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.

Card Carrying Members!

If you read my blog with any regularity, you know I’m a fan of the cloud – blogging about it least 5 times! (In the Cloud with Uri Alon, The Cloud in the Classroom,  Yes And In the ClassroomLittle Tweaks Big ResultsThe Cloud Appreciation Society)

The reality of “the cloud” is super helpful to me as I think creatively, venture into new arenas, learn, create, and live.  About 2 weeks ago I blogged about being a proud card carrying member of the Cloud Appreciation Society!

Remarkably I realized I didn’t think my students were card carrying members of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Crazy, right? I love the cloud. I know it’s helpful. I believe Uri when he says the cloud “stands guard at the boundary between the known and the unknown.” I believe the cloud is a fundamental and essential part of learning.

WHY hadn’t I ever talked to my students about it?

I have no idea. But, I’ve changed all that!

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The other day I shared the secret of the cloud with them! I drew a cloud on the board and we talked about clouds and fog. Then I told them there are a lot of times when learning is all about being in the cloud, and being brave enough to stay there – even though we can’t quite see where we are going. I shared that I am often in the cloud when I am learning new things. I said I’m even in the cloud sometimes when I’m preparing a lesson for them!

Then, I told them I believed in them so much I was going to throw them right into the middle of the cloud!

I told them I was going to ask them to do some math, and not just any math, but math that is even hard for some adults! It’s a math puzzle called the Tower of Hanoi. (You can play it here if you’d like to give it a go.)

I grabbed 3 blocks and a 3 square template, and explained the rules. My kids asked some great questions – showing me they were already thinking of ways to solve the puzzle.

I assured them they would all be able to figure it out. It might  not be easy, but they could do it. If they got stuck they should just remember they were in the cloud – and that was GREAT! If they needed help to guide them a bit in the cloud they could talk with a teacher or a friend.

I challenged them to stay in the cloud. “If it’s hard, don’t fret. Stay in the cloud. Take a breath. Believe in yourself. Keep going. … If working with 3 blocks is easy, throw yourself back in the cloud by challenging yourself to do 4 blocks!”

It was FANTASTIC!!! It was hard for some of them. And the fact that it was hard, was frustrating and discombobulating to some who felt it shouldn’t have been hard.

I’m glad! That in itself is learning. Thinking is hard. Math is hard. But it’s also good, and possible, and fun … exhilarating even … as you struggle through the cloud.

We worked on the Towers for 3 days – reworking the ones we had figured out the day before, adding blocks and trying again. Each day we talked about the cloud. Each day I told them how spectacular it was to be in the cloud with them.

After our inaugural jump into the cloud, we each signed an “I love the cloud! I am a learning superhero!” sheet. On Friday, I presented each of them a laminated card (a reduced copy of their signed sheet) and welcomed them as “card carrying members” of the I love the Cloud Club. It was awesome.

One of the girls asked if she could make an announcement during closing circle on Friday. I said “Sure.”

Confident in her thoughts, but unsure what she would share, I listened attentively. I nearly melted as I heard her thoughts.

She extolled the greatness of being in the cloud, the joy of thinking you couldn’t do it, but then realizing you could.

It was amazing.

Seeing Spelling With New Eyes

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I read this the other day. When I reached the end and read buttufele, I had an epiphany about spelling!

Spelling is a remarkably daring journey into  possibility thinking, creativity and design!

When trying to share our ideas, encode sounds and/or spell words we all go through the following steps:

Possibility thinking: How might we use what we already have/know in a new way? What letters or letter combinations are possible?

Creativity: We have to be brave and take risks.We use what we know to make something new and useful.

Design: We define a design challenge. ( For instance, write the word – beautifully.) We ideate. (butfoolee, beyuootefooly, beeyutyfuly, buttufele), and prototype (see illustration above). Then we test. (Can I read it? Can someone else read it? Can the person I wrote it for read it?) Our test provides us with data, and perhaps, new understanding. The process then begins again for this, or some other, word.

I love this understanding of spelling. It brings an element of play, and ease into the process of spelling. It embraces the fact that the spelling process, like all other design processes, often includes failing.

I’m wondering if approaching spelling this way, might make it easier for our students. Understanding they are choosing a design (spelling) challenge might empower them. Being creative might infuse joy into the process. Embracing failure as a natural part of spelling might diffuse some fear, and increase learning.

I’m going to work on my language and give it a go with my learners. I’m hopeful!

And just a note: Conventional spelling can also be approached as a design challenge. except now the challenge might be “Spell beautifully as it is found in library books, or on dictionary.com.”

Translation in case it is needed: She is very pretty. She is funny and she is goofy. She is a kind princess. She lives in Westfield. She sings songs beautifully.

 

The Cloud Appreciation Society

“In the middle of my Ph.D., I was hopelessly stuck. Every research direction that I tried led to a dead end. It seemed like my basic assumptions just stopped working.” (Uri Alon)

Yay, baby, me too. When working on my MA, and again yesterday!

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I was all set: overhead projector rigged up, design sketched out – fabulous! Then I stepped back to admire my work, and …. hated it! Everything that had been clear and lovely, was now out of proportion and displeasing. What had happened? Why hadn’t I thought about the distortion that would occur when I enlarged the design?

Frustrated I thought “Eee gads! What am I going to do now?”

I'm in the cloud,- and I say, -Great, you must be feeling miserable.- (Laughter) But I'm kind of happy, because we might be close to the boundary between the known and the unknown, and w

Thankfully I recalled I’m a card carrying member of the “Cloud Appreciation Society!” I said “Come on girl! Acknowledge you’re in the cloud. Be happy. Breathe. Trust the process.”

24 hours and several attempts later, I’m back on track.

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But, now I’m thinking about the cloud and my students. Have I told them about about the cloud? Are they card carrying members of the Cloud Appreciation Society? I don’t think so.

I’m going to make some cards and remedy that ASAP!

Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

I’m in the second week of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC. I’ve been thinking about George Couros’s Critical Questions for the Innovative Educator(Chapter 2, pages 39-41). They are fantastic!

I love the first question!

Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

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This question implies a deep sense of respect for our students. We are treating them as ourselves. We are acknowledging and treating them as:

  • people who can learn.
  • people who love to learn.
  • people who, when given the chance, will choose to learn.
  • accomplished learners.
  • people who know things.
  • people whose ideas are valuable.
  • people whose needs and wants are respected and considered.
  • people with interests and passions.
  • people who are good at some things, but not so good at others.
  • people who deserve, and are given,  reasonable freedom, choice and agency.
  • people who are teachers as well as learners.
  • people who inspire others.

What a fantastic way to approach our students and inform our practice!

I ask myself three additional questions when I reflect on my practice.

Will this increase my students’ love of learning? 

Will this empower my students to achieve their academic and creative potential? 

Will this position them for greater thinking and creativity in the future? 

My goal is to be able to answer, “Yes!” to each of these questions. Most of the times I can. Sometimes, though, I have to say “Hmmm … not so much.”

But, since I’m asking the questions, the answer “Hmmm … not so much.” isn’t so bad. In fact, maybe it’s actually good!

Now I have the opportunity to think, learn, ideate, iterate, and come up with new ideas. Ideas that will make me want to be  a learner in my class, and that will increase my student’s love of learning, will empower them to achieve their potential, and will position them for greater thinking and creativity in the future!

 

 

 

School can be amazing!

I’m reading Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros aka the Principal of Change. I resisted buying it and reading it for quite some time now because, whew, I am one busy girl. But, then I discovered the #IMMOOC – an Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course!

I was hooked!! Yes, I know, you are wondering, “Hmmm, Molly, perhaps I’m mistaken, but didn’t you just say you didn’t have time to READ the book? Isn’t a MOOC more work than just reading? Have you, by chance, lost your mind?”

What a great question! I do feel in some ways, that I have fallen over the edge into some sort of madness, lol. But, I know that feeling is not exactly accurate. My decision feels a bit mad because it will mean I get less sleep, more struggle, and more work.

However, feelings aren’t always truth. In reality the decision to be part of #IMMOOC is actually quite sane and wonderful. I get to be part of, and interact with, a huge network of people invested in their own personal learning, and passionate about impacting education (and the world) for the better!  How could anyone, much less me, pass that up?!?!!!!

So, here I am, in the midst of the #IMMOOC, unsure of where exactly we are supposed to be in the book and our blogging, but loving where I am! I’ve read some of the book, reflected, engaged in the twitter chat (And might I just say, the #IMMOOC twitter chat people had incredible energy and passion. It started at 9pm my time. By 9:40 my eyes were bleary and my head was exploding. I took the gems I had read so far, reveled in the excitement for a moment longer, toyed with the idea of staying, but decided discretion is the better part of valor, and quietly left the chat for some much needed sleep.) and now have begun blogging about the Innovator’s Mindset. So, with that said, let me get to it.

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My first “You go, man!” came in the publishers forward, when I read “School can be amazing.” Before I continue, I’d like to suggest an edit. I think it should read, “School can be amazing!” Or, even, “School can be AMAZING!”

All too often I hear people comment — in support of school NOT being amazing — “It is school after all.” Eee gads, people. School can, and should be, amazing! If it isn’t, we are doing something wrong. Learning is awesome. Exploration is amazing. Discovery is exciting. How do we go from that to “It is school after all?”

I heard Ken Robinson speak at the NAIS conference on Friday. (Magnificent as always!) He mentioned a horrifying statistic. He said “According to the World Health Organization, unipolar depressive disorders were ranked as the third leading cause of the global burden of disease in 2004 and will move into the first place by 2030.” I thought of that as I read the introduction to George’s book. George says:

“Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s kids. … our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or the mechanics of a task but to spark curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own.  To wonder. To explore. To become leaders.” (Innovator’s Mindset p. 4)

I would add to that list, if I may be so bold:

To struggle. To fail – and  through the failure, to learn and thrive. To consider possibilities. To find new answers and new questions. To know the joy of learning. To inspire, challenge, and teach each other, and us.

I believe in the profound work we do as educators, and the (to quote my El Sistema and Reggio friends) transformative power of education. It is not, in my humble opinion, that schools can be amazing. It is that schools should, and must be, amazing.

We have the power to positively impact the future of our youth and our world. The transformative power of education, in the hands of innovative educators who believe in the incredible beauty, goodness, power, and ability of all our students, can change the future, and cause the WHO to have to reassess and change their prediction for 2030.

A girl can hope!

 

 

 

Sometimes it’s magic!

Back in December 2015 I blogged about the hard fabulous work involved in the creative process of designing, burning and painting my bathroom door. I reveled in, and blogged about, the “angst, sweat and splendor” of creativity.

Fast forward to today! I’m working on the other side of that door. Same door, same creative process, same art medium, but, significantly different awareness and observations!

Today I experienced the intense magic of creativity and the creative process! I know it’s not real magic, but, wow, it sure feels like it.

My idea was to design a tree for the door. I thought it would be cool  if the tree seemed to begin, and continue, past what the eye could see. Problem was, I couldn’t quite figure out the layout. The shape of the door was too skinny to accommodate my design.

There was no way the tree I imagined was going to fit on the door. It was impossible. But for some reason, I couldn’t let go of the idea. There had to be a tree on my door. And, not some skinny, little tree, but the big bold tree of my dreams.

I wasn’t being stubborn, or trying to force my design upon the door. I was simply doing what seemed right. The tree already existed, right there, on the door, in my mind’s eye. It seemed completely inconceivable that it wouldn’t, at some point, be on my door in real life! Somehow I knew it would work out. I just had no idea how or when. So, without any real plan, I kept thinking about it, believing in it, looking for it, and frankly, often just forgetting about it, as I waited for the answer to find me!

And, today it finally did!

This afternoon I was overcome with an urgency to sit down and design my door. No matter where I turned, or what I did, I couldn’t escape the feeling. I finally just gave in.

I gathered up a large sketch book, a favorite pencil and eraser, a cup of tea, and my laptop. I did a bit more online research, and printed out a few trees and branches that struck my fancy.  I measured the door, and prepped my sketch book with some boxes of the correct ratio.

I made a few iterations of possible trees. I looked at my creations and the images I printed, from various angles. After only 3 or 4 tries, I developed a design I liked. It is both similar, and completely different from, my original idea. But, despite the differences, it is ideal in its ability to bring me joy, and fit on the door!

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Once I reached this point, I could move no further. The time of clarity, inspiration, and ease was past. For a few moments I struggled to press on, and felt the angst of being unable to do so.

So, I just sat, holding my pencil, breathing, looking and thinking. Slowly the angst dissipated. What remained was wonder and gratitude. I was amazed by the drawing before me, and even more so, by the process. That process, those moments of creative lucidity and productivity, were beautiful, and mysterious.

I want more, and I believe they will come.

Meanwhile, I trust in the process and proceed accordingly.  I think. I look. I notice. I breathe. I work, and I walk. I love the suggestion that my walks in the beautiful outdoors will help my tree to bloom on my door!

For now, my sketch waits in my bathroom … close enough to be seen, far away enough to be forgotten …

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as I await the next time of creative magic, angst, sweat and splendor!

I can’t wait!

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Student Voice in Art

I enjoy Andy Warhol’s use of bold, sometimes unexpected colors in his photographic prints. Some of my favorites are his flowers and Marilyn Monroe. Oh, lol, and his pink cow on a yellow background!

I pondered many Warhol inspired art projects for my Kindergartners. I wanted the project to have Warhol’s repeated images and use of bold colors, but I also wanted it to be child and time friendly. After many iterations I decided I would have them use their hands as the repeated element.

The steps I decided upon were:

  1. Trace each hand, with some overlap in order to create spaces on the page, and then go over their tracing with sharpie markers of their color choosing.
  2. Use liquid watercolor paint to create the background – filling the different spaces with different colors.
  3. Place their hand-print inside each drawn hand. (Painting each palm with a color of their choosing.)
  4. Use colorful dots and rectangular pieces to create bracelets on each of their wrists.
  5. Finally, create something to glue onto the palms of their hands.

I was very happy with the process, and mildly happy with how my sample turned out. I wished I could be very happy with my sample, but no matter how I tried to change it, I couldn’t get it to a place I loved, so I decided to stop fretting, trust the process, and see what my young artists were able to create.

Soon after beginning someone expressed alarm, “I painted the watercolor on one of my fingers. I wasn’t supposed to do that, was I?” All eyes looked to me. “No worries,” I said, “Look at the art Andy Warhol did. Does it look like he stayed in all the lines?” They responded with a relieved “No.”

Shortly thereafter, someone noticed a friend painting the inside of her hands. She seemed to have forgotten, or not really heard my instructions, or was just enjoying her process. “You’re not supposed to paint inside your hands with the watercolor! Right, Miss James? She’s not doing it right!”

The hand-painting artist looked up with a look of dismay. I took a breath and thought … What is really important here? Is it OK? Might she, and any other, paint inside the hands?

With that brief moment to think I realized what was important, and I said, “Well, I did say we weren’t going to paint inside our hands with the watercolor. But, do you think she is being inspired by Andy Warhol? Is she using bold, unexpected color? Is she making each hand different in some way?” They all responded, “Yes!” I smiled, and continued “I didn’t think about painting inside the hands with watercolor, so I didn’t do it. And, I didn’t suggest it to you. But, I think it’s a great idea. If you like it, give it a go. Let’s see how they come out.”

Everyone went back to work. As I walked around the room I was amazed by the beauty and depth in these Kindergartner artists work. It was far more lovely than mine. I told them “Wow! I love your ideas and your work. Painting the insides of your hands, and using so many colors for the background were really beautiful ideas! I think what you have created is so much better than mine. Thank you for sharing your ideas and art courage with me! I’m going to share your ideas with the artists tomorrow! (Art is done in half groups.)

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I could have easily said “No!” when asked if they could deviate from my process. I could have required them to work with my ideas, my thoughts, my creativity. But, I – we – would have lost so much if I had! Being clear about what was important – following the big ideas of Warhol’s prints, and finding our own artistic voice – I was able to let go, quiet my voice, and let their voices grow strong.

I’m so glad I did.

 

Firetrucks Fuel Thinking!

My Kindergartners visit the local firehouse each fall. Prior to going, we do a bit of research, share knowledge, wonder, ask questions, and make our own fire trucks!

This year we made our trucks out of shoe boxes. Using the boxes was super fun because by their very nature, the boxes opened up new avenues of creativity! The cardboard offered structure and strength, but also yielded to scissors, serrated knives, and hole punchers. Glue, paste, paint, crayons, tape and markers all adhered to the boxes with some ease. And, spectacularly,  the lids – connected or free – invited the kids to engage with the outside AND the inside of their truck.

Once we began creating, I allowed my students a great amount of freedom. I didn’t do much directing, but instead offered myself as a resource. Sometimes they borrowed my hands to hold things, my strength to cut or hole punch, or my brain for some brainstorming and collaborative problem solving.

I did my best to allow the ideas and suggestions to come from them. In this way, they are able to take ownership, learn about themselves, and really show me (and themselves) what they are able to do, what they know, and how they think.

Making the firetrucks was a fun and fascinating process. The creations displayed a depth of knowledge and understanding. The students displayed an eye for detail and a willingness to work to achieve their vision.

Take a look at this firefighter.

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She is decked out in firefighting gear, and most amazingly, she is in a seat with back bracing AND a working seat belt!

Some students engaged deeply with the open-ended part of the creative process, but not as deeply with the critical thinking part of the creative process. Their trucks were filled with a plethora of beautiful creations that didn’t immediately suggest a firetruck.

To encourage the critical thinking piece, our creative process includes adding labels, and giving tours of their truck. During the tour we look at what they’ve made, and talk about what the firefighters might still need.

Take a look at this truck. During the tour, the student told me these things were “decorations.”

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Decorations? Hmmm. Where did I take that? I didn’t want to belittle her creative work, but I did want her to remember the goal, and work towards it. So, I decided to embrace every piece of her creation, and push her towards figuring out what each thing might be on a firetruck. What do the firefighters need? How could her creations fill those needs.

My approach invited her to look at her own work with new eyes. It was a form of possibility thinking. She had to move beyond what each item was. She had to think about what she knew firefighters need. Then she had to look at each “decoration” and consider what it might be. She did an awesome job.

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Decorations turned into motors, sirens, buckets, hoses and windows!

I learned a lot from that encounter. I was affirmed in my choice to trust myself, my student, the creative process, and possibility thinking.

There is such awesomeness and power in each one of us – especially when we trust and engage in creativity and possibility thinking.