reading levels has on children’s perceptions of themselves as readers and on children’s growth in reading. Would less focus on levels help increase reading interest across the grades, and ultimately, lead to more proficient readers? I’d be curious to know what others have tried and what they’ve observed. Like Stepan, my teaching partner and I want kids that want to read. How do levels support this, and if they don’t, is it time to start advertising them less in our classrooms? This does not mean that I will never read a levelled text with students, but it does mean, that I will not be discussing the levels with the child or the parents. Instead, I’ll be exploring ways that we can get the child reading and engaging more with books. This seems like a better focus to me. What about you?

Aviva

Do we use it as a “resource” or as a “program?”

This year, we were all given Marian Small’s Open Questions For The Three-Part Lesson: Measurement, Patterning & Algebra to read, discuss, and contemplate as we plan for math learning. I started reading it over breakfast the other day, and I shared this photograph just before I began.

While I’ve only read the Kindergarten section of the book so far, I think that I may have figured out the answer to my wonder. 

In our Kindergarten class, we don’t set-up these questions for our students to answer, but we do purposely place objects around the room and provide items for children to play with that will lend themselves to this kind of math learning. Then my teaching partner, Paula, and I spend our day observing, talking, and playing with kids. It’s as these math learning opportunities happen through play that we insert the kinds of questions or extensions that are suggested in this book. So, for example, we might not start by putting out two different-sized containers and asking how they compare, but when students start to fill one container with sand, we might present another one and ask a similar question. Or, when it comes to patterning, we might not use the same materials, but as students create patterns with the Perler beads, we’ll often ask them to create patterns with the same number of red and blue beads or more red beads than blue beads. This would just extend the learning that’s already being shared using these materials.

For me, Small’s book is not about activities to set-up to do with every child at the same time, but a list of great suggestions to extend the math learning that’s happening through play. By starting with the play, the students understand the context for this learning, and we can then bring the thinking to the next level. I know that this can certainly be true in Kindergarten, but what about in other grades? Do we have to start with the activity, or could we begin with the child instead? One thing that I love about the Kindergarten Program Document is that it’s explicit that we observe the child, determine interests, and link the expectations to what the child is already doing, instead of starting with the expectations and planning the activity to go with them. This was a very backwards approach for me at first, but I think that it speaks to the child being at the heart of the document and the heart of the learning. Shouldn’t this be true in all grades? 

I have never been a fan of math textbooks, and when we use resources as just lists of activities to do, I wonder if we’re truly considering the diversity of our learners, their interests, and the meaning that this math can have for them. But when we use a resource as just that — a resource — and link our observations of learning with the extension questions suggested, does this become more meaningful? I think child-centred, interest-based learning would benefit students well beyond Kindergarten and still allow educators to meet expectations and observe learning. Small’s book makes this possible, but is this how people are using it, and does that matter? For me, this is a case of not just what children are learning, but how they’re do so. What about you?

Aviva