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I have been reviewing photos from Kindergarten classes from a few years ago. When I took the photos, I may have been capturing a writing activity in action to post for parental viewing on the class website. Now, as I reflect on some of the photos, I notice how the photos demonstrate the pedagogy of a student-centered, inquiry-based program that allows the child to be and feel capable at any entry point in the activity.

Look at the two photos below. They show an activity that emerged after I read the book, The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster. Students were interested in discussing the family and their own, so they were encouraged to bring in a photo or make a drawing of their own family. We spread out large banners of paper and the children found a space to paste their picture. Then they labelled their picture. This was one of the first collaborative writing activities of the year in September to October. Some students were already avid writers, using the writing centre daily. But this activity evolved from the shared experience of reading, and even the reluctant writers were interested in writing about a topic they were confident about – their family.

Some of the students added details and names, while others used only initials for representation (M for mom, S for sister). The writing was open for students to access at their level – they were not given names to copy or told how to spell the names. The result was a collaborative piece that framed our classroom, providing an assessment as and for learning that we could refer to over the following few weeks.

Looking at the photos, I also notice how this emergent literacy activity connected with other areas such as drama and art. Students would be playing family in the drama centre, then go to confer about their own family roles. Even the opportunity it provided for students to discuss a topic that they felt confident about, while noticing the similarities and differences they shared with peers, supported oral language development.

Although it can be challenging with students doing different things at different times, allowing the time and space for emerging literacy is necessary for today’s learners. I doubt you will see the same degree of initiative, conferring, and engagement when students are sitting in more controlled environments working at tables on individual fill-in-the-blank family trees. By giving them the opportunity, children learn from one another and feel capable to represent their knowing in a variety of ways and at different entry points.

JK_SK literacy_oral JK_SK literacy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I would like to share with you the link for Re-imagining Literacy and Mathematics Throughout the Day. It is the latest release of Kindergarten Matters (September 2014), the Ministry of Education’s multi-media resource for professional learning.

The DVD or online clips are divided into short segments focusing on an invitation for students in new learning, small-group work, and learning materials within themes of co-constructed inquiry and engaging learners.

Many of the clips were filmed in my FDK classroom in May of 2013. These clips provide windows into the classroom for viewing the environment as third teacher and an established child-centred community of learners.

 

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September is for new beginnings. This year, I have another new classroom… and it is not as appealing as some of my previous classroom in its aesthetics. The light gets absorbed by the dull green walls, cupboard doors are missing in various units, the paint is peeling, and the chalkboards are faded and marked with residue of tape.

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Hard lines.

 

Divergent green walls.

Divergent green walls.

 

Storage without doors.

Storage cupboard without doors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first priority for my new room was making it as appealing as I could using some “found” materials. I brought in baskets, containers of shells, glass jars, hanging beads, a small carpet, two (plastic) Muskoka chairs and burlap. This is a grade 6/7 classroom. I wanted to create spaces to allow for some movement away from their regular seating. Currently we have 31 desks, however tables have been ordered and are expected to replace the desks within the month. So, I focused on a library with seating area, a carpet for gathering/discussions, and an atelier or art studio.

The room has a cloak room that runs along the back of the classroom with two entries. The storage cupboard wasn’t needed, and is adjacent to a window. It seemed a secluded yet observable area for a small table with a couple of chairs, to allow for exploration with a variety of materials. So the shelves have been filled with materials that are accessible to the students who want to use the area.

Shelves in the centre of the room along the wall under the windows were previously holding a variety of dictionaries and textbooks. I moved these to the back counter and created a fiction and non-fiction browsing library with labelled bins for organization and an area to display some larger hard cover texts. The chairs are set facing the shelves (and the windows), inviting students to this space. During our reading workshop, students are selecting these seats for reading and also for meeting to discuss work during other times in the day.

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Class library.

photo 2

View of atelier from classroom.

Atelier

Atelier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although I was temporarily tempted to hang posters and “decorate” the room to brighten it up, it has evolved quickly in the last week to include the materials that students can use to inspire and support their work that is taking front stage and hiding the peeling paint.

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The year I taught a combined grade 1 and 2 was so rewarding for me as I documented the progress and learning of the class and in particular a few students who were struggling. There were doubts when colleagues saw the room set up with centres such as blocks, reading, art studio and a doll house (for grade 2’s!). Then there were questioning parents at the end of September asking, “When is my child going to learn?” The month of September was just community building and learning the independence of centres in the afternoon after a morning of literacy and math. Of course there were times for direct teaching and group lessons around Science and Social Studies, but they were brief. Appropriate for the age group. Then the students were able to apply their learning and questioning during centre time. They were accountable by having a plan of what they wanted to work on – such as building bridges in the block centre or depicting the energy of the sun in the art studio. At the end of the day we would gather on the carpet and students had time to share what they created or discovered. I would record their findings on large paper – the “knowledge building” session – and we would decide to add resources to our Inquiry Board for other students to learn from.

I put the findings from the documentation together in an article – it was published last year in The Canadian Association for Young Children journal (Fall 2013). I am attaching the PDF version as I think it provides a good example of the process from September to June. It is also demonstrates how centres in a Primary classroom allow for differentiated learning and the Hundred Languages. Board_CCFall2013

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This photo shows the corner I have just created in my new grade 5/6 classroom. The room is a work in progress, as the painted walls are chipped and there are remnants of glue and tape that are visible from all the previous teachers and students that inhabited the space. The ceilings are high and there are large areas of empty space that are too high to display children’s work. I envision these areas as a possible display of some collaborative artworks. For now, I have hung fabric above the library corner, only to soften the space and cover the peeling paint. A natural branch frames the fabric and a neutral rug provides an area to sit in front of the shelves. I will be adding a bean chair and some cushions for comfort.

My goal is to bring my Reggio Emilia approach of teaching Early Years to a Junior level classroom. I believe that the principles of collaboration, environment as third teacher, relationships, respect and reciprocity are fitting to the older children and will support them to become more engaged with their own learning.

So, I have started with the environment. Unlike setting up a classroom for Kindergarten or even grade 1, there are limited options and materials. I would have loved to use round tables for the students to work at. Instead, I have made 5 groupings with 6 desks each.  The desks seem to take over the classroom when there are 30 students in a class. I had hoped to use tables to create “centres” around the classroom but the space is limited. By removing my teacher desk, I was able to make room for a round table that I can be multifunctional as a planning space or for small group lessons. In the opposite corner of the room there is a sink and counter. I am using some adjacent shelves to make an art studio or at least provide a space dedicated to art materials for student use. In many junior classrooms the art supplies are locked away and only brought out at scheduled art periods.

I am looking forward to sharing this new space with the children. Discussions regarding the use and maintenance of the space will be needed as we work on building our community in the first weeks of September. Plans for our four inquiry questions will be presented and discussed, along with ideas about extended and integrated periods used for independent work and collaborating in small groups. Culminating assignments will allow the students to show their understanding in many ways, similarly to the one hundred languages of children.

Join us on our journey of experiencing a Reggio Emilia approach in a junior classroom!

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The Hundred Languages

No way. The hundred is there.

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini) 

Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

 

I think of all the results of play that the children want to share with me each day. I take photos to celebrate their works.

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What do you see?  I see the “Hundred Languages” and use these languages to see the child.

 

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In Kindergarten, my favourite integration of subjects is probably language, science, and art. The children are always fascinated with nature and our surroundings. We have looked at trees, squirrels, clouds, plants, and birds as topics of study. The tangible subjects provide the best science subjects – as the children can observe and predict first hand.

A few months ago, one of the books we were reading introduced hibernation. This was a concept that we explored further. Then we found we were comparing hibernation with migration. I was amazed at how much the children understood in our group discussions. I wanted to provide an opportunity for those with other strengths to also demonstrate their understanding of these concepts, so I thought about a class mural. This would provide an open invitation for those children to contribute and it also allowed them the opportunity to collaborate and discuss their ideas and understandings.

Setting out Kraft brown paper as the backdrop and providing the children with a variety of materials, they were invited to add signs of hibernation or migration.

Hibernation and Migration Mural

 

I noticed that some children were more interested in contributing their ideas as visual representations, while others were more interested in providing oral comments and discussing the work of their peers. They wanted to add clouds, snow on the ground, and a sun. Once the mural was complete, I asked the children, “How do you know whether the animals are hibernating or migrating?” Here are a few responses:

  • “The bear is hibernating because he is sleeping in the cave.”
  • “The frog is hibernating in the pond.”
  • “I know the birds are migrating because they are up in the sky flying to where it is warm.”
  • “I see a butterfly that migrates.”
  • “The bunny has a path to get out and in of his tunnel.”

Completed Collaborative Mural

 

Not only does this make their thinking more visible, it also demonstrates how well the children are learning in relationship with one another. All year they have been working side by side showing their ability to not only share materials but work on shared representations – representations that demonstrate their ability to collaborate.

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