Cancer? Yes, and …

Each summer I head to Boston for my yearly Dana Farber visit. I’m happy and grateful to have these remarkable people on my healing team. At the same time, as my appointment approaches,  I experience a relatively serious amount of stress and anxiety. Even looking up the website to share as a link sent waves of nausea crashing over me!

The nausea isn’t about them — it’s about the cancer and my relationship to it. I’m relentlessly positive, and do  many really wonderful things to strengthen myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But, my positivity, and all my other good work, is sometimes overshadowed by my angst.

I needed a bit of a jolt to amp up my game. So, I buzzed off to see Catherine — a beautifully creative and awesome human being — for some henna and positive vibes.

She knew I wanted something powerful that could speak to me, and others. She didn’t disappoint.

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How fantabulous is it?!! In case you’re not sure, the correct answer is “Awesomely fantabulous!!!”

Beyond the artistry, it’s fantabulous for the power it holds. It’s a philosophy of open acceptance of what is, and what can be.

Look …

Yes, I have to go to Dana Farber each summer, and frequently have blood drawn, and that is a great privilege and opportunity.

Yes, I am experiencing angst and stress, and I am happy and blessed.

Yes, I have cancer, and I have incredible health.

Yes

and, I am happy.

and, I am loved.

and, my body is working for optimal health, my mind is working for optimal learning, my spirit is working for optimal awesomeness.

and, there are untold possibilities. Possibilities that I know, and ones I have yet to discover or imagine.

As I write my yes, and thoughts, I realize there is a better, more creative way to look at my yes, and lists. I can be creative, re-think, re-cognize.

Often my and, is actually my yes. 

I have cancer. Yes.

It feels huge, overpowering and all encompassing. It is a yes in my life, but absolutely, positively, not the essential yes of my life.

The essential yesses of my life are:

Yes, I am blessed, and … 

Yes, I am happy, and … 

Yes, I am loved, and … 

Yes, I am healthy,  and … 

Yes, my body, mind, and spirit are working for optimal health, learning, and awesomeness, and … 

Yes, the world is full of possibility, and … 

Yes, I am, and am surrounded by, incredible abundance, and … 

I’m digging the space that surrounds the yes, and in Catherine’s design.  It speaks of the space we take as we hear, say and wonder about yes, and.  It is a space waiting to be filled with breath, thoughts, conversation, prayer, openness, insight, creativity, being, and possibility.

Yes, and.

I embrace the power and possibility, and wait with curious and hopeful joy.

 

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A Conversation with Frank Gehry

I first heard of Frank Gehry, several years ago, when I visited the EMP (Experience Music Project — now know as the Museum of Pop Culture) in Seattle, Washington. It’s a remarkable building! It features Gehry’s folds, and some awesome finishes that reflect light, images, and shadows in fascinating ways.

It’s wild, and so unlike other buildings I had experienced. I was fascinated by how it interacted with the things around it – including me. I could have taken photographs for days!

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I was reminded of Gehry and his building, the other day when I noticed Master Class, offered a class of Gehry teaching design and architecture! How cool is that? I haven’t finished the class yet, but I’ve already been inspired.

Now, to be clear. Frank and I didn’t sit down over a cup of tea, and converse. Our conversation began when I experienced his building, and picked up again with his master class. As I think, talk with others, and allow his words and ideas — as well as my thoughts and responses — to impact me as a creative and an educator, our conversation continues.

Two thoughts really struck me.

“My advice is forgot about creative block. Assume you’re always blocked. Just keep trying. Creative block is an excuse out of fear. I don’t think it’s relevant, and I think you should forget about it.”

Interesting, right? Instead of being bothered if you feel blocked, just let it be. Recognize it as a natural state of being as a creative, and keep doing your thing.

I’m reminded of Uri Alon’s idea of the cloud,  and think Gehry’s idea can have similar power in the classroom. Much like our thinking, sometimes our creating appears to happen easily, almost magically. Often my girls ask me, with voices filled with awe and disbelief, “Wow. How did you do that, Miss James?” They only see what I can do after hours of struggling with my own blocks. Even the blocks that I may be experiencing at the time they query me, are invisible to them, because like Gehry, I just accept them and move forward.

What an amazing concept to share with my students.  Being blocked is  a natural state for creatives. It would be fabulous to help lessen the power of their own blocks and worries. It’d be amazing to help them get to the point where they felt the blocks, even acknowledged they were feeling them, and then dismissed them, with a “No worries!”

Perhaps I need to think of a Gehry mini lesson. Maybe I should include other artists as well. Or, it could be that it’s not a mini lesson at all. It could be I just live a bit more transparently — sharing my own process of blocks, fretting, noticing, breathing (with an eye-roll in the general direction of my blocks), and moving on.

The second quote follows nicely after the first.

“Trust it, don’t force it, don’t leave it. Take a risk even if you know it doesn’t work … Where’s the line and what can you do with that information? If you’re relentless you can make the fly that stops the train.”

I love the idea of balance — trust, without force and without abandonment. Take a risk. See what innovative, creative, outlandishly wild, and fabulous ideas you can hatch. Then, see how far forward you can take your ideas.

And his question is power-packed. “What can you do with that information?” You don’t just create something, or fail, no matter how spectacularly you do either. You notice, you learn, and you do something with the information.

Thanks for the conversation, Frank! I have so many great thoughts and truths to share with my students.

Now to integrate these understandings  more deeply into my life and being, so I can bring them into my practice and classroom with ease. I’m looking forward to the conversations, provocations, questions, learning , risks, successes and failures …. and things I have yet to imagine.

 

Seized by Curiosity

I was just reading a great book, and laughed out loud — with surprise and delight — when I read this line:

… but then, curiosity seizes me: How is it possible ...”

Say it to yourself again. “But then, curiosity seizes me!” Isn’t that a remarkable thought — to be seized by curiosity? Lots of images of curiosity seizing me flooded my mind  — images of what it might look like in reality, and what it might look like with curiosity anthropomorphized! At first I just chuckled and thought, ” I love that!”

But then, struck by the power and pleasure that comes when one is seized by curiosity, I thought. “Geez, how often do I make space for curiosity in my life, and in my classroom?”

So much is wound up with curiosity:

  • surprise
  • wonder
  • dreaming
  • questioning
  • thinking
  • trying
  • searching
  • being immersed
  • intensity
  • freedom
  • agency
  • interest
  • desire
  • a beginner’s mind
  • possibility
  • joy
  • inspiration
  • awe
  • time
  • opportunity
  • learning
  • discovery

I like it all — curiosity and all of its richness, needs, characteristics, and possible outcomes.

I want more of it — in my life, and in my classroom!

 

Feeding My Creative Soul

“Feeding my creative soul.”

Just saying those words makes me breathe deep, and experience a wave of peace and enthusiastic child-like joy. Summer break, is the perfect time to engage in the many creative things that nourish me. Yesterday I took five online ukulele lessons. It was fabulous. I learned a lot, laughed at myself, enjoyed playing and singing, and discovered it is quite easy to trip up my brain and fingers. But, no worries, the laughter and enjoyment had me taking notes, and jotting down exercises to practice in order to increase my proficiency.

Today I’m in Princeton waiting to take a fencing lesson with my brother, Harry (He’s a fantabulous coach, by the way). Knowing that I would have a long wait, I packed a bag with yoga magazines, a mindfulness book, my laptop, and my traveling watercolor set.  Settling at the table, I didn’t even consider the many things I brought. I immediately grabbed the watercolor set. I chuckled to myself thinking “Why did you even bring the other things. You knew you would paint if given the chance.”

So, a little background. For months now, I’ve been thinking about a leaf painting I’ve promised a friend. A few nights ago I sat down with the paper determined to begin to work on it, instead of just think about it.

It sat there, looking at me. I sat there, looking at it.  I loved the leaf shapes I had traced — from real leaves found on the trail. I loved the black and white starkness, and if I may continue speaking of the paper as though it were a living, breathing, thinking being, so did it. But, we both wanted to see it come alive with color. More sitting, looking and thinking ensued. Then, it seemed we reached a decision together —  I would start, not with paint, but with ideas and inspiration.

I googled “watercolor leaf painting.”Wow! A plethora of fantabulous videos popped up. I was enthralled, and watched videos until my eyes were closing.  I had to do more exploring and practicing before I painted the leaves, but I had to paint something. So, instead of the leaves, I painted the background a black watercolor. I set the painting on my desk to inspire me when I awoke.

I mentioned my evening of study to the friend who will someday have the painting. She said “Molly, don’t spend so much time on it. It’s ok. Just enjoy your summer.” What she didn’t immediately understand was the joy I find in the process of watching someone create, and in learning how I might do the same.

Today I came prepared to move from simply watching, to watching and playing. I once more googled watercolor leaves, and found this video by Yashima Creates.

Her ideas and sensibilities resonated with me — experiment, try, be ok with my lack of expertise, and just paint. I enjoyed discovering the benefits and deficits of my brushes and my hand. I embraced the process, and enjoyed playing and seeing what emerged.

I have so much to learn, explore, master, and enjoy. But, for now I’m happy with this process and product. The color, and the composition that grew from the practice marks on the page rather than a plan are very pleasing to me. I know there is a lesson beyond watercolors that I am learning. For now I cannot express it in words, but it is there none-the-less.

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As I painted, and cleaned my brush on the towel next to me, I thought about my students. They would “ooh” and “ahh” about my painting, and tell me I am the best painter in the world. They would love my cleaning towel, and declare it a work of art, or a paper suitable for other creative pursuits.

It is lovely to have them encourage me even while they are not with me. I hope they hear my voice in their heads, over the summer and in years to come, encouraging them, affirming them, and calling them on to even greater things.

Hardware and Tools in Kindergarten

I’m always thinking of tools I can bring in to the Makerspace for my students to experience, and learn to use. I’ve brought bread knives to use as saws (always using clear and easy to remember rules, and always supervised by an adult), carpenter pencils and pencil sharpeners, tri-squares, mechanical rulers, mechanical tape measures, and levels.

This spring, as we began our supermarket build, I decided to enrich our world with nuts, bolts, machine screws, adjustable wrenches, phillips head screwdrivers and square head screwdrivers. When my students entered the Makerspace and noticed the new things sorted into our maker-trolly, they immediately began experimenting, asking questions, and sharing thoughts.

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Not all of them knew what the wrench was, or how to use it. I quickly swore those who knew how to use the wrench, to strict secrecy. I told them they had to keep it a secret for one week. If by Friday, the others hadn’t figured it out, they could teach them. But, until then, they had to let the others use their big beautiful brains and experimentation to discover it on their own. Many figured it out, and any that didn’t were happily taught by those in the know.

They loved using the tools and the hardware. Sometimes they would put the bolts/screws, washers, and nuts together using their fingers as the tools, at other times, they used the wrenches and screwdrivers. Our first foray into using them in the build was when they realized they could plunge the bolts/screws into the foam shelf they had created.

foam shelf

This required me to help them because the foam as actually a bit too thick for the size bolts/screws I had purchased. Cognizant of how impossible it was for them to succeed at this task on their own, I began thinking of specific projects that didn’t require so much help from me.

I came up with two.

The first  was an art project. I thought creating people with articulated arms and legs would be a fun way for them to learn about the nuts, bolts, and washers. It required a good bit of thinking, risking, imagining and creating as well as significant manual dexterity and work.

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We talked a bit about how to use the hardware, and what was possible because of it — movement, and tightening the arms and legs into particular positions. We also discussed the possible pitfalls — poking yourself with the pencil that you used to make a hole for the bolt, making the hole too close to the edge thereby ripping the cardboard piece, and putting the bolt on backwards which would make hanging it darn near impossible because it was too far from the wall.

They were fantabulous workers, thinkers and creators! They were careful about positioning their holes, and making them. They persisted — counting out their hardware, changing bolts if they put them on backwards, and taking the time needed to accomplish their personal visions for their people.

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And gosh, did they imagine and create! Mothers with babies, a girl in a tuxedo, Draco Malfoy, girls with 3-D curly hair, a baby sucking a binky, and designer boots are just a bit of what they did.

Here are some of their people hanging in our art gallery:
 cropped dolls

The second project was creating sturdy shelves for the supermarket. By now they were pros at using the tools and hardware. With intensity and proficiency, they worked together to secure the shelves to the boxes. One climbed inside to install the washer, and tighten the nut. Another worked from the outside, holding the bolt in place to allow it to be tightened.

shelves

Meanwhile, the girls developed their own use for the tools and their skills. I loved all they thought of doing.

As they played with the hardware, they discovered many interesting configurations outside the normal purview of nuts and bolts. One presented me with this:

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Me: “Thanks! What is it? How do I use it?”

Student “Well, it could be jewelry … (significant thought) … or it could just be a fun              rolling toy!”

Me: “Indeed it could! I love it.”

Finally as they progressed even further in their comfort with the tools and hardware — and their belief in themselves as capable of doing anything necessary with them —  they enlarged their scope of projects. Seeing me unboxing two new sensory tables, one of my girls noticed the bolts, nuts and washers.

Student: “What’s that, Miss James?”

Me: “New sensory tables.”

Student: “What are you doing with them?”

Me: “I’m going to put them together.”

Student: “I can help!”

I love that she declared her ability to help. She didn’t ask! She knew I would accept help, so she just jumped in as my furniture building colleague! It was awesome!

I am particularly fond of this photograph as it captures the truth of the moment. The tip of the sneaker in the left hand corner is mine. I like that it indicates my presence, but the hands holding the tools are the hands of a 6 year old girl! That is one empowered girl!!!

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“Rock on with your fantabulous self, my girl. Rock on!”

Play is Fun and Powerful

The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, and the Toy Association  collaborated to host a Genius of Play event at the Smithsonian on April 25th. I had the distinct joy of being asked to be one of the panelists! Of course, I accepted.

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The panelists included:

Vikas Gupta — Co-founder and CEO of Wonder Workshop, and maker of the award-winning Dash, Dot and Cue robots. James McLurkin —  Inventor and Senior Hardware Engineer at Google. Jeri Robinson — Vice President of Early Childhood Initiatives at the Boston Children’s Museum. And, Me, Molly James — Creativity Researcher, and Kindergarten Teacher at Kent Place School.

Our conversation on the panel centered on play and its place in learning and schools, creativity, and innovation.

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Have you ever considered how you would define play?

I am always thinking about play and creativity, but for the weeks preceding the panel, I did so with increased attention. I observed my students, and noticed all the remarkable insights, skills, discoveries, and joys they experienced as they played. I read articles, thought, and chatted with fellow creatives.

At times, as if it were to keep my head from exploding, I would have to write. I would write streams of consciousness, questions, wonderings, ideas, and things to look up. With those thoughts safely recorded in my notebook, my brain seemed free for new ideas and questions. This continued for many cycles.. Then, on the train to DC, and at breakfast the morning of the event, several things became crystal clear.

As I rode the train, I wondered how I would succinctly express my ideas. I could talk about play and creativity forever, but how could I do it as part of a panel, in a few sound bites? I decided to see what the dictionary had to say about  play.

I was shocked. I hadn’t read the definitions previously because I didn’t want to risk plagiarizing any of their ideas. I wanted my definition to be my own — from my own experience and research as an educator, and a person who plays. After reading the definitions, I realized there was no chance I’d be stealing their words.

The definitions I found were remarkably different from mine. They made play sound frivolous, purposeless, and unimportant. Nothing was further from what I believe to be the truth.

With these definitions as the way play is explained and understood, it’s no wonder it’s sometimes difficult to convince others of the significance of play in life, learning, creativity, and innovation. I would LOVE the dictionaries to have a definition of play that more correctly explains its essence, and highlights its importance. I wonder how one goes about getting a definition in the dictionary changed?

While perhaps not short enough for an entry in Merriam Webster, or dictionary.com, here is what I consider a much more accurate and appropriate definition of play.

Play is a fun and powerful way of interacting with the world — with people, things, thoughts, and ideas. The fun of play is a large part of its power. When we play we laugh, we let go of worry, we fret less, and we breathe more.  This helps our brains — regardless of our ages or tasks — be more open and able to explore possibilities, entertain new ideas, and learn. When we play we are so much more willing to take risks — and even when we fail, we discover that failure isn’t the end, instead it’s the opportunity to begin the game again — stronger and smarter!

I was not alone in that understanding. All the panelists shared experiences and beliefs in the importance and power of play for all ages — at home, work, and school. It was great to hear such a unified message from a panel of people with very different backgrounds and occupations.

There were so many other great thoughts and ideas presented and discussed about the importance of play. When the video is posted on the Smithsonian page I will blog again and link to it.

The whole event  — arriving early and chatting with Jeri; meeting Monica, James, and Vikas; laughing and sharing our hopes to “not sound like idiots”; the receptions; and the panel itself — was spectacular. There was a ton of brilliance, thinking, collaboration, humility, awesomeness, laughter, honesty, passion, and playfulness on that stage.

Being part of this panel for the  Innovative Lives Series helped me to more fully embrace my expertise and fantabulousness! I presented with the big boys and girls, and in the process, I discovered, I am one of them!

 




Post script:

May 2014 I earned my MA Creative Thinking. A little over a year later, I had this blog, and a published paper. Four years later, an invitation to the Smithsonian.

Wow!

Gotta give a huge shout out to Karl K. Jeffries and his program at UCLan!  You, Karl, are a spectacular mentor, and creative thinker. And, a huge thank you to the many others who walk this creative, playful, fantabulous journey with me. I’m incredibly grateful!

 

 

 

A Joyful Rebellion of Kindness

Awhile back I participated in the UC Berkeley’s MOOC The Science of Happiness. It was a great course — a ton of work — but a great course. One of the interesting things they suggested is that children have innate altruistic tendencies. Their research and information was compelling and hopeful!

The other day, my Kindergartners and I watched Joyful Rebellion by Brad Montague (Kid President’s brother-in-law).

It’s a great little video with encouragement and challenge. He invited us to to acknowledge our greatness and power, to dream big, and fill the world with more hope, more love, and more beauty.

After we watched the video, and talked about it a bit, I shared the idea of  Mirror Messages with them. I asked them what they thought about them. Could we do that for others at our school? They were intrigued, and asked many questions.

I told them our messages might not look exactly like the mirror messages. We might use index cards, or regular paper. Perhaps we’d place them on desks, or lockers, instead of mirrors. Maybe we’d pick a particular grade to gift. They were remarkably excited at the idea that we might encourage first graders, or *gasp* 12th graders! They responded with an enthusiastic “YES, we can do this!” But, their questions continued.

Them: “What about each other? Can we make them for each other?!?”

Me: “Sure! That’d be great.”

Them: “What about you? Can we make them for you?!?”

Me: “Absolutely! I’d love it.”

I got these that day …

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And these in an envelope the next day.

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If my experience is any example,  the Science of Happiness people are right. Children are fantastic, altruistic beings, who find joy in encouraging others. All they need is the opportunity. Let’s provide them with many!

I’m excited to see how this plays out for my girls — and those we gift with our messages.

Steinways and Snow

My first Kindergartners are now 10th graders. Hard to believe, but true.

Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing one of them participate in the NJ Poetry Out Loud finals. She recited three poems. Each was filled with pauses, inflection, breath, emotion, and gestures, which drew me more deeply into the words and meaning of the poems.

My favorite was Undivided Attention by Taylor Mali. It’s a fun, and thought-provoking poem for an educator. An added sweetness was that  I was introduced to it by my alumna!

If you’re unfamiliar with the poem, take a moment to go read it now. Especially if you’re an educator, read it — right now.

I’ll wait.

The whole thing is glorious. But, if you ask me, the most striking part is:

So please.

Let me teach like a Steinway,
spinning slowly in April air,
so almost-­‐falling, so hinderingly
dangling from the neck of the movers’ crane.
So on the edge of losing everything.

Let me teach like the first snow, falling.

(Mali. Taylor. “Undivided Attention.” What Learning Leaves. Newtown, CT: Hanover Press, 2002. Print. (ISBN: 1-­‐887012-­‐17-­‐6)

Fabulous! Right?!?

As I listened to my alumna recite the poem, I imagined the educator asking permission of her administrators, coordinators, and colleagues to allow her teach in this fashion. As I listened, I heard her imploring others to share her vision.

Later that day I read the poem to myself, and then aloud to others. I heard it differently. I’m not completely sure why.

Perhaps I heard it differently because  it was my own voice that spoke the words. Or, perhaps it was because Mali’s words had been floating in my brain since the morning, somehow becoming my own.

“Let me teach like the Steinway …so almost-­‐falling, so hinderingly dangling … let me teach like the new snow, falling.”

The word I heard, with soft, encouraging, invitation was me. It felt like a quiet manifesto.

Much like the piano movers I need to move my personal Steinways. My Steinways are lessons, ideas, inspiration, motivation, classroom culture, design experiences, creativity, and much more. Similar to the movers in the poem, occasionally, my eye-popping, jaw-dropping, risky, awesomeness has to hang out the window. Scary, but also a huge blessing, because, hanging out the window, others can see it, engage with it, and be excited by it.

First snow, falling, is nothing new, and yet each time it falls it feels new. The snow beckons all who notice it to come and look with long interested looks. It reworks the view out the window. It offers the opportunity for play, and the necessity of work. And, when examined closely, it reveals the marvels of each unique flake. That is a profound way to teach.

Yes. Let me teach like that Steinway — big, brave, bold, and fantabulous. Let me teach like snow falling — offering play and work, changing views, and surprisingly breathtaking wonders.

Let me

Let us.

 

 

 

Learning through Rapid Prototyping

I recently presented a workshop on Design Thinking with a fabulous NJAIS colleague.  It was an incredibly thought-provoking experience for me. Teaching educators about using design thinking in the classroom forced me — or, more correctly, allowed me  — to immerse myself, again, in a plethora of creativity and design thinking resources. I read, listened and thought deeply, as I searched for the connections, and inspirations to share with the participants.

The idea of rapid prototyping was particularly provocative. It’s not the norm for education, and yet it has the potential to be profoundly valuable. By prototyping rapidly — with ideas, strategies, or products — we gather large amounts of information in a relatively short period of time. In the process, we discover our own strength and agency, and we experience the hidden potential of failure.

Rapid prototyping and gathering information from each failure, is a natural mechanism for learning, problem solving, and innovating.  I experienced its value as I watched my students attempt the Tower of Hanoi math game.

I prepped them for the process. I emboldened them in their willingness to try. I told them they might not get it  — the 1st, the 5th or the 100th time —  but they should keep trying, and learning with each move, mistake or failure. After listening to the rules, they gathered their three blocks, and set to work figuring out the puzzle.

One of the  girls was  the epitome of rapid prototyping. Rarely taking her eyes off the blocks, she moved them without discussion.She made hundreds of moves. She appeared undeterred by her failure to solve the puzzle, and seemed to find joy and interest in the process.

The number and quickness of her moves, might suggest her moves were aimless or unstudied. Someone watching might  wonder whether she were learning anything, or making any progress. But, looking at it with the eye of a design thinker, it became clear she was rapidly prototyping.

 

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Her movements were speedy, and many. But, they were definitely not without observation, noticing, thought, or purpose. As she made her moves, she clearly learned about the blocks, the puzzle board, and the ways in which everything worked together. After what seemed like hundreds of moves, she paused, looking at the board. Then, she  made the seven moves necessary to solve the puzzle!

(I particularly love this photo that captured the rapid movement of her hands as a blur of motion.)

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It was fascinating and a bit humbling to watch her! I was struck by how wonderfully it illustrated how we learn, as well as my role as an educator.

I must create a culture and environment that supports my students. A culture with resources that bolster their knowledge and understanding, while encouraging them to be brave, and to believe in their ability to work and learn. I must give them provocations and opportunities to problem find, and problem solve.

Then, I must step back and let them do their thing. I must resist any urge to jump in and rescue them before they actually need my help. I must sit in my own discomfort, and trust. Trust the process of learning. Trust creativity and design thinking. Trust rapid prototyping and learning from failure. And mostly, trust them!

Finally I must breathe! My breath helps me pause and gift my students with time and space. It helps me remain calm and confident, unafraid as my students heroically brave the unknown.

It’s a spectacular process that inspires and teaches me. My students — our students — have a tremendous amount of courage, insight and capacity to do and learn. All they need is the opportunity — and our trust and breath.

Helping Students Reach Higher

As educators we often talk about wanting our students to:

  • reach
  • stretch
  • go as far as they can
  • achieve

We also work hard to provide:

  • instructions
  • help
  • scaffolding
  • tools
  • structure

My classroom word wall is quite fluid. Sometimes it has our names on it, other times it has words we may encounter in our various learning units. Once we return from winter break, and move towards spring break, I begin to give the world wall more and more to my students.

In reading they each write three words they want to add to our word wall. They must be words they know how to spell like they are written in a library book.

I’m careful to not say “Three words you know how to spell correctly.” When they use inventive spelling — which is appropriate and important in Kindergarten — the words they write are correct if they, and I, can read them. For instance eat might be written ete. Or, teacher might be encoded as teechr. These are examples of correct inventive spelling, because they follow phonetic rules, and accurately convey the sounds, words, and thoughts of the writer. I don’t want them to begin thinking that the way they write is incorrect, and only by memorizing words, or asking for help, are they able to spell, write, and share their ideas.

In Social Studies, my students think of three words related to our topic, that they’d like to add to our word wall. Often these are words that are difficult to spell like they are spelled in library books. My girls stretch them out as best they can, then we work together to make any needed changes. This gives me the opportunity to share rules, digraphs, blends, and crazy things about the English language (for instance, ir, ur, and er have the same sound!), as well as help my girls find their own errors in thinking, hearing and sounding out.

For instance, one girl wanted to write strong. She srog. We stretched the word out, tapping the sounds – to try and tease out that n sound. She added it. Then I asked her to read me her word again. She read strong. “Hmmm,” I said, “I read srong.” She looked at me with a puzzled look, and sounded it out while holding my gaze. Then she looked at what she wrote and sounded it out again. Finally, she laughed and said “Oh, t! I forgot a t.”

These moments are examples of my students reaching, stretching, and attaining, while I support and scaffold. Sometimes, though, the reaching, stretching, and scaffolding is much more literal.

My students are confident in their own ability to find safe and effective ways to use things in our classroom to achieve their goals. So, they often create their own scaffold, and reach as high as they desire.

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But, there are times the height they hope to attain is beyond their reach. That’s when I offer myself as a resource. I provide the scaffold they need to reach higher than they might on their own.

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I really like that I am supporting them, rather than holding them. They get the chair. They have to be brave enough to step onto the scaffolding (me) and stand tall. Even though I am spotting them all the while it’s not always easy! Once on the scaffold, they have to breathe, trust, focus, reach higher. and write — undeterred by the distance they are from the floor!

For me, these are all moments of creativity.

  • Thinking outside the box.
  • Being open to possibility.
  • Inventing as we spell.
  • Not being deterred by what seems impossible considering the tools we have or do not have.
  • Risking.
  • Being brave.
  • Giving it a go.
  • Reflecting, adapting and rethinking.

And, let us not forget the equally important and essential parts of engaging in creative thinking and doing:

  • Experiencing joy.
  • Being struck by beauty and awesomeness.
  • Learning.