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!