Friday, July 13, 2018

Co-Creating Curriculum in Kindergarten

What is curriculum? What do you mean when you say you "co-create" curriculum with your students? What are the challenges of this? And what are the benefits? How do you assess the learning? These are questions that are commonly asked when the idea of co-creating curriculum is brought up.

To start off, I'd like to define curriculum as what we teach during the course of a day, a month, a year of school. It is the flesh and blood of our learning, whereas our outcomes (what we are expected to know) which are set forth for us by the Department of Education and the Government of Prince Edward Island, those are the bones. And, just like a body, our bones are very similar, our flesh and blood though, is quite different from person to person, so our curriculum is different, but we reach the outcomes just the same.

But what, then, is curriculum co-creation? It is simply, allowing students to have a voice in what they are learning. It is taking their interests and needs into account when planning. It is involving the class in the planning. Sometimes this springs from an idea someone has, or a book we read, or even an outcome we are learning. This past year, we really enjoyed learning about patterns. What began as a simple unit, expanded into an exploration of patterns in each aspect of our lives, from the simple two part patterns we create, to the patterns on clothes, in the bricks of the school, the patterns in the books that we read.

Later on in the year, we read the book, What Am I? which is about an octopus. It brought up so many questions that we ended up veering off on a unit about octopus.We were able to cover outcomes from reading, writing, math, science, creative arts, technology, among others. We wrote down facts we read from books and websites, we were able to incorporate our five senses, counting and part-part-whole activities, we wrote a song and wrote a book about what we learned, we were able to use our Chromebooks to discover facts on the internet, as well as to watch YouTube videos with octopus. All of this met specific outcomes that we were working on.
What I really like about co-creating curriculum with my students is how it brings in the families as well. The students go home and are excited to talk about what they've learned because it's something that they started, as well as something tangible that they can tell their parents. Rather than, "I learned how to say sight words..." they can say, "Did you know an octopus can walk across the ocean floor?" and they can tell their parents where they've learned that. 

Jennifer Heinrichs, in her article, "The Co-Creation of a “Kinder Garden", (Canadian Children, 2016), says, "Schooling is one form of education. It does not include the entire learning in a child’s lifetime of knowledge attainment. When teachers truly internalize this differentiation, they can begin to weave together a curriculum that supports learning from the home as well," (p.18). Co-creating curriculum with our students, rather than for our students, allows them to share with their parents, and allows me, as the teacher, to connect with families on a more substantial level.

But is it more than that? I believe it is. It is learning to self-assess, and learning to understand what expectations are. Too many times, when we ask a kindergarten student what they should be expected to know, they cannot tell you, because they've never been given the chance to critically think about this. But when they are provided them exemplars, and given them time to question and discuss, I find they are quite able to help co-create their own learning criteria. Look back up at the Patterns picture. You will find a photo that says, "I Understand Patterns". How did they know they understood patterns? Because we discussed everything that they would need to know, and put that into practice. They were able to say, "We know what patterns are because they repeat themselves." "We can sort, based on attributes" (I always like to give them the proper words). And, "We can complete other peoples patterns." We had a wide variety of experiences around patterns, and developed our own criteria.

It isn't always easy to teach this way. It takes a different way of thinking than the typical educational model. Sometimes I have to defend what I am doing, other times I am commended. But, in the end, I teach this way because I know it is best for my students and their learning. Do I always teach this way? No. There are certain concepts that must be directly taught, there are expectations that by the end of kindergarten students will be reading and writing at a certain level, and there are certain math concepts that must be specifically taught. But what I strive to do, is find ways to fit in student interests, even during these direct teaching times. Because, in the end, learning isn't just about what we can do, per se, but rather about how empowered we feel when we are doing it. Co-creating curriculum encourages critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication, all of which happen to be the Four Cs of 21st Century Learning. I believe co-creating curriculum, and its assessment pieces creates learners of today and sets us up to be learners for tomorrow as well.

(please click on the link below to watch a very short video created using Animoto):
Co-Creating in Kindergarten

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

When History Goes on Around You.

Today, July 26th, has always been an interesting day in my family. For my immediate little family, it's my daughter's birthday. It's a day of joy and happiness, because she's another year older. And, when you know that she's had her fair share of brushes with death (falling down an open balcony and landing on a piano bench- and coming away without a bruise, eating rat poison, hanging herself on a bunk bed- this one I actually needed to give her mouth to mouth because she'd stopped breathing, and all of this before the age of three) you realize it truly is a day of celebration.

But for everyone else in my family, my parents and brother, my mother's brothers, it's a bittersweet day. Because, yes, my daughter is a year older, but it also marks the anniversary of my grandmother's death.

On July 26, 1967, my grandmother, Helen Hall, was victim number 36 in the Detroit Race Riots of 1967. This year it's especially bittersweet as it's the 50th anniversary of her death, the 50th anniversary of those riots.

It's interesting being "me" in the family. I'm the youngest, I was 6 months old when it happened. According to my family, my grandmother was coming to visit me as soon as she'd finished up her business trip in Detroit. History was made and it happened all around me, though I didn't even realize it.

I'm the 'removed' one of this story.

My mother still gets misty eyed talking about her mother, and the events of that day. My brother talks openly about his five year old memories. My poor uncle, who came to live with us at age 13 after his mother was killed, has never been the same. He struggles with alcohol, drugs, and other mental health issues. This 50th anniversary has really done a number on him. The fact that they're making a film has only brought out more of his issues.

I don't even know if I have a point to this post, other than to say my daughter is 22 and 50 years ago my grandmother was murdered. They're making a movie of one of the stories of that riot, and my family is affected by it in so many ways that the average person isn't.

When history happens all around you, but you're not involved, it makes for a bittersweet kind of day.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Of Power Points and White Boards

I've just begun working on my Masters in Education (I thought I was "bored"), and have been enjoying my most recent course, an introduction to research methods. This week we had an assignment due, and as I read the requirements, and balanced them out with my other responsibilities, I thought to myself, "Yeah. OK. I can do this, no problem." But then... but then! On Monday we received our weekly update from the professor. In the message he "casually" mentions that we should put our assignment on a Power Point and upload it to the group discussion site. I began to panic. "A Power Point?!?!? There is nothing in this assignment that tells us we have to do a Power Point!!!" You might know, I teach Kindergarten. I don't "do" Power Point. I probably use it two or three times a year- Meet the Teacher Night, maybe Welcome to Kindergarten, and I have one for a 3-D shape unit. So now, my stress level for this assignment went from 0-80 in about sixty seconds. I stewed on this for a few days.

That was Monday. Fast forward to Wednesday and a Professional Development session. Sandra Herbst (Educator and Superintendent from Manitoba) was in our province to present to all of the teachers, K-12 (they divided it up by 'families of schools', so not every teacher on one day, but there were about 600 on my day). She was showing a video of a high school math class where the students were working on a problem in groups using mini-white boards and markers. After showing the video, she spent about five minutes discussing how revolutionary this was for this particular teacher to use white boards in the class, and many of the intermediate and senior high teachers in the room were amazed by this "new technology". Meanwhile, my kindergarten colleagues and I were looking at each other in amusement. You see, we use mini-white boards in our classrooms all of the time (which Sandra Herbst did comment on- "all of the primary teachers in here are looking at the older grades and laughing right about now, because they've been using these for years).

That was Wednesday. Fast forward to Thursday in the staff room. I was talking to another colleague who was telling me about her husband (a high school teachers) using Power Point all of the time, like he could do it in his sleep. And that's when my epiphany happened. My instructor teaches high school and University. He probably uses Power Point every day, so much so that he could do it in his sleep. So him asking for us to put our presentations on Power Point was, for him (I assume), a very simple, regular thing to do. Just like, for me, using a mini-white board with my students is a very simple, regular thing to do.

That's when I realized: Mini-White boards are to high school teachers what power points are to kindergarten teachers.

Lesson learned? Perhaps I could use Power Point more often?

But the moral of this story is: We may say the same words, but we don't always speak the same language. It's important to remember that when we talk to each other.

And for my Power Point? I used pictures of me holding up a white board with questions on it- because that's how I roll

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Your High School Gym Teacher Would Be Proud Of You"

“Your high school gym teacher would be proud of you.”

That’s what my Nike Running App told me after my run today. I don’t know if my high school gym teacher would be proud of me, but I’m pretty sure he’d be laughing his ass off at me.
See, when I was in high school, juniors and seniors had PE together. Every semester we had to sign up for “electives” which included, but not limited to- bowling, billiards, basketball (which you never took willingly because the Varsity Basketball coach taught it), volleyball (see basketball…), and running. Now some, like bowling and billiards, were the primo choices, and others, like running were the loser choices. The PE teachers did their best to make it fair each semester so that you weren’t always stuck with the loser choices. I tell you all this to give you backstory as to why I was forced into taking running one semester.
Now, I was a fairly active high school student. I was a wrestling cheerleader, I walked to school most days (a mile, uphill, in snow, both ways). But I did not run. And if I’d put as much effort into pretty much anything as I did into not running, well, I’d probably have been a much better student. 
Every day we had to run around the track. But not my friend and I. We walked, and sang our favorite songs from our favorite bands. We exasperated our PE teacher to the point that for a week, we weren’t allowed to walk around the track together. We still walked. 
Then, because even PE teachers know it gets boring running around a track, he decided to send us running through the neighborhood. And to get us to “prove” we ran, they had pit stops for us to make, and the store owners would give us special rubber bands for us to return to our teacher to prove we ran the route intended. Another friend hid a car around the block. 
So, we set off on our “run”. As soon as we were out of sight of the PE teacher, we hopped in the car to make our pit stops. We’d drive up to the store, wait to see who would go in first (of the people who actually ran), then around the middle of the pack, we “run” into the store and get our rubber bands. We kept this up until we had all of the rubber bands needed, then drove back to the school, parking our car just out of sight of the campus. Then we’d run in like we’d been doing the activity the whole time.
Looking back, I don’t understand why no one ever told on us. And I wonder if Mr. Johnson ever knew we cheated. All I know is, I passed PE, and that’s all I cared about.
Every so often, my friends and I laugh about that PE class, but I suppose the laugh is on me. I began to run awhile back (and by awhile, I mean more than a few years). And now I can’t imagine my life without running…

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I Love My Beach

I love my beach

My beach isn't "sexy'. You don't come here to "see and be seen". You probably won't find a celebrity hiding out here, like you might on some of the other beaches on this island. Every year on Canada Day the community comes together to celebrate. There are games and concerts, hot dogs and freezies. There's a concession stand run by local teens earning a few extra dollars in the summer. My beach is out of the way, it's local, it's community.

You'll find families with young children here, because the surf isn't too high, and the tide is just right. You'll find cottagers who have been coming her for years, just like their parents before them. You'll find locals, like me, who always have a blanket, a towel, and a chair in the car, ready to go to the beach at a moments notice. 

There is a group of ladies who meet here every day in the afternoon. They're probably in their 60s now, but you know they've been coming here since they were teenagers. As they got older and married, they would have brought their children here with them. Now it's back to just them again, and they sit and gossip, and enjoy the few days of summer the weather gods afford them.

My beach is large and vast at low tide. You can sit where all of the "action" is. Or, like me, you can take your things and go as far away from the crowds as you can walk. At high tide though, you're forced to perch on the rocks or lay up in the grass that's on the cliffs surrounding the cove.

Hipsters come here, on a vacation that's out of the ordinary in it's ordinariness. My beach has starfish, jelly fish, hermit crabs. My beach has seaweed that smells sometimes, and rocks that can cut your feet. I used to bring my own kids here, but they've grown up and moved away. I still come here though, every day in the summer for a few hours. I come here to re-charge. To remember who I am. To find the rhythm of the ocean. Then I go home and go about my day. 

I love my beach in its plainness. Because of it's normal-ness. I love my beach because of what it isn't. And because of what it is. 

In the winter, my beach is hardly accessible. Only to those who are willing to tromp through feet of snow to get to it. But once you get there, you are held in awe. My beach is beautiful. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Writer's Workshop

Every morning, from October to December, and even into January it went a little something like this:

Boy enters kindergarten classroom crying, obviously stressed

Me: Buddy! What's wrong?

Student: Are we writing today?

Me: Well, yeah, probably.

Student: I hate writing!

Me: Why?

Student: Because I never do it right!

Me: You never do it right? What does that even mean, bud?

Student: It's so hard. Remembering all that stuff

Me: Well then, let's focus on the pictures.

Student: OK

And off he'd go for the day. Sometimes this conversation helped him, others, he would find himself crying and stressed at various times of the day.

Let me explain something about my teaching style. I'll let you in on a secret: I think a lot of people think I'm a lazy teacher because I don't really do much. That's not really true. Shhh! Don't tell though! What is true is that in certain aspects of my teaching I am pretty laissez-faire. And writing is one of those areas.

From September to December my main focus is on the picture telling the story. We work on detail, we work on developing our fine motor muscles, we work on straight lines and curvy lines. What we don't do is work on writing down words.

But, inevitably, one of the students will get it into their brain (either because of an older sibling or someone at home), that writing is only writing down those letters, and knowing all of those letter sounds, and letter shapes, and putting them all together. They don't think that those pictures we take our time working on are all that important.

And, for this young boy, that is exactly what happened. So every day, we would have this conversation, or one quite similar. As time went on, and some of us would start writing down those letters and sounds we knew, his stress level would continue to climb. It wasn't as if he didn't know these sounds or letters, it was that he was afraid to take that risk, afraid to experiment. And no matter how many times in class we talked about taking risks and trying new things, he would stress himself out.

I spoke to his mother on more than a few occasions, reassuring her that I was not interested in putting more stress on him. That's not what Kindergarten is about. It's about social and emotional growth. Yes we teach writing and reading, but the emphasis in my classroom has never been, and as long as I have my way, never will be on academic achievement- regardless of what people think they hear or read. Kindergarten is your first taste of school. I want that memory to be a positive one.

I am a firm believer that we learn to write by writing. So the bulk of my writer's workshop sessions are me giving them some paper, or a blank book, and letting them write. Whatever they want. However they want. Whenever they want. It doesn't take long before they begin to realize that the letters we've learned make sounds and the sounds work together to make words. It only takes me reading what they've written down a few times before they realize the letters in the words have to be in a certain order (this year we somehow can't grasp that AM is not spelled MA).

That's what I mean by laissez-faire. I don't stand over them, helping them sound out words. I don't have them report to me every day. Heavens, by March or April I really don't give them too much direct instruction. I just let them write, then I let them read to me what they've written, and I let them read it to the class if they want.

 I give them lots of time to write, and I give them lots of paper. And although we have a specific time in the day set aside to write, if they want to, they can write at other times as well. Writing isn't just about stories though. It's lists, it's poems, it's menus, it's whatever we do to communicate with paper and pencil/crayons/markers.

What am I doing while they are all writing? Well, I am writing too. I've re-discovered my joy of writing myself. So while they are sitting at their tables writing, I like to find a spot for myself, I take out my own writer's notebook, and I write. I am accessible to them if they need anything, and I am setting the example that writing isn't just a task we do at school. It can be something we find great enjoyment in. I show them some of my documents on Google Docs, I let them see that I write with pens, and I write with a computer, I write with whatever I can. By doing that, I am letting them know they can do it too.

I've gone through all kinds of teaching styles, especially when it comes to writing. And you know what I've found? Leave them alone works the best. Leave them alone, trust them to do what they can, and cheer them on when they've exceeded their own expectations. And guess what? They always exceed their own expectations.

That boy, who would get so stressed over writing? Here's what he wrote today, June 24:

(for those of you who don't read Kindergarten, let me translate: 
Jack N is coming to my house. Jack N is here. Me and Jack N are playing a video game. Jack N won Mario Kart)

I'd say he's going to do OK in Grade 1.

Friday, June 10, 2016

What is Play?

I have been involved in a Kindergarten committee with our province's Department of Education for the past six months. Yesterday was our last meeting for the school year, we will pick up where we left off in the fall. But we were asked to write out a statement of our beliefs of Kindergarten and of play. Here is what I said (sometimes I even surprise myself, lol!):

What Is Play?

Play is natural, it's how all mammals learn. Play is creative. It's make-believe, it's imaginary. Play is exploring. Play is making sense of the world. It's making a hypothesis and testing that out through experimentation. Play is science, it's math, it's literacy. Play is not just the life of the child, but the life of a human.