On Monday, we started the day with a special Awards Assembly and a visit from Bruiser: the mascot for The Hamilton Bulldogs. It was a really exciting assembly, and in order to record videos and take photographs to remember some special student moments, I decided to put myself in with the kids and sit on the floor.
I’ve taught primary for 12 years, and I’ve sat on the floor during many assemblies. Here’s what I always remember: it’s uncomfortable. Like really uncomfortable. Your legs fall asleep. You feel all squished in the middle of other students. You don’t have the much-needed personal space. This is when I start to fidget. I spread out my legs. I shift positions. I’m tempted — but don’t — get up on my knees, as then none of the students would be able to see over me. I count in my head the minutes until the assembly will be over!
This is also when I start to think about rules. I’m not talking all rules here, but some of them: the ones that make me start to wonder why we have them.
- “Criss-cross apple sauce.” Ask any primary teacher. He/she will have this rhyme committed to heart. If students are sitting safely so that nobody gets hurt (i.e., in their personal space), does it really matter if their legs are crossed?
- Anything to do with lines: line up quietly before coming inside. Line up at all, for that matter. (I’m a HUGE fan of free entry.) Stand to line up as you wait. Stand without talking. (I bet that we could play some wonderful Phonemic Awareness Games — even in our whisper voices — that might support our students and their Dibels next steps.) I wonder how many problems are caused in line ups — especially when considering our neediest students — and what the impact may be for time on task if students gradually progressed inside, with staff spread out to support students as needed.
- Writing on lined paper … and more so, everybody writing on the same type of paper. I’ve had many great discussions on Twitter about the “visual noise” that lines can cause. Many students, especially those beginner writers, work better without lines. Why can’t paper type be a choice?
- Sitting at tables to work. I let my students choose where to work. Some work on the floor. Some work at tables. Some work on cushions or the carpet. Some work in a quiet area on a chair. Many vary their spots depending on the task and their mood that day. Students need places to work, but do they always need to have the same place? If some students do, can we meet these individual needs, and give others the choice?
- Raising your hand to talk. In real life, we don’t raise hands. We have conversations. We wait our turn, we listen to what others say, and then we chime in. It’s hard to know when to jump in. It’s difficult to pause and not talk on top of others. It’s a challenge to think and wait before sharing. When we have students raise their hands though (and I often do this), we make the decisions about whose ideas get heard. I wonder the value in letting students decide. I wonder the value in letting them negotiate the “talking time.”
- Eating only at snack or at lunchtime. I love the self-regulation lunch break that many Full-Day Kindergarten teachers are using in their classrooms: let students choose when to eat, and transition seamlessly from eating time to work/play time. Or let students snack while they work because can you really focus on work when you’re hungry?
These are just some of the rules that I feel as though I’ve enforced for most of my 14 years in education, but now I’m starting to reconsider. I think that students benefit from routine. I think that there’s value in structure. But are students not listening, not behaving, not thriving, and/or not respectful if they don’t follow these rules or if we don’t have them in the first place? Getting a little uncomfortable on the floor with my Grade 1’s made me reconsider this list of rules. What ones are on your mind? Why? We don’t all have to have the same thoughts about these rules, but maybe there’s value in challenging what we’ve always done and contemplating new options.