Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Unlocking the Thinking of Investigative Research with languages and relationship

The second Sabot at Stony Point Institute entitled Time and Place: The Evolving Context for Reggio-Informed Teaching in Preschool through Lower School was by all accounts an inspiring and reaffirming experience for our staff and faculty.

Image result for sabot at stony point Lella Gandini, the US Liaison for the Dissemination of the Reggio Emilia Approach and Ben Mardell, Professor of Education at Lesley University served as our keynote speakers and galvanized our thinking. Dr. Mardell described research funded by Harvard' s Project Zero, This research entitled Children are Citizens was hosted in several DC schools.                                                           
                                                                                Project Zero Children are Citizens

It was interesting to hear that the children in DC were unearthing insights and perspectives about their city that were similar to the discoveries made by our kindergartners as they explore Richmond.

  • Representing the city.
  • Who does the city belong to and what could children do to make the city a better place to live.  
  • Exploring the neighborhoods of the city and getting a glimpse of the bigger world 
  • Developing a voice as the city's youngest citizens
Sometimes during investigative research it is  difficult to glean the evolution of the children's thinking  both as individuals and as a learning community. What connections are being made? What gaps are closing in their thinking about the city? Project circle is a time to put all of our work, representations and thinking on the table and see where we are in the process. Yet sitting in circle and remaining focused when your body feels like it needs to move and your head is filled with answers that need to be heard but only one person can talk at a time is profoundly difficult for some.

I have spent much time thinking and researching the idea of  intersubjectivity and reciprocal expectations. The Hundred Languages of Children (third edition, pg.286) has a quote that I find myself reading often.

"Reciprocal expectations in the school of Reggio Emilia go beyond child-teacher relationships. The inter-subjectivity of children within groups and the group's ability to function as an effective learning community is also cultivated through reciprocal expectations. Peers are expected to support each other's learning. Through group learning experiences, children learn not only how to support but go further to become responsible for each other's learning."

Peers are asked to take ownership for their own learning  but also to commit to moving the learning forward in the kindergarten community. There is nothing more awe inspiring than watching young children  shift their understanding as they co-construct meaning.

We wanted to cultivate intersubjectivity regarding their city thinking. We  offered  the children two provocations with the hope that their deep knowledge and understanding would bubble to the top.

We opened the block table for the children to construct a city. We offered them graphics for roads, railroad tracks, parking lots and traffic signs. The children built tunnels, bridges, skyscrapers, jails, zoos, playgrounds and homes. Each day there was a new group of children at the block table. We documented their conversations and interactions and observed as they negotiated the building and developed city stories.  

We also placed a large piece of paper on a table in our room each day. We provided a framework for the paper asking the children to draw Richmond as they see it and to collaborate and check in with their friends as they drew.

In the beginning, landmarks would show up on the paper but without context or thought given to location. Each day we would bring the paper to circle and notice the work of the class. Is the Virginia Museum of Fine Art on the Sabot side of the river or the city side of the river? How many bridges are there going over the river? Where is Carytown in relation to the city? The children would clarify and rectify the misconceptions they saw on the drawings.

"The Staples Mill Train Station is not near downtown Richmond."  Oliver

G. and E. become our experts on the downtown portion of the city.

The children have developed a strong understanding of their PLACE in the city....their school and the environment near their school. Notice that Martins grocery store is drawn on the road but the fire station is at the end of the forest path (a lasting memory created on MLK day when we trekked through the forest to give our community helpers a thank you basket) 

We also freed  up our large white table and set up a loose parts smorgasbord. We reminded the children that they would need to listen to each other and collaborate as they represented the city of Richmond.

These materials prompted much conversation regarding both the location of the children's home and the design, opportunities for play and the people in their home.

L. and M. swap stories of their homes and  families. They both labored over the inside of their homes and used alphabet cards to represent beloved animals and family members.

Each time the children played, represented, and drew together their perspective of the city became more cohesive and deepened their intersubjectivity. They were constructing their place in the city and an inner vision of Richmond.

This is where I live in the city. This is where WE go to school in the city. This is OUR  understanding of the city. These are the neighborhoods in OUR city. These are the roads, bridges and the train tracks that connect OUR homes and neighborhoods to each other. 

Each time the children have an experience with the city or an opportunity to play or represent their thinking we notice that their impressions and understanding always begins with  relationships.

 It may be a  relationship to a person or even their relationship to a landmark. For example, the CBS tower on Broad Street is important to Nathan because it is a beacon for his home. The tower now has significance to the Kindergarten because Nathan is a dear friend and classmate. We have visited his home in the Museum District and seen the tower with our own eyes.

Relationship is at the heart of all that we do.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Writing Zone

Luke writes about fighting a hot dog. The hot dog retaliated with a mustard bomb.

I have thought at length throughout the years about the nuances involved in generating and supporting a culture of writing in a Kindergarten class. I have tried to put myself in the shoes of a five and six year old as they begin to learn the language of words. So often these children are at the height of their imaginative play and  are perplexed  as to why they need to write  "talk" down. 

Once we begin to cultivate the peer sharing and introduce other audiences the perks of writing become more obvious. The children slowly experience the reactions of others to their illustrations and stories and are drawn into the humor and adventure developed by their peers. 

Peer sharing helps to generate contagion and fosters a community of writers.

We are forging a partnership with the second graders. N. visited our classroom to share some of the stories that she has written. They were descriptive, funny and very appealing. 

The Kindergarten expressed an interest in sharing their writing with second grade. We paired the children and they took turns listening and offering their thoughts to each other.

Evan and Gabriel wrote books and generated  an enthusiasm for the idea. They gathered materials and created a space for the children to duplicate their process and assemble books. Many of the children jumped into the process while others were gently nudged or pulled in by a friend. 

We also considered the many possibilities for writing including non-fiction books and letters. After writing a letter to Christine Webb, a beloved lunch and recess celebrity, they received a letter in return. The reciprocity of writing was becoming evident.
"She wrote back??" "Why did she write back?"

Gabriel is a naturalist. He observes his environment and outdoor spaces and then captures his thinking in elaborate detailed sketches. He visited Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens and then returned home to represent the birds he noted on his trip. Gabriel brought his book to school to share and inspired other books.

Evan merges his imagination with his love for Star War stories. He does not hesitate when writing. 
The words pour out of him as do the characters and plot lines.
We created small books
for the children thinking
that the space might
be less daunting.

The children wrote a how-to book after spending time in the snow.
Cole's book addresses making a snow clump.
Sadie writes about Spring and the
many colors that are present in
the blooming flowers.
Harper writes about a guy picking apples.

The visits from the second grade reminded us that authors often launch a story with a description of where the story takes place. Authors open the door to their story in different ways. Some quickly open the door and immediately reveal their characters while other stories invite you in and then slowly introduce you to the characters. 

We have taken direction from published authors as well. 
We have read books by Angela Johnson, Mem Fox, Peter Spier, Eric Carle and Rosemary Wells. What small moments have they focused on? What details were important to the these small moments and which ones were left out? 

When we read The Leaving by Angela Johnson we  noticed that she described a foggy morning  with the word "soupy". She also did not reveal where the family was moving. This seemed perfect to some and frustrating to others. 

Sadie said, "It is about the leaving not the coming."


Will, a second grader suggested that the Kindergartners might enjoy  writing comic strips. He explained how reading and later writing comics appealed to his sense of humor. The children thought this was a good idea and so we researched a few frames and provided opportunities to use this format for story writing. We have had adventure and comedy stories but a rendition of the biblical story of Passover was also published.

One thing that we have come to realize as Kindergarten teachers is that as ideas and stories ignite in young children's imagination and pour out on paper it is hard to focus on both getting the details on the paper and forming lower case letters. We acknowledge that as children take risks and unleash their stories they may backslide on handwriting. As they ask their peers or a second grader to read their written words the reader will provide feedback  regarding legibility. Handwriting will once again become a priority. 

"So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
Dr. Suess

You can make anything by writing.
C. S. Lewis