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.


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.


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.

Grab A Moment

I’ve been thinking a lot about finding time in the day to “give” to my learners — time for them to make and invent, time to think creatively and critically, time to think about possibility, to experience joy, energy, challenge, freedom, and agency. It’s not so easy to find, but I just kept thinking and wondering.

I noticed I sometimes have small pockets of time in morning meeting. Not a lot of time for sure — maybe 5 minutes — but I thought I’d see what we could do in that time.

I searched around for LEGO bricks in the classroom, and found quite a few. I took out most of the pieces that suggested any thing in particular (trees, people, wheels). I hoped by doing that to have the creation be more open to possibility, and the imagination of each maker, and less led by the ideas of the LEGO makers. I found a basket that made it easy to send the bricks around our morning meeting circle, and eagerly anticipated our work together!

lego basket

By the way, we hadn’t used our LEGO bricks in some time, so they were in a need of a wash. I loaded them in a mesh bag, and washed them on the top shelf of my dishwasher on a cool setting. Worked great! Thanks to all the people who posted things online about ways to wash them.

The first two times we gave it a try, we worked together to create one structure. We each picked a lego, and added it to the structure as we passed it around our morning meeting circle. Here’s our first creation.

inventing 2

Sometimes the girls were quiet, watching each other add their brick. Other times they kibitzed about where to put the brick, or shared with a neighbor what it might be.

When we finished creating the structure I placed it — with a pencil — next to a clipboard reading “Our morning meeting invention might be … ”


Over the next few days, the girls continued to think about what the structure might be — not what it is, but what it might be — and when they had a moment, they added their ideas to our lists.

The girls loved creating together, and writing their ideas one the lists. In the process we all got to practice and grow in many ways. We

  • used our imagination.
  • thought creatively and critically.
  • were open to possibilities.
  • collaborated.
  • were flexible when our friends accidentally knocked a piece off, and replaced it in a different spot.
  • acted as individuals, and as a team.
  • practiced handwriting, and encoding our thoughts into words so others could read them.
  • were resourceful — figuring out how to create something with a small set of bricks.
  • worked on our communication skills — as we created, as we talked about the creations later on, and as we shared our ideas.
  • enjoyed each other and the process.

It may seem like there is no time in your day to allow your students to invent, create, make, think, dream, imagine, wonder, and enjoy. Don’t believe that. Be open and observant. When you notice a moment or two in your day, give it to your students, and yourself, as moments of possibility.

Often times this is my mantra: “Small moments. Small creations. Big impact.”

Give it a go. Grab the moment! Your students, and you, deserve it.


By the way … 

If you find a moment and do something, leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what you did, and how it went.

If you find a moment and have no idea what to do, ask a colleague, or leave me a comment. I’d be happy to brainstorm some ideas.

if you look at your schedule and say “Molly does NOT know what she is talking about. My day is packed, and there is NO WAY I can do one more thing!” leave me a comment. Maybe we can look at your day together and find some time.



Kids and Educators Inventing

January 17th is Kid Inventors’ Day.. It’s held on the 17th to coincide with the birth date of Benjamin Franklin — an imaginative and creative inventor. (Check out the link to find out about some of his inventions. There’s even a video of William Zeitler playing  a modern version of Franklin’s glass armonica. It’s pretty cool!)

Prior to the big day we read What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada. It’s such a great book — simple and yet profound at the same time. We talked about ideas — theirs ideas.

“Do you have ideas? Do you have good ideas? Do your ideas always work the way you plan? Do you always have ideas alone, or sometimes with others? Are you always willing to tell others about your ideas? Are you sometimes a little worried people may not like their ideas?”  I agreed with them when they said they had ideas, and I encouraged them when they said they are sometimes afraid to share or try their ideas.

Then I showed them my latest invention — an idea book I made for them!

“Yes, I know a book isn’t my invention, we already have them, but,” I said, “this one’s a little different. I wanted  to give you all sorts of places to write, sketch, and store your ideas so I changed some things about a ‘regular’ book.”


I proceeded to show them some of the different bits of the book — skinny pages, fat pages, pages made from magazine pages, an envelope, blank white paper, blank grid paper, and accordion folded pages in the center. I told them the books were theirs to keep, and they could use them however they liked to store their ideas. The only thing they had to do was record some ideas.

“Can we put stuff on the cover, too?!”


“Of course!!!”

I also asked them to let me know, after they used the book, if they had any tweaks I might make to make it even better. The book was so different that many immediately asked me to make changes. I asked them to try it first, and then let me know if they still wanted me to tweak things. “This way,” I said “we’ll all be part of the invention process of this Idea Book. I made it, but you’ll test it, and give me suggestions.” They seemed to like that.


Kid Inventors Day in the classroom was great. The girls were enthusiastic and worked on their projects for hours.  Some of their creations were completely unique, others were recreations of existing items. There was a lot of creative questioning that went on that day! How would their creation be an invention — something new? What tweaks could they make to whatever they were considering to make it even better? One young inventor declared her jet pack better than the existing one because it used Daddy-power. “Because, ya know,” she told me, “my mommy won’t let me use fire and real fuel!” Can’t argue with that logic!

The day was a success, but I wanted them to concentrate on problem finding a bit more. I decided to have us work as inventors in our next science class. We would concentrate on the first 3 steps from this  Invention and Design Process Mash Up poster I put together. (The 1st 3 are in color because those were the ones I wanted to focus on in this class.)

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 4.57.35 PM

I had some questions and wonderings as I entered the lesson design process:

  • How might they have the best experience?
  • How might I have a record of their work to share with others?
  • Should they work in teams? In partnerships?
  • Should I give them the choice of working together or alone?
  • Should everyone have their own notebook?
  • Should we create posters of problems? Posters of brainstorms?

I was kind of plagued by the question of wether they should have their own notebook because then they would have something written down to take home. Normally I don’t really care.

I know that learning happens in the making, the doing, and the discussion, so I typically don’t do concentrate on a notebook to take home. I’m not against writing! Tons of amazing things happen with writing, but generally I don’t mind if there is nothing to send home on any one day since I document with photos, and share the photos and explanations after the fact. But for some reason this time I couldn’t shake the idea of an “Inventor’s Notebook” to take home. So, I gave it a go.

I loved our discussions. The girls were enthusiastic and worked hard to understand and express themselves.  It was a ton of  fun to watch them try to explain what brainstorming is — using great facial expressions and hand gestures to explain that the thoughts you have are like storms in your brain.

“”Yes!” I said “You do have lots of ideas in your brains, but how do they become brainstorms? What happens when it storms outside? Is there just stuff in the clouds but nothing else?” “NO!” they yelled ” It rains! Or it snows!” “YES!” I replied, with nearly equal exuberance, “And is it just one rain drop?” They looked, as though stunned, but then responded “NO! It’s lots of drops!” “YES!” I agreed, “It’s lots of drops, and when we brainstorm, we want to share LOTS of ideas.”

The inventions we looked at were awesome. They helped the girls understand that sometimes inventions are a mash up of ideas already existing, and other times they are completely new. And, perhaps most importantly it opened their minds to the truth that KIDS are inventors — with big beautiful brains and hearts — who see problems and work to solve them. We looked at the cereal serving head crane device as well as fabulous, and hilarious, children’s inventions. (Can you imagine having a spider lick your face if you don’t get up on time?! They could!)

But the notebook, and allowing the girls to mostly work alone, didn’t work as well as hoped. As the class progressed, I noticed many ways I wanted to tweak the notebook, and the process.


My prototype for the next try will include a notebook for work at home. It will include the mash-up poster, some information for parents, and some blank pages for sketching and note taking. But, for our time together in the lab, we will work with posters and post-it-notes.

We’ll create several Problem Posters. Then, after some brainstorming, I’ll arm each girl with a pad of post-it-notes, and a pencil. This will give them the opportunity for many casual collisions, which will oblige and allow them to interact — sharing ideas, energy, laughter, and angst. Hopefully the size of the note, and the fact that they have a pad of them, will encourage quick sketching, and many ideas. I’m excited that this method  will give us a class artifact of our work together. I’m hopeful it can then be used for further thought and engagement in the invention and design process.

Funny, even though I understand the design/invention process, and I know the girls learned and did great things, I’m unhappy with myself for not thinking  of these tweaks before I did the lesson. But really, how could I have thought of them before? It’s a new lesson, a new creation and invention, and as with all inventions, it gets better by working the process. — think, sketch, make, test, tweak, sell, repeat.

Perhaps we as educators need to share more of our failures, near misses, thought process, design process, thinking, and challenges. This way everyone will understand that everyone needs to work the process, and the process is hardly ever as easy, or mess free, as we make it seem.





Bringing Ideas to Life

Creativity is an interesting mix of thinking and doing. It’s about having new ideas, conceiving of new ways to do things, imaging a particular physical product — and then working to bring any, or all, of these things to life.

Both the thinking and the doing require a significant amount of

  • curiosity
  • wonder
  • imagination
  • team-work
  • risk taking
  • confidence
  • playfulness
  • resilience
  • perseverance
  • knowledge
  • research and learning
  • struggle
  • pro-typing and iterating
  • the seemingly magical, but often hard won, moments of “aha” and resolution

My girls worked on their Thanksgiving build from the beginning of November until winter break. They had a plethora of ideas. Some were created, some were not. Through out their thinking and work, the girls exhibited all the things listed above.

Some of the most interesting observations for me, occurred as they struggled to negotiate, and embrace and enhance each other’s ideas and thoughts. It’s a tough line to walk — advocating for your own ideas while at the same time being open to the ideas of your friends and fellow workers. It’s especially problematic when other’s ideas are significantly different than yours. Emotions occasionally ran amuck, and sometimes required interventions — with recommendations of alone time, breathing, thinking, listening, and sometimes suggestions of how to speak to one another to understand and resolve differences.  Particularly interesting to me is how similar these young work groups are to the work groups I belong to as an adult. New ideas are not always welcomed, different ideas are sometimes hard to imagine or embrace, old patterns are sometimes very strong, and emotions often make things more complicated.

I loved their conversations and subsequent research as they wondered, and imagined things they would have liked to have as a citizen of England and Holland, a passenger of the Mayflower, or a Native American. — Would the castles of England and Holland have had elevators? What about trap doors? Where did the Native Americans get their food?  Did they have toys? Was there a hospital on the Mayflower? Did people fall in the water? How did they save them?

So much about my students, and their thinking and work fascinated me! I often laughed out loud in awe and enjoyment of the fantabulousness of their ideas, and their beautiful confidence.

This person did it for me this build:

IMG_9226I don’t recall any other student making a person with  three-dimensional components. I exclaimed “Wow. I love that! What a great idea!!” when I noticed her work.

She responded as though surprised by my awe. “I just think it, and I do it, Miss James!” I think I laughed out loud AGAIN when she said that to me. That is some beautiful confidence — in her thoughts, and creative ability.

Other times, my delight and fascination came from stretching their thinking, as well as their belief in their own abilities. One student this year wanted to make a dog. Her first try was lovely, and she was quite happy. I chuckled to myself as I opened my mouth to speak. “Would you mind getting your person? Let’s see if this would be a good pet for her.” She looked at me with a bit of incredulity, and perhaps even the slightest annoyance, but she quickly went and retrieved her person. Her dog’s head was the bigger than her person was tall. She reacted with amazement and a bit of disequilibrium! But, she was used to making dogs this size, didn’t believe she could make it any different, and told me it was fine. I laughed and asked her to stand up. When she did I asked if she would want a dog this big (and showed her how big her drawn dog was compared to her person). She laughed and said no, but when I suggested she re-draw her dog she said she couldn’t. I pushed back a bit and told her “Of course you can! Give it a go.”

She redrew that dog at least 10 times. The first 6 were almost identically sized. We cut the paper smaller, and she only fit the on the paper. Finally at about try 12, she created this:


Perfection!!! She added a speech bubble filled with barks, and gleefully added her dog to the build.

Both experiences are valuable parts of creativity, thinking, learning, and life. Sometimes you simply believe in yourself and know that you can “just think it and make it!” Other times, when it seems impossible, and you doubt your ability, you have to struggle, and keep trying over and over — sometimes embracing the encouragement and pushing of someone you love, even when it’s uncomfortable  — until it happens.

With luck — and reminders from me — the one with belief in her abilities will be able to access that confidence when she has to work hard in order to succeed, and the one who had to struggle will experience those deliciously magically moments of creative ease.



Yup, that about covers it. “WOW!”

Well, perhaps, “WOW!” and “Boy, oh boy, do I need a nap!”



It’s the beginning of our Thanksgiving Build 2017. All of this block thinking and work happened in less than 20 minutes!

It was amazing to experience and help facilitate it.

Prior to beginning the actual build, we prepped the room and ourselves.

  • We decided on a good spot for the tables.
  • We checked to be sure we could still move about the room as we need to for other activities.
  • We counted tiles on the floor.
  • We did some research — watching videos, reading/looking at books, and discussing our finds and understanding.
  • We chose our groups (citizens of England and Holland, passengers on the Mayflower, Native Americans).

Finally we met for our first day of building. Before working with the blocks, we held a quick planning meeting. I acted as the scribe, and recorded their ideas. Each group excitedly generated an extensive list of things they would need in their area of the build. Often their ideas played off of each other. I worked to keep the group focused and positive, accepting all ideas, confident that we would discover and modify anything that might need to be changed as we did the build.

It was interesting to make the lists together. They were invested in the process and shared their ideas with enthusiasm, but at the same moment, they were straining against the confines of the table, chairs, and list making. Their desire to begin the build was visible, and when I set them free, the room erupted into a spirited burst of conversation and movement.

They talked to one another as they moved to gather blocks and tools. Sometimes one of them would think of something else they needed, and give me a shout — “Bears! Add bears to the list Miss James!” For now the lists are posted on our whiteboard. We’ll revisit them at various points of the build — to see what has been done, what needs to be done, and what needs to be added.

Many things have to remain in balance as the build progresses. Of course, the blocks themselves must remain balanced. Given the inherent instability of certain block formations, and the sometimes whirlwind like movement of kindergartners, this is often more difficult than it sounds. But, many other things are also always in a delicate, sometimes beautiful, sometimes precarious, state of balance.

As the build facilitator I want to encourage and enable student agency, freedom, discovery, and creativity. At the same time I want to infuse their creativity with the all important ingredient of usefulness. I work hard to encourage thinking, comparing, noticing, and rethinking, without discouraging their ideas and budding understanding. Sometimes this means I have to refocus my gaze and perception. I need to look at the build not as a product alone, but as a process. And, I need to consider what my students knew before beginning, what they are expressing with their work, and what is most important.

Keeping the social emotional energy balanced is imperative. The collaboration — both physical and mental — that occurs while creating in groups is huge! Sometimes we aren’t used to this type of work, and disagreements or power struggles ensue. These moments are often fraught with emotion, but once breaths are taken, the disagreements and struggles become awesome opportunities for conversation, learning and growth.

Another area of social emotional balance involves my comments and suggestions. I have to be aware of the times when my interjections are causing too much disequilibrium in my builders. I want them to think, to struggle and to reach new levels of understanding. I don’t want them to doubt themselves or their work.

So, back to their work. We will build until winter break. Things will be added, taken away, and modified. This is just the beginning. And a great beginning it is!

Remind yourself of their age, their task, and their timeframe. And be awed!

England and Holland


The Mayflower


Native American homesite


Hey, Kindergarten!

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

20170405_132525-01 (1)

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?”


explore (1)

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.

The Magic of Ideas

I love the book What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom. The illustrations are wonderful and add a profound depth that is accessible to all. If you haven’t read it yet, find a copy and read it! You won’t be disappointed.

Perhaps even better would be to read it with some children. Each time I read it to my class, they notice new things in the illustrations, and make unique connections and wonderings. They encourage me to open my eyes, mind, and heart, a bit wider, stay in the moment, and notice all there is to see.

I read the book aloud – stopping often for their eager noticing, sharing, wondering, conversing and questioning. It took us almost 30 minutes to read the book! We talked a lot about ideas – having ideas, feeding them, sometimes being afraid to share them, sometimes sharing our ideas freely, listening to other ideas, getting inspired by other people’s ideas, and, changing the world with our ideas!

I asked if they thought their ideas could change the world. There was a mixed response. Some thought yes, some no, and some were unsure. I told them I believed their ideas DO change the world. I asked them if they had every helped a friend who was sad, or if they had problem-solved with a friend. Of course, they all had. I continued, saying “Those ideas you shared when your friend was sad, and when you needed answers, helped right? So, they changed the world for that person and for you!”

I grabbed a notebook I carry in my bag, and shared some things I jot down – words, thoughts, ideas, images. Then I pulled out the small notebooks I made my students. The covers were decorated with circles and dots. Some were connected, some only partially formed, some mixing colors, some were off by themselves – just like our ideas. Finally I set my kids free to begin to fill their books with their thoughts, plans, imaginings, and visions.

Here are some of their ideas …


  • Design and make dog clothes.
  • Make a big computer that converts into a small laptop


  • Finger knit a headband like Caileigh’s.
  • I make board games.


  • She will build a tower too. She’ll also build a bike.
  • Make a company. Make a new way to read.


  • Make a blanket for Pikachu (finger knit).
  • Be myself. Dream big.


  • Nothing can stop you from doing the thing you love.
  • I will always do crafts and drawing, even when I am angry.

Fabulous, right?

They cracked me up at the end of the time (about 30 minutes). I was wandering around telling them we had 5 more minutes, talking with them about their ideas, and taking photos. At some point I sat down, to chat or look at something more closely. The next thing I knew, I was surrounded by a circle of students – probably 2-3 deep at points – all saying “I have an idea, Miss James!” It was an incredible surge of joyful energy.

It was magical and wonderful!


The Power of Language

Lately I’ve been struck by the profound power of language.

Last night at a mindfulness session someone pointed out the difference between saying: “I am a worrier!” and “I am experiencing worry.”

Do you hear a difference? Do you feel one? They are very similar statements, but the small variations cause large differences in meaning and impact.

The first statement says something about me, and therefore about the possibility of my actions or thoughts. I AM a worrier. If I am a worrier, I have no choice. I worry. If, instead, I am experiencing worry, I have choices. I can notice the worry. I can observe it. I can choose to turn towards the worry and learn from it. I can choose to do something to alleviate it. Or, I can worry, lol.

The point is, the change in my language opens possibilities for me! It gives me options. It creates space to be, and to do.

I share the worry example because it helped me to understand my experience of another rather subtle change in language.

I’m writing an article on creativity and leadership. My editor suggested I change “How might we?” to “How can we?”

What do you think? Say the questions to yourself a few times. What do you experience when you read the questions? Do you notice a difference? Do you have pull or preference for on or the other?

I definitely experience the questions differently, and I have a clear preference!

I am experiencing — in my life and in my practice — that the power of “How might we?” far exceeds the power of “How can we?” Sounds a bit crazy, right? But, it’s not!

“How can we?” offers two options: we can, or, we can’t. That’s it. Too often, when given the choice of can, or can’t we choose can’t.

I can’t do that! I can’t walk a half marathon! I can’t solve that problem. I can’t write a story. I can’t do a multimedia presentation. I can’t pass this test.  I’m not able. There is no way. (sigh)

If we avoid the “I can’t!” quagmire. We may fall into the “I don’t know” trap because”How can we?” suggests we are looking for the correct way to do whatever we are doing. If the person being questioned is at all unsure, this often leads to the answer: “I don’t know.”

In both instances — “I can’t” and “I don’t know” — the problem remains unsolved understanding stagnates, learning is limited, and, perhaps, most tragically, the one questioned is now more convinced than ever that they really don’t know, and they really can’t .


In contrast, “How might we?” is more flexible and less prescriptive. “How might we?” invites divergent thinking, allowing us to go wide with our answers. Even the uncertain can offer ideas because the “rightness” of the answer is not demanded.

Often the answers which fail, are more valuable than those that immediately succeed. They allow us — demand it actually — to reflect, examine, explore, talk, learn and try again. In this process many positive things happen. To name just a few:

  • Understanding (of ideas, materials, students, ourselves, others) deepens.
  • New strategies emerge.
  • Trust, confidence and relationships grow.
  • Thinking and ideas are valued.
  • New ideas are formed.

The power of simple changes in language is intriguing. I’m super excited by the possibilities of HMW questions, and am working on using them more often in my life, and in my practice.

Give them a try. If you do, I’d love to hear your reflections.

Memories of Clementines

Driving to a late day meeting, I unzip my lovely new cooler bag, and fish around for this …


Before I even see it, I imagine peeling it, and think of where I might leave the peelings. In my mind’s eye (or is it nose? lol) I can already smell the beautiful, citrus fragrance. I can’t wait to experience it as it fills my car with lusciousness!

At that moment my mind returned to this fabulous little hand …


This hand belongs to one of my kindergarteners from last year. I loved the exchange we had, so I asked if I could photograph her hand with the peel in it. She looked quizzically at me when I asked, but agreed.

“I love your idea,” I explained, “and I want to write about it on my blog! I never thought of it as a possibility, and I want to share it with others.” She smiled a soft, small smile, and agreed.

Finally, I am sharing.

When she came to me her eyes were bright.

She said “Look, Miss James!”

I looked at her hand, and then back to her face for an explanation.

She responded, “I’m going to use it in our supermarket build!”

(We visit a supermarket, create field guides, and then re-create the market in our classroom with blocks and various other items.)

I reply, “You are? What will you do with it?”

She said, “I’m going to use it to add an orange smell to my paper oranges. You know, like a scratch and sniff!”

I burst out laughing, and with a huge smile say “WOW! That is fantabulous!!! What a great, creative idea! I never thought of that! Thanks for sharing your idea with me!”

Amazing, right? I wondered why she was showing me a clementine peel. It didn’t immediately come to mind that the small piece of peel could be used so creatively.

Often, my students ideas are large, sometimes even bigger than mine. I enjoy their exuberance, and their big ideas. And, I trust that my support, my openness and positivity, and my joy in their awesomeness, encourages them to adopt, trust and live their big ideas!