Why Was This Week Not Exhausting?

Usually during the first week of Kindergarten, I’d be writing a tweet similar to the one that I sent out on the first day of Camp Power.

This was the first year ever that I did not come home feeling absolutely exhausted! While I’m happy that I still had lots of energy left, I started to think about why this year might be different.

We have lots of Senior Kindergarten (Year 2) students that we taught last year in Junior Kindergarten (Year 1). Our class this year is SK heavy. We have 18 SK children to 11 JK children (and yes, I still think of them as JK and SK versus Year 1 and Year 2). Most of these SK students were with us last year in JK. They know us. They know the classroom routines and feel comfortable in both the room and in the school. These children all came back to school as if they never left, but even more eager to be a leader, support new students, and make new friends. Every one of them has been a tremendous help to us this week, and helped my teaching partner, Paula, and I feel as though we didn’t have to do it all. 

We started to make small changes early on based on our observations. Paula and I really tried to get to know our kids this week. While many adjusted well, some needed a little extra support. We started to think a lot about the classroom environment and what might work better for these learners. 

  • Is there an independent space for them?
  • Which activities do they like the most?
  • Do they have items from home that might help during transitional times?
  • How can we use these items to better support them during the flow of the day?
  • Have they connected with some peers that might be able to help them during more challenging times?

We know each other well. This is our third year working together, and we’ve really gotten to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and how we can support each other. This connection also helps when we support kids. We’ve developed a rhythm to our day and our workflow, and a happiness knowing that we are in this together. Coming to work every day with a big smile and a sense of joy over being there, makes a HUGE difference. Attitude matters, and I think that this happy feeling has made this first week that much better!

We connected with parents early on. I think that I used to feel as though I was in this first week alone. I had to tackle every problem by myself, and figure out possible solutions on my own. Parents know their kids so well though, and often they have items at home, reliable strategies, or words of wisdom that can support us at school. Talking to parents at the gate and emailing with them, really helped us out this week. Between some of the things that we tried and some of the ideas they suggested, kids quickly started to settle into the classroom, and we began to feel that sense of calm that we shared the other day

We learned to slow down! While we definitely had a busy, productive, action packed first week of school, we’ve also figured out that there are times that you need to slow down. Getting ready for home is one of those times … especially when school begins. Kids don’t remember which items belong to them. Many children are still learning how to pack up their backpacks. They are tired at the end of the day, and the pace at which they move is much slower then. It’s easy to feel the pressure of the bell, and the need to get every child out to his/her parents. This is when we start to feel stressed, and pretty soon our own dysregulation impacts on kids. This year, we decided to make the end of the day just as great as the rest of it, and pack up a bit early. It’s really just about ending five minutes before we usually would, but these few minutes make a huge difference for us and for kids. 

We haven’t forgotten about the little things. So much wonderful learning happens in Kindergarten, and the academic growth of these young learners is really quite remarkable, but we can’t forget about the rest of the growth too. While we’re already playing some phonological awareness games during transitional times and supporting math, reading, writing, and oral language skills during play, we’re also taking the time needed to develop independence and self-help skills. 

  • Learning how to zipper up their lunch bags – check!
  • Learning how to open and close lunch containers – check!
  • Feeling comfortable peeing, pooping, and wiping at school – check!
  • Learning how to get dressed again after going to the bathroom – check!
  • Learning how to change their clothes in case of an accident – check! 
  • Learning how to move the stool to reach the toilet on their own – check! Yes, there is a lot of bathroom learning in Kindergarten. 🙂
  • Remembering where they put their lunch bag, water bottle, and hat – check!
  • Cleaning up the many water messes that flood our floor and fill our eating table each day – check!

By helping kids develop these skills, we stop being the only teachers in the room. Children can then support themselves and each other, which changes the whole classroom dynamic … especially when there are 29 little bodies there. 

How was your first week of school? How do you get to feeling less tired? I’m definitely liking this new, energized feeling!

Aviva

Our Plan For Social Success

This morning, I started off my day as I always do, reading Doug Peterson‘s blog post. Today’s post really resonated with me because it explored social media and classroom communication. After commenting a couple of times on the post, I realized that I really needed to blog about our workflow. While we follow much of Doug’s advice, we have a few changes to make it our own. 

First Step – Start with Twitter, Instagram, or both. I love the idea of hashtags, but have never had the best of luck with them. I often forget which one I chose, and then add in an extra character or two, which produces multiple hashtags instead of just one. So my teaching partner, Paula, and I skip the hashtag step, and just move right onto posting. We love using both Twitter and Instagram. Twitter is great for longer video recordings. But with Instagram, we can create learning stories by combining photographs and videos with text. We are also not limited to characters (or at least not as much), so we can share the lead up to the story, what students said, and even some possible next steps. Best of all, we can use an IFTTT recipe to link Instagram and Twitter, and share across multiple platforms. Technically, creating this recipe is the first step, but we’ve kind of combined the two here. Many of our parents are also on Instagram, so they follow along with our posts throughout the day before seeing them merged together later on our classroom blog. A few parents are also on Twitter, but not as many. Linking both social media spaces allows us to meet parents where they’re at. By also having public accounts, parents can use the links to view the posts without needing to create their own account. This leads to even more parental views. 

Second Step – Blog it! This is actually the easiest step. All of the posts are now out there thanks to Twitter and Instagram. We then use Wakelet to collect these posts, provide a context in an introductory paragraph, and then add in a possible extension activity at the end. (A special “thank you” to Aaron Puley, who taught us the value in providing these home extension activities for parents: helping them see how they can use the documentation that they’re viewing.) After publishing the Wakelet, we embed it on our classroom blog. An email notification sends this post directly to parents. As an aside, we have explored how to create this post directly on the blog with a WordPress plug-in (thanks to the incredible Jared Bennett), but the size of each post seems to be beyond what our site can handle. Until we work through this problem, we continue to use a third-party option, and hope that we will not have another Storify experience on our hands. 

Third Step – Reap the rewards! There is so much value in this classroom blog.

  • Parents use it to talk about the day with their child.
  • We use it to inspire new learning each day in the classroom. It’s our greatest provocation!
  • The posts provide photographic evidence, recordings, and quotations that we use for our Communications of Learning. So much growth is noted here!
  • We use this documentation for planning. What are the students’ interests? What might we try next? Lots of great conversations come from these posts. 
  • I use it for my T.P.A. (Teacher Performance Appraisal). Five years ago, my principal at the time, suggested that I tag my blog posts according to the Domains for the Teacher Performance Appraisal. I did this for my professional posts and our classroom ones. I’ve kept up with this tagging, and can now use these posts as evidence for my appraisal. 

Tags For T.P.A.

Our classroom blog is how we document, support, converse about, and celebrate learning. I’m not going to say that this workflow is easy. Yes, it’s time-consuming. I use most of my prep time uploading documentation, and Paula and I discuss even more after school each day. But the time is worth it! It allows us to be very targeted in our instructional practices and provides a great place to reflect on learning. It includes student and parent voice, and always opens itself up for home discussions. After a challenging day, being able to look back at all of the good that happened and celebrate growth — no matter how small that growth may be — often changes our view in a positive way. 

Thinking about what Doug shared this morning though, and what we do, shows that there are different workflow possibilities. What do you do? What else might you want to try? As a new year begins, what a great time to explore various sharing options. 

Aviva

What Can You Call Me?

I’ve been called many things in my teaching career. Some go with “Dunsiger” or “Dunsinger.” The word, “Miss,” can go in front, but it’s not a requirement. Sometimes it’s “teacher.” This was the name that I always had difficulty answering to, until I realized that children who are at the developmental stage of a toddler will often default to this name. This made sense, and so then I responded to “teacher” much as I did to my last name. I also had some summer experiences teaching at a private school where students called all educators by their first names. I was then quick to respond to “Aviva” or “Miss Aviva.” I’m actually very comfortable being called by my first name, and would even extend this to school if others did so, but the last name seems to be the preference, so I introduce myself to kids as, “Miss Dunsiger.” Or at least this is what I did after I met my teaching partner, Paula

Before working with Paula, I might introduce myself as “Miss Dunsiger,” but I always said, “Most kids call me, ‘Miss D.’ It’s easier.” And they did. It’s not that “Miss D.” was my preferred name, but I thought that I was providing students with an option other than calling me, “teacher.” Then I heard another educator talking to Paula about her name, and just like me, she shortened it for kids. Paula pushed back though, and said, “If we teach children our full names and expect that they will use them, they will.” She was absolutely right! This conversation and this name experience has made me think a lot about the underlying belief of the child as outlined in the Kindergarten Program Document: as “competent and capable of complex thought.” Reflecting back on the last couple of years, I’m thinking about some of the complex vocabulary that these young learners used in their conversations with peers and with us.

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Ben was telling me about the picture the first page in his story. After he told me a sentence out loud, I drew lines (one for each word) for him to write it down. Brayden saw what I did, and said that he had to, “write ten.” Ten words? How did he know? “I subitized.” In my 17 years of teaching, this is the first time, through play, I have ever had any child tell me they did this. Incredible!! He then explained exactly how he subitized. This started as writing, but connected with math. Meanwhile, I love seeing Ben’s increased confidence in writing. A few vowel sounds are hard, but he’s sounding out even longer words independently. Really working on having him use his writing to tell a story. ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #engagemath

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These words don’t happen by accident. They happen because we — as educators and parents — use them in conversation with kids. We teach kids what they mean, and then we give them opportunities to use them during play. Consider the vocabulary then that these children will have when they go into Grade 1, and how this vocabulary will continue to grow with each new word that they’re exposed to and explicitly taught. Why not make our names some of these new words? If we expect that children can remember and use our names correctly, consider what we’re conveying to kids about how we view them as learners. How might this change the rest of their learning experiences? As students correctly pronounce and use numerous Pokemon names in conversation, I have no doubt that they can also use ours. Don’t you? As a new year begins, how might you introduce yourself on the first day of school, and what might this mean for the rest of the year?

Aviva

Sharing Our Stories. What Are Yours?

Last year, I started the year off with a vlog detailing the thinking behind the spaces in our classroom. As my teaching partner, Paula, and I set-up our room, we spent a lot of time talking about every decision that we made.

  • Why did we put that item there?
  • How many materials should we put out?
  • How might we slightly modify each space to lead to some different learning?
  • How does each area connect with the Four Frames
  • How might we support literacy and math instruction — through play — in each space?
  • What might help our students self-regulate, and how have we addressed these different needs in our classroom design?
  • How do these areas support the building of relationships?
  • Knowing that Kindergarten students often come in at different developmental levels, how have we been cognizant of child development? What might we do to support children as needed?
  • How can we provide a welcoming environment, while still being welcome to kids designing their own spaces and making the room their own?

At the end of the day, it’s nice to stand back and look at the completed classroom (Jill‘s comment at the end of this post, has me editing this sentence now). And yes, I get that warm, homey feeling when looking at and walking through our room, but this isn’t enough for me. I want to share our story behind the decisions that we made, and the thinking behind where we might go next.

This year, in addition to creating micro-environments in our indoor classroom, we also carefully considered the layout and choices that we made in our outdoor classroom. Paula and I spent a lot of time setting the stage for learning. Our outdoor classroom space has largely been used for gross motor play in the past, and while the development of these gross motor skills is so important for kids, we think that this classroom area can be used for even more than that.

  • What are some different ways that we can address and support self-regulation outside?
  • How can we incorporate literacy and math into this outdoor classroom?
  • How can we address and build on the different interests of kids?
  • How can we create opportunities for social language and cooperative play, while also making space for quiet and independence?

This year is my T.P.A. (Teacher Performance Appraisal) year, and as such, I’m thinking about areas for professional growth. Further reflecting on the learning environment both indoors and outdoors — and creating an even greater connection between the two and the value in this for student success — are key things that I’m considering right now. I decided then to move from recording one vlog to recording two. I know that these videos are long, but I hope that they give you insight into our learning spaces and the thinking behind them. 

What insights might you add to our reflections? What are some thoughts on your classroom space? Whether done orally, through a discussion, or in a blog post, I think there’s something to be said for this kind of reflection. Our rooms are more than pretty pictures, and after sharing our stories, I hope that you will also share yours. 

Aviva

When The Perfect Packer Of The Freezer Space Still Says, “I’m Bad At Math” …

Very early this morning — at a time when most of the population was still sleeping 🙂 — I was having a private conversation on Twitter with Doug Peterson about math. I happened to read Doug’s blog today about the posts that he would be discussing with Stephen Hurley and Diana Maliszewski on VoicEd Radio, and I noticed that the first post was one that he had discussed before. Doug mentioned that he wanted to hear Diana’s thoughts about when students start to “hate” math, and when they start to think that they are not “good” at math. In our discussion, I said, “It’s not in Kindergarten,” and while my initial intention was just to blog about why not, listening to the VoicEd radio recording, has me thinking beyond this.

As many of my blog readers know, I have taught in primary — and particularly in  Kindergarten — for most of my career, but I’ve also taught all of the other grades from grades 1-6 in some capacity. By teaching these different grades — and at times, the same children in multiple grades — I’ve seen how student attitudes and skills vary as they get older. Just as Diana mentioned in the recording today about EQAO data on primary students’ attitudes towards reading versus junior students’, I think that I’ve noticed similar trends in attitudes towards math. It was as I thought about this that I remembered a great conversation with a high school student at camp this summer. At the end of the summer, this student volunteered to help out with some cleaning and packing up of materials. One of the many jobs that I needed help with was storing over 400 popsicles and ice cream sandwiches in the freezer for campers and their families. We had a small number of freezers and lots of boxes of goodies. How was I supposed to do this? This volunteer made the impossible, possible. One of the greatest things about this was the math conversation that happened as a result.

Here’s a student that self-identified as “bad at math,” but I can guarantee you that he has better spatial awareness skills than I do. He was amazed to hear from me though that what he did here was “math.” I think about the Kindergarten Program Document, and how we “notice and name” math behaviours in the everyday. This doesn’t mean that we don’t teach or reinforce specific skills, but we …

  • help students see the numerous math concepts that they’re already exploring through play.
  • get students to think mathematically about their world.
  • encourage students to figure out how to approach and solve problems. 

And these are all things that are not just for Kindergarten. Imagine if this student that’s “great at puzzles” begins to see himself as a “mathematician.” 

  • Does this mean that he might be willing to stick with other, more challenging components of math?
  • What if these more challenging areas were presented to him within the context of something that he better understands?
  • How might this change his attitude towards math and his application of  mathematical skills? 

I realize that expectations become more complex as students progress through the grades, but as someone who could only hope to ever pack a freezer as this student did, I wish that he knew just how “good” he is at math. Don’t you?

Aviva