Are They Listening?

I was inspired by a colleague to truly make my word wall interactional – student driven and written. It’s a whiteboard, so it’s easy to revise. I erased everything I had on it, and moved it a bit closer to the floor. They would still need a chair to write at the top, but they could do it!

During guided reading, I rolled out the plan. Everyone was to write 3 words. They could be words they really liked, or words they used a lot in their writing, or words they wanted to use in their writing. They could be any words, BUT, they had to be written the way they are in library books. (Usually, when we write, the words need to be encoded so that the authors, and I, can read them.)

They got papers and set to work with enthusiastic determination. As each finished, they shared their list with me. We worked to spell each word the way it was in a library book. Sometimes we worked harder at hearing sounds and encoding them. Other times we recalled spelling rules and combinations. Still others times I asked permission to show them how it would be spelled in a library book.

Finally, they joined me at the wall and added their words. It took us a few days to get all the words written, but it was worth it! It was such a joy to watch them work, and to work with them.

They reached as high as they could to add their words.

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And the words they chose were …

I cannot think of an adequate descriptor …

…. amazing, fantabulous, wonderful, overwhelming.

Take a look at two of the word lists.

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Yes, there are sight words on the wall such as  — we, and, of — and other words they know and enjoy like — candy, cup.

But the wall is filled with things I have said, written and encouraged!

One student wrote “I’m possible!” as an Ii word. It’s a reference to the statement “Impossible just says ‘I’m possible.”

Are they listening? Yes, they are! 

Note:

You might be wondering about the word fantabulous. You may not find it in a dictionary, but it is a word in our classroom. I made it up a few years ago. It’s a combination of fantastic and fantabulous — two words I say with some regularity. One day, while chatting with the kids I said it’d be great if there were a word that was both fantastic and fabulous … like … FANTABULOUS! 

It has joined the lexicon of our classroom, and appears to be moving on with the students and their families. Soon, perhaps, it will be found in the dictionary! 

Hey, Kindergarten!

Our supermarket build is in full swing, and it is spectacular!

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In this build, perhaps even more than in our other builds, communication and collaboration are key!  (So too is breathing, lol, but that is for another blog post!)

As we prepped for the build, my builders, engineers and architects had tons of ideas, but they directed them only to me – the teacher – even though their peers were sitting with us. So many awesome ideas, and so much potential for collaboration and elaboration, were being wasted!

I couldn’t take it anymore! I said “Eee gads. May I say something!”

They looked at me. The looks on their faces said “Eee gads? Did you just say, Eee gads!?” but no one spoke, they just waited.

I continued, “You have so many fantabulous ideas. But, when I call on you, and you look at me, and tell ME, instead of telling EVERYONE, no one else realizes you want THEM to listen, too! But they should! Everyone needs to hear your ideas. That way we can talk about them, or change them, or use them just like you said them!!!”

I paused, just for a moment, to let that sink in. Then I said, “So, can we try something?”

“Yeah.” “Yes.” “Sure.”

“Ok, so, if you have something to say, and you want only me to listen, say Hey Miss James! But, if you want everyone to listen, say Hey, Kindergarten!

They seemed excited by the plan. They asked, “So we say Hey, Kindergarten! if we have an idea of how to do something, or if we something we want to tell everyone?”

“Yup,” I responded. “And when we hear it, we’ll stop what we’re doing, look at you and say Hey (your name)! Then you can tell us your idea. OK?”

“Ok!”

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We had at least 8 announcements of “Hey Kindergarten!” in that 30 minute building period. It was a bit overwhelming (at least for me, lol). I thought I might have to figure out something to say to rein them in. But, as the days went by, they began using it more judiciously all on their own.

Sometimes I forget and just say “Kindergarten” or some other attention getting rhyme we have established, and get no response. Then one of them says “You should try saying ‘Hey, Kindergarten,’ Miss James!”

The first time they said that I laughed out loud and said “You’re right! I should!!!” So, I did, and they responded immediately  – “Hey, Miss James!” It was awesome.

There are so many things I like about “Hey, Kindergarten!”

  • I love that they are teaching each other by sharing their ideas, reflections and wonderings.
  • I love that they are listening to each other.
  • I love that “Hey, Kindergarten!” shares classroom control with them.
  • I love the joy they express when using it.
  • I love hearing them say it, and responding along with their peers.

But, i think what I love most is how it empowers them. Their ideas are being told, heard, respected and valued. And, THEY are calling their friends — and teacher — to listen. We are partners in this learning journey. I’m glad to give them a way to experience and express the partnership.

The things they have shared after saying “Hey, Kindergarten!” have been remarkable. I don’t think it is coincidental. I think they feel the value, power, liberty, and awesomeness of “Hey Kindergarten!” and it opens them.

Student Voice

This is always one of my favorite Kindergarten collaborative art pieces.

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I create some sort of stencil and we all (students, teachers, PS Director, Admin. Assistant, and Head of School)  use our hands and fingers to fill the stencil and create the piece of art.  This year I chose a flower with hearts inside.

I cropped the photo so the children’s names are not posted on the blog. The canvas is actually rectangular. The top has the year and the bottom has all the participant names.

Every other time I wrote our class rules on the canvas, and used the hand and fingerprints as a way to “sign” our promises to each other. “I will work hard. I will play fair. I will be kind.” They are super important things I want my students to remember and live.

But this time I didn’t do that! I happened to do yoga with them the day I finished the canvas. We did a relaxing yoga, finishing lying down, hands touching, saying our affirmations.

We are safe. We are sound. We are well. We are whole.

We are lucky. We are brave. We are joyful. We are fantabulous.

We are great. We are kind. We are smart. We are not the same.

We are strong. We are awesome. We are good. We are nice. 

We are joy. We make friends. We are relaxed. We like each other. 

Lovely right?

My students’ words were in my brain as I wrote their names on the canvas. As I considered how I might place the rules, I realized a more powerful statement for them to remember might be their own words of affirmation! Then they would be “signing” their own greatness. Saying “Yes!” to all the wonderful words of affirmation that they created during our yoga time.

 

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No need for my voice to always be the one speaking!

I hope, when they say the affirmations in yoga, or see them on the canvas, they feel empowered, strengthened, and joyed, by their own words and thoughts. It is a small thing, but I believe giving voice to their voice, highlighting it in my classroom,  will teach them that power, peace and affirmation reside within themselves as well as in others.

Great conversations

Our Thanksgiving Social Studies unit included a huge block build.We divided ourselves into three groups – those who remained in England and Holland, the Pilgrims/Saints who chose to leave on the Mayflower, and the Native Americans who were here when the Pilgrims/Saints arrived.

There were definitely times I wondered what I was thinking when I decided to work on this project. Many days I wondered how I would ever survive the energy, non-stop conversation, inquiry, work, and overall “mess” of the build. But survive it I did! And, wow, what a spectacular experience it was! My only regret is that I didn’t have a tape recorder running at all times. The conversations, questions, problem finding, problem solving, collaboration, joy, struggle, teamwork, negotiation, and creativity were remarkable.

We read books, watched youtube videos, and talked – a lot! The girls made sketches, as well as lists of things they wanted to include in each area. Then, unable to contain them any longer, the build began!

They were relentless in their work. The energy they brought to it was amazing. We usually worked in 30-60 minute increments, but often they wanted to spend more time, and continued to work during choice-time.

Here are some photos of the final product. They do not do justice to the incredible thought, work, and attention to detail the girls engaged in each day, but they will give you a sense of what was accomplished.

An overhead shot. England and Holland are to your right and include a castle, two homes and three windmills. The Mayflower sits in the ocean at center. The Native Americas are to your left and include a river (with a waterfall), a garden, round house and two long houses. 
_MG_4815Looking towards the Native American build from with the castle.

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 Looking at the Native American build from within the Mayflower.

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Looking toward the Mayflower from within the Native American build.

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The build was filled with problem finding and problem solving. How do we create a rounded structure from rectangular blocks? How do we make windmills? How do we create waterfalls? How do we represent fish in the ocean or rivers? What do squash look like? How can we create them for the garden? What do we do when our people don’t fit into our house? How do we negotiate when our neighbors want to add more ocean, or more land, or a larger river, and it crosses the line into our area? What do we do when our ideas are different than others in our group? And perhaps most thought-provoking – Where do we put the dead people?

The discussion regarding the dead people arose days after learning some perished on the ocean journey. Their discussion was practical: “Nope we do not want to store the dead people where we will be sleeping.” and “Maybe we can just throw them in the ocean.” But it was also filled with kindness and empathy: “Throwing them into the ocean wouldn’t be very nice.” They arrived at their solution after several extended discussions with each other and me. I didn’t offer solutions. I simply encouraged them to keep thinking, talking and problem solving. Eventually they decided the cereal box from our re-usable supplies would work perfectly.

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They didn’t only think about death. They also imagined people living – and giving birth! Directly in front of the “going to heaven box” they placed this woman – with her three babies!

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They treated the living with the same thoughtfulness they afforded the dead. “Did they have toys, Miss James?” “Did they have dolls?” After discussions about themselves and their parents, we decided they must have had some things to keep the children happy and entertained. They painstakingly created these cardboard dolls.

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They worked for nearly a month. When it was time to end the build, they resisted the notion of finishing and dismantling their work. “We aren’t done!” they insisted. I assured them their work had been thorough and fabulous. I explained we would do future builds – both exploratory and representational. Then I invited others in to see the build. The girls shared their work and their thinking as they gave the visitors tours of the build.

Finally it was time to clean up. It was a massive undertaking. But, it was a great part of the process. We had worked together to create the build, and now we worked together to “destroy” it.

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Eventually each block was sorted and stored, every piece of tape removed from the floor, each scrap of paper swept and recycled, and each handmade treasure safely stored in a girl’s bag. The canvas is clean, ready for our next creative learning experience! My fingers are crossed we will all be able to lean into the unknown, and experience another incredible build together.

Thinking, photographing, and conversing in the block center

Blocks are a fascinating medium. They provide endless opportunities for exploration, learning, growth and joy. While they have always been a part of our Kindergarten classroom, this year they are an integral part of our curriculum.

Blocks enable the girls to participate in all three domains of learning – cognitive, affective and physical/kinesthetic. The girls engage in mapping and spatial planning, collaborate with each other as they build, negotiate for space and use of blocks, and finally, when finished, conduct tours, as well as answer questions regarding their designs and buildings. The depth of thought and engagement is fantastic!

While building, the girls must think creatively and critically. What will they build? Where will they build? How will they create the various shapes and levels? What if the blocks they want are being used elsewhere, can they create that same block using other blocks? What if their structure is unstable and falls down, how can they re-engineer it for greater stability? Additionally, creative and critical thinking abounds as they furnish their buildings with accessories and special features, and as they create the community of persons who live in, or work in, their buildings.

My absolute favorite part of the process is documenting their work through photographs, and conversing with the girls regarding what I see.

It is incredible what I see, and don’t see, as I look through the camera. And it is fascinating and fabulous what I learn – about the girls, and their buildings – as I ask questions.

  • Can you tell me about your thinking?
  • What is this?
  • How does this work?
  • How did you make that? Is there any other way you could build that?
  • Tell me about this.
  • Hmmm. Could you create a way for …?
  • Why do you think …?
  • Oh wow! How did you decide to do that? How did you decide to do it that way?

Look …

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Do you notice the two people? The builder was hesitant to add people to her structure – although it had a multitude of spaces where people would congregate, play, and live. Finally after a bit of conversation, she added the larger figure. I admired the figure, listened to her explanation, and continued to photograph the other girls. When I looked back, I noticed she had added another person … on top of the first person’s head! I chuckled and said, “Is she standing on his head?” She looked at me as though I knew absolutely nothing and said “No, Miss James, he’s giving her a piggy back ride!” I responded, “OH MY GOSH! Of COURSE!!!! I get it now.” How else would we show that? She continued creating people – some standing on their heads, some on their feet, and stacked them 10 high on the original person’s head. Evidently, the circus was in town and the acrobats were staying at that apartment building!

Now, do you notice the face with blond hair and a crown? The girl added that to her castle when we were talking about adding people. Hmmm, I thought, I wonder what that is? So, I asked. “Hey, A. What is that? A ghost? A head with no body?” As with the other girl, she looked at me like I was a bit silly, chuckled and said, “No, Miss James, it’s the old queen.” I didn’t get it yet. “The old queen?” She continued her explanation, “Yes, a picture of the old queen, on the wall! Look here is one of the old king!” I laughed and said, “Oh! I love it! Pictures of the people who used to be here. Fantastic! Does someone live in the castle now? Will you be adding them to the castle?” She assured me that she would.

Finally, do you notice the doorway (archway) that appears to have two entrances? I loved it as a structure and architectural detail but I was intrigued to know what the girl was thinking when she created it. “M. would you tell me about this?” She launched into a detailed description – complete with a demonstration – regarding the planning, purpose and use of the doors. Evidently there are good and evil people in her realm – of varying sizes. The good people, big and small, can enter the castle using the appropriate opening. But, should an evil person approach the doorway, the single arch magically moves to block their entrance. And, I believe, should they have somehow made it past that safety measure, there was a trap door waiting for them upon entering!

Fabulous, isn’t it? Their ability to imagine is quite remarkable, eye-opening and entertaining. But, had I not engaged them in conversation with open ended questions, I would not have understood the depth of their thinking!