Friday, December 6, 2013


What does it mean to listen? 

It is one of those questions that we think we know the answer and yet when we stop to really consider the question we are at a loss for words. 

The Kindergarten teachers and I joined the mothership (the preschool teachers)  for a discussion regarding the book The Hundred Languages of Children. We had read the chapter entitled the "Pedagogy of Listening". 

The entire chapter was powerful but one sentence really resonated with me:

"Listening produces questions, not answers."

Often when we listen we have an impulse to solve the problem described, react to a comment, instruct, console or give advice. How often do we or those who are listing to us respond with questions?

Try it today. Listen to someone and respond with questions only. What happens? Does it change the entire conversation?

As  a teacher at Sabot I have learned that my voice in the classroom can sometimes resemble the adults in Charlie Brown.

Children are most influenced by the ideas, thoughts and words of their peers. If I stopped talking and empowered the children to talk and listen to each other contagion, inspiration and learning would live in our classroom. Peppermint Patty didn't just have a cool name she was a sage. 

To end on a more serious note: 

I have been listening to reflections on Nelson's Mandela's life the last 24 hours. In each reflection he is regarded as a leader who listened. He listened to others and others listened to him. His voice carried.

"As a leader....I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion."
Nelson Mandela

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Perspective of the Child and our Response

The Perspective of a Child and our Response


As educators at Sabot, we spend our days listening to children and considering their perspective. We document moments with our cameras, read their words, consider their thoughts and ideas and view the child's work. 

What are their intentions? What is propelling them forward What concepts and feelings are they grappling with today?

I am currently on a sabbatical and although reading many books and blogs written by professionals in the field of education I am also taking the opportunity to read fiction. It takes such deep insight to garnish the perspective of a child but both Betty Smith and Eowyn Ivey seem to capture the spirit of childhood in their novels.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a classic novel written by author Betty Smith. Francie, the protagonist of the book, shares her stories of growing up in poverty on the streets of Brooklyn at the turn of the century. Betty Smith  palpably describes the perspective of Francie regarding her surroundings, family and the common events of her day. One of my favorite passages however recounts Francie's memory of learning to read.

"For quite a while, Francie had been spelling out letters  sounding them and then putting the sounds together to mean a word. But one day, she looked at a page and the word "mouse"had instantaneous meaning. She looked at the word and the picture of a gray mouse scampered through her mind. She looked further and when she saw "horse" she heard him pawing the ground and saw the sun glint on his glossy coat. The word "running" hit her suddenly and breathed hard as though running herself. The barrier between the individual sound of each letter and the whole meaning of the word was removed and the printed word meant a thing at one quick glance. She read a few pages rapidly and almost became ill with excitement . She wanted to shout out. She could read! She could read!"

The second book is written by a young first time  author who captures our innate response to protect children without considering their capabilities and resilience. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is set in the beautiful but isolated Alaskan Frontier.  

An older woman and her husband move to this remote frontier to escape the memories of a child lost in childbirth but one evening they experience an event that defies explanation. 

After building a snow child from the first snow of the season they awaken the next morning to find the snow child has been trampled and the mittens and scarf are missing. The older couple observes a small figure running through the trees. Mabel is reminded of an old Russian Fairy tale about a snow child coming to life and begins to wonder if she and Jack just created the child together. Is she a real child or a figment of their imagination?

The pages of the books seem to scream to the reader, "Believe in the ingenuity of childhood." I could also hear the words from the iconic song by .38 Special each time I turned a page. Just hold on loosely but don't let go if you cling to tightly you are gonna loose control."  

"Look at yourself, child. Your hair is a mess. Your're filthy."

Mabel pulled at the ragged sleeve of the child's cotton dress. "This needs to be washed, maybe just thrown out. I'm making several new dresses for you."
 The child backed toward the door. Mabel grabbed her  by the wrist, but Faina yanked it free. "Mabel, Jack said, "let the child go."
The girl was gone for days and when she returned she was skittish, but Mabel took no heed. She pinched at the girl's clothing and hair, and asked if she had ever gone to school, ever looked at a book. With each prying question, the child took another step back.
"We're going to lose her," he wanted to tell Mabel. Jack wasn't one to believe in fairy tale maidens made of snow . Yet Faina was extraordinary. Vast mountain ranges and unending wilderness sky and ice. You couldn't hold her too close or know her mind. Perhaps it was so with all children. Certainly he and Mabel hadn't formed into the molds their parents had set for them.

These books capture the image of the child that we strive for endlessly in our classrooms.
This image was cultivated by Loris Malaguzzi, the author of the following three quotes.

It’s necessary that we believe that the child is very
intelligent, that the child is strong and beautiful and
has very ambitious desires and requests. This is the
image of the child that we need to hold.

Those who have the image of the child as fragile,
incomplete, weak, made of glass gain something from
this belief only for themselves. We don’t need that as
an image of children.

Instead of always giving children protection, we need
to give them the recognition of their rights and of their

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Act Your Way Into Another Way of Thinking.

Rather than think your way into another way of acting
Act your way into another way of thinking”
Mary Gentile was the feature speaker at a Robins School of Business Speakers Series. She was addressing the importance of teaching ethics to students as they embark on a career in business. She has an impressive resume and a wealth of experience and yet she interacted with the audience as if she was a trusted confidante. Ms. Gentile’s epiphany, the moment that changed the direction of her teaching and life work, was the rephrasing of a question.
She no longer asks her students, “What is the right thing to do?” She confirms that her students are aware of the problems represented in the case study, she asks for some analysis but the important piece is the planning. “The right thing to do is known but what process would you implement to achieve it?”
Research has detailed that most employees know the right thing to do when confronted with a significant problem at the work place. Determining the process for reaching this end result feels untenable.
The HOW seems unreachable and leaves an employee feeling paralyzed.
Ms. Gentile had a hypothesis. Our muscles retain memory and react due to the physicality of practice. Instead of thinking your way through a situation might rehearsal provide the default behavior that illuminates the path to doing the right thing (picture heavens gates opening and a choir singing Halleluiah)?

This resonated with me as a teacher of young children.
Sticky problems are best solved with time to represent and experience the consequences of all actions.

The best way to learn to climb a tree is to climb a tree. Words are sometimes overrated.

Using a variety of languages and media to
process the ideas deepens the learning

It is not the answer but the process that will make the difference.

Rehearsal and practice promotes automaticity.

Shifting thinking occurs when the learner is engaged and experiencing dissonance.

Learning must occur in an environment encouraging risk taking and learning from mistakes.




Sunday, October 27, 2013


 River City Taiko drumming in Founders Hall

Music Circle at Sabot has evolved. It began as a circle of song. Singing is such a metaphor for community. Individual voices united in verse and music to create one sound. As time passed, questions were raised about rhythm, percussion, environmental sounds and music created with environmental artifacts. Our one music circle has morphed into two cross-grade circles (sometimes three in the case of these photographs).  Pippin and Mauren lead our circles responding to the work and ideas of the children documented in prior weeks. 
The third and K use rhythm sticks together.
As I documented music circle this particular week one word  was resonating with me.

The music in each setting was accessible.  Each child had opportunities to create sound, rhythm and music. There was not a code to be broken or a feeling that music was a gift given to some and not others. Music was right there in the room, ready to be grabbed by anyone who was interested.  The teachers were scaffolding the nuances and the skills of drumming and rhythm but the message was loud and clear: Together we can make
 beautiful sounds. 

"A language is more than a set of symbols. A language contains rules of combining these symbols to convey meaning. Thus, a panel where each child's photograph contains a little animal stamp for that child's identity is not a language. But a child's stamp followed by an arrow and another child's stamp could mean, "Amy likes Zoie." A simple syntax is born and with it a new language for children to invent and explore relations."
The Hundred Languages of Children the third edition

Playing the game: Name that Sound
The music in each location that Wednesday was developed as the need for syntax become evident. The music we created required a shared understanding to ignite communication and move forward together. This is work that the children recognize. This is work they do everyday in all areas of study. How do we create ideas and meaning together? They feel empowered to express their thinking using the language of music.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Early Reading :The Magical Connection

Lois Lowry has an essay published in the book, A Family of Readers.  The essay describes an experience she has with her daughter exploring letters and print as they walk through the streets of their neighborhood. Ms. Lowry pointed to the Os in the word LOOK and described the letter as the eyes of the word.

"Then--a miracle!--one evening she glanced at the print in a picture book I was reading to her and happened upon the same word. She saw it on the paper looked up at me, saw that I was reading the print, heard me say the word look---and made the magical connection in her mind that propelled her, like a little tow-headed rocket, into reading."

Reading is a process of discreet skills. Children scan left to right, discriminate between letters and words,  match letters to sound, hold the sounds in short term memory while segmenting and blending the sounds...the list is extensive.  The process is usually similar for most children but the moment that the "magical connection" is made varies from child to child.  Sometime children are so busy telling stories and inventing stories that the task of reading a story does not hold value to the child.  Often these children arrive to reading through the backdoor. They break the sound symbol code as they learn to write their imaginative stories. If you slip into this child's shoes for a moment it makes perfect sense.

As a Kindergarten teacher, I fear only one thing----anxiety. If a child feels pressured, pushed or perceives the process as beyond his or her reach  emotion  may shut the process down.  It is a balance between motivating, inspiring and encouraging reading and avoiding feelings of being overwhelmed and powerless.

Parents often ask for advice as to how to  support their child at home in a way that is fun, empowering and without judgement. I have created  a cheat sheet as they begin the reading journey with their child (and avoid the  "show stoppers" ).

Reading with my child: A cheat sheet

Guided Reading
  •  Preview the book and ask: What do you think this book is about?
  • Look at the picture clues together. What is happening on each page?
  •  Rephrase matching word choice. “The cat is chasing mice.” “Yes it looks like the cat is a chasing a rat.
  •  Read a page together in chorus and then model reading a page and ask the child to read a page.
  •  Stop for comprehension checks.
  • “What occurred that allowed the rat to escape.”

Reading Strategies for Unknown Words
  1. Use pictures clues
  2. Link to prior knowledge
  3. Use the words around the unknown word to predict.
  4. Substitute a word that fits the context.
  5. “This word fits in the sentence but does that word begin with a “p” sound?”
  6. Look at the beginning and ending sounds
  7. Break the word into word parts
  8. Segment the word into letters and then blend the sounds
  9.  Cross check

It is important for early readers to use their finger as they scan from left to right. This supports matching symbols to sound and discriminating between words and letters.
Children may memorize the text of early readers! This is perfectly fine and reaffirming

Sunday, October 6, 2013


 The Potentiality of a Child

The child, his peers, teacher and environment
I was discussing the role of a teacher in a constructivist classroom this week with several colleagues.  How do we as teachers and parents hold students to their potential but yet respect each child's individual path?  The child exists, learns and journeys in context to his or her peers, teacher and family and environment. 

The word potentiality carries much weight for me. 
It conveys fluidity, process, evolution and most importantly hope. Does a child or even an adult ever reach their final potential? Are we able to predict potentiality or is it a variable that is in flux for the duration of our lives as human beings?

My oldest child transitioned this year from high school into community college. We learned when he entered Kindergarten that his journey might involve a different path than we had hoped. It was often a struggle to tuck away the fear and instead be guided by our love for him and hope in his future. We found that we had to focus on his potentiality and yet remain willing and open to the path that was his to take.  As his parents, my husband and I often suffered through the realization that by protecting our son we were stripping him of his  independence and encouraging learned helplessness.  We tried to listen, console and empathize but then gently place the ownership of the problem or decision back into his hands. Our experience taught us that his potentiality would be evident through the interactions with his peers, teachers and environment BUT it was never easy to  let go and trust. 

Childhood and even adulthood for that matter is a journey not a race. 

Is there ever a finishing line? 
Perhaps there are just milestones to be celebrated along the way? 

Of course, early bloomers should be nurtured. There's no value to squandering ability. But nor should we dismiss the tortoise. At any given time, it's impossible to predict the extent to which a person will eventually blossom—and disastrously naive for "experts" (or parents or teachers) to decree limits on what that person can achieve. This is reason enough to treat everyone as if they have the potential to reach full bloom.
Scott Barry Kaufman is an American psychologist, author, and popular science writer known for his research and writing on intelligence and creativity.  This article appeared in Psychology Today.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Connections Derived from Beauty

This school year finds me taking a sabbatical from the classroom. I do have the privilege of joining the Kindergarten one day a week to support the teachers. This continues to anchor me in the moments of a classroom. 

One of the most important parts of working at Sabot is taking time to reflect on our work. It is  my hope to find the time to read expert text, explore the blogs of other teachers and consider my observations and documentation from my seven years of teaching at Sabot. My discovery during the last month however is that the time to pause and reflect never exists on its own. This time is born from a firm intention and concerted effort to hold space for it in our lives that are always too busy.

Picture me with muscles bulging holding back the demands of life to just sit with some big ideas each week.


We traveled this summer to Mexico. At every turn I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the land and the people. What I found most inspiring was the way in which the outdoors was brought inside homes. As my eyes absorbed the simplicity, texture and color I would feel my shoulders relax and my mind freed of clutter. 

Environments impact all of us. We are awakened, overwhelmed, distracted and influenced by the places we exist each day or visit for hours.

Vea Vecchi, a consultant to "Reggio Children" and a revered atelierista at the Diana School in Reggio Emilia for over thirty years writes, "The aesthetic vibration can become activators of learning; how they are able to support and nourish kinds of knowledge not based uniquely on information; and how by avoiding simply definable categories, they can lead to the sensitive empathy and relation with things which creates connections."

If you are thinking that this perspective is entitled and does not have a place in parts of the world  ravaged by war, poverty and hunger, Vea counters with these words.
"It is neither comfortable nor simple to speak of beauty and aesthetics in a world afflicted by injustice, poverty, repression and cruelty. Beauty and aesthetics may seem ideas so ephemeral and far removed from our everyday lives that we feel almost ashamed to speak of them. At the same time we can sense how they counter apparent fragility with an extraordinary strength and resilience that  derives from this intrinsic fragility itself.".

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Signs at Joes

So we took our Friendly Signs on the road and went out into the community to see what would happen if we waved our signs.  If people were feeling grouchy would the signs influence their feelings? Would they feel less grouchy?

We were excited but we took this expedition seriously. We documented the conversations that we had with the people we encountered.  We dropped to our knees and started writing immediately. 
Sometimes we had to establish systems to streamline the amount of feedback that we were receiving. Ella placed a happy face and a sad face at the top of her paper and then she would record the comments beneath the correct column.


"We stood outside Joe's Inn with our signs. I think Joe Driebe who is the owner came outside and said that the sings make him feel happy. It might have been a worker for the pizza restaurant. "

"I was walking around with the signs. Lots of people said that the signs made them happy.  One person said that he was happy to see happiness in the world. Another person said  they were going to go make more people happy in the world like we did."

I person said that  "I would love to have a piece of love on this Earth."

 "This is me zooming to a person with my sign and clipboard. I would ask if I could have a little time and they would say yes."

" We went inside Joe's Inn and we talked to two of the workers. One said that the smiley face sign looked like his friend. This made me laugh because the smiley face was very funny and I did not think it looked like his friend."

We returned to Sabot with the knowledge that our signs did brighten a little piece of the world that we touched that day.

 We reflected on our results and realized that "Ho, No! Too Many Happys" (note the giant clipboard on the sidewalk).

Monday, May 20, 2013

What we know about collage

The Forest is a profound experience for each child. 

Each year we consider a language for the children to express and document their time playing, learning, imagining, creating and absorbing the Forest. 

One of our intentions this year was to provide materials for collage as a  form of expression. We used loose material collage and paper collage during investigative research and also during story workshop. This language offers many affordances and can be liberating for young children with slowly developing fine motor skills. Mistakes which deepen understanding (and so encouraged) are easily remedied with collage.

As we worked with collage (below),  we acquired a shared framework for using it.. 

We discovered:

  • Collage works best if you attend to the background of a picture first. 
  • Smaller pieces of paper layered can provide dimension.
  • Planning before working with collage is important but sketching small details on the paper to collage does not work.
  • Using mixed media with collage(colored pencils, thinking pens) received mixed reviews. Some children thought it was distracting and detracted from their collage. 
  • The details of the foreground---a tree, person, bridge---can be assembled and then glued in its entirety to the collage.

A few of our finished works of art