Sunday, 23 August 2015

Rethinking the Calendar

     There’s been some debate over whether or not to continue the traditional calendar time in kindergarten and I had to decide for myself where I stood on all this. While I do agree that somewhere along the way we may have gone a little overboard with our calendar routines and that maybe that wasn’t the best use of our time, I am not in favor of removing it altogether.  


     In the past couple of years, I have scaled back quite a bit.  My calendar routine has been simple with a clear focus.  I wanted my students to learn how to use the calendar as a tool for planning and organizing themselves. We used it to mark days that homework folders go home and come back. We marked days that special events were happening at our school and days where they would only be there for a half day.  This was all useful and relevant information for the children and I found them using the calendar independently throughout the day to answer their own questions about time such as, “How many days until my birthday?”  Without a posted calendar (or with a Smart Board calendar that is hidden for most of the day) they would have needed to rely on adults as the “keepers of this knowledge” to supply the answer. 
     I also see value in the calendar because of its connection to the natural world and the seasonal cycles. Whether we are waiting for seeds to sprout, chicks to hatch, or for the first day of spring to arrive, counting days and marking time is a natural part of all this.


     While some might suggest that kindergarteners are not developmentally ready to grasp the concept of time, and that teaching about the calendar might be better placed in first grade, I would liken it to the notion that just as we don’t wait until they learn to read to put a book in their hands, it is not necessary to hold off on exposing them to the calendar. 
     So while I am not in favor of ditching the calendar altogether, I did see the need to make some changes.  First of all, my calendar needed to be removable. The bulletin board that it hangs upon is somewhat hidden by my easel. While this will still be its permanent spot, I wanted to be able to take it down when the children and I are referencing it. 
    Secondly, I wanted to move from a commercially-made calendar to one that the children were involved in creating and keeping. Here's a picture of next year's calendar that I made from a painting I found at a thrift shop.


The children will be responsible for writing the name of the month as well as the numbers (I did it for September just to get us started!).  They will also be involved in drawing symbols for specials days such as their birthday, holidays, weekends vs. weekdays, no school days, etc.
     Lastly, I wanted to begin to use the calendar as a way for us to journal and keep track of our time together.  Each calendar date is made from a folded index card. At the end of each day, the card will be removed, flipped to the other side and used to record a “small moment” from our day (student-drawn picture on the outside and words on the inside). The card will then be placed back on the calendar and the children will be able to see the days that have passed and the days that are yet to come.  I have not yet decided what we will do with the cards once the month is over.  It would be nice to glue them to a piece of tag board and create a “small moments” timeline. Not sure I have wall space for this, but maybe you do!  
   Are you using a calendar? If so, what does your calendar look like and how are you using it?

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Inspiring Space (The Waterfall Room)

     Next week, I will be heading to school to set up my classroom, so I’ve been looking at pictures of learning spaces to inspire me. Included in these are some photos I took last summer on a  school visit to observe an incoming student. The instant I entered this school, I knew it was a special place. Both their indoor and outdoor spaces were full of invitations for learning and representative of the children that were lucky enough to spend their days there. Children’s artwork was everywhere and it was apparent that they valued children’s ideas and voices. One of the teachers, Maripat Murphy, gave me permission to share photos from her "Waterfall Room" (all the classrooms have nature-themed names).  I am thankful for the wonderful morning I spent in this inspiring space  observing children as they visited inviting areas and explored engaging materials. Thank you Maripat!



































Sunday, 16 August 2015

Planning (for Inquiry)

     As I began to explore inquiry-based learning, I found myself wondering about planning.  On one hand, planning, as a natural outgrowth of my observations and reflections, felt very freeing to me.  I loved the idea of being a responsive teacher and letting go of my unrealistic goal of having everything mapped out before the new school year began. 
     On the other hand, the idea of "no map" was scary because I found comfort in having the year neatly planned and laid out before me. I also knew that the school year can get pretty hectic and my “summer brain” did a better job than my “school year, on-the-fly brain” when it came to planning lessons.  So I found myself struggling with what seemed to be somewhat of an oxymoron, “planning for inquiry.”

     Two things were helpful to me in coming to grips with this. First, to remember that when it comes to inquiry-based learning, I am somewhat of a beginner and that what might be best for me right now is to lean into this slowly. Second, an article I read entitled, Levels of Inquiry-Based Learning written by Banchi and Bell (Science and Children, 2008). The authors write, “Elementary students cannot be expected to immediately be able to design and carry out their own investigations. In fact, most students, regardless of age, need extensive practice to develop their inquiry abilities and understandings to a point where they can conduct their own investigation from start to finish.”  They go on to describe four levels of inquiry and maintain that many levels can be used within a single unit. These levels make up a continuum and include: confirmation inquiry, structured inquiry, guided inquiry, and open inquiry.  The levels vary in the amount of information given to students in the form of question, procedure, and solution.  At the lowest level, confirmation, students are given all three, while at the highest level, open inquiry, students are given no information. 
     This article made me realize that I could create a unit for my students that included different levels of inquiry.  It gave me permission to do some preplanning (yippee!), while building in room for the children’s questions and areas of interest.  It led me to design a year-long unit built around the concept of change.  In this unit, we would examine how plants, animals, weather, and people change across the seasons.  The children would work in research groups to explore each area in relationship to the current season. The investigations that I would plan for these research groups would be based on the children’s questions and interests.  In addition, I chose several core experiences for the whole class, such as nature walks, that would be repeated within each season.

     Creating this unit was very satisfying to me.  I knew I needed some sort of framework to organize the muddle of new learning that was circling around in my head.  It was different than theme units I’d planned in past years as I was careful to leave much of it open-ended. I chose a broad umbrella topic that I felt was relevant to my students’ immediate world and stage of development, yet left much room for choice and interests.
    While my ideas about planning (as well as the other layers of inquiry - time, space, materials, listening & documenting) may change as I grow and learn alongside the children, I am grateful for the time I have had this summer to read, reflect, and write about my current foothold in an ever-evolving kindergarten journey.  What are your plans looking like for next year?

Thanks for stopping by!
Jackie

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Documentation (Learning Stories)

      It’s mid-August and one of the items on my summer to-do list is to read about pedagogical documentation (say what?).  

     It’s hardly a “beach read,” and If I’m being honest, a topic I haven’t exactly been dying to sink my teeth into. In fact, I’ve checked out and returned the book Windows on Learning (Helm, Beneke, and Steinheimer) from the library a few times without actually reading it.  So out on a walk (this is where I do my best thinking) it occurs to me that if I think about documentation as “learning stories,” I suddenly become interested. This speaks to my right brain and conjures up images of myself as an author and artist.  “I’m writing a book about each child,” I tell myself and this motivates me.            
     Viewing documentation as an “art form,” leads me to think that there is an artistic process involved.  What I know about this “wild beast” is that it must be respected and cannot be forced or contrived.  So in my beginning attempts to document student learning, in the way I have come to understand it, I know I will be embarking on a journey without a clear path.    
    This is why I greatly appreciate an article written by Carol Anne Wein entitled Learning to Document in Reggio-Inspired Education. In her article, she describes the progressions she has observed in teachers’ attempts to document learning.  She is clear that these are not stages, but rather “a more flexible, a more varied process.”  Her progression includes:

1) Developing habits of documenting
2) Becoming comfortable in going public
3) Developing visual literacy skills
4) Conceptualizing a purpose of documentation  
as making learning visible
5) sharing visible theories with others for interpretation and further design of curriculum

     While this is in no way a “road map” for me, it does help me evaluate my current skill set and identify areas where improvement is needed.  It leads me to ask myself questions about documentation habits such as,”When will I document? What tools will I use and How will I keep them handy? Also, when will I reflect on the documentation I have collected?”  It motivates me to look critically at the photos I am taking in order to better develop my visual literacy skills and create more effective documentation.  
What can I learn about this child from this photo?
Number four on the list serves as a “pothole to avoid”  where I see the word “purpose” in bright orange, neon letters blinking among piles of photos, work samples, and anecdotes.
     While reframing documentation as “learning stories” is definitely helping me to get started (I’m finally reading Windows on Learning!), I’m pretty sure this is one of those times where I will learn the most in applying the Nike Slogan, Just Do It!  

You can find this here:


     As the new school year fast approaches, I’m excited about the prospect of a new group of children that I will come to know in a way that I never have before.  I’m looking forward to finding new ways to make their learning visible and to use documentation to guide my planning and teaching.    
   Where are you in journey with documentation and what have you found to be most helpful?

Thanks for stopping by!
Jackie

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Sunday, 2 August 2015

Sunflower Children

     
Sunflower Children
Sunflower children,
nod to the sun,
Summer is over,
school has begun.
                author unknown

     As I watch this sunflower growing in my yard, I am reminded that once it blooms, it will be time for school to begin.  Someone once told me that August is like a month of Sundays and I think of this every summer when it hits and I move into "full steam ahead" mode.  As I continue to reflect on my teaching practices through the lenses of repeat, rethink, and remove, I remind myself to add "recharge" to that list.  The group of children that I will soon meet need more than just sharpened pencils. They need a teacher whose mind, body, and spirit have been well-nourished by the freedom and pleasures of the summer season. For me this means I must set aside time every day to take walks, connect with nature, and spend time with the people I love.  What will you do to "recharge" in the midst of your back-to-school prep?