What Are Your “Shelf Spaces?”

No doubt about it: the school year is coming to an end, and while educators may be feeling more relaxed now that report cards are in and some additional paperwork is done, this can be one of the most challenging times of the year for kids. Some children are really excited about summer coming, and others, are stressed knowing that routines are going to change and unsure about what the next few months will bring. New classes and teachers for next year also bring additional stress for some students, and kids present this stress in various ways. While some children can talk about their feelings, others act out in response to what they’re feeling. My teaching partner, Paula, and I have noticed both responses in our class, and we knew that we needed a plan.

Since about the middle of May, Paula and I have spent a lot of time talking about a couple of students in particular. We started to notice some new behaviour in the classroom.

  • A couple of kids were colouring on items other than paper.
  • A couple of kids were destroying other people’s work.
  • A couple of kids were blaming other children for problems they caused.
  • A couple of kids were yelling more, crying more, and interrupting more.
  • The wandering, which has not been a problem since the beginning of the school year, was starting up again.

Thinking about Stuart Shanker’s question of, “Why this child, and why now?,” Paula and I wondered if some student talk of the year coming to an end might have prompted this change in behaviour. Our classroom is really routine from the first day of school until the last, and with some special activities and assemblies, a few routines were starting to change. These couple of kids in particular really need this routine, and so were these small changes leading to bigger behaviours? 

While we’ve really considered what makes children feel calm, and how we can incorporate even more Self-Reg options into the classroom at this busy time of the year, we also recognized that it was the social component of play that was further increasing the stress response. These few children really needed a quieter, independent space. How could we create this space though when we teach in a small classroom, with no full wall between our room and the one next door, and many children in both rooms? We needed to get creative!

This is when we remembered how much our students love the shelves. We’ve even removed some of the dividing shelves to create little sitting and playing spaces in our shelves. Kids write and draw here, build here, and even chat quietly with their friends here. The safety and security of the shelf really seems to comfort our students, and many of the children choose these shelf spaces when they want and need the illusion of quiet.

What if we created another shelf space for these children that need it? 

We thought about what makes these kids feel calm.

  • Lego
  • Drawing and writing
  • Reading
  • Eating

And so, at the front of our classroom, right by the door, we put two chairs in front of the little shelf. We added some small boxes of supplies on the shelf, and we even create a “shelf eating space.” While we initially suggested that the children go here when problems arose, we quickly changed this plan, and helped those few kids that need it, choose this space after our meeting time. This way we could be proactive. 

  • The shelf allows for some small, predictable, social time.
  • It allows for preferred, open-ended activities, that children can easily do on their own or with a friend.
  • It has space for children to bring other materials to it that they want or need.
  • It’s near a garbage can, so “shelf eating” is possible, and even keeps some kids focused on their food instead of on everything else that’s happening in the room.

We helped kids see that this can be a quiet, calming, independent space. It’s not a punishment to go to the shelf. In fact, while we initially created it for a few children, we notice many other children seeking out this space throughout the day. Usually children choose it on their own. Sometimes we suggest the shelf, and many kids eagerly go.

As the year comes to an end, sometimes those little quiet spaces are needed even more. In a busy, small classroom, it’s hard to find independent areas. Have others considered the shelf? We put two chairs in front of this shelf space. Kids create here, draw here, read here, and sometimes, even choose to eat here. It’s a space for some alone time, some quiet time, or even some time with a friend. We initially created it for a child that needed this space, but it really does benefit so many … and on some days, even more than others. It’s not punishment. In almost all cases, kids choose this spot. Sometimes it’s suggested as a quiet spot. But it really works. Shelves can truly be used for so many things! ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #selfregulation

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It has truly worked wonders, and has made us realize that even in a small, busy room, there can still always be a space for quiet and independence. Imagine how many other kids — in other grades — might benefit from a shelf.

The other day, somebody placed this quote by Stuart Shanker on our staff room table. 

These simple, but profound words, I think align so well with the decisions that we made based on our observations in the past month. We could have punished children for misbehaving, but instead, we tried to reduce the stress that might be at play. Here’s to the shelf that saved these kids and our classroom! How do you provide these “shelf spaces” in your room, and what benefit might they have for children? In the remaining days of school, it’s these independent, quiet areas, which might just make the difference for kids and adults alike. What do you think?

Aviva

Along With What We Change, What Stays The Same?

On Friday morning, I received this lovely tweet from Marialice B.F.X. Curran: an educator from the States, who I first had the pleasure of connecting with online many years ago.

When I clicked on the link to Marialice’s blog post, I realized some different things.

  1. I’ve been teaching for a really long time. 🙂 
  2. My classroom set-up and core belief systems have really evolved over the years. 
  3. No matter how many different grades I’ve taught, at no matter how many different schools, this “welcome to our classroom” video tradition has remained the same.

Our Kindergarten classroom now certainly doesn’t reflect the same spaces, pedagogy, and technology focus that my Grade 1/2 classroom of six years ago did, but there are some things that remain constant.

  • The classroom is ours. While my teaching partner and I may spend hours setting up the room at the end of August, we know that the space will evolve once the students enter. We’re excited to see the changes that they make, and the changes that they inspire in us. Back in 2012, I didn’t have a teaching partner, but I still had this desire to share the learning space with kids. 
  • The bulletin boards are still empty. We want students to own this space. Now though, we often use the bulletin boards as a way to share pedagogical documentation, and an evolution of a bigger classroom inquiry. While student work still exists in these spaces, so does the documentation that shows the process of this learning and indicates where we’re going next.
  • Technology is used to share thinking and learning. Six years ago, I was much more focused on student technology use than I am now. When people come to visit our classroom now, they’re often surprised about the absence of devices. We do have some children that create PicCollages to document their learning or use an iPad to record their thinking, but the focus is even less on the tool than it was back then. We now use technology to document learning, and while we almost always have an iPad with us, kids spend a limited amount of time on these devices. 
  • Connections between home and school are still paramount. It’s for this very reason that we continue to record a welcome video each year. We want to open up our classroom to families, both in a low-tech and a high-tech way. This first video shared with parents and students is an important part of that.
  • We want kids to love school! Starting back at school in September can be stressful for students of all ages. A quick video can help alleviate this stress, showing students what they can expect on the first day. The hope is that this will make them excited to come back. I love school, and my hope is that kids will have this same positive feeling towards our classroom space. Fast forward to a time that I now get to share a classroom with an amazing teaching partner, and it’s our love of school that also propels the recording of these videos.

So while these welcome messages might not sound exactly the same as they did six years ago, and may include a new face or two, they are a tradition that I plan on keeping for many more years to come. 

A Look At Just Some Of These Video Tours

A few years ago, I worked with a principal, Gerry Smith, who used to always say, “Change is the only constant.” I agree with this quote, and as someone that embraces change, I’m constantly trying to reflect and consider what we might want to change to better support kids. That said, I think we also need to consider what we want to remain the same. These videos fall into this second category for me. They may vary in length and message each year, but I still see the value in recording them. 

  • What about you: year after year, what’s something that you want to keep as part of your program?
  • How might this something still change slightly?
  • What are your reasons for these changes? 

As the school year comes to an end, this becomes the perfect time for reflection. I hope that others share some of their tweaked traditions as part of this reflective process. 

Aviva

What If It’s About Opting Out So That We Can Join Back In Again?

I started off my Friday as I always do, by reading Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. Today’s post happened to include a response to a recent blog post of mine. Now strangely enough, this post was in response to one that I wrote for The MEHRIT Centre, and even more specifically, to a comment that I received on that post. Both posts continue to inspire discussion because of people’s decisions to “opt out.” Can opting out be a self-regulated choice? Is it a choice that as parents and/or as educators, we should support? 

Doug’s comment in his post this morning made me realize that there’s even more my stories that I think we need to consider. It was this specific paragraph that helped me see what I forgot to include in both posts.

Self-reg helps us either up-regulate or down-regulate so that we can feel calm. In our classroom, there are many things that my teaching partner, Paula, and I consider when it comes to self-regulation. These include,

  • the types of activities, resources, and materials that we offer.
  • considerations for multiple entry points, so as not to create cognitive stressors.
  • different sensory play options: from wet to dry sensory play, from hard to soft materials, and from independent to group possibilities.
  • the presence and absence of light in the room.
  • our colour choices and the amount and location of materials that we display.
  • small, confined spaces for children that need the feeling of protection or the illusion of a hug. Just check out the amount of learning that happens in a shelf.
  • smaller table or floor spaces that point towards a wall, for the illusion of quiet. This also includes the possibility of some safe climbing, even within a classroom setting.
  • options for movement and gross motor play, both inside the classroom and outside. Heavy lifting also fits in here.
  • adaptable spaces and activities, where children can make changes to also meet their needs.
  • predictable routines, which span from the first day of school to the last, with very few changes and preparation for when changes will occur.
  • long blocks of play with few transitional times. Even when we do have transitions, we try for some “ish” times, so that we can always be responsive to students and their needs.
  • days that always begin outside, in the forest, in almost any kind of weather! This outdoor time, with lots of opportunities for gross motor play, independent and collaborative play, quiet, and space, seem to make a big difference when it comes to self-regulation.

Our intention is never for a child to spend their whole day drawing, colouring, climbing, running, playing with plasticine, or reading a book. The idea is that these Self-Reg considerations and/or options will reduce stress, and make children feel more successful at school and at home. The same holds true for adults!

On the day when I opted out of part of the staff dancing activity, I did have every intention of joining for the next song. Did I really want to? Maybe not. Was I upset when the dancing was over after the first song? Not really. But would I have stayed out? No. Sometimes in life we have to do hard things, challenging activities, or things that we don’t enjoy. That’s life! I know that, and I have done many of these things in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. But there’s a difference to what’s uncomfortable to what’s dysregulating. When that stress becomes overwhelming, I think we need to consider Self-Reg as a way to respond to it, or maybe even to reduce the possibility of it in the first place.

The other thing to think about is that both in my personal experience and the one with our students, opting out didn’t mean leaving the room. At times it might, but during many others, we can still opt out and learn something at the same time. 

  • I still watched the dances and listened to the instructor.
  • I still thought about what might be possible in our classroom and what might not.
  • Our students still listened to the songs and watched the movements that others did.
  • A few of the children sitting out still participated, but just while sitting down. They tapped their legs and quietly moved their feet on the floor instead of dancing all the way around the room.
  • The other child, sat out of a couple of songs, but she looked up from her book to watch her peers, chimed in with other music activities on that day, and even turned around from the sofa to answer some questions posed by the teacher. 

As adults and as children, we may not have been complying — or at least not in the intended way — but we still found ways to learn and participate in these spaces. Sometimes learning just looks different for different people, and I think that at times, Self-Reg contributes to some of these differences. I would never want self-regulation to be an excuse not to try. 

  • I did try the dances during the Staff Meeting.
  • Our students have tried the same songs and dances from that day, week after week in music class, and they know how they respond to them.

Maybe Self-Reg then becomes what happens after the trying, when a different option or a bit of calm might be needed. Or maybe Self-Reg happens so that trying to participate actually leads to success. For do we need to feel calm in order to learn? New experiences are great. Risk-taking is important. And academic expectations in all subject areas, matter. But as adults and as kids, I question how much learning really happens when those feelings of stress overwhelm us. It’s during these times, that maybe we all need something different. Is this when Self-Reg makes the difference? I think so. What about you?

Aviva

Come On Up, Get A Prize, And Learn A Little Math!

Friday was our school Fun Fair. I volunteered to help out where needed, as well as get a pie in my face (now that’s another story 🙂 ). I ended up spending most of the night at the prize table. Prizes were organized by points: 10, 20, or 30. Children earned points on their score cards for playing games. A full score card was 40 points, but instead of being arranged in rows of 10, each card had five rows of eight. Students that collected points could redeem them for prizes. They could choose from any section of the table, as long as their total points redeemed added up to their total points earned. Can you see all of the math potential here?

When I first heard about these prize table plans, I was overwhelmed by all of the different combinations. Could I work the numbers fast enough? Then our principal, Mr. Gris, walked by and heard my plight. He said, “Let the kids do the math.” Well, of course. Why didn’t I think of that?! I love authentic math opportunities, mental math, and playing with numbers — why not use these Fun Fair prizes as a learning opportunity? The teacher in me started to get excited. There were so many ways that I could get kids playing with math.

  • Some kids came to me with less than the 10 points or a few points short of another multiple of ten. How many more points did they need to get to their desired total? How did they figure this out?
  • Many kids came to me with point values beyond 10. They wanted some of the 10 point prize options though. How many could they get? How many points did they have left? How did they know?
  • Then there were some of the 10 point prize options that allowed for multiple items for one prize. For example, children could get four pieces of gum, five candies, or two sugar sticks (this isn’t their actual name, but it’s an accurate description) for 10 points. Some children came to me with 60+ points to redeem for these sugary prizes. How many did they get?
  • And then there was some math for me to do. Some children came to me with a full card (40 points), but only wanted to redeem 10, 20, or 30 points. How could I cross off the smiley faces quickly and know that I was correct?

It was interesting to see and hear how children approached this real world math.

  • Many children froze quickly, and just stared at me. If I gave them a few minutes though and didn’t say anything, they started talking through what they could do, and tended to solve the problem.
  • Some children benefitted from me removing the math from the problem (i.e., instead of considering 10 points, just looking at how many more are needed to add up to 10), and then helping them see that the same math skills that they use out of this context, work within this context.
  • A few children were quick to play with the numbers in different ways, from counting on, to use doubles, to even multiplying. I tried to name these math behaviours as I saw them, so that students could do the same. It’s the Kindergarten teacher in me …
  • A few other children needed me to work through the problem with them. I suggested a strategy, and we used it together. With the suggestion of a strategy (e.g., counting on), many could solve the problem on their own, but they looked to me to get started.

The kids weren’t the only ones involved in some math learning. To cross off and total up those points with ease, I needed a strategy. I quickly realized that number patterns and subitizing are also good for adults. With eight points in a row, two more in the next row would make 10. Then the pattern started to extend to four (to make 20), and six (to make 30). (Hopefully this is clear even without a visual.) If I used this pattern along with skip counting by 10’s, I could easily add up the totals. This is what I did, and it helped speed along the line, even with the math learning that I was trying to do with each child.

Based on all of these math opportunities on Friday night, what did I learn about kids, adults, math, and our diverse school of learners?

  • We can’t rescue kids too quickly. Many are looking for help right away, but if we give them wait time — and sometimes lots of it — they will start to talk through the problem and work it out on their own.
  • Lots of opportunities for authentic math are important. For some kids, they couldn’t see the math in the midst of the language. We need to give them opportunities to talk and work through math problems, and make sense of the concepts embedded within the context of the words.
  • We regularly need to notice and name the math learning and strategies that we see. This will help build children’s tool kits of strategies to use when they get stuck on a math problem. It will also help them connect what they’re already doing to math. It makes them see that math does not just need to happen on a piece of paper or in a workbook.
  • Math is not just for kids — adults also need to play with math. When we start to think mathematically, we make connections to concepts we already know. We then see the world through a mathematical lens, and I think as a result, help students do the same. When we experiment with math and share our thinking aloud, kids also feel comfortable in doing so!

It’s June, and Fun Fairs, play days, track and field, and field trips are sure to be plentiful in the next few weeks. We don’t want to spoil the fun, but what if we helped kids (and adults) see that math is a meaningful and important part of this fun? I think we’d be surprised on just how much math potential there is in all of these experiences … without us even having to create it! So for those that had to wait some extra time, and in a slightly longer line-up for their prizes, I do apologize, but it was all in the name of math. Is that a good enough reason? If not, maybe my pie in the face will make things better. Can anybody find some math connections here?

Aviva

Could We All Come To Love Report Cards?

It’s report card season in Ontario. It’s also Communication of Learning time. There’s a significant difference between the two, and it’s this very difference that makes me always call what I’m writing, Communications of Learning, even if these longer words don’t roll off the tongue as nicely as reports. While I’ve blogged about the differences between the two before, this post is about more than that. 

Not that long ago, I had a wonderful conversation with some colleagues about Communications of Learning. These educators are not Kindergarten teachers, and they mentioned the concerns that I actually blogged about last year during my first Communication of Learning writing experienceWhile I was overwhelmed with the amount of time it took me to write them in February 2017, looking back now I will say that the extra time is worth it when what we’re writing ends up truly reflecting the child. Imagine if you could write a report card …

  • that doesn’t include edujargon.
  • that doesn’t make you question if you used the right qualifier, or even need a qualifier in the sentence.
  • that actually makes you picture the child in your head as you read it.
  • that isn’t about what the child can’t do, but celebrates what they can.
  • that can include examples such as climbing trees, finding worms, playing in the mud, and problem solving how to catch a bumblebee.

I know that our Kindergarten Program Document with the use of the Four Frames, and a Communication of Learning that does not include marks, allows me to easily put the child at the centre of the learning. It makes reporting truly about each kid. But what if I ever did go back and teach another grade? Could I come to love the Grade 1-8 report card format as much as I love the Communication of LearningMaybe I’d be lucky enough to have some updated curriculum documents at my disposal, and maybe even less of a focus on marks, but even if I didn’t, I think that I’d have to find a way to merge the two formats. Nothing prevents teachers from personalizing comments, from including specific examples, and from making the wording parent-friendly. In fact, all three of these things are often encouraged. I realize that with fewer lines, smaller boxes, and more expectations, this is a challenge. What is possible though? We can let the problems prevent us from trying, or we can find a way to work past these problems. I’d prefer to do the latter. What about you? Imagine if report card time could truly become enjoyable for all educators.

Aviva