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.

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