Monday, April 27, 2015

Back to the Grind

It's Monday.  The one after April vacation.  I have to leave for work in fifteen minutes.  As I sip my coffee I am wondering; which students had a great time, who is going to need extra hugs, who had a breakthrough in literacy, who is hungry, who is happy?  There are a whole lot of standards I need to cover between now and the end of June.  The final assessments for the SLO must be administered in a few weeks, and there are still a few kids I need to "fix up."  The end of year madness, as well as the impending move to a new school loom over me.

But today, I shall embrace "love shows up."  I'm just going to adore all my kinders.  We will sing, and laugh, and tell stories and dance and have fun.  And yes, somewhere in the middle of all that joy, I'll sneak in the standards.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why Wacky Wednesday?

It isn't easy being five.  You enter kindergarten with enthusiasm and energy, lots and lots of energy.  Then you are told to find your name at a table and to sit in the chair by your name.  Or perhaps you are directed to sit in a circle.  How long do you have to sit there?  And why does your body have to be "criss cross applesauce?"  Your teacher is nice. She smiles a lot, but she has a full agenda for you.  Whether she agrees or not, she is expected to get you reading by the end of the year. You might not even know what a letter is.  You need to be adding and subtracting numbers within ten.  You also need to write your opinion of a book and defend your reasons.  So there is sitting.  There is listening.  There are papers for you to complete.  Is this what you signed on for?  No?  Guess what, it isn't what your teacher signed on for either.

It's not that your teacher doesn't believe you can or should be able to accomplish the goals of kindergarten.  She just doesn't want to crush your spirit in your first year of school.  So she gets creative.  You have lessons each day, but you never have to sit for too long.  You learn many things by singing songs.  You get to act out the stories you hear, and you learn to subtract as you eat a few goldfish crackers at a time while you count the total after each bite.  You learn to write your letters first by building them with blocks, then by painting them with water on a chalkboard.  You have some worksheets to complete, but they are right next to the games you play and the bricks you use to build.

And then there is Wacky Wednesday.  You look forward to it all week.  Each morning when you enter the classroom you ask the teacher, "Is it Wacky Wednesday?"    This is the day when you decide how you will learn.  The teacher has set out options for you designed to let you extend what you have been learning. You can work on a project all day and the teacher checks with you to ask questions or offer suggestions.  You get to create a play, or build a city, or explore new materials.  You can talk with your friends and share your work. If you are learning about "how humans can reduce their impact on the Earth," you might recycle an old sweater to turn it into a puppet or a pouch.  If you have been "retelling familiar stories including details" you may recreate the story of the "Three Little Pigs," by turning the classroom into the setting of this fairy tale so that you can act it out.........

Wacky Wednesday began last year.  My partner teacher and I noticed how the kids were taking charge of their learning one morning.  Here is the blog entry for that day:
Today the kids came in and grabbed some construction paper.  Then all our plans went out the window.  They came up with such great ideas we let them take charge of their own learning.  The results included complex patterned necklaces, everyone's foot being traced, compared, and hung as a foot garland, a tower of blocks we read about being reproduced in the classroom, secret books being written, and cooperation everywhere. 

We realized that sometimes, we teachers need to simply set the stage for learning and then get out of the way.  We are purposeful in how we set up the classroom before the students come in for a Wacky Wednesday.  We have loosely planned events for the day.  However, our plans are fluid and respond to the direction the students take us.  The students take over with "What if..."  "Can we try..." and "Let's find out..."  We are still covering standards. The difference is that we are letting the students chart the course.  As a result we have students who are self directed, excited to come to school, and yes, also meeting the standards set before them.

Wacky Wednesday isn't just favored by the students.  We love watching what the kids create and learn.  They problem solve and cooperate as new learning takes place.  Given the high expectations of where kindergarten students should "be" by the end of the year, Wacky Wednesday provides some respite from the urgency of "fitting it all in."  This day respects the innate ability of our children to be self directed, lifelong learners.  It's quite simply the best day of the week.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sneaky Teaching

While my students are at school I love them up, do my best to protect them, and yes, I even throw in some teaching.  It is a frustration that I can't protect them from the grief that accompanies the loss of a beloved family member.  One of my cherubs recently lost an important person in her life.  She continued to come to school, happy to play with her friends and create her artwork.  An outside observer would not be able to determine she had just lost someone close.

That is, until I call her aside to work with her individually.  The adorable and happy go lucky kiddo who once bounced up and down waiting for me to work with her suddenly and sullenly refuses to work with me.  She holds her ground and tells me, "NO! I don't WANT to."

I'm looking at the data I've been collecting on this child.  She is close to meeting her growth target, but not there yet.  I have just over a month to get her to the goal I set for her; the goal attached to my evaluation.  At her first refusal I try to cajole, using humor.  At the second refusal, I become impatient, telling her "We can do it now, or during your choice time."  Then I step back to think.

What is more important?  Protecting this child's fragile emotional state, or meeting my growth target?
I watch her, see her play with her friends and realize these other kiddos were her support.  She doesn't want to be called away from them.  The next day I enlist a child she enjoys working with to join us as we worked together.  He listens to her read her books, he reviews her sight words with her, and when it is time to write a mini book, she writes about him and he writes about her.  She  is delighted to work with him.  I sit back, marveling at the power of peer helpers.

As I drive home from work I congratulate myself on the success of my sneaky plan.  Even though this kiddo could balk at working with her friend in the future, it worked for the day.  I won't do this child any favors by excusing her from the work of learning.  Yet I could do more harm than good by pushing her beyond what is kind.  I will still work with this kiddo, gently pushing her to know a little bit more than she did the day before.  The trick will be to use creativity and compassion to respect where she is emotionally. When she looks back on kindergarten I want her to remember the experience happily.  It's up to me to help her create that memory.