Friday, May 21, 2010

Give Them Some Space to Create

It was a pretty typical day in my classroom, except for the recent rise in tattling, mood swings and rollercoaster rides of emotion as my sweet little 5 and 6 year olds reluctantly approach the end of their first school year. We had just returned from lunch, and as is the usual practice, the kids had 30 minutes to complete work from the week, draw a picture, read a book or write a sticker story. In previous years we had "rest time" but in these days of educational accountability the words "rest" or "nap" are banned from our classrooms. We also used to have "playhouse", but fun and play seem to also fall into the disallowed camp of classroom vocabulary words. Of course I quietly rebel and integrate play and fun into our day disguised in lesson plans with playful language, silly music and dancing puppets.
Anyway, most kids understand the routine and were checking their desks for random papers and cleaning it out so that all of their work would be ready to go home in the weekly "Thursday envelopes." I looked over at 2 girls who were not checking their desks. Although my initial impulse was to motion to them to go back to their own desks, I decided to watch for a moment. I am so glad I did. One student B. was measuring around the waist of another student. She was carefully estimating how long she would need to cut her paper strip to fit around the girl. As she measured, her partner in crime gesticulated wildly, giving her advice on how she would use glue to make sure it stayed together.  Another student, often ignored by others, hesitantly approached and asked the "designer" if she could be next in line for a belt.  Her smile revealed her acceptance.  Now often these creative episodes of "making things" result in messes that don't get cleaned up, glue sticks that don't work any more and other "work" not getting completed. Something wise inside of me decided to focus on the benefits:

Teamwork: 3 girls were working together using math skills,  such as measurement and estimation, and life skills like perserverance, particulary when the "belt" came apart twice before staying put.
Innovation: How many adults could make a "cool belt" out of recycled paper?
Cooperation and Inclusion: While many times kids exclude a certain little girl who is less mature, often talks in a "whiny" voice and sticks her tongue out at them frequently, they decided to include her in the "design process." She was delighted!

So how do you balance or integrate the required curriculum with opportunities for student-directed learning? Please share so we can learn from each other!


Aviva said...

Wow! What a great blog post. I taught Kindergarten for 8 years before moving to Grade 1 this year, and all I can say is that the students are very lucky to have you as their Kindergarten teacher. You obviously put the "students first": something that I believe is very important when it comes to education.

Your question is a difficult one, as expectations drive all of us, but student-directed learning is so important too. You need to give children these opportunities to think and create and experiment for themselves. This is why I love using technology with my students. I give them the "big idea," but I let my students choose how they are going to share their learning with me. They have some freedom in what they do, and this lets me see just what they are capable of too.

I hope that you get lots of responses to this blog posts with lots of good ideas as well! I can't wait to hear what others have to share.

Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

Thanks so much Aviva. I try to put my students first and I love the idea of using technology to empower them and engage them. Unfortunately, at my school my kids get 25 minutes a week using the computer lab. The computers in my classroom run only Kidpix (when they work,which honestly isn't worth the trouble as the distraction and disappointment that follows takes away from my small group instruction!)It can be quite frustrating. I love the way you describe the way your students have the opportunity to experiment and create. I hope to see more responses as well. Thanks so much for connecting :-)

Susan B said...

I think you said it all when you said you stepped back and allowed the episode to happen...kid-watching is what I call it. Teachers who are too wrapped up in teaching the objectives, miss a ton of joy. You get to witness children's true learning. The girl's impromptu measurement activity will stay with them long after the school bell rings.

Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

Thanks Susan.. it's wonderful to watch the power of little minds in action. I appreciate your comment, especially in the midst of the pressure to always be meeting an arbitrary standard or objective.

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