Letting My Learners Lead Me

We had the best social studies learning time today! It was spectacular. I know I always say I wish I had a videographer, but wow, I really wish I had one today. My girls were fantabulous — full of energy, passion, and awesomeness.

Let me explain.

We are part way through our super hero unit. We’ve explored fictional super heroes, and created our own personal fictional superhero. After numerous discussions, we decided there aren’t just fictional superheroes, there are also real superheroes! We generated a list of superheroes in our own lives. They included: police officers, firemen, firewomen, grandmothers who get up early every day to make us breakfast, sisters who help us cross the street, dogs who bark at bad guys, teachers who teach us, dads who give us medicine when we’re sick, and nannies who always play games with us.

Today’s topic was  how we can be, and are, superheroes. I planned on showing them Brad Montague’s (Kid President’s brother-in-law) video This is a Joyful Rebellion, and then work on Mirror Messages as a way to give them concrete examples of them being superheroes.

I told them we’d be watching a couple videos this week. I mentioned Kid President and his pep talk for superheroes. None of them had heard of him, so I pulled up a quick photo to show them. They were enamored with his image, the fact that he is a kid, and the idea of a pep talk. They all wanted to watch him TODAY! They were quite emphatic.

I thought for a moment. I wasn’t prepared for an activity for this video, but they were definitely into it, so I decided to give it a go, and see what happened. I asked them “So you want me to change my plans so we can watch this today?” They responded, enthusiastically, “Yes!” I paused, thought a moment and said “OK, let’s watch it, and then talk about it.

OH MY GOSH!!! They got so much out of the pep talk! Their observations, insights, and discussion were amazing.

One said: “But Miss James, we can’t be REAL superheroes!”

I took a breath, put my hands on my hips, thought for a moment, and said “What do you mean?”

She repeated herself: “We CAN’T be real superheroes, Miss James!” and added “We can’t fly.”

“OH!” I said, “You mean we can’t be like Superman?!”

“Yes!” she replied.

As I began to explain that Superman isn’t real, but is a movie and comic book character, another girl interrupted. She practically yelled …

“But they’re NOT REAL! They’re FAKE!”

“Yes!” I said (giving her a high five).

She continued “We’re real, and we can be REAL SUPERHEROES. We don’t need to be able to fly, or shoot lasers out of our hands”

“YEAH!” another said “And we don’t need to have laser eyes!”

“That’s true! We don’t have, or need, lasers hands or eyes!”

Now came the big question. “So if we don’t have laser hands or laser eyes, and we can’t fly, do we have super powers?”

Their eyes seemed locked on me as they struggled with that question. The room was completely silent.

Finally, one yelled, “YES! We do have super powers!”

“What?” I asked.

“We have heart power!”

“YES!! YOU DO!” I exclaimed in return.

I cheered them on as they continued. We have:

  • Big Beautiful Brain Power
  • Our Own Ideas
  • Making Power
  • Kindness Power
  • Niceness Power
  • Friendship Power
  • Art Power
  • Science Power
  • Math Power
  • Loyalty Power
  • Brave Power
  • Strong Power
  • Muscle Power
  • Generosity Power
  • Loyalty Power
  • Creativity Power
  • Honesty Power
  • Helping Power
  • Inventing Power
  • Gift Giving Power
  • Listening Power
  • Thinking Power
  • Word Power

“Wow!” I said “This is fantabulous! I think we have to make signs with our powers. Shall we use big or small sheets of paper?”

“BIG PAPER. Let’s use big paper!”

Of course we had to use big paper. What was I thinking? Their powers, their hearts, their minds, their spirits, DEMANDED big sheets of paper. What else could even come close to holding them?

We each got our favorite color 12×18 inch sheet and set to work writing and illustrating our powers.

After social studies, we had choice time. One of the girls asked if she could work on our 120 chart — we had begun constructing it during math. “Sure! How many numbers do you want?

“Two.” she said.

She took two and placed them in the chart. Then she took a handful. A moment later she said, “I want to finish the whole thing!”

“You go, girl! Use your math power!”

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40 minutes later the chart was completed!

We sat and looked at it together. “Wow,” I said, as we high-fived. “That is so fantabulous! Thanks for using your math power to help us get this done.”

I’m sure social studies would have been good if we followed my plan to the letter. But, I’m also sure it wouldn’t have been this good. And I have no idea if this girl would have had the confidence in her power to finish this chart on her own. My decision to allow my students to lead me — to step into the unknown, trusting in them, me and us — made all the difference.

I’m so glad they asked to lead, and I’m super glad I said yes, and followed them.

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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.