WOW!

 

Yup, that about covers it. “WOW!”

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

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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

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The Mayflower

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Native American homesite

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Munari’s Zoo

I discovered Bruno Munari while attending a conference for educators at the Eric Carle Museum in Massachusetts. Munari – an Italian artist, designer and inventor, and writer of children’s books, – is loved by Reggio educators. I use Munari’s Zoo and Munari’s Machines in the classroom with great results!

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I enjoy using Munari’s Zoo at the beginning of the year. After a read aloud, we surround ourselves with paper, pencils, crayons, markers, scissors, tape, yarn, pipe cleaners, hole punches, and various other art supplies and tools – and set about making an animal to populate our classroom zoo (bulletin board).

Munari’s book starts with several amusing signs, so we all create a sign for our animal. This year the signs were mostly identifying our animal and the artist that created it. But, sometimes we add signs with instructions. This year there was one sign warning readers – “do not pull the lion’s tail!”

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It’s a fabulous exercise. The students are engaged – working hard without feeling strain or pressure. The spirit in the room is light and joyous. Conversations abound between the students, and between students and teachers. It’s a great way to get to know each other and to do some authentic assessments.

Are the students brave? Do they jump in, or hang back a bit? Do they have many ideas that they share and implement? Do they look to their friends or teachers for ideas? Do they need a little extra encouragement and love? Are they leaders – helping friends? How are their fine motor skills (holding pencil, scissor, manipulating tape, pipe cleaners, cutting, drawing)? Do they know the sounds letters make? Can they stretch out words? What do they hear as they stretch out the words? Do they have an efficient motor plan for their letters? Do they use upper case, lower case, or a combination of both?

The challenge involved is positive and self-regulated. The students are intrinsically motivated to create, and caught up in the excitement of seeing their work displayed, even the most timid writers stretch out words to make their sign. The open-ended nature of the assignment allows the children to self-differentiate. Some students make one animal, some make many. Some use materials they are familiar with, while others experiment with some of the less familiar materials. But, one way or another, everyone succeeds at the task.

This project is an easy, and safe way, to give the students control over their work and learning, and therefore increase their sense of agency, early in the school year. My instructions are simply to make an animal, and a sign to accompany it. They decide if the animal will be real or imaginary. They determine the form, color, and size of their animal. They choose the materials they will use to create it. They decide what their sign will say, and write it (with as little or as much help as they need). Finally, once done, they choose where to place their animal on the board as we create our class zoo.

And, very importantly, I do my best to limit my “interference” and simply listen, question and encourage. For instance, the animals at the top right are peacocks. One has to use their imagination and enter into the mind of the child – as best we can – to see how they are all wonderful representations of peacocks – although not ones we might have imagined. But, notice the color, the beginning structure, and the use of the yarn to represent all the color of the peacock feathers.

I even purposefully limit the amount of help I give them as they write. I try to help them hear the sounds in the words, and encourage them to represent each sound. But I resist my adult urge to “tell them” how to write it. By limiting my “help” I allow them to think, struggle, problem solve, experiment and come up with their own solutions. By doing so, we (they and I together) strengthen their skills, increase their ability to persevere, expand their vision of themselves and their abilities, and (hopefully) positively impact their future work and thought.