Sunday, September 7, 2014

When do I start Guided Reading?

If you asked me this question, even last week, I would have given you the kindergarten "politically correct" answer, "Well, when each child is ready, that's when we start..." But that's a lie. It was a lie when I told a friend that last week (sorry Michelle). I knew it, but I was too afraid to say what I really thought. Not any more.
In our Province, we have a goal that Kindergarten children will be reading at "Instructional C" by the end of Kindergarten. So, we do have the responsibility to introduce our students to reading. As I have been thinking about when to introduce guided reading, it is typically after Christmas in January. But I'll let you in on a little secret: sometimes I wait until February. But NEVER before Christmas (even though I have said in the past that if someone was ready I would start early...).
Why not begin guided reading before Christmas? Well, for one thing, we have more important things to learn. We need to learn to work as a group. We need to build community. We need to learn the routines of the class and the routines of the school. The social piece of learning is more important than the academic piece in Kindergarten,
And here's another thing: I have never seen a student not learn to read if I don't introduce it before Christmas. But I have seen plenty struggle when it is introduced too soon. Kindergarten has gotten increasingly academic over the past number of years. But that doesn't mean we have to sacrifice our children's mental health in order to be "smarter". If you are a Kindergarten teacher, I know you struggle with the same balance as I do. You can be intellectually ready to learn, but not emotionally ready to learn. And if you are not emotionally ready to learn, then it will impact far more than your reading ability. 
So, this year I make this statement and I make it proudly: I will not begin Guided Reading until January. And I might even wait until February. I'm not sure. Here's what I am sure of: There are more important things than reading and writing. Being a good citizen is one of them,
Here' to a new year!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Can Someone Please Start a Movement?

Can someone please start a movement? I would, but as it may seem a little self-serving on my part, it might not be such a good idea. But can someone else PLEASE start a movement?
I even know what the buttons and bumper stickers could say: I am a PROUD parent of a public school student! Because I am a proud parent of three children who went to public schools. And guess what? They aren't illiterate! I know, you might think they are if you live in Canada or the United States. Because lately, anything that has been said about public school and its teachers has been negative. Unless a teacher is literally sacrificing his or her own life for their students, when was the last time you read anything positive about teachers these days? A little harsh, yes I know.
But, as I said, they aren't illiterate. Quite the opposite as a matter of fact. The two older ones are in college (or University, depends on if you're an American or a Canadian). The oldest is a Mechanical Engineer major, and the middle is an English major. My youngest is in grade 11 (or a Junior if you are an American). But, just because they are in school doesn't mean they are literate. However the two older ones on the Dean's List at their respective universities just might prove they aren't illiterate. My youngest makes quite nice grades as well.

Before you may have any misunderstandings, let me clarify a few things for you:

1. My children did not grow up with wealth. We are a typical middle class family. Granted, my husband and I are both in the education field- he is a professor at a small Bible college and I teach Kindergarten (yes, in a public school- thus the reason I can't start the movement). I will say though, that I have only taught in the public system for 4 years, before that I taught in a private day care setting.

2. My children did not go to the "best" schools in the "best" neighbourhood. We live in the country and my children rode the school bus every day of their public school career.

3. They had regular classes at their high school. They did not even have the benefit of going to a school that offered the International Baccalaureate program, or even Advanced Placement courses. They had common, regular, old academic classes.

4. They would not test into the gifted category. If you took their IQ, it may be a bit above average, but still in the average zone. No Mensa members in this family!

5. My children did/do more then just go to school. They were involved in youth groups, jobs, sports, had friends.

Why am I saying all of this? Because I believe in Public Education. I believe Public Education not only works, but it is what keeps Canada and the United States going. Yes, our "test scores" are "behind the rest of the world"--but we have two countries who are dedicated to educating ALL of its children, not just the smart ones, the typical ones, the right ones. I once read that there are three types of lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics. We can manipulate numbers to say pretty much what we want them to say.
Is Public Education perfect? Far from it. We have too many people spouting off too many opinions who have not spent too many hours in the classroom. We have increased needs and decreased resources. We have children coming to school hungry, cold, tired. We have too much of a disparity in how we fund public education, so the rich get the goods and the poor, underserved communities continue to be underserved. There is a lot wrong with education right now. But stop laying the blame on the teachers!
In every job there are good and bad employees. I know teaching is no exception, but I am still looking for that teacher that comes in at the last minute and leaves as soon as the bell rings. I am still looking for that teacher that doesn't worry about their students, doesn't do extra work at night preparing for the next day. Teachers care. Teachers show up to work every day knowing that someone else is sitting at home complaining that teachers have it easy. They also know that someone may be going on social media slandering them personally- it happens! And what do teachers do in response? They show up the next day ready to teach. They love their students and truly want what's best for them.
So can someone PLEASE start that movement?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

I REALLY like science.

Last post was a bit of a downer. It certainly wasn't a good week that week, but I am glad to say that the next week made up for it. It seems like, as a class, we have all come so far- almost overnight! One more reason to love kindergarten. One week you are at the bottom of the garbage can emotionally, and the next week BOOM! you are noticing all of the wonderful things that are going on all around you.

This past Thursday, I was privileged to be a part of a group of like-minded educators concerned with environmental education in our classrooms. The educators in this group ranged from early childhood all the way through university. There were ECE's, kindergarten teachers, student teachers, high school teachers, alternative education teachers, and a university professor. We ran the gamut for education, and it was exciting to be there.
At the beginning of the meeting we were asked to bring in one "environmental artifact". As I thought about this, I realized how important science is to me in my classroom. I probably put more effort into my science area than many other areas. I truly enjoy the look of concentration on the students faces when they are working and investigating in the science area. I love the feeling of accomplishment they have when they are able to create designs in the sandbox just like an Andy Goldsworthy. I also love that much of our literacy outcomes can be met through science, technology, 'engineering', math, art (STEM, or STEAM)- because, you know, all that matters is literacy, right? (she says sarcastically...)

I wanted to share a few pictures with you, I hope you enjoy!

It's not a huge area, and you can't see it, but the block area is right next to the science centre, and art is adjacent as well. My goal was to have it all seemlessly flow into each other (except the art shelf goes up against the sand box).  
I want the science area to be one of personal and individual discovery. It is small, because I want it to be intimate. Too many people and we tend to lose the discovery feeling.
Because we live on an island, I wanted my sandbox to reflect our local beaches, so I have added sand from the beach, driftwood, local sandstone, shells, starfish, etc. to the area. I wanted them to be able to create in the classroom what they could create on the beach. I put up pictures from Andy Goldsworthy, some Stonehenge pictures as inspiration, as well as some pictures of their own creations. 

I am looking forward to the rest of the year as we will be moving into an Earth day/Environment/Farm (because not only do we live on an island, but farming is a large part of our economy) investigation. 
Did I say I really like science?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

It wasn't a good day...

Most of the time, being a kindergarten teacher is awesome. So much excitement happens during the day, you see so much growth in your students throughout the year. When you get down to it, it's a lot of fun hanging out with the 4-6 year old crowd.
Most of the time it's fun, that is. Yesterday was not one of those fun days. Oh, a lot of good things happened, but one bad thing happened, and it was enough to make me re-think any of the good things: were they really good? were they really instructional? were they really fun? I don't know anymore.
Here is a sample of my day:
Choice time
Morning Meeting
Writers Workshop
Shared Reading
Learning Centres
other students left to read alone while I deal with major melt down
student taken to office (in order to calm down privately)
Measurement activity about Diplodocus
Get ready, Go home. 

See, lots of fun stuff happened. But what stands out the most for me (and I am sure the rest of my class): 
A major melt down. I mean a roll on the floor, sobbing, crying, screaming, kicking melt down. Why? Because she hasn't been getting along with another student in the class and I wanted to talk about it with her before she sat down to lunch. There are so many things in this situation I should have done differently. So many incidents leading up to this should have been handled differently. But, hindsight is 20/20 we all know that.
Because in this day and age of 'educational reform', where the microscope is on the teacher at all times, it sure doesn't help one feel better about the missed and mishandled situations. When you look for inspiration and you read how important the classroom teacher is, it sure appears that we must be super-human and never make mistakes. When you compare yourself to your colleagues and they never have students who melt down like this, boy you sure feel like a failure. And since it happened on a Friday afternoon, that is what I am left to think of all weekend.
So, Monday, I will get up and start my week. I will put a smile on my face and try to move past this situation. But it will not be easy to get the vision out of my mind, out of my thoughts. Because I don't ever want this to happen again. Ever. I have been teaching for over 20 years, I am not new to the profession. I think that's what is making this so hard for me to move on. I'm not a rookie. I should know/do better. I hope I do.
Thanks for letting me tell the story of my day. Thanks for not judging me (because you're not...right?). Thanks for letting me be honest. And thanks for allowing me to start new on Monday.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Perfect Example of a Perfect Society

 I know that 5 year olds are not the perfect example of a perfect society. Of course I know that they can be selfish, self-centred, egotistical, demanding, silly, and hugely inappropriate. I know this! But, there are times when I look at my class of 5 year olds, and I see how they interact, and  I wonder when exactly we lost it. When did we lose the simple, straight-forward, in your face innocence. And I wonder why we lost it, and if it is possible to get it back. There are certain behaviours that these children exhibit every day that, in their world, is common and ordinary. But in our adult world, it is almost a miracle.

In kindergarten we are colour blind in the best way. That doesn't mean we don't notice that others look different than we do. It means we honestly and really don't care that they look differently than we do. Children know that others look different than they do. Children are notorious for pointing out differences. But what makes this different in 5 year olds than in adults is huge. A child is merely making an observation. They don't care that you are different, they are just interested that you are different. And a child doesn't get offended that you noticed they were different. It is adults who project their own feelings on to this issue. Kids are just curious.

In kindergarten we practice forgiveness every day. I hit you, you hit me, we tell the teacher, we get over it, we go off and play together. My class this year is the perfect example of this. It is almost maddening as a teacher because conflicts happen every day, multiple times a day But, do they stay away from each other? Nope. Do they just go and play with other children? Nope. Why? Because whatever happened, whatever was said, whatever was done is in the past. They have moved on. In kindergarten, every day is a new day. Every moment is fresh and uncluttered with grudges.

In kindergarten we honestly have a lack of materialism. (Note: this is not a lack of entitlement, but a lack of caring what other people have or do not have). I teach in a community that is probably one of the wealthiest in the region that I live, but we do have many families who do not have as much access to material goods as others. Kindergarten is the great equalizer. By the end of the day we are all a bit more sweaty, a bit more dirty, our clothes are a bit more stained, but we honestly don't care. It is irrelevant to us that one is wearing designer clothes and one is wearing the latest Walmart fashion. We don't care what kind of car you drive. We don't care about your lunch box or backpack. We don't even care if you come to school in the same clothes you wore yesterday (or everyday). Are you going to have a fun time out on the playground? That is what we care about.

Kindergarten is the ultimate in community/civic mindedness. When it is clean up time we clean up. Why? Because we can't move on to the next part of our day if the room is still messy. And no one really wants to be the whole class is late to gym, music, or the bus. In kindergarten we are individuals, and we do make our own choices. But, over-all, we are a team, a group, a community. We work together because if we don't, we fall together. It is all for one and one for all! If some of us talk in the hallway, we don't get our class mentioned on the announcements. It's that simple (and yes, getting mentioned on the announcements is a Big Deal). We know the pride of working together to make our class community the best one in the school.

Kindergarten isn't perfect. We can be loud, and we can be defiant. We can want to do what we want, when we want. I know this. But there are moments in each day when what is possible is reality. When we can see perfection in a moment. When that one child, who loves to be the centre of attention, stops what she is doing and helps another child who is hurt. When that child who struggles to sit still during group time can become so involved in what he is writing that he spends an hour making sure it is perfect. When those two children, who can't seem to get along, suddenly put their past behind them and build the best ramp and smile at each other in the most sincere way.

No, kindergarten isn't perfect. But it has its moments.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ramps: To intervene or not? That is *always* the question!

In my classroom, one of the ways I try to engage our young learners is through investigation. I like to discover (through observation) a topic that the students are interested in, find ways to build learning around it, and help scaffold their learning. The key though, is to realize when the students need you to help scaffold their learning, and when they are able to do it themselves.

From the beginning of the school year, many of us have been fascinated by ramps and building ramps. At first, I thought that would make a wonderful project for us. However, as I continued to observe, I realized there really wasn’t anything else I could add to the discovery. The children, on a daily basis, have helped each other build their knowledge of ramps, and what ramps can do. As I spoke with the children, I learned that the children already knew a lot about ramps. They had already figured out which ramps made the cars go farther, faster, and how to build one with the proper incline for what they needed.

At first, our ramps started out being built from the floor.

We enjoyed pushing the cars over the ramps and bridges.

As time went on, the floor ramps became steeper, allowing for more force behind our vehicles.

Sometime, around a month ago, we discovered that if we lean the block against the bookshelf, we have a steeper ramp, which makes the cars go farther and faster.

Now, we have begun adding extra ramps, so the cars go fast AND jump.

The more we work on this, the more complex our ramps are becoming.
Through all of this, the students are learning not only about force and motion and gravity, but about problem solving. About team work. About trial and error. These are what we call "21 Century Skills." These are the skills we will need as we grow and mature, not only for school, but for life. 

So, I continue to reflect. Do I need to add myself into their "conversation"? Or is what I add only going to diminish the work already done. As I observe I notice that it is true what they say about learning: your peers really do teach and encourage you to learn more than your instructor does. So, for now,  I'll watch to see what I can learn. I will allow them to teach each other -and me.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Kinder blog '13 Assignment #1: Confessions

It's that time of year! Time for the #Kinderchat blog challenge. I love this because it helps re-ignite my desire to blog. Of course this only lasts a few months, then life gets in the way. However, I try just the same.

This weeks challenge is the word confessions. So, here is my confession: I never wanted to teach kindergarten. I never wanted to teach in the public school system. I am afraid someone will finally come along and they'll "know" I'm a fraud. There. I said it!
I was totally early childhood for many, many years. My BA is in early childhood, and I was as happy as a clam in the ECE world. I loved the freedom to go with the students interests without having to worry whether or not I was reaching the right outcomes, or would be stepping on another teachers toes if we covered a subject that might have been taught later on. I loved watching the child develop in those first 4-5 years. It was fun to play, just because. (And I also really loved nap time- it was the best gig in town!)
But, things change, and life happens and all of the sudden I was teaching kindergarten in the public school system! It all happened really fast. One minute I am teaching kindergarten in a community based private not for profit early childhood centre, the next minute, the government of the day decided to move K into the schools. It was a crazy year, we educators weren't sure if we would even have a job the next year. After a long hiring process, all of the sudden I found myself in a place I had never intended.
Here's the second half of my confession: as much as I loved being in early childhood, I could never go back. Although I miss some of the freedom and lack of red tape (and nap time), I have found the challenge I needed in the public kindergarten setting. I find I enjoy creating projects with the children and finding ways to not only fit in the outcomes, but stretch their learning.
My fears about the system were larger than the realities of working in that system. Each year is still different than the last, each class a unique challenge. I look forward to this next year. I love teaching kindergarten!