The Time I Forgot About Halloween …

The funniest thing happened to me when I got to my Reading Part 1 course tonight. I was a few minutes early, and sat down at one of the tables with some other teachers talking around me. The instructor came up to join us, and people were chatting about their busy day on the day before Halloween. Oh my goodness! I took out my iPad and quickly texted my teaching partner, Paula. I can’t believe what we forgot as we planned ahead for tomorrow: we totally forgot about Halloween.

There’s a little “interesting” in this forgetful moment.

  • Very few students today discussed Halloween. We didn’t prohibit the topic of conversation. We just didn’t start it. A couple of children spoke quietly to their friends about costumes and a few children brought some special Halloween treats in their lunches today. That was it though. Nobody painted pumpkins, drew bats, made scary costumes, or wrote Halloween stories. It kind of makes me wonder, how much of an interest do they really have around this holiday?
  • As others discussed the “craziness” of today, I had to admit that our class was actually quite calm. In fact, it was one of our best Mondays yet! It was a very routine day, and seemed to possess the right combination of sensory options, problem solving possibilities, and choice, to make the day pretty close to perfect! 

Reflecting now though, I can’t help but wonder about Halloween (and really holidays in general). Is it sometimes our mentioning of the holiday that produces the dysregulation? If children indicate a limited interest in the celebration, why do we push it? I know that tomorrow, all of the students will show up in costumes, and many are eager to partake in the parade. But what happens after that? Maybe the students will be just as eager to settle into routine, or maybe the conversations will change to Halloween, and the play will also change. As Paula mentioned in her follow-up text to me tonight, “I guess we just need to go with the flow.” There’s something to be said for that. With a little luck and a few deep breaths (likely my own), maybe Halloween won’t be so crazy after all!


Reframing The Loud Lineups

In education, there are certain topics that come up for discussion again and again. I don’t necessarily mean topics related to academics — such as the best approaches for teaching reading or what to include in a comprehensive math program — but topics connected to a child’s day-to-day behaviour. This is my 17th year teaching in my seventh elementary school, and here’s one topic of conversation that has come up in all of these years: lining up. As I’ve blogged about before, I’m a huge believer in the benefits of “free entry,” and enforcing quiet lineups often cause me stress. It seems like one of those arguments that take a lot for teachers to win. But it was not until an experience from yesterday that I had my epiphany on lining up. 

Yesterday, we had 13 Grade 6 students join us for our time out in the forest. We have a small forest that lines our school property, and we always meet at the fence in our Kindergarten play area first, do attendance, and then head outside to the forest. This is exactly what we did yesterday, but with the addition of some older (and taller) students in our line. I found myself really examining the lineups yesterday. 

When we start at the fence, we initially give very few instructions. We get all of the students to run from this fenced area to the fence on the outskirts of the forest. One of us keeps up with the middle of this line of runners, and one of us stays at the back, so we can still see everyone as they head to this second fence. Even so, we take attendance again at this second fence, and that’s when we also review the boundaries before the children go off to play. Yesterday, I realized how much I love that we do this review and have our conversations at this second fence.

  • We usually go out to the forest without the other Kindergarten classes. This means that there are fewer students and less extraneous noise. The quiet in the background, also tends to quiet our children, and makes it easier to have conversations with them.
  • The run out to the forest is also calming for many children. We don’t have children walk out and follow us in a quiet line. Some children do walk out with us, but we tend to encourage a faster run to help burn off some energy and to help create the calm environment which is so wonderful to have out in the forest.

We are then out in the forest space for over an hour — usually closer to 1 1/2 hours. Students move past the big runs and the loud tag games to more focused, richer, and deeper learning opportunities. 

It’s after all of this exploration and talking time that we blow the whistle and have everyone meet us at the fence. Even before we do attendance again, you can see and hear the difference in the children. It’s so much calmer. They are actually able to quiet down. 

We then do one more run back to the Kindergarten play area before lining up to head inside. This is when the amazing happens. We do actually get a quiet line, and even quiet in our back cubby room as the children get undressed and ready for our meeting time in the classroom. (Please note that the noise that you hear is actually coming from the children working next door, and not us.)

What makes this possible? I think it’s self-regulation. All of the time out in the forest, moving around, talking, playing, and thinking together, help the children calm down. I keep on thinking about Stuart Shanker‘s saying that, “Self-regulation makes self-control possible.” Quiet lineups are all about self-control, but can children demonstrate this control when they’re not calm?

And maybe this is the crux of the issue when it comes to lining up at school. For when do we get children to lineup? It’s often after quick transition times, such as after a 20 minute recess or after the first few minutes of arriving at school in the morning. I wonder if it’s reasonable to expect a quiet lineup for EVERY child, when dysregulation could be the reason that these lineups are so hard to accomplish. If a quiet line isn’t always possible, how can we still show respect and be safe when entering or exiting a school? Watching what happened yesterday made me realize just how much time some students need to get to “calm.” Maybe loud lineups are not the result of misbehaviour, but stress behaviour, and could this difference be a significant one?


How Has An E.C.E. Changed You?

Tomorrow is E.C.E. Appreciation Day, and tonight, I’ve been thinking a lot about how fortunate I am to work with such an amazing Early Childhood Educator. Paula Crockett is passionate about students, families, and education, and determined to make every day the best possible one for kids. This is my second year working with Paula, and I realize how much I’ve changed because of her. 

    • Bells no longer run my life. Yes, I know the times of the periods, and I always have my duty times committed to memory, but I’ve become a lot better at watching kids versus watching the clock. Our times are now “ish-like” even in our daybook, and it’s due to Paula that we have this more student-centred approach.
    • It’s about getting to know the whole child. I’ve worked at some schools for many years, and over that time, taught numerous siblings, but I never really made it my goal to know the whole family. This tended to happen in time, but it was never planned. But Paula takes the time to not just get to know the child, but everyone and everything that matters to that child. She learns sibling names, pets, and parents. She knows hockey schedules, basketball games, and baseball practices. Paula realizes that connecting with a child is about more than a surface connection, and now I make it my goal to build better relationships. 
    • Trees no longer scare me! A couple of years ago, I was so excited to move to a school with an amazing outdoor space. I loved the idea of children climbing trees and taking safe risks in nature, but at first, watching this risk-taking terrified me. I remember my many utterances of “be careful.” Paula’s calmness was something that I just hoped to achieve one day. But with her modelling and the responses of students, I changed … and for the better! Risk-taking in nature often corresponds to risk-taking in the classroom, and if it weren’t for Paula, I would have stifled many students from taking these risks.

    • Our tone matters! Paula is calm — really calm — and she always uses this tone with children. Even if a child is crying, she’ll say something along the lines of, “_______, you seem really sad. What’s up?” She is always there to comfort with her kind words and supportive actions, but by staying calm, students respond calmly as well. Tears stop. Problems are discussed. And we don’t inadvertently make these problems worse. Stuart Shanker talks a lot about the impact that an adult’s ability to self-regulate can have on a child, and Paula shows me the power of this every single day. My cries of, “Oh no! What’s wrong?,” have slowly changed to calmer responses, and ultimately result in calmer kids. 
    • Genuine play is different! Paula knows how to play with kids — like really play. She inserts her way into a conversation in a way that I still strive to do, and makes those genuine connections that change the responses from children. It’s because of Paula that I’ve gotten better at getting down with students, listening to them, and extending play. I’m still working on this, but learning how to play is a skill … and one that I continue to learn from Paula. 

Early Childhood Educators have an incredible knowledge of child development. They understand kids … and with a Kindergarten Document that puts children at the centre of learning, there’s something to be said for what we can learn from E.C.E.’s. 

So as E.C.E. Appreciation Day dawns, consider what you’ve learned from an Early Childhood Educator. How has an E.C.E. helped change your practices? And if you have not had an opportunity to learn from an Early Childhood Educator, try to take the time to make this valuable connection. You will not be disappointed! I’m glad that Paula has helped change me (for the better), and I know that she will continue to do so in the years to come! 

With much admiration and a whole lot of thanks, I’d like to say, “Happy E.C.E. Appreciation Day!” #YouMatter


The Complex, Messy Wonderfulness That Is Learning!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this blog post on my evolving thoughts around pedagogical documentation and how I share this learning with others. I really thought that moving away from separate blog posts may be the way to go, but then some wonderful experiences happened this week, and I didn’t know how to share these stories. That’s when I thought that maybe my professional blog is a way to reflect on this learning, for there are definitely some personal learning components to these experiences. 

The story started on Monday afternoon at the creative table with one of our Year 2 students. Many children were using this space as a Makerspace, and I happened to put out some popsicle sticks on the table. I called a few students over to help me clean up the mess at this table, and that’s when one of the boys noticed that he could make letters out of popsicle sticks. What’s particularly incredible about this is that nobody else made letters out of these sticks, and it wasn’t even my intention for them to do so. But as the popsicle sticks lay on top of each other on the table, this child thought about letter formations, and one letter became many more. 

I wanted him to think critically about the shapes of the letters as well as the letter-names and sounds, which is why I asked him the question about creating a letter B out of popsicle sticks. While one child was certain that you couldn’t make a B out of popsicle sticks, and I tended to agree, Edward decided to take this on as a challenge, and he created a B. Now I was a little disappointed that the day was almost over, and we really had to tidy up, but I asked Edward if we could keep his letters at school for another day. I wanted to try to extend this learning. I spoke to my teaching partner, Paula, and we decided to put the letters back out on the creative table in addition to the other creations that students made. We thought that we would wait and see what happened. 

As expected, other students were inspired by the popsicle stick letters, and they decided to make some of their own. There was also a lot of discussion around letters, sounds, and words. The addition of the book at the creative table, also led to some storytelling and reading, which is always wonderful to see. While Edward went back to the table to create some more letters, even better still, all of this talk about letters led to him working on how to write and spell his name. He was so proud of his new accomplishment, and we were too!

Paula and I spoke again after school on Tuesday, and since the popsicle stick letters and Makerspace experiences were still popular, we decided to leave out the materials. We added tape and felt as different mediums, and ways to see what else the children might do. Then we waited. 

On Wednesday, Edward was excited to show Paula how he could write his name: she was away sick on Monday afternoon and Tuesday, so hadn’t seen his accomplishment in person. I thought that his interest might end there, but it didn’t. He went over to the popsicle sticks and began to make the letters in his name out of popsicle sticks. That’s when he realized that he could make letters out of other items, such as blocks. His letter-writing and identification story continues, as seen in the Instagram stories below.

This letter interest was not just contained inside. Edward began to find letters outside, and other children chimed in on this letter-learning, and even extended it further. All week long, students commented on the “stick letters” they found in the forest, and even brought some back to explore in the outdoor classroom at the end of the day. One child even found a letter in a scrap piece of paper.

What’s particularly wonderful about readers and writers is that when students start to see themselves in these ways, their interest and skills gradually start to improve. This is what happened here. Now he started to think about how writing could “communicate messages that others could read,” and we explored letter-sounds in meaningful ways, as he chose to label some containers in the classroom.

Fast-forward to the next day — Thursday — when Edward decided to do something with the two old movie posters that we added to the Makerspace. When he taped these posters to the ground, Paula and I weren’t sure what he was going to do next, but he had a plan: he created a jungle. Other children got involved in the building and creation process, and reading and writing became a valuable part of this process as seen in the Instagram stories below.

Just after he ate lunch today, @paulacrockett and I noticed that Edward had unrolled a movie theatre poster and was lying on top of it. What was he doing. Trying to straighten it out. He then got tape to tape it down on the floor, and grabbed a second poster to attach to it. A worker needed to get under our sink, so Edward relocated. When @paulacrockett asked him what he was making, he said, “a jungle.” He used the blocks for trees. He also tried to create a volcano using a partially circular block to be the opening at the top. He started to label the items in the jungle, including the berries he made. As seen here, he’s reading me back the word he wrote. Friends even came to help. Edward even changed the play at the Lego table by starting to use the Lego to make dinosaurs to add to his jungle. ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #cti_languageoftransientart

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Other children got involved in Edward’s jungle. Nola made a sign to not touch the jungles, and Edward continued making and reading signs to label his jungle. @paulacrockett and I love what he made, but we knew that he couldn’t leave it in the middle of the floor so close to the door. We worked with him to problem solve and move his jungle onto a table. He then extended it even more and surrounded the table with five chairs. He asked children if they wanted to work on his jungle tomorrow, and added them to his list of five. Then he read us his numbered picture. Literacy, math, problem solving, creativity, innovation, and social skills all evident in this student-directed free play! ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #cti_languageoftransientart

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Edward’s plan to extend the jungle, also led to a great reading, writing, and math opportunity out in the forest yesterday.

Since the new location of the jungle took over the Lego table, we also had to move around some items including some of the Lego. Since we added some forest and jungle books to the jungle table, we put the Lego books over on the shelves closer to the Lego. A few children looked at these books before, but they never tried to build anything in them. Then yesterday, the new location of the books and the building materials, attracted some different students … and now they used the books. It’s great to hear the reading, math, and problem solving talk in this space!

Paula and I also spoke more about how we could extend the learning that’s happening in the classroom, and that’s when she suggested an end-of-the-day reflection meeting on what we learned. While students shared different things that they did, she also targeted certain students to discuss their learning, which inspired others, and even had children set their own plans for the next day. 

It was one of these reflection circles that led to Trinity’s exploration of letters yesterday. She got other students involved, and there was some great problem solving as part of this process.

Looking at these experiences as they connect to each other, helps us determine some possible next steps, especially around letter-sounds, and blending these sounds together to read words. But looking back, this process was also a good reminder for us about children, how they learn, and the environment that they need to be successful. Paula and I have had many conversations about this topic over the week, and here are some of our biggest takeaways.

1. Children need time. I have been as guilty as they come for cleaning things up too quickly. If areas are empty in the room, I’m usually one that’s eager to switch around the materials and use the space differently. But sometimes we just need to give students more time to come to these spaces. We also need to leave items out for multiple days for children to explore — and re-explore — in different ways. This Makerspace area remained all week long with very few changes, and we also plan on having this space on Monday. Since children continue to come here, to create, and to make some amazing connections to literacy, math, and problem solving, why would we tidy it up?

2. Sometimes moving an item to a new location changes children’s interest in it. We saw this with the Lego books this week. For weeks now, we’ve had these books over on the Lego table, and while a few children flip through them, this is usually where the interest ends. Putting them on a new shelf though, attracted different students, and students used these books in a new way. This was a good reminder for us that sometimes just a small change leads to a big difference.

3. We need to remember the developmental component in a Kindergarten classroom. There is a lot of growth in Kindergarten, and while children come to us between the ages of three and five, the difference in these ages is huge. Some children are developmentally like toddlers when they enter Kindergarten, and we need to give them the time and support to progress through this stage, as we also try to meet the academic demands of our program. I’m taking Reading Part 1 right now, and I do agree with the thinking that’s shared in the course that reading skills have to be explicitly taught. This includes letter-names and sounds. But children have to be ready for this learning, and as they’re immersed in a language-rich environment, we’ll begin to hear and see this readiness, and can then extend their learning. Once again, I’m reminded of the key question in the Kindergarten Program Document: “why this learning for this child at this time?” In my opinion, it’s a question that’s valuable in all grades.

4. Rich learning often involves the mixing of materials. I think of all of the times that we could have stopped children this week. Blocks, paper, Lego, glue, tape, and books all ended up together, but it was in the combination of materials that we moved from letter-identification and formation to letter-use. So, as I remind myself regularly, items can always be moved back to their proper place. For now, the “proper place” is mixed up with many other items.

5. We cannot underestimate the value in free play. I can’t help but think about this tweet that I saw from Anne the other day. (I’m so grateful to Laurel Fynes for retweeting it.)

If we added activity signs to any of our classroom spaces, none of this learning would have happened this week. Children used materials in ways that we didn’t expect, and mixed materials in ways that we wouldn’t have anticipated. It was the “free” nature of our classroom play that allowed for the best learning. This doesn’t mean that we didn’t question and support this learning during the process — and our documentation definitely shows that we did — but we started with the child first. Maybe this is the best reminder of all. The Kindergarten Program Document reminds us to view children as “competent and capable of complex thought.” How do you remember to always do this? What impact might this statement have on your classroom and program design?

This learning story is long, complicated, spans the Four Frames, and started with one child, but includes multiple children now. It’s a good reminder that learning is messy, complex, and amazingly wonderful … for observing the growth this week has been exactly that! How do you capture and reflect on the learning that happens in your classroom? How do you use these reflections to guide future learning — for yourself and for your studentsMaybe my new focus on pedagogical documentation will include more of these complex, multi-faceted learning stories, which shine a light on my learning and the learning of our students.


Does Modelling Need To Come First?

At the end of September, I began taking the Reading Part 1 course through our Board.

The other Additional Qualification Courses that I’ve taken have all been online, so it’s been a new experience for me to attend class once a week with others, but I’m quite enjoying it. At this week’s class, we all shared our presentations on Comprehension Strategies. It’s funny what happens when you sit back and listen to multiple presentations in a row: sometimes repetition of similar points leads to new thinking. This is what happened to me on Monday night. 

Towards the end of the presentations that night, I sent out this tweet.

Many of us — our group included — discussed the value in modelling the use of these comprehension strategies. Yes, I still support this, but now I’m starting to rethink the timing. Does modelling always have to come first?

I can’t help but think about one of my favourite Dr. Jean Clinton videos on “stuffing the duck.” 

Every day, my teaching partner, Paula, and I work hard at living by the words and ideas that Dr. Clinton shares here. And so, if kids are not “empty vessels,” and there’s value in building on their natural curiosity, then would these same ideas continue to hold true when it comes to reading? As we stood up at the front of the room on Monday night and began our presentation, I listened to the message that our group shared about “starting with modelling.”  All of a sudden I wanted to shout, “Wait a minute! Now I’m not so sure.” What message do we give children about themselves as readers and as thinkers when we insist on modelling first? How could we use modelling to extend what children already know? I love how a few repeated statements in an evening of presentations began to shift my perspective. Would they have shifted yours?