Saturday, 23 April 2016

Rethinking the Morning Meeting

     I recently took an online class with Julianne Wurm, author of Working in the Reggio Way.  In a conversation, I shared how I was struggling with what my mini lesson should be for the part of my day I call Discovery Time. Should it be a lesson on a science process skill or a habit of mind such as perseverance, or maybe content-based related to a current unit of study? My mind was spinning with all the things I could do with that time. Her response was, “Why does it have to be a lesson? Can’t you just talk to the kids?” At first, I was taken aback by her comment as I thought to myself, talking to the kids isn’t the same as teaching them.

Reggio
You can find Julianne's first book here:


Reggio
Or her second book here:
           

     She then went on to explain that in Reggio, they begin every day with a meeting and they just talk to the kids and then project ideas develop from there. I left the conversation feeling as though I didn’t really get a solution to my problem, but her words resonated with me and I kept hearing her say, “Can’t you just talk to the kids?” So, one evening, (probably in an effort to silence her voice), I jotted down some ideas of what I might talk to the kids about. Here’s what I wrote:
  • seeds have started to sprout
  • headphones are getting tangled 
  • Syracuse Basketball has made it into the final four 
     I began to get curious and decided to give this new kind of "morning meeting" a try.  When I got to school the next day, there were flyers in my mailbox about renaming the district newsletter so I added that to the list.  Then, on my way down to the classroom, our school social worker mentioned the possibility of a "buddy bench," a playground project for our character ed committee, so I added that too.  
     Before I even began, I started to realize the possibilities for beginning my day in this way. There were opportunities for learning (i.e. buddy bench) as well as what I would consider "irritants" (i.e. tangled headphones) that naturally arose, but were not explored, simply because I didn't have a predictable time in our day to address them. This "housekeeping" time would allow for that. 
     So the first meeting went a little something like this. I brought the sprouted seeds down to the carpet and asked the kids what we should do now.

morning meeting
Daisy beginnings


They said we should water them and we discussed how often that would happen and who might do it. We also talked about how we would know when they needed watering. Their ideas led to a demonstration of the "soil test." Then, one child noticed they were tilted in one direction and another child said it was because they wanted to face the sun. We discussed this "hypothesis" and decided to try an experiment where we would put them back on the counter facing the other direction.  At this point, I was starting to see how "talking to kids" can lead to learning that is much richer than a lesson in the traditional sense. I was flashing back to previous plant lessons and how formal and disengaging they now seemed.
     The discussion about headphones led to the suggestion that we make a sign that would remind people to put the headphones back in the bags so they wouldn't get tangled.

morning meeting
Put the headphones in the bag.

I used this opportunity to talk about persuasive writing and how what they write on that sign might persuade others to change their behavior and make a difference in our classroom.
    Their was a lot of enthusiasm for our home team making the final four, so out of this came the idea to wear orange and blue and have our own pep rally inspired by the one happening at the University. Opportunities for learning included comparing basketball scores, discussing teamwork, and addressing those backward S's!

morning meeting
Go Syracuse!
    From that day on, I continued to hold a morning meeting that was used to problem solve behavioral issues, attend to housekeeping tasks, connect us to the school and larger community, and to follow up on projects that were happening in our classroom. A natural outgrowth of these meetings, which may seem like a bonus, but is probably the most important reason for holding them, is that my student's have come to know that their ideas/suggestions are valued and they have a voice in our classroom community.
    As time went on, I began to see a need for the children to have the opportunity to bring up ideas at our meeting. I posted a sheet of paper on our art easel and directed kids toward it when they came to me with problems such as iPads not being put back or the toilet not being flushed.

morning meeting
Authentic writing in action!


morning meeting
Don't forget to flush the toilet!

    When I told Julianne about my experience with the meeting, she said,"I think this is the heart of the program." I agree!  I see my relationship with the children changing and learning experiences developing in a more natural/organic way.  And yet it is so simple!
    So if this sounds like something you might like to try, grab a pad of paper and start capturing those things that are happening in your classroom that either need to be addressed or might be a spark for learning.  Let me know how it goes - would love to hear about your experiences!

Thanks for stopping by!
Jackie

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Sunday, 10 April 2016

Winter Inquiries

     We began with a winter walk which turned into more of an "I spy tracks in the snow." This is where their interest was, so we went with it. We found animal, people, tractor, and snowshoe tracks on that day. 

Winter Inquiries

Winter Inquiries

Winter Inquiries


     Following the walk and a few read alouds about winter, the children chose a research group (animals, plants, weather, and people) and posed a question for us to explore.

Winter Inquiries

     We then began to meet in small groups while the other children worked at centers. I began by asking them to hypothesize about what they thought the answer might be. This is one of my favorite parts as I'm fascinated by their ideas as well as their enthusiasm for wanting to "figure it out." This time around, I could see how some of their ideas/hypothesis stemmed from information they had learned from the questions explored in the fall. It was nice to see their knowledge, as well as their vocabulary, building in this way.  

Winter Inquiries
Their questions about squirrels in the fall helped them
answer questions about deer and fox in the winter as they applied what they
had learned about animal adaptation.

    We used books, videos, and hands-on materials to listen, observe, talk, and discover the answer to the question. As I listened to the children, I really began to understand the meaning of the word "synthesize" as I saw them combine learning from previous questions with new information. I also noticed that there were concepts that came up that cut across the different research groups. For example, insulation was touched upon with the Weather group (Why do you have to wear a hat in the winter?) and the People group (How do we go outside with hot cocoa?).    This provided the opportunity for children to see the relationship between the different areas of science. 

Winter Inquiries
Plant Group exploring, "How do leaves grow from trees?"

Winter Inquiries
People Group exploring, "What do people drink in the winter?" 
Winter Inquiries
Weather Group exploring, "How are snowflakes formed?"

Winter Inquiries
Animal Group exploring, "How do snowshoe rabbits hop so far?"

    In the fall, the children spent some of their group time thinking how they would share what they learned with the rest of the class.  With this set of questions, I realized that they didn't need to prepare anything special. This is because it had become the routine for the whole class to share where they worked and what they did there so with the research groups it naturally evolved into, "I worked with Mrs. Clarke and we learned..."  I was so surprised at how well they articulated what they were learning that there were days that it brought tears to my eyes!
    We culminated our winter studies by working together to make a board game for the whole class to play. Each group created questions cards (based on the questions explored), board game spaces, and a pawn that represented their research group. 

Winter Inquiries

Winter Inquiries

Winter Inquiries

     The best part was when we put it all together and played the game! 

Winter Inquiries


    The Weather group was the first to finish, but based on their ability to answer the questions, I think they were all winners!  Next up - Spring!  Can't wait to see where their questions will take us!