Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kinderblog challenge #4!

If you had to quit teaching tomorrow, what would you do instead?"

If for some reason, I woke up and found out I could no longer teach, what would I do instead? Well, I would do something as far away from education as possible! Being an "all-or-nothing" type of person, if I couldn't teach, or be a part of the teaching community anymore, I would want to have nothing to do with education.  But, the question is what would I do...

Well, I know what I would not do! I would not be a housekeeper. Because I am really bad at that. 
I would not be a baker, because that would mean I would have to wake up too early. 
I could not be a chef because it would get too hot in the kitchen and I am not a nice person to be around when I am hot. 
I could not be an actor because I cannot keep a straight face.
Now a back-up singer...Hmmmm...that might be fun! Of course, someone has to think I sing well enough to back them up. And, I am no longer 20, so that limits my options there.
We have a lot of books around our house (a lot, I am not kidding!). Perhaps I could own a used book store? 
I have always fancied owning chickens and an organic apple orchard. Sounds intriguing, but, again, a lot of work.
As it turns out, I don't know what I would do if I had to quit teaching. I don't know if I will be a classroom teacher the rest of my career, I do love research and putting research into practice. But a teacher I am and a teacher I will always be. I can't help myself, it is my passion.

Just hanging around waiting for school to start back up!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Parallels in Learning: How Block Play and the Reading Process are Similar

I am a big fan of block building. I find I am always amazed at the intricacies in the building structures that the children create. We don't begin our block building with big ornate fortresses. We generally begin small, simple. As we gain confidence and experience we notice how our block building expands. It occurred to me one day, that the stages of block building seem similar to the stages of learning to read. Both are a process. Both have a basis laying a foundation before you move on to the next level.

In the first stage of block play, children carry blocks around. They become accustomed to the blocks and what they can do. In the second stage, children are building rows and towers. There is repetition in block building, just as there is repetition in the beginning of the reading process. Children are becoming familiar with books, with words, with letters. Just as children begin to understand what a block is used for in the first two stages of block play, in the first stage of reading, children understand what letters, words, pictures, and books are for.

In the third stage of block play, children begin to bridge. They will take two blocks and connect them with a third. The same is true with the second stage of reading. Children begin to "connect the blocks" by applying the strategies and skills they have learned in the first stage.

In the fourth stage of block play, children begin to make enclosures, they enclose space. In the third stage of the reading process children are responding to the texts. So, just as children begin to enclose the space when playing with blocks, when they are reading they are taking the information they have learned from the text and are creating ways to build on that.

In the fifth stage of block play, patterns and symmetry begin to appear. Children enjoy making elaborate buildings, they enjoy exploring with blocks and adding other accessories to their play. In the fourth stage of the reading process children are exploring with the words. They are learning new vocabulary, new skills, adding new "accessories" to their reading.

In the final stage of block play, children begin to name their structures. They begin to use them for dramatic play. They take what they have learned with the blocks and begin to apply that knowledge to their play. The same can be said for the final stage of the reading process. Children take the information they have learned from their reading and it begins to impact them in other ways. They may find information they have read about leads them to more research on the same topic, or they may enjoy one author so much they wish to read more of their work.

Sometimes when adults look at children when they are at play, we may think how "cute" they are. We may wish we could be young again so we could, "just play". But the reality of play is far more complex than the words, "cute" or "just".  "Play is a child's work," so Maria Montessori said. Play is learning. Learning is a process. We don't always see it happening in the moment. But one day we wake up and realize how much we have learned.

The stages of block building can be found in the book, "The Block Book", edited by Elisabeth S. Hirsch and is published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington, DC.

The stages of the reading process can be found in the book, "Literacy in the Early Grades, third edition" by Gail E. Tompkins, Pearson publishing, 2011.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Kinderchat Challenge #3: List your Pet Peeves

This is the third entry for the Kinderchat blog challenge.  Hope I don't ruffle too many feathers, but if you are a parent reading this, perhaps you will gain a bit of insight on the world of teachers.

1) When students come in 30 minutes late for class--repeatedly!
A lot goes on in that first 30 minutes of the day, and for many students, if they come in late, their       entire day is thrown off. Routine is important to children!

2) Lace up shoes when the child cannot tie them!
It isn't even so much that I honestly don't have the time (and really, I don't), but children need to be responsible for themselves and their belongings. If they are constantly having to go to the teacher for help with a simple task, the message they get is that they are not competent.  Give the child velcro shoes, or buy the elastic laces. Give the child independence in their daily routine and give them pride!

3) Lack of communication!
The responsibility for this lies first on the teacher, but then on the parents. It is up to the teacher to foster an environment that lets parents know they are a team for the student. But parents need to realize that all of those 'little' things that happen, can be perceived as big things through the eyes of the child.

4) Too much communication!
I love your child, I really do. But I cannot answer 50 e-mails a day about little Johnny. And, if you e-mail me with an issue like, "When will you put up the next blog post?" or, "My child didn't receive their chocolate milk today, what went wrong and how will you fix it so it doesn't happen again?" I will not answer you. Ever. Really, I mean it!

5) I am human and I have a life and a family too!
Yes, your child is my responsibility when they are in my care. But my child is my responsibility all of the time. So if I have to take time off because I want to see my child do something, or they need to go to the doctor, I will. Just like you take time off for your child. And if you see me out and about during the day, I will stumble over myself to explain why I am not at school. Because that is the cultural reality for teachers (at least around here). We aren't given "vacation days" or "personal days". We have sick days and family days (for when our family needs us). That is it. I am not complaining, because I do get to go to the beach in July. But also know that just because I "don't work" in the summer, I also don't get paid!

I love my profession, I love my school. I wouldn't do anything else. And, I suppose if I didn't have those 5 pet peeves, my job would be pretty boring indeed!

Block Play in Kindergarten

The importance of Block Play, and how it fits into our Kindergarten curriculum. (The quotes all come from the book The Block Book by Elisabeth Hirsch.  It is published by The NAEYC. The page numbers are in parenthesis after the quotes.)
Science: “Invention and discovery are part of scientific thinking.  A successful scientist has a creative mind, and creates new forms through finding relationships among established ideas. In block building, the material is fluid, providing for infinite possibilities for a child to develop ideas and improvise or create at will (p. 32)
Math: A child’s artistry in- and feeling for- block building is closely related to the true mathematician’s view of mathematics as a creative art.  The aesthetic pleasure which an adult mathematician experiences when he contemplates shape and form and their properties is similar to the pleasure and joy the child experiences when he builds (p. 33).
Social Studies: The relationships with other people, children and adults, is the basis of social studies. In social studies, we deal with people and their relationships to each other through time and space (p. 68)
Dramatic Play: One of the most profound means available to children for constructing and reconstructing, formulating knowledge is through play…Play is the visible language of childhood wherein we see and hear the total functioning, revealing his or her concerns, conflicts, information and misinformation, ambivalences, wishes, hopes, pleasures, and questions. (p. 69)

My personal observations about block play in our class this year:  Some of us enjoy the structure and some of us enjoy the accessories.  By this I mean some of us enjoy building many structures, while some of us prefer the “add ons” the little things that add to the animation of the structure.  We all enjoy the block area, but some of us enjoy it more.  Some enjoy the building and some enjoy telling others what to build.  Some enjoy the process and some enjoy the end product.  It is creative and functional.  It is trial and error.  It is balance and gravity.  It just is the block area.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Classroom Environment

This is the second week of a #kinderchat blogging challenge for the summer. Last week the challenge was to tell what you learned from your students, faculty, administration, etc., over the past year that you couldn't have learned from anyone else at any other time. That one was easy! This week's challenge, not so much.

Kinderblog challenge #2: Describe your favourite classroom space.

Seems simple enough. I guess. I was surprised at how I had to think about this one! Perhaps it is because my classroom space is so intertwined with everything else I do it was hard to separate it. But, before I go into my description, I feel I need to give a bit of a history lesson to explain why I am where I am at this particular time in my life.

Up until about 2 years ago, Kindergarten in Prince Edward Island, Canada was "community based". That means that while Kindergarten was fully funded and overseen by the Department of Education and Early Childhood, and we had a standard curriculum, we were not in the schools. We were 1/2 day programs that met in a variety of places. Most were located in child care settings, but many were stand-alone kindergartens and some were located in schools (though not a part of the school).   Then 2 years ago the government moved Kindergarten into the schools and under the School Act and we became a full day kindergarten program in the school system.  

So, up until 2 years ago I taught Kindergarten in a child care centre. We had kindergarten in the morning and multi-age groups in the afternoon.  I team-taught with 3-4 other fabulous teachers in one space. When I moved into the school setting, I moved into my own classroom. It was the first time I had the responsibility to set up a learning environment on my own. At first it was a little overwhelming, and I wasn't sure if I would get it done in time, but it all came together.  What I learned from that first year is that nothing is static. If it doesn't work, move it, change it, make it work. 

What I love best about my space is its openness. I have plenty of room to move things around if they don't quite work the way we intended.  For instance, for part of the year the blocks were at one end and the classroom library was at the other. That wasn't working for us, so we moved them around. I think that is what is most important when we are building our environment, remembering that it can't be the "third teacher" if it isn't working well. 

As I begin to think about the new class to come in in September I wonder. What if I only have the bare bones of the class set up? What if we let our classroom community dictate how we will use our space? How would it look? That excites me too. Knowing that my students can have some say in our space. Here are some pictures from my room this past year.  

We use the pails to put our daily work in, as well as any belongings we might need.

This is the view of the room from a doorway. Lots of great space that can be manipulated and moved when we might need to!

This is my room by the doorway. I love to use the stairs as a group meeting place. Then we can all see and there is room for everyone.

If you're interested, you can go over to my learning portfolio and see more about my classroom environment:

And here is a view of my science centre from last year:

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What I Learned This Year- Inclusion

         As I sit here on Canada Day, feeling like the year is officially over, I am able to sit and ponder. Like most teachers in North America, my year begins in Aug/Sept and ends in June (July is New Years Eve and August is New Years Day).  This year has contained stress for me on a multitude of levels. At home, I learned to deal with my first born's independence. He took a step out of his comfort zone and moved back to Illinois to live with his grandparents and go to college/university there (he made the dean's list both semesters, FYI).  Our church life had its own stressors (which I will not go into). And then there was my class.
       This particular group of students was what I like to call the "perfect storm". It was a lively combination of autism, developmental delay (which I strongly suspect is actually Fetal Alcohol Syndrome), children on the younger end (half didn't turn 5 until Oct-Dec), and a few that if they were diagnosed with ADHD or learning disabilities later on wouldn't surprise me. I went home many Fridays conflicted. On the one hand I was glad it was Friday, but on the other hand, I was wishing I had one more day, one more chance to get it right.  It was a rocking good year, I tell you!
          But what did I learn from this group that I couldn't have learned from anyone else? 
I learned:
-Slow down, take your time
-Look closely at everything
-Don't judge
-In every situation, there is an explanation (and sometimes a really funny story!)
-Kindergarten children will tell you ANYTHING (I already knew that one, but I certainly wasn't prepared when one child told me his uncle was sent to jail).
-Play is not a 4 letter word! And I refuse to say "inquiry based learning" again. It is play and play is how we learn. Because that is how our brains work!

I learned about Inclusion in a way I have never understood before. I have taught preschool and kindergarten at an inclusive day care. I have worked with children with autism, Downs Syndrome and developmental delay.  I thought I understood what inclusion was. But this year taught me that inclusion is more than just having children with special needs in the classroom. Inclusion is a not singling out, not propping up, not paying lip service to special needs. It is community. It is being together through thick or thin. It is learning to communicate my needs in such a way that everyone understands. It is teaching children that fair isn't always equal. Some children need a little more than others. Sometimes we all need a little more than others. It is helping others and allowing others to help us. It is caring enough about someone that you are willing to deal with a melt-down because you know, in the end, they will be better off without getting their way.  

I am thankful for 18 students. All unique, all individual's, all teachers to me.