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Posted by on in Early Childhood

I am half way through Erika Christakis’ book, The Importance of Being Little. It is nice to read something written by someone who a) Understands early childhood, and b) isn’t overly academic, and c) isn't too gentle with the idiocies of the corporate early education model. My friend, Rae Pica, also writes with the courage of her convictions. I try to emulate these women.

The point I am at in my reading is the chapter she aptly names, “The Search for Intelligent Life.” She writes that the standards movement, which I do not condemn, by the way, has birthed a marketing volcanic eruption of pre-packaged materials for teaching to standards, everything from plastic leaves to fake logs. Fake food is rampant in preschools. In my preschool career, thank goodness, our policy was that if children wanted to play with fake food, they could engineer and create it themselves. For thinking about food, looking at foods, and deciding what characteristics are the most important to each individual child is certainly more thought provoking (problem solving; creativity, anyone?) than using the plastic foods created by the masterminds of Chinese manufacturing. Children play with their own “foods” with the same intensity. Within the “standards units” marketed by Lakeshore Learning, there are whole kits to teach math to kindergarteners. Adorable plastic cards give your average five year old a chance to “solve problems” written by the company that makes them. But as I have written before, spoon feeding artificial problems to children is antithetical to mentoring their natural inclination to question, and to actively explore solutions.

So, what is a teacher, underpaid and overworked, to do?

For math, throw out the  work sheets and plastic fakery. They are not “academic.” If a child needs or wants a worksheet to solve a problem, you can mentor them by asking what, exactly, they want to know? Do they want to count the birds on the playground? This is statistics and a math activity of their choosing. Ask them to draw a grid (you, know, lines that are parallel, going horizontally and vertically. Ask them which birds they want to count, and then ask them to draw birds going down, and numbers going across. If they ask for help, only give as much as they need (scaffolding). Then hand them clipboards and pencils, shooing them outdoors. We aren’t looking for accuracy. We are looking for a learning process. As Dr. Christakis writes, “The ingredients of good teaching and coaching are learning processes, not facts”.

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Posted by on in Movement and Play

BreakingSticks1.jpg

Adam’s little feet were scampering on the sidewalk as only a two-year-old’s feet can as I quickly followed to keep pace with him. As soon as he saw his first stick that day he stopped, picked it up, looked at me excitedly and shouted: “Mam patyk tata!” (I have a stick daddy!). He’s my kind of dude. Adores being outside. Loves playing with sticks. Picks them up whenever he can. Carries them around. Hits objects, sometimes people, with them. Brings them home where he usually forgets about them. But today was different. For both of us.

It’s April and the maple trees are budding in Minnesota. It was a warm enough day that I didn’t mind him sitting on the pavement and exploring. He sat down and started using his newfound tool to pluck the maple buds that fell off the branches above out of the cracks in the sidewalk. While doing this, the stick broke. He looked at me and said: “Zepsułem,” which means "I broke it" in Polish. He continued digging the buds out and the thin dried up stick broke once more, at which point Adam seemed to lose interest in the buds and decided to focus on sticks.

He noticed a big tree with a goldmine of broken twigs lying around it down the block and darted toward it, me in tow. While in the past he’d pick one or two up, now he was picking them up in bunches as if he were gathering kindling for a fire. This was quite interesting, because I know that he has no idea about this sort of use for fallen sticks. Of course this wasn’t why he was picking so many of them up, but I immediately got an idea that he will now be able to, and absolutely love helping me gather wood for the fire when we start going camping in a couple of months. We’ll brave the mosquitoes and poison ivy together….

He carried the sticks onto the sidewalk, threw what had to be a dozen of them down, and immediately proceeded to breaking them into smaller pieces. He did not just break each stick into two. He kept breaking each until it got so small his little hands could no longer apply enough force to fragment it. I was so fascinated with all I was observing and learning that I don’t recall what exact phrases he was using to talk about what he’s doing, but I know he was making associations between “big” and “small” and the fact that bigger sticks are more difficult to break.

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Posted by on in Differentiated Instruction

Hike

While visiting a high school in Michigan, I talked to students about their learning experiences. Understanding what they saw as valuable could have an important impact on how the teachers may strive to further elevate student voice in the school. One senior shared a perspective that I repeatedly heard from others. “I want more times when I get to say how I make products for projects. Not just do papers. Maybe videos or some other way to do the work.” Students want opportunities to forge their way for learning. How can we as educators share the reigns of instructional learning experiences?

 

A common practice used to engage students is to give them choices for how they can create products to demonstrate their learning. This is a good practice as some learners struggle when not given options. From a management perspective, choices jumpstart students into the tasks at hand. Yet choices do not equate to student voice.

 

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