E is for Equity (part 1)

I’m a new teacher.

I’m always looking for books to add to my library that support the inclusive, equitable and culturally responsive environment I strive to achieve in my classroom. This school year, I have been investing in books that celebrate diversity to ensure that all students see themselves reflected within the Kindergarten program. I have been in search of stories by BIPOC authors, stories that celebrate differences, and stories that share messages of inclusion to add to my collection. I decided to create an A-Z list of stories that I love. This list is far from exhaustive and there are MANY amazing books I could have added. The stories below from A-M are stories that were appropriate for my Kindergarten class, but could definitely be read to students beyond Kindergarten as well.

If you are a new teacher looking to begin your picture book collection, this one’s for you!

A – Alma and How She Got Her Name

By: Juana Martinez-Neal 

B – Black is a Rainbow Colour

By: Angela Joy

Illustrated by: Ekua Holmes

C -Bilal Cooks Daal

By: Aisha Saeed

Illustrated by: Anoosha Syed

D – Don’t Touch My Hair

By: Sharee Miller

E – Eyes That Kiss in the Corners

By: Joanna Ho

Illustrated by: Dung Ho

F – Forty-Seven Strings: Tessa’s Special Code

By: Becky Carey

Illustrated by: Bonnie Leick

G – The Gift of Ramadan

By: Rabiah York Lumbard

Illustrated by: Laura K. Horton

H – Hair Love

By: Matthew A. Cherry

Illustrated by: Vashti Harrison

I – I am Enough

By: Grace Byers

Illustrated by: Keturah A. Bobo

J – Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

By: Sonia Sotomayor

Illustrated by: Rafael Lopez

K -Suki’s Kimono

By: Chieri Uegaki

Illustrated by: Stéphane Jorisch

L – Love Makes a Family

By: Sophie Beer

M – My Heart Fills with Happiness

By: Monique Gray Smith

Illustrated by: Julie Flett

Students as Teachers: a Culture of Inquiry and Learning

“I am just going to check in on everyone and see how they’re doing” – one of my Kindergarten students said as she led her peers through a step-by-step challenge where they created a DIY ‘marble run’ out of paper tubes and tape. 

My DECE partner and I were blown away by her kindness, patience and commitment to the success of her classmates during this process. 

We have been trying to keep an open invite for all students in our class to have the opportunity to be the “teacher” or the expert on a topic of their choice. Through online learning, fewer natural moments of teaching happen from student to student like they would in a physical classroom. Hands on collaboration between students virtually can be tricky, as they lack the opportunity to share space and materials. We decided it would be more equitable to schedule these student-led activities ahead of time, in order to allow all students time to prepare the proper materials. As I move to in person learning in the fall, it is my goal to continue this practice as a means of supporting students belonging and contributing in respect to the Kindergarten program. It is my hope to further explore the benefits of fostering students confidence as teachers in the classroom as I continue to learn from my competent and capable young learners. Here are my initial thoughts:

The classroom community

  • Inviting students as teachers creates a culture of learning, respect and curiosity
  • Students teaching their peers builds community and invites students to be vulnerable and make mistakes

Through the lens of a child

  • When our students stepped into the role of educators, it provided my DECE partner and I a unique opportunity: to see the world through their eyes. Through their ideas, descriptions and step-by-step processes we were able to develop a deep understanding of the way they view the world, the way they solve problems and the way they persevere through challenges. 
  • Many children enrolled in Kindergarten programs are immersed in their first experiences of formal schooling. For some of my students, my DECE partner and I are their very first examples of educators. The way that children go about giving instructions, gaining the attention of others and providing words of encouragement can be reflective of what they see. It can be very powerful to listen to a student recite an encouraging phrase verbatim, such as “You are a problem solver!”.

Benefits for students

  • Teaching their peers provides students with the space to take risks while gaining confidence in their own ideas and abilities 
  • For the students involved in this practice as the learner, it allows them to explore new ideas or approach learned concepts from a different perspective than my own or that of my DECE partner. 

Inviting students to perform a new role as a teacher is inclusionary, culturally responsive, relevant and meaningful – which is the basis of everything I hope to cultivate in Kindergarten. 

The Kindergarten/Grade 1 Dichotomy

“Control + F” on my keyboard allows me to search the word “play” with The Kindergarten Program (2016) document. This magic word comes up 566 times. 

Five HUNDRED and sixty-six times. 

Play is referenced over and over again throughout the document as a vehicle for learning. Examples of play and the power it holds are woven through the Kindergarten document with references to past and present research from literature around the world that supports play. Play is highlighted as being the highest form of learning for young children and the best way for students to take ownership and responsibility over their own ideas. 

The Grade 1 curriculum gives no such importance to play. These two programs lie at completely polar opposite ends of the spectrum in regard to the varying discourse used surrounding the view of the child.

If you have followed my posts, you know I have a passion for Kindergarten (Celebrating Kindergarten;  Everything I need to know, I learn in Kindergarten) and that I am an advocate for keeping the current model of Kindergarten in Ontario intact (Protect Full-Day Kindergarten). So, what’s the problem?

Bridging the gap

Naturally, those who teach Grade 1 work tirelessly to ensure students continue to have a positive and hands on experience that results in growth and learning. However, the transition between Kindergarten to Grade 1 shouldn’t have to be such a gigantic leap for students, families and educators alike.

The value of wonder

Though we are beginning to see the introduction of social and emotional learning (e.g. the new math curriculum), the Grade 1 curriculum can feel rigid in the sense that students wonder, interests and inquiries are not prioritized within the documents. Educators create this space of wonder for students within their classrooms, but wonder itself is not reflected within the curriculum documents, assessments, or the evaluation of students overall learning (e.g. the report card).

I dream of a world where the Kindergarten and Grade 1 curricula compliment each other rather than repel each other.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if….

  • Play and the benefits of play-based learning were prioritized beyond Kindergarten?
  • Report cards beyond Kindergarten were designed to allow educators space to reflect on the whole child and their development as learners within a classroom community?

The Power of “Thank You”

“Thank you”

2 simple words that mean so much. Especially when they are followed by a reason for giving thanks. 

As an educator of young children, I don’t teach for the “thank you”. I teach for the students, their progress, their laughs, their smiles, and that feeling of sharing a joy for learning. 

However, when I do get those genuine, ‘from the bottom of my heart’ “thank you” ’s, they often bring me to tears. Thank you can feel so reassuring, so comforting and can be a springboard that launches deep and powerful connections. 

An amazing colleague of mine, who is many years into their career, suggested I keep a journal of these kind words of thanks from parents and families. Initially, I thought this seemed silly. Why would I keep these notes and emails? What purpose would this serve me? But, I tried it anyways. Why not? If I didn’t find this practice helpful I could stop at any point and not tell a single soul I had ever done it. 

Fast forward to the present moment, where various letters, cards and printed emails from families live in the binder I stash at the back of my filing cabinet. I spread the word of this practice, as not a way to brag or boast but to share with you the feelings it has brought me.  

First of all, it brings me joy. What better reason to do anything? Why not document these joyful moments in celebration of student success.

Secondly, I find comfort revisiting these “thank you” ‘s when I feel tired, overwhelmed or broken down. It is easy for me to fixate on a lesson that didn’t go well, or the things that I could be doing differently; therefore doing them better. Flipping through this binder of positive thoughts allows me to reframe my mindset and reflect critically on my practice while being kind to myself.

Lastly, the powerful feelings that these “thank you” ‘s bring me are inspiring. I want to pass this feeling on to my colleagues, my students and their families who show up and work hard every day. I am mindful each day to share my genuine “thank you” ‘s out loud.

What is the most powerful “thank you” that you’ve ever received?

What is the most powerful “thank you” that you’ve ever given?

S.T.E.L.M.

STELM: Science, Technology, Engineering (Literacy?!) and Math 

STEM activities are unmatched in our virtual Kindergarten class this year. STEM challenges are the perfect storm for beginning conversations, exploring inquiries, answering questions and challenging new ideas. In addition to the academic learning happening through these challenges, students also have opportunities to practice patience, persistence, problem-solving strategies and critical thinking skills while engaging meaningfully within their classroom community. 

Recently, I have been on my own exploration. I have been investigating how to purposefully incorporate literacy connections into STEM activities. Here are some of our literacy inspired “STELM” challenges students have worked through: 

10 on the Sled – by: Kim Norman, illustrated by: Liza Woodruff

STELM Challenge: Create a sled that can hold ten animals.

Our students were so excited for this challenge. They used materials that they could find around their homes to build a sled and found objects of their choice to represent the ten animals. Students engaged in conversations about the number 10 and how they could group the seats for all the passengers to fit on the sled. In the picture above, the student wrote themselves into the story and shared they would also like to ride on the sled. They shared that now there would be 11 seats because “10+1=11”.

Not a Box – by: Antoinette Portis

STELM Challenge: What can you make your box into?

This one feels like a classic. So simple, but so open-ended and thought provoking. The experience of creating something from “nothing” seems to come so naturally to Kindergarten students. No matter how many groups of students I do this activity with, I am always learning from them. I feel like this challenge gives me a window into student’s imaginations and undoubtedly strengthen’s my view of them as competent and capable learners full of wonder.

The Most Magnificent Thing – by: Ashley Spires

STELM Challenge: What is the most magnificent thing you can make?

Similarly to the challenge of creating something from a box, students thoughts and ideas were not limited to using a box. We did however, challenge them to use recycled materials found at home. Before beginning the process, we listened to the story ‘The Most Magnificent Thing’ by Ashley Spires and asked students to draw a plan before beginning construction. Students entered this activity at their own level. Their plans consisted of pictures, words and symbols to represent their ideas. Not all of their plans matched their finished products – but this was part of the process. The changes and challenges students faced while building their magnificent ‘things’ were a springboard for conversations about different ways to solve problems. One of my favourite moments of learning that happened during this task occurred after I shared my own frustration with my tape that “just would not come off the roll in one piece”. “That’s ok Ms. Turnbull” one of our students shared, “That happened to me once too”, “me too!” other students exclaimed, as we talked about different ways to solve this problem effectively.

The Very Cranky Bear – by: Nick Bland

STELM Challenge: Design a bed for the cranky bear to get some rest in.

We have all experienced the feeling of being tired, cranky, upset or frustrated. So many wonderful conversations of empathy and understanding came from this challenge. Students amazed us with their kind words towards this cranky bear as they constructed cozy beds. They were excited to test out their beds made from LEGO, Play-Doh, blocks and more by using their stuffed animals or dolls. They began acting out the story, snoring and roaring like the bear.

The Mitten – by: Jan Brett

STELM Challenge: How many ‘animals’ can you fit inside a mitten or sock?

The story ‘The Mitten’ by Jan Brett has endless possibilities in regard to follow up activities. For our group of Kindergarten students, we challenged them to think about capacity after listening to this story. We asked them to find something to use as ‘animals’ (with some of the top choices being LEGO or toy animals), and a sock or mitten to put them in. Students explored concepts of counting, spatial sense, and sequencing while they created their own versions of the story.

I am excited to continue thinking about ways to provide my students with meaningful and literacy rich learning opportunities while they engage in hands on experiences that challenge their thinking.

In what ways are literacy experiences imbedded into your STEM activities?

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Process Over Product

Have you ever used cars to make works of art?

No matter how old you are – it’s awesome.

In our Virtual Kindergarten class this year, my DECE partner and I have been trying to incorporate as many creative, open-ended and hands on experiences as possible.

One of our favourite ways to offer these experiences is through process art. 

Process art, by definition, emphasizes and appreciates the process of creating art or manipulating art materials rather than placing value on the final or finished product.

Process art invites students to get messy, get creative and make mistakes. The experience of engaging with materials like paint, is sensory and exploratory. There is so much learning taking place while students are creating an understanding of cause and effect relationships, engaging multiple senses and applying their problem solving and critical thinking skills.

Process art provides students with the opportunity to be successful. There are no examples, there are no rigid expectations of the final product and there are no limits. The learning that begins with process art activities has the potential to grow and blossom into the experimentation of other theories, ideas and challenges. Process art is personalized, developmentally appropriate and inclusive. It’s a provocation that students can enter at their unique stage of development and can be transformed to meet individual needs. In regard to The Kindergarten Program (2016), process art aligns with a wholistic pedagogy in the Early Years. As students explore concepts of math, test theories of science, respond to literacy experiences, practice patience, persevere and gain confidence in their own abilities – they are playing, collaborating and falling in love with learning.

Upside down drawing? Absolutely!

The invaluable learning that occurs when students feel free to express themselves has inspired us to integrate the “process over product” approach into experiences outside of the arts. 

Our most recent attempt was the exploration of composing and decomposing numbers through a game of cup bowling. Students brought 6 cups to their screen and placed them upside down in a triangle formation. Then, they rolled a ball to bowl for their cups. We had many conversations of how much/how many, using words like less and more to describe our game play. Some of the students even discovered that the cups were 3D shapes, and put a ball on top of their cup to create “ice cream cones”. We continue to look for ways to imbed this process focused and play-based learning into our daily routine.

Do you invite older students to explore “process over product” activities?

In what ways does emphasizing “process over product” influence your students and their learning and understanding?

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Everything I need to know, I learn in Kindergarten

In our virtual Kindergarten class, my DECE partner and I value each teachable moment. We recognize that our students are constantly making meaningful observations and connections to the world around them. Something I always expected to gain from these 4 and 5 year olds was knowledge. One thing I did not expect was how profound this knowledge would be, or that it could so deeply resonate with me and my pedagogy. 

Here is what my students teach me every day in Kindergarten:

Unconditional Acceptance

One of our students showed up to class one day and announced to the large group that from now on he would like to be called by his new nick name. “What’s your name now?” one of the other students asked. “Willy” he replied, “W-I-L-L-Y” *. 

From that moment on his classmates called him nothing but Willy. 

He requested to be called something different from what we’d all been calling him since the moment we met him in September and they immediately took action. They listened to him, understood him and respected his wishes. They didn’t ask questions, raise concerns or challenge him.

They just did it.

All of them.

The more I think about this, the more amazing it feels. I imagine a world where everyone can be respected like Willy and is addressed by their preferred names and pronouns. This demonstration of kindness and acceptance from children is exemplary.

Patience

It is not me that has learned patience from being their teacher, but me that has learned how to practice patience from them. My students are incredibly patient and kind to each other, to me, my teaching partner and all visitors that enter our class.

I have had entire conversations with my virtual class while my microphone is, in fact, off (cue face palm). They continue to smile at me and remind me to turn it on before I try again. 

They remind me to approach each day with a smile and that it’s okay to make mistakes.

Finding the “Why” 

“Why?”

A question our students ask often as they continue throughout their day as investigators, explorers and engineers. Each time they ask this simple but important question, it challenges me to think about my “why”. 

Why have I chosen to teach a lesson in this way? Why have I chosen to implement specific rules, boundaries or routines?

My students’ innocent question of “why” drives me to critically reflect on my practice. This ongoing reflection forces me to live outside of my comfort zone, try new things and make mistakes. Responding to the unique needs of of my students, allows me to demolish the ‘this is the way I’ve always done it’ mindset in order to celebrate individuality and strengthen inclusion in a world that is ever-changing. 

I’m lucky to be a small part of their journey, as my students continue through this school year and beyond. But, I don’t know if they’ll ever truly understand how much I learn from them.

 

* Students name was changed to protect confidentiality

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Protect Full-Day Kindergarten

The data does not lie.

As Ontario’s Full-Day Kindergarten Program heads into its 11th successful year, several studies have shown the positive and long-lasting effect Ontario’s Kindergarten Program has had on students, families and communities. 

In a longitudinal study by Janette Patricia Pelletier & James E. Corter comparing full-day and half-day Kindergarten programs, it was discovered that students who attended the full-day Kindergarten programs scored higher in the areas of reading, writing, number sense and self-regulation.  

The Kindergarten Program document itself sources countless resources and empirical studies revealing the importance of play and inquiry based learning programs for young children. The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) are quoted in The Kindergarten Program (2016) as stating “the benefits of play are recognized by the scientific community. There is now evidence that neural pathways in children’s brains are influenced by and advanced in their development through the exploration, thinking skills, problem solving, and language expression that occur during play” (p. 19). 

 

What is the real price to pay?

Dr. Gordon Cleveland’s executive summary of The Kindergarten Program from January 2021 reads: “Our conclusion is that high-quality Kindergarten is very good for children. Well-trained teachers and small effective class sizes are important in producing this quality. The effects of high-quality Kindergarten experiences are long-lasting, and socio-emotional support is a key part of providing positive Kindergarten experiences”.

In February 2021, I wrote a post highlighting the reasons why the pedagogical approach that is central to the Kindergarten Program should be celebrated as it establishes a strong foundation for learning in the early years. My trust in the Kindergarten Program has not changed. As we continue to live in a global pandemic, this program becomes increasingly vital for Ontario students and families. 

Removing or changing the current model of Ontario’s Kindergarten Program will disrupt the very core of students’ learning. Changes to the current Kindergarten model will leave students behind in regard to early intervention, mental health and well-being and create cracks in the foundation of academic success. 

 

Why is this program so special?

If you have never had a chance to read The Kindergarten Program document, I highly recommend you do. Rather than threatening cuts to this program, Ontario should be looking into how to weave the philosophies of teaching and learning highlighted by The Kindergarten Program into all other curriculum documents for students attending public schools. Ontario’s Kindergarten program is exemplary and visionary in the way that it supports the creation of a learning environment that allows all children to feel comfortable, is built around attainable expectations and provides all children with the kind of support they need in order to develop.

ETFO continues to fight for the current model of The Kindergarten Program in Ontario. 

Why must we continue to defend what has proven to be indispensable? 

Which One Doesn’t Belong? (WODB)

Have you ever tried ‘ Which One Doesn’t Belong?’ (WODB) in your classroom?

WODB is a short, number talk used to get students thinking before beginning a daily lesson or math activity. Students are shown a picture like the example attached below (from mathbeforebed.com). Students take a close look at the picture and decide which object they think does not belong. After sharing their ideas, students are asked to explain their thinking to justify their answer. Here is why we love WODB in our Kindergarten class:

There are no wrong answers

This gives students the confidence to share their thoughts and encourages them to take risks in their learning. 

 

WODB shows students that there are multiple ways of solving problems 

I am finding that aside from building confidence in students’ attitudes towards math, this activity builds community. Students typically begin with a strong opinion on why their answer is correct, but begin to understand and uncover the varying perspectives of their peers. It is also a great activity to practice turn taking, active listening and showing kindness towards others with different ideas.

 

There are multiple entry points

This activity is inclusive and allows students to use their own mathematical language to describe which one they believe does not belong. Students can participate in this activity regardless of their understanding of specific math concepts. In Kindergarten, with students ranging in various stages of development – this activity gives myself and my DECE partner a window into their thinking.

 

WODB promotes mathematical thinking and the use of mathematical language 

When justifying their answer, students begin to use math words like bigger, smaller, shorter, taller, less, more and begin to use the names of shapes, numbers or symbols they are learning about. Students can activate their prior knowledge and apply their current knowledge while they work with educators to extend their knowledge. I often reframe what students are saying and repeat it back to them. For example, in the picture shown below a student may share that they think the “blue” one does not belong, “because it’s blue and the others are not” and I may say, “(student name) thinks that the blue rectangle piece does not belong”. 

 

WODB can be used in any grade level 

While I am currently enjoying this activity in Kindergarten, I think about all the ways this activity could be used with students of any age. As students learn new concepts, WODB could include pictures of fractions, decimals, equations and more. When students get comfortable engaging in WODB activities, they can even begin to create some of their own pictures to challenge their peers to think critically.

 

Which one do you think does not belong?

from https://mathbeforebed.com/

 

Celebrating Kindergarten

This year, we celebrate 10 years of the Full Day Kindergarten program in Ontario. 

While working on my undergraduate degree, I first learned of this program and I immediately fell in love with it.

My trust and passion for this program have only grown stronger since. My knowledge and curiosity of play-based learning continue to shape who I am as an educator. 

I have had the wonderful opportunity to teach and collaborate in this program as an OCT and here is why I love it so very much:

  • Play-based learning provides equal opportunity, includes all learners and meets students where they are at developmentally
  • Assessment of students in this program reflects students strengths with a focus on what they can do rather than what they cannot yet do
  • The focus on relationships, community and inclusion in this program allows for students to thrive at school and lays a foundation for the development of vital social and emotional skills that are transferable throughout their lives 
  • The Kindergarten program allows for early identification and early intervention for students with special education needs 
  • It is so. much. FUN

Congratulations to everyone who has been a part of developing and growing this program over the last 10 years and to those committed to the continuation of learning amongst our youngest citizens in Ontario. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage the read of Dr. Gordon Cleveland’s research report titled  “Ontario’s Kindergarten Program: A Success Story. How We All Benefit from Quality Public Full-Day Kindergarten” that was written in response to this milestone for Kindergarten in Ontario (https://www.etfo.ca/DefendingWorkingConditions/IssuesInEducation/Pages/Full-daykindergarten.aspx). 

 

Happy 10 years, Full Day Kindergarten!