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?

Construction Day

Something my ECE partner and I are developing is a more general structure to our week so that the students know what to expect on certain days. We have the usual special activities throughout the week such as Reading Buddies and going to the library, but we have begun to look at having a theme for certain days. So far, we all now look forward to Fridays – not only for the obvious reason, but also because it happens to be our weekly Construction Day (Jour de la construction). We got the idea from one of our colleagues who mentioned that she had heard about a kindergarten teacher who had a building day where the students exercised their burgeoning engineering skills. Given just the general idea of a day dedicated to building stuff, my partner and I jumped on the idea and are now constantly building on (no pun intended) ideas and activities for the kinders as designers, builders and artists.

All week long, boxes are delivered to my classroom from other teachers, from the breakfast program, from the office administrators, and even from the construction workers who were on-site for several weeks putting in a new accessible toilet in the school. In the classroom during the week, the creation station might not be set out, but is always an option if someone asks for it. We do hold on to some special boxes so that there is plenty of variety to be brought outside during the first block of outdoor learning on Friday morning, if the playground is dry. Typically, masking tape, scissors and markers are brought out as well to be used with the cardboard. From our shed, large building blocks, buckets, shovels and sometimes pylons, are also hauled out and presented as possible building materials.

Before we get building, however, we usually have a book and a discussion on the topic, just to stir up the creative energy and to garner ideas of things that are built – either by people or by creatures. Last Friday, we made a list of planes, trains and castles, until one JK student with a fascination for spiders, put up his hand and said that he wanted to build a giant spider web. Great idea! I thought for a moment, then told my ECE partner that I needed to get a few things from inside the classroom. I found 3 different small balls of yarn in various colours and textures for the giant spider web. I attached one end of the yarn to a spot on the chainlink fence, and gave the ball to the student. He easily picked up the idea of how to weave the yarn through the links, and the spider web started to grow. Other students became interested and soon I had fished out 5 more balls of yarn. One side of our school yard began to bustle with children who were pushing and pulling yarn through the fence, trying to attach pieces of cardboard or rocks, some of them even getting ‘caught’ in the giant web as they tried to pass over or under someone else who was weaving. It was a huge success. The web stayed up for about a week, until the arrival of heavy winds and rain, then it soon came unravelled and blew away.

Every Friday, when we come into the classroom, we continue construction activities with whatever we can gather up from our art supplies and toys; playdough; blocks; Duplo; popsicle sticks and white liquid glue; or, chairs, tables and table cloths. We ask the students to draw a diagram of what they plan on building before they get started. For the SKs this is an interesting challenge, while only a few JKs at this point are able to see the connection between what they are drawing and what they end up building. Nonetheless, they like to talk about their ideas, whether the final project looks anything like their ‘blueprint’. Midway through the day, we have a circle so that students can share their creations and hopefully inspire others to build different things than they usually build, like the spider web.

Construction Day offers great opportunities for inquiry and it touches on key aspects (the Four Frames) of the kindergarten curriculum, namely, demonstrating mathematics behaviours, problem solving and innovating. What we like most about it is that it is largely a student-lead day. We have to do preplanning to be ready with a variety of opportunities for building, but we are at our busiest in the midst of a variety of projects, as we try to produce materials that the builders ask for.

Teaching Math

 

 

I have always considered myself more of an “English Language” teacher. So, when I moved into the junior and intermediate classroom, I felt less confident in my abilities to teach math. When planning for the year, I surveyed some other junior/intermediate teachers for recommended resources. And when planning for the classroom environment, I made sure to have a corner dedicated to math, which includes a gallery wall, manipulatives, math dictionary and texts as well as tools like calculators.

Although I was given a set of textbooks, I don’t plan or teach from the textbooks. I print the curriculum expectations specific to the grade for each strand, and use them as my guide in planning the units. Then I refer to some other resources for ideas in activities that involve group work or problem solving. Some of favourites to support my math program are:

  • Introduction to Reasoning and Proof, Grades 6-8: The Math Process Standards Series, by Denisse R. Thompson and Karren Shultz-Ferrell
  • Nelson’s Ontario Numeracy Assessment Package
  • Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics, by Marian Small
By referring to these resources, I am able to understand the concepts that need to be taught and how to differentiate using broader questions for the range of math learners in my classroom. I enjoy providing mini-lessons on strategies to support the students as well as encouraging them to share their strategies with me and the rest of the class. Our math class has become engaging and interactive, not repetitive and boring as I had feared.
We use a gallery wall to display group answers to problems. This has become an invaluable way to quickly assess understanding. Students are given the opportunity to view the gallery, see how others have solved the problem, respond with their own ideas or suggestions and acquire new learning. A week of math classes includes a range of instructional strategies, independent work, paired and group work. One of our common “go to” questions is “Does this make sense?” We are aiming for understanding rather than rote learning of facts and steps (as I learned in elementary school). So, I am enjoying learning with my students as I discover new ways to approach and solve math problems.

Long Range Plans – Are they ever really done?

Some teachers dive right in over the summer and plan their whole year out! I have never been that kind of teacher. Not only do I not have the patience, I am simply not organized enough to get everything laid out in advance. I find it especially difficult to get long range plans together before I have met my students.

I have tried doing a spreadsheet with a few words in each box to outline what will be happening and have each cell represent a 1 or 2 week block (pictured above), I have tried doing all of the different strands on their own page with the whole year laid out, I have even printed the curriculum document for each strand I teach and cut each expectation out and then paired them with similar expectations (i.e., in Grade 2 Science the students look at the changes of states between solids, liquids and gases, this could be paired with measuring temperature in the Math Measurement Strand, and even volume). Then I tape them all down in groups and go from there.

Last year I went with a template that gives a full 2 page spread with a row of cells for each week. At the beginning of the year, I planned out general ideas for each month/week (i.e., I would focus on data management – graphing for the first 2 weeks, picking a just right book, and writing a retell to be connected to the Social Studies curriculum of Celebrations). Each page started out very general. As the year went on, I could use each page as more of a detailed planning spot where I would go in and “beef up” the plans for that week. Adding in the specifics of what I was going to be doing. I found this was excellent, as it acted as a long range plan and my general daybook. In many cases I would even write in the strands that we had accomplished as we finished them up for my own records.

Handing in my long range plans was difficult, as they were very thin to start. I sat down with my principal and walked him through my plan. I had taught Grade 2 before so I was pretty familiar with where the curriculum would fit together, and I had worked with my grade partner to pair up on some things and make sure we were not overlapping on others (i.e., we didn’t want to both be working on certain strands at the same time as we shared resources, but others we would want to do at the same time to bring our classes together, etc.). My plans were not overly detailed, but they had genera ideas for when I would be working on different strands, etc.. I explained to him that they are not really, “done” yet. He demanded that I finish them and submit them. It took some explaining, but in the end, I was able to create my plans the way I wanted and share them digitally through Google Drive. This way, he could pop in at any time and see where my class was headed and it was always up to date.

Not only did this format work exceptionally well for me, my principal was quite pleased in the end because my plans were the only accurate ones he had by May! We change where we are going with our teaching all the time, it is just what happens in a classroom! You get an email from a local theater company that they are putting on a show in January that would fit perfectly with something you were going to teach in May: you change your plans to accommodate. You find out that they materials you needed for your awesome unit are booked up for the month you were planning to teach it: you change your plans to accommodate. Long Range Plans are as much a living document as any other document we work with! Let it be organic and know that there will be times where you planned to work on something for 2 weeks and at the end of 2 weeks, they still don’t get it! Accommodate and move forward!

Below are some pictures of the plans I submitted last year to my principal as they looked at the end of the year – they were changed A LOT between September and the end of the year! If a box was left empty, it was because I would be continuing what we had started the week before.

At the beginning of the year, the page for these weeks might have said: Days, punctuation, predicting/retell, writing routines, read numbers and locate on number line, and 2D geometry. When I got to that week, I beefed those weeks up a bit, elaborating on what I was going to do each specific week to build on the concepts, etc.

Integrating Learning with Technology

 

 

 

  “Some teachers feel technology is being pushed on them, especially those who struggle with it. They might start using technology just for the sake of using it. This has shown to be an ineffective method for both tech-savvy and tech-challenged teachers. There is a big difference between using technology to teach and the successful integration of technology into lesson plans.(http://www.edutopia.org/blog/help-teachers-struggling-with-technology-josh-work)


Here are some suggestions to integrate technology in a meaningful way that connects to curriculum:
  • in primary grades, use programs like Kidpix to have students create 2-D representations to demonstrate understanding for Science (Life Systems, Structures and Mechanisms)
  • watch videos of dance performances, (YouTube) and have students respond
  • have students select nature/architecture photo from images or take a photo with iPad and write poem to accompany photo/image
  • using spoken word poetry in the classroom https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC5PJtWBigV2f4TM4Gx7IlPe1ummqg5jt
Also, don’t feel that you have to be an expert before you “teach” the technology to your students. Think of yourself as a facilitator of a technological opportunity! You can and will learn along with your students.

The New Core French Curriculum – Any Thoughts???

     As French teachers, we have had a month or two to digest the 1 1/2 thick volume that came our way courtesy of the Ministry of Education:) This had been a long time coming – several years of anticipated release and a fair share of spoiler alerts. I must confess however to still being somewhat, shall I say intimidated when I actually had the full weight of it in my hands. In general, I would sum up the new approach as moving towards authentic communication in all aspects (reading, writing and speaking). This in itself sounds fantastic. In discussion with my co-workers and teachers at other schools, the following questions came up.
1) Are the suggested tasks overly ambitious? Writing articles? Describing career opportunities for bilingual workers in a brochure?
2) Would your students be able to comprehend/respond to the suggested teacher prompts?
3) Was getting rid of specific language/grammar expectations entirely (ex. futur proche in Gr. 7 and passé compose in Gr.8) a good idea?
4) Do the new resources support the suggested tasks – especially in the listening strand?
     Have you had the same thoughts? Has your board provided you with any helpful (practical) materials to implement the new curriculum? Any thoughts/feedback would be most welcome for French teachers everywhere. Merci beaucoup!

Engaging Idea

A new year is an opportunity for introducing new routines or learning opportunities. If your routines are already established and your planning is complete, you may just want to add a new “twist” to the assignments, addressing different learning styles and increasing student engagement.

Depending on the age group that you teach, – receive infographics on a wide-range of topics at Daily Infographic, see http://dailyinfographic.com/. This is a great way to get comfortable with the use of infographics. View before sharing with students.  Infographics (information graphics) are all around us in subway maps, advertisements, and historical representations. They provide students with an alternative way to read information as well as present information. An infographic is a graphic visual representation. Larger amounts of data or information are presented in a visually appealing way that the reader is able to easily retain. Infographics can include timelines, maps, charts, graphs, illustrations or photographs, making them a useful and beneficial resource for social studies, math, language, science and art.

Suggestions for introducing or integrating infographics:

– receive infographics on a wide-range of topics at Daily Infographic, see http://dailyinfographic.com/. This is a great way to get comfortable with the use of infographics. View before sharing with students.

– in Google search a selected topic and “infographic” to find a reputable author/creator of an infographic that connects to your lesson or subject. Preview the infographic. Provide it to your students to read individually or have them discuss in small groups.

– use infographics for specific knowledge-building. For example, if studying First Nations treaties with the Canadian Government, a government produced infographic is provided at: http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1380223988016/1380224163492. This infographic provides factual information in an interesting format for students that is easy to understand.

– after using infographics and understanding the components that make them effective, have students create their own infographics. It could be their own life story, their community or outer space. It could replace the pamphlet idea for presenting information on another city, country, or issue.

– create a campaign against bullying (or address various social issues) using student created infographics modelled on a reputable resource such as the infographic at Stop Bullying Gov, see http://www.stopbullying.gov/image-gallery/what-you-need-to-know-infographic.html.

– students can design their own infographic with pencil or paper, or electronically with tools such as Infogr.am or Piktochart.

 

Enjoy introducing something new to your students for the New Year!

Revising the Talking Strategy in French Class

At the beginning of the year, I remember writing about my new strategy of getting students to speak more French during class. Brimming with hope and optimism, I had implemented “chat sessions” where kids would casually discuss with a partner/group various topics related to what we had been studying. There were times when I provided structure (specific question to discuss/specific structure to use) and others where it was more casual and focused on just speaking in French for the duration. I was pleasantly surprised by the relative “enthusiasm” and commitment with which these activities were met. By mid to late October though, both were in short supply. Instead I was forced to reckon with the all too familiar resistance and lethargy known to many Core French teachers. When I could no longer deny this fact, I mustered up the willpower and energy to once again confront the issue. Upon further reflection, I am ready to acknowledge the following:

#1: Be Consistent With Routines
This seems self evident but for me, I tend to easily get sidetracked and let it slide (a bad trait but at least I can admit it). I think a five minute window is adequate and it’s a good way to start the class – every class!

#2: Provide Variety to Activities
I still think my discussion topics are a good idea and posting some support vocabulary is helpful and sometimes crucial to the success of the conversation. Perhaps a more innovative approach is to have a pairs of students generate the topic/question/sentence starters. Getting them directly involved this way is a means of having them more implicated in your lesson. Something else I tried is the French version of 4 corners (Quatre coins) where I would read a statement and once in their corner, students would have to discuss the topic (and in my case, practise forming an opinion statement). Games are always a favourite and, when structured properly, can really provide an opportunity to work in a lot of conversational French.

#3: Recognize those students who really make an effort
Find a way to somehow give credit where credit is due. I myself use a star card where I sign a certain number of times and once they reach a corner, they can redeem a prize (usually a small chocolate bar). I also have something called “Les points de participation” which the accumulated total counts towards their speaking mark at the end of the term.

Whatever the challenges, it is nonetheless rewarding to see (hear) what your students are capable of without inhibition and doubt. Take the opportunity to share what is working for you. It’s great to have new ideas to try.

Writer’s Workshop in Kindie

Writer’s Workshop seems to be integrated into many of today’s classrooms during literacy periods. In Kindergarten, we start our mornings off with Writer’s Workshop, each and every day. We are using the Lucy Culkins’ Writer’s Rainbow model to help our young writers. We know, and believe, that all students are writers.

Throughout the year, we will be using Lucy Culkins’s books to help teach our young students about different types of writing, and allowing them the opportunity to write as well. First, we have started off with Non-Fiction Writing, and have been focusing on “small moments”, where students are to write about something that happened to them yesterday, last night, or even this morning. The writers in our room vary from those whom only draw pictures, to those who add much detail in both their pictures and their words.

 

 

We are now moving toward Fiction writing, where my students are now authors and are creating their own Gingerbread stories. Because we have been completing a unit on the Gingerbread Man (and how he ran away from our oven here at school), students created their own versions of the Gingerbread Man. Some students chose to write about a Gingerbread Princess, A Gingerbread Alien and even a Gingerbread Superman. The pictures and details they have come up with are just fantastic!

In all of our Kindergarten classrooms, we have Lucy Culkins’s Writer’s Rainbow posted (see picture). Each different colour of the rainbow shows a different stage at which students are at with their writing. It is a great way not only for us as teachers to see where our students fit in, but also for students to self-assess their work.

If you have not heard of or read about Lucy Culkins’s work, you should. She gives simple and practical ways to set up and use Writer’s Workshop in your classroom! Happy Writing!

 

Integrating Art in Kindergarten

As mentioned in my previous post, I have been working on an Art Studio for the classroom that will provide enough space and materials to meet the interests of all the children in my class. Even though I have set up a physical space called the “Art Studio” there are other centres in the classroom where representational art is also taking place. At the Messaging Centre, many children are graphically representing their ideas with pictorial images, and in the Building Centre children are using the blocks to create designs and structures. We have a table where play dough is often provided, and this too allows the students to represent their ideas in 3-D form.

By integrating art throughout the classroom, I can access many areas of the curriculum in a way that is engaging and accessible for the children. For example, one of the first overall expectations in Science that I like to plan for is “demonstrate an awareness of the natural and human-made environment through hands-on investigations, observation, questioning, and sharing their findings.” Children need support to develop their observation skills and really notice what is around them, rather than assume an image that they picture in their mind. When you ask a child to draw a tree, they often draw the same straight trunk with a round green top on it! By taking students outside to touch the bark, notice the texture and observe the branches, children will develop an awareness and reflect their observations in more accurate representations.

Strengthening visual discrimination in young children can be done at the art centre by providing an object to observe and represent. I often select a natural and aesthetic piece such as the vase of hydrangeas pictured below. A basket of leaves could also be used at this time of year. Then provide a controlled palette of materials. So for the hydrangeas I only set out pencils for drawing and coloured pencils that match the shades of the actual flowers, stems, leaves and vase. The children still have choice, but their selection is from a realistic palette that they will identify as they look at the object with discrimination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rather than make art for art’s sake, planned centres can be used to support skill development for visual discrimination, fine motor, and representational as well as integrate many subjects such as Science, Language, and Math.