Tuesday, 10 October 2017

I went into this week unsure of how I might introduce this character strength to kinders, but was pleasantly surprised at how quickly they grasped it, especially as it relates to trying new things.

We began by listening to Green Eggs and Ham and the children named foods they have been "close-minded" about.  One little guy shared with great enthusiasm, "I am going to be open-minded about strawberries and try them when I get home!"  This led to us talking about how being open-minded about something, doesn't necessarily mean you are going to like it, just that you have been open to trying it.

Other books we used for discussion included:

At the end of the week, I brought in a new food for us to be "open-minded" about!

It's called Kiwano or Horned Melon and it tastes a bit like a cucumber.  Only a handful of kids were "open" to it!

Next up is perspective which will build upon the children's understanding of open-mindedness. The Positivity Project has carefully sequenced the character strengths to build upon one another and correlate with times of year.

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Saturday, 7 October 2017

The first character strength introduced with the Positivity Project is curiosity.   This was a great one to begin the year because it provided opportunities for us to explore children's interests and model a curious disposition (I wonder...) from the get go!

While "wondering aloud" can be done with any read aloud, here are some of the books we shared to explore characters who exhibit this strength.

We asked the children what they were curious about and attached it to their self-portraits using talk bubbles.  These were displayed at open house for parents to enjoy!

These will also become the front covers of our Show How You Grow books.

I kept a list of these "curiosities" and will try to incorporate as many as possible into our project work and curricular units.

To spark their curiosity, I placed this fossil in the nature center as our first Mystery Object without any introduction.  There has been lots of wondering about what it is and where it came from (found it in the closet in my first ever classroom and have been curious about it ever since!).

I've also set up a wonder window and wonder wall, but have yet to introduce them.

Our beginning work with curiosity will set the stage for these in later days.  That is the great thing about the Positivity Project vocabulary, once introduced it becomes part of your classroom language and living!

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Can We Do Whatever We Want?: Exploring Classroom Rules

Friday, 6 October 2017

On the first day that I met my new group of kindergartners, I asked, "What do you want to know about kindergarten?"  There were a lot of questions about the bus, as this was kindergarten orientation and they would soon be given a bus ride.

One boy asked, "Can we do whatever we want?"  I thought this might be a good question for us to explore in our first weeks together.

I asked the children to answer the question using, "yes, because" or "no, because" and I recorded their responses.  All of their answers fell into 4 categories that framed our research from that point on:

No, because we might get hurt or sick.
No, because our school might get broken or messy.
No, because we are still learning from right and wrong.
Yes, because we sometimes have safe choices.

We brought in some "experts" to give us their answers.  I invited our school principal, social worker, nurse and custodian and we interviewed them.  We asked two questions:

What kind of work do you do at our school?

Can we do whatever we want in school?

Our School Social Worker,  Mr. Seltzer

All the adults gave a different response and helped us explore new ways of understanding the need for rules.

Our school custodian explained that there are different rules for different places such as the playground vs. the classroom and what you can do in one place you may not be able to do in another.

Our school social worker, answered the question very succinctly, No, because other people matter.
(the Positivity Project motto).

Following that, we explored books with characters who did whatever they wanted.

The word "naughty" came up a lot in our conversations, so we talked about what that really meant and decided that it might mean that you know the rules, but do not follow them.

This book was super helpful in showing us how to think beyond ourselves.

As well as this song:

And now I find myself using the phrase with the children: "What if everybody gave me their jacket to hold on the playground?"  The children think it is funny, but they totally get it!

As we began to see the need for rules, I asked the children to name a rule that would be important in school.

"Don't come to school naked" was definitely influenced by their favorite page in the David books!

I then sorted their rules into these three categories:

We take good care of ourselves.
We take good care of others.
We take good care of our learning space.

These became our class promises that we recite at the beginning of each day.  More importantly, it's used in our interactions with one another.

Just this week, a little boy was cleaning up some water he spilled.  I asked what he was doing and he said, "I'm taking good care of our learning space!"

Always a joy to hear them use the language!

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Other People Matter Mindset

Sunday, 24 September 2017

This year our school became a Positivity Project partner school.  We are hard at work to bring about positive change in our school culture by infusing this mindset into all parts of our school day!

We began by introducing the motto, Other People Matter.  I told the children that these were important words to carry in our heads and in our hearts.  I suggested we make a big banner with these words for our classroom so we would never forget them! They had ideas about how we could decorate the banner (sparkles, shiny things, glitter glue, sequins, rainbows and lights) so that it would really "stand out" and would be noticed when people walked in our room.

To help understand what Other People Matter looks and sounds likes, the Positivity Project has identified the following 5 behaviors to illustrate the mindset:
  • Identifying and appreciating the good in others
  • Supporting others when they struggle
  • Being present and giving others our attention
  • Cheering their successes
  • Knowing that our words and actions affect others
We spent time exploring each one through literature, discussions, puppet plays and real life classroom examples.  I made posters for our classroom in simple kinder language.

I'm beginning to see the Other People Matter language show up in our interactions with one another.  When the child on the right was chosen to take down the attendance, the child on the left said,"Good job!" (We cheer for others!)

At bus time, when I was putting away markers, a child walked over and began to pitch in (We help others!) and said, "I feel like I'm doing other people matter."

If you are interested in bringing the Positivity Project to your school, click the link to find resources and contact information!

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Encouraging Positive Talk

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Our school year got off to a "positive" start as we introduced the Positivity Project emblem that we now proudly display as one of their partner schools!

As we looked closely at the symbol, I quickly realized I would need to help the children understand what the word "positive" meant.  We were reading The Little Engine That Could that week, so we began to explore positive talk and negative talk through the pages of the book.

I invited the children to give a thumbs up when they heard the engines use "positive talk" and a thumbs down when they heard "negative talk." This worked well and we applied this same strategy to  other read alouds including Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes and Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell.

I hope your year got off to a positive start as well!

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The Positivity Project

Sunday, 13 August 2017

If you read one post, I hope that it will be this one because I want to tell you about a really amazing program called The Positivity Project.

Their tagline is "Other People Matter!"

Simple, Powerful, To the Point!

Imagine if children heard this at least once every day for the entire school year. Imagine if they continued to hear it in first grade, second grade, third grade and so on.  Imagine if it became part of the running loop that ran through their head for the rest of their lives.  Pretty powerful stuff!

But wait, there's more!

The Positivity Project teaches 24 character strengths that children come to understand, engage with, and reflect upon with the aim of helping them identify their top strengths.  Imagine if all of your students left your class knowing what they did well.  Not just with academics.  Not just with sports.  Their own individual strengths that help them be the best version of themselves.

But wait, there's more!

With The Positivity Project, children don't just learn how to identify strengths within themselves, they also learn to recognize them in others.  This contributes to their ability to form and maintain good relationships.  Recognizing a strength in someone else, also helps children know what that strength looks and sounds like in case it is an area they want to improve upon.

But wait, there's more!

School staff begin by taking a character survey at to find out their own strengths.  They begin to look at their colleagues with new eyes as they come to recognize and value each person's contribution to their school community.

But wait, there's more!

The Positivity Project is a nonforprofit organization that does not charge schools to partner with them.  All materials are free!  They believe character is too important for schools to be forced into budgetary decisions between character education or other important initiatives.

My school is beginning the Positivity Project in September and we are fired up and ready to get started!  We've heard the testimonials from teachers from neighboring districts and even from the children of a teacher in our building who attends a Positivity Project school.  Find out what the kids had to say here!

Want to know more about P2, as it is affectionately called (I'm sure you can guess why they didn't double the P), click on the links above or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

And if you would like to know how I am implementing the program with kindergarten children, follow along by subscribing to the blog so you won't miss a post.  I plan to share ways in which we are helping children understand and internalize each character strength, along with how children, school staff and families are impacted.

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Curious Classroom Book Study: Learn With Partners and Pioneers

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Chapter 10

Inside This Chapter

In this last chapter, you'll find ideas of how you might find support if you are interested in pursuing a path of inquiry in your classroom.  One suggestion the book offers is to study "the pioneers" and goes on to describe the inquiry approach implemented by three lead school districts.  Author Harvey Daniels sums up the chapter with the big takeaways from these "pathfinding"schools and includes:
  • Get others into your classroom and get yourself into theirs.
  • Reach out to your colleagues, and start doing small projects together.
  • Make friends with your principal through your kids and their work.
  • Take advantage of district PD; if it's not available, ask for what you need.
  • If you have a coach, bond with her or him.
  • As Steve Newcomer recommends; let it go, take a risk, and have fun.

What I've Tried

For as long as I can remember I have been interested in inquiry-based teaching.  I think it probably began back in college where I first learned about the constructivist approach and the work of John Dewey and Jerome Bruner.  

Most recently, I have been inspired by the work of teachers in Canada and elsewhere that use an inquiry approach in kindergarten (you can find my favorites listed under the Inspiration tab). 

Staff at Eason Elementary School note that "inquiry has become a way of life."  "We don't "do" inquiry, we live it everyday."  

Inquiry is not a program or a procedure. It's a mindset.  I've been watching my own thinking change little by little over the past few years.  Social media has played a big role in that change.  Through following inquiry teachers on blogs and Instagram, I've seen glimpses of a different type of classroom and way of being with children.  These educators have generously shared their classroom setups, provocations, professional development, and documentation, which has led me to slowly figure out my own inquiry path, one puzzle piece at a time.

What I'd Like to Try 

While this is a little unrelated to the big idea of pioneers in this chapter, it was shared as part of Duke School's plan for supporting project-based learning and inquiry work. It is the idea of "touchstone projects."  I understand these to be inquiries that you might repeat each year.  In Reggio Emilia schools, they are called intended projects.  

While some inquiries will be unique to each school year, it makes sense to repeat some, especially when they integrate many areas of your required curriculum.  It also allows you to reuse resources that you may have spent much time and money gathering.  

Since I work in a traditional public school, there are many units I am required to teach.  I'd like to take more of these units and reframe them to include opportunities for inquiry.  You can see how I did this with The Plant Project.  Next year, plants would continue as a "touchstone project," yet the direction it takes will depend upon the children's ideas and wonderings.

Your Turn

What support systems might you use to help you along your inquiry path?  Are there inquiries you have done in the past that you might consider repeating and making a touchstone project?

Next Steps

This chapter ends The Curious Classroom Book Study!  I hope you were able to identify some next steps for yourself as you move forward with inquiry teaching!  If you feel a bit overwhelmed, don't be afraid to choose just one thing and begin there!

I will continue to share my learning journey here and on Instagram as I work to put some of these new ideas into place!

You can find the other chapter summaries here:

Chapter 1: Demonstrate Your Own Curiosity
Chapter 2: Investigate Ourselves and Our Classmates
Chapter 3: Capture and Honor Kids' Questions
Chapter 4: Begin the Day with Soft Starts
Chapter 5: Check Our News Feed
Chapter 6: Hang Out with an Expert
Chapter 7: Pursue Kids' Own Questions with Mini-Inquiries
Chapter 8: Address Curricular Units with Mini-Inquiries
Chapter 9: Lean Into a Crisis

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Curious Classroom Book Study: Lean Into a Crisis

Friday, 11 August 2017

Chapter 9

Inside This Chapter

While not the lightest chapter in this book, learning how to address crises using inquiry strategies, is certainly an important topic to consider and one that is rarely addressed.  In most cases, we are on our own as to how to handle these situations and as Daniels mentions, "We live on a slippery slope between choosing how to act and becoming desensitized."

Not only does this chapter get us thinking about those difficult times and how we might best handle them, it offers well-researched tips for coping with these situations and might become a great resource for teachers during a time of need.  

Instructional coach, Sara Ahmed says, "The best preparation to deal with these emerging topics is to have an inquiry classroom in the first place."  She gives descriptions of physical space, collaborative/mobile tools, and student voice as key elements in this type of classroom. 

What I've Tried

Many years ago, while I was teaching first grade, the topic of a little girl who had been abducted in our area came up in conversation during a read aloud.  At the time, I was reading about being a more responsive teacher (see And With a Light Touch under the Bookshelf tab) and because of this, I took the time to talk with the children about this rather than adhering to our schedule.  The children were completely engaged in this conversation and I felt their need to talk about this.  The next day, I found a note on my easel that said, "Can we talk about that girl again today?"

More recently, we lost one of our teachers unexpectedly during a school break.  We returned to work with heavy hearts.  Our school received an outpouring of support, but what most surprised me, was the care and comfort I received from the children. Most did not know this teacher, but had heard about the situation from their families. When they came to school that first morning, they were curious about how I was feeling and some told me they were sorry.  I was so touched (and surprised) by their compassion, and while I didn't really want to talk about it, it did help me get through the day.

The following year, on a winter walk, a few children noticed a little tree that was not looking so good.  They wondered whether it was dead or alive.  It was a tree that had been planted the previous spring in honor of the teacher's passing.  The children did not know about this, but for whatever reason, began to show care and concern for this tree. One little girl insisted that she knew a tree doctor that could fix it!  

When spring arrived, we visited the tree again to check on it and see how it was doing.  It continued to show no signs of life.  I gathered the children around it and told them the story behind the tree planting.  They began to understand that when something dies you can't bring it back to life, but you can always carry it in your heart.  We said goodbye to the tree and then a few weeks later, it was removed and a new tree was planted. 

These situations may not be pleasant and oftentimes, our first thought is to shelter children from them.  Yet, these few experiences have taught me that, while it indeed is a "slippery slope," ignoring them might be missed opportunities for heartfelt learning.

Daniel says that while it is a "tough choice" to know when to investigate and when to simply leave alone, "this is where the heart and the art of the teacher comes in."

What I'd Like to Try 

While I've shared a few stories of trying times, I did not really use any of them to launch an inquiry, even though there was great interest.  For example, the first scenario could have led to my bringing in a school counselor to talk about stranger/danger.  The second scenario presented opportunities for children to teach each other how to care for someone when they are sad or hurting.  Lastly,  
the children's interest in the memorial tree would have been a prime opportunity to launch an inquiry into living and nonliving things. 

So whether it be a school crisis or just a community happening, I'd love to get better at looking for the curriculum opportunities hidden within them.

My favorite quote in this chapter, possibly in the whole book, comes from Sara Ahmed.  She says, "There is always a piece of curriculum that is unwritten.  It cannot be planned out ahead or backwards-mapped later.  It has no end-of-unit test.  This curriculum is handed to us by the world."

Your Turn

How have you leaned into a crisis within your school community?  What learning opportunities did you find there?

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