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A Simple Walk

 

A simple walk in our neighbourhood was all my students really needed to demonstrate their sense of wonder and play. It was also what I needed to in order to determine what was meaningful in their world. How can I make connections to their world, if I don’t really discover it with them? All I had to do was listen. I just listened to find out what was important to them and observe how they interacted in different places within their community. I was surprised to see them run for the swings in the park.

Inspired by Laurel Croza’s book, “I Know Here,” the students shared the school iPads to take photos of the structures and streets that were meaningful to them.

student: “Can we go to the park so I can take a photo of the slides?”

student: “I took a picture of the beautiful flowers.”

student: “I want to get a photo of the train as it passes here.”

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They were enthusiastic and engaged. The children were eager to capture the essence of their own place, their neighbourhood. They were also sharing stories. I listened to the students as they debated the best way to the park or described where their friends lived – they were sharing stories.

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Collaboration is one of the Reggio principles that has required some support in the classroom. However, when we returned to our classroom, the students were enthusiastic to work together in small groups making webs of their community photos using the Popplet App. They negotiated how many photos to use and whether to add text. Some groups even added photos of themselves.

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Even though I knew the importance of shared experiences, connecting to the outdoors, and slowing down the pace to make time for “walks” – I forgot the benefits until we went on our first community walk last week. Needless to say, we are going on another tomorrow. And another next week…

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To Wonder Again

September has been a month filled with community building in our Grade 5/6 classroom. We have slowed down the back to the books rush with activities that are building relationships.

Coming from a Kindergarten class last year, I immediately noticed that the students seemed to have lost their sense of wonder. Many were looking at me for instructions, ready to respond appropriately – but not to ask questions and be curious. Our inquiry question for the next two months is “How do we balance our needs with others?” This will incorporate our learning in Language, Social Studies, Art, Media Literacy and some Math and Science. In addition to this project, I am starting another Literacy/Art inquiry project that is based on the book, “I Know Here” by Laurel Croza.

I Know Here by Laurel Croza

I want to encourage the students to wonder about their own community, then interpret it and present it in their own unique way (hundred languages). We read the book together. The next day I took them outside to the front of the school to record what they could see, hear, smell, feel and taste. It was amazing to see how their response were more guarded and limited than what some younger children would offer in the same setting. We then made showing statements rather than telling statements, similar to the author’s style of “I Know Here”.

The next day we discussed possible representations that the students could do. They came up with a variety of ways that they could show what they know. We recorded them on the whiteboard.

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Our next step is to ask ourselves questions about our community/neighbourhood and hopefully access that sense of wonder…

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!

The environment is the third teacher when it provides children the opportunity to slow down and take note. One of the questions I often ask is, “What do you notice?” This encourages reflection, conversation, and knowledge-building among the students. For some students, observations take time. They answer without really thinking or noticing – by rushing to give an expected answer rather than a response that is unexpected.

The use of light and projection in the classroom has provided students with new perspectives. They may be looking at a familiar subject, yet they see it in a new way. When they are introduced to the act of tracing an image, they are fascinated with the simple task and it slows down their consideration of the subject.

From our neighbourhood walks, we had observed a variety of trees. The children compared coniferous and deciduous and talked about the differences that made each identifiable. However, when drawing deciduous trees, their observations from the walks were not evident. The trees still looked like trunks with a circle of green set on top. So we revisited the trees and took photos.

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When an image of one of the local trees was projected to a table in the classroom, the children were intrigued with the task of tracing its many limbs. I noticed how this task slowed down their movements and also their consideration of the tree. After this opportunity, the children’s drawings were more realistic in that long limbs were included and the proportions changed.

 

Tracing and noticing

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.

 

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.

It has been months since I posted. Time is flying by, and the regular classroom that I acquired in September is now an active and engaging environment that evolves and changes as the children do. I would like to share some photos that were taken to show the initial creation and set-up of learning centres. My resources have been limited, but I have welcomed the challenge of creating an inviting space and bringing in many “found” materials. Of course there are additions to the room now that the children’s work is beautifully filling the space.

In the photos you will notice the use of carpets, shelves and desks to arrange rooms and grouping. Baskets and task lighting is added to soften the space. The materials are all within easy access for the children to use and tidy-up easily. There is limited space for displaying their work, so I covered the chalk boards with brown paper as a backdrop. Larger works such as paintings are hung on the bulletin boards that are closer to the ceiling. Chairs and pillows are easily moved from the different spaces as needed by the children, as centres are not limited to certain numbers as it may look by the arrangement of chairs.

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johnaleslietdsb

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