Just over a month ago, I read this great blog post by Shelley Burgess that really made me think. I am a strong proponent of making classroom decisions based on what is “best for kids.” I used to tell teacher candidates to start conversations with the kids in mind. If you’re making decisions about approaches to try and activities to do, always consider the child first. I still believe in all of these words, but Shelley’s post made me finally really understand the value of “presuming positive intentions”: even if we’re all fighting for something different, could we still be doing so with the child’s best interests at heart?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I continue to reflect on Full-Day Kindergarten. In the summer, Ontario finalized its Kindergarten Program Document, and this school year, Kindergarten educators have all been working with this new document. We all seem to be at different places in our learning, and that’s okay. I continue to contemplate the following questions about the document, and when talking to other Kindergarten educators, I’m not alone in doing so.
- How do we support students with various learning needs?
- What might a play-based program look like? How do we capture and support learning in this environment?
- What role do students play in co-creating the learning environment? How do they help create this environment (both in planning and set-up), and what is the value in having kids take on these roles? (A special “thank you” to Cory Jobb for asking me about this on Twitter and inspiring me to add these questions.)
- What does the role of the educators and the role of the child look like in this classroom environment?
- What might direct instruction look like in the classroom? How much is too much? How much is not enough? How do you decide?
- When the document says that “literacy development and mathematics learning occur throughout play and inquiry, and not within isolated blocks of time,” does this mean that language and math centres are out all day long or that language and math are reinforced meaningfully through play? Does this distinction matter?
- When the document says that we view the child as “competent and capable of complex thought,” what role does this play in terms of how we design the classroom, how we interact with students, how we respond to student ideas, and what learning opportunities we provide for students?
- When the document reinforces that we start with the child’s interests and connect the expectations to these interests, what might this actually look like in the classroom? How do we also provide new experiences that may lead to other interests?
Depending on how we answer these questions can significantly impact on what our classrooms look like, what we’re doing throughout the day, and what our students are doing throughout the day. I keep thinking back to Shelley’s post and reminding myself that every educator is making decisions that he/she truly believes are best for children.
These classrooms all look so different though, and as I look through Instagram posts, tweets, and blog posts that discuss inquiry-based learning, play-based learning, and Reggio-inspired environments, I’m left questioning my own definitions of these terms. What do these words really mean? I am not a fan of edu-jargon, and I think that all learning environments should be more than the words themselves, but with a program document that explicitly outlines expectations as well as pedagogy, I wonder if we have to come to a common understanding of these terms. Do we all have to be at the same point right now? No. I even think it’s okay to say the words that Sergio Pascucci and Laurel Fynes have shared with me so often: “I used to think … but now I think …”. Our thinking and learning should be evolving, just as we want it to be for kids. We may even be comfortable saying, “I am not quite there yet, but I’m trying this and continuing to make changes.” My concern is though, if we call so many different experiences inquiry-based learning, play-based learning, and Reggio-inspired, but they are not actually that, what’s the impact of these mixed messages on parents, educators, administrators, and the students themselves? To increase the benefit of the program for kids and learn more from each other, I think we need a shared understanding. What do you think?