Thursday, 10 May 2018

Some Misunderstandings About Play

Right so this is my third full year into play, and I have certainly come a long way.  It has been a journey full reflections and answers...answers in fact to questions I didn't even know I had.

Over the last few weeks I have come across some discussions online that are echoes of the old me, the discussions are robust and the opinions are based on personal viewpoints and some research into learning.  This is not unusual, but what has dismayed me is that there seems to be a very real misunderstanding around what it means to be operating a 'play based' or developmentally appropriate environment.  "Play" and the simple nature of this powerful practice is being used as if it is 'frivolous' and inconvenient once children are at primary school.

I wanted to spend some time talking to the misunderstandings I have read, as they were also misunderstandings that I probably would have expressed four or five years ago.  In fact, I went back and read this old post from my journey in 2016.  Here it is.   The teacher I was in prior to 2015/16 would have stood on a completely other side of the argument I am about to present. 

I hope that in sharing the journey I have had, I can help others see the powerful role that play and developmentally appropriate teaching has to play in our profession and why I hope that others choose to take the journey with me.  If someone like me who had been teaching for 17 years at that time, could and would completely transform her pedagogy based on research and personal inquiry, there surely must be something in it. 

Was I wrong before? 
No a lot of what I was doing then was quality stuff,  our children did very well, we were having fun, we were having great success with Mantle of the Expert...there was no real reason 'academically' for me to make the change to how I did things...

That is because the reason was not 'academic' was developmental, social and emotional...and the transformation has been ground breaking for me and absolutely transformational for my classroom.

  For anyone that does not know, this journey for me started with the needs of just one puzzling child that had me big conundrum that didn't respond to any of my 'magic tricks'...a child I would have diagnosed with 'processing disorder' a child I could have classified as have significant learning needs...a child I did refer on to other turned out that through my investigations, experimentation, and ongoing reflections that what this child needed was a developmentally appropriate approach that my 'traditional' new entrant room was not giving him. 

He was my ground zero, he was the spark that ignited this journey for me.  For this one child, we turned ourselves inside out.  I couldn't be happier that we did.  It has been four years since this experience, and this child, ground zero, that I think if he had continued to be 'taught' using traditional approaches would still be he?  No he is not.  He has had an interesting path so far, but a path marked by progress.  He is doing well against normal age targets now and experiencing success, I couldn't be prouder!

And that brings me to misunderstanding number one.

1) If we let them play, if we give them time, if we 'waste' those first two or three years on developmental goals related to brain development and we don't formally teach them to read and write,  children with learning needs will not be picked up until too late, they will then trail through their schooling experience always behind and never helped.  The system will let them down.

Wow, reading this one the other day blew my mind, because it could have been me speaking years ago.  Old me was in a race to pick up children that needed intervention, I had all my data in a row, highlighted and double checked.  If a child didn't have all their 30 words after six months this was really worrying to me.  I would leap in and give them teacher aide time.  Hmmm...did this really help?  Maybe in a limited way, but it wasn't the help they really needed.  In fact, it was probably more likely that it was me that needed the help!

Firstly let me say that it is much easier to pick up children and their needs in a quality environment based on play and developmentally appropriate approaches.  In fact because we are using developmental approaches that are based on how the learning brain actually develops, we are in fact ensuring some of these classic difficulties like mixed dominance, processing issues etc do not even occur at all.

We know each child so well in our environment, we know them on an individual level and we can provide for them as such.  These children are all on their own individual path, we can monitor them in these first few years and ensure that developmentally they are making progress.  If not, we can provide support that actually helps, and is not based on memorisation, but is based on how the brain actually learns.

My point is this.  If the environment is ticking along right, if developmentally appropriate practices are being used so that each child is progressing right where they need to be, and if everyone in the first few years is on the same page, children will not be 'lost through the cracks' they will be supported through quality practice and time. 

My Ground Zero is evidence of this...children only fall through the cracks if the system you have in your school, allows them to do so, and sets targets for learning that are not even appropriate for where their brain development is up to.    The truly beautiful thing is I am not just talking about academics here...I am talking about social and emotional needs and how children see themselves as learners.  To me, those areas are more important to begin with anyway.

Our children are well supported in their journey, right up to Year 6, just because we love and embrace play, does not mean we are not accountable for their progress, to think so, or imply so, would be incredibly insulting.

Misunderstanding Two

2) If we do not deliberately teach them to read and write as soon as they walk through the door we are letting them down.  Developmental readiness has nothing to do with it.  If they are not taught to read and write straight away we are putting them behind and holding them back.

Yes several years ago, I may have agreed with this misunderstanding.  We would leap straight into reading, hey because that is how children learn to read isn't it?  We would drill the phonics, we would teach each sound, we would brainstorm words with common sounds, listen to sounds, have fun with sounds...brilliant!  Our classroom was print rich, the teaching of literacy was my thing, it was something I was really good at!

But as a result we had many 'reluctant' readers.  Of course this was the child's fault wasn't it.  They were the ones that were reluctant.  They didn't want to learn to we just kept plugging away.  The very definition of madness.

What we did not realise was that it was us putting the barriers up, we were shoving down their throat learning that developmentally they were not ready for, they were not interested in, or the least bit curious about, they couldn't see the point, their interests were elsewhere, generally that elsewhere was outside, jumping, kicking, rolling, balancing, climbing (exactly what their brain needed them to be doing.)  Brilliant read about the role of movement right here!

Yes we can teach children that are not 'ready' there are many children in classrooms all around New Zealand that are learning to read quite well, they will get to dark blue, green, maybe even orange and then there may be a stall noticed.  Others will catch up and are likely to pass them, those that have progressed as they have needed to developmentally are now curious, engaged and driven to learn...right where they need to be.

We can force early learning on children,  and we do, and they will learn in many cases, but should we?

There is a huge collection of information out there that tells us that early progress is no indicator of later 'greatness'.'  In fact in my experience it is those children that progress slowly in the first few years that go on to do best.   I have many years of practical experiences observing just this fact, over and over again it is those that make slow and steady progress in their first three years that go on to be our most independent, resilient, engaged and motivated learners.

Wow this is 2009!

And my go to - Nathan Wallis

You will of course find research to suit your own position...but let me say this,  an environment that takes into account first and foremost where a child is at developmentally, is not going to 'miss' seeing any learning difficulties just because they do not engage with early reading.  In fact I would say that we are much more likely now to pick them up.  I feel that now by doing less, I am getting much, much more!

 In answer to the misunderstanding.  Children in a quality play-based environment are not being held back, they are in vocab rich environments, they hear and engage in rich discussion, which they take a full part in, they explore and talk and learn at their own pace, they feel safe and happy, not anxious about not being 'able to learn', they revisit learning as many times as they need to, they imagine, create and innovate, they are exposed to wonderful print, they see reading, maths and writing in beautifully authentic contexts, they drive their own learning and yes, we engage with them at their point of developmental readiness, we lay a solid ground, to support development of a beautifully happy brain that when it is ready, will devour reading and writing and everything else in its path, because this it what it is built to do....learn! 

 They are not confined to the timetables of adults, but keep their own schedule.

We are not holding them back, we are not putting up barriers, we are breaking them down, children learn more in my play-based environment than they ever did in my traditional room.  Are some children learning to read and write already, are we 'teaching them'....yes of course, because they are ready to be doing this, they are doing well and making good progress and many are not up to this yet, and that is OK.

Misunderstanding Three

3) All they do is play wildly, it is noisey, unruly, and it is lazy teaching.  This environment belongs in ECE.

This is a pretty common misunderstanding and so far off base. 

However I understand it, because it is something I would have uttered before I realised.  I have actually come to realise that I have a huge amount to learn from my colleagues in ECE...they know so much more than I do still, this is just how they do things, they actually understand the learning process a whole heap better than I ever did!

Now don't get me wrong, some of the play in our class is pretty wild, we have cowgirls, cowboys, witches, fairies, masked crusaders, and other weird and wonderful characters flying around, interacting, or not, with each other. 

 We also have builders, artists, investigators, readers, writers, shop keepers, teachers, fishing experts, hut creators, adventurers and a range of other busy characters, which spread out in their inside and outside environment and are thoroughly invested in their play. 

Rather than being lazy, I have never been so busy, from beautiful moments of observing the play, to those special moments of engagement and working alongside without directing, to the times when I spend time working with children individually on their personal developmental goal, or one that may be now more focused on traditional academic learning.  I am observing interests and urges, planning on the go, truly seeing the curriculum evolve right in front of me and generating ways I can build and expand on this for those that want to. 

 I am taking photos for later, making notes in my head for class learning stories and seesaw so that parents can get a view into our day, busy noticing the dispositions being displayed so that we can use them when we reflect on our play as a class.  Taking what I am observing of social and emotional needs and formulating quick sessions that will be great 'just in time learning.' 

We spend time together learning, we learning in groups, we learning individually, learning is shaped around the needs of the children, not the needs of the teacher to 'get things done.'

I believe we all have a lot to learn from the levels that would have previously been seen as 'below' us.  New entrant teachers, need to understand brain development, and what early learning looks like.  So do Year 2,3 and 4, 5, 6 and beyond teachers.  Rather than saying that should be taught 'before' us, we need to accept that we need to understand that developmentally a child will come to us, wherever they are developmentally up to, and it is our job to know how to provide for them best.

We have developed a very simplistic question at our place, but it is helping the other teachers in the junior school really see social, emotional and developmental progress for what it is.  They ask us "how old was the child when they came in?"  What they mean here, is roughly what would be have said the developmental age was (this is not a slight on the child, but a very basic means of insight) if we reply "2 or 3" then they know that if that child is now presenting as they would expect to see a five year old in Year 2 or even 3, that they have indeed made just doesn't look like it used to and that is ok.


These are the three dominant misunderstandings around play that I have experienced over the last few years on this journey, and read about many times when I am brave enough to read the comments of others.

If you are considering embarking on a play-based environment, please take time to ensure you understand the why and how, take time to read about the brain and how it develops.  Take it slowly and get it right, so that we can keep clearing up these little misunderstandings and blow traditional teaching and assumptions about learning out of the water....for the good of our children.


Saturday, 28 April 2018

Literacy Development

There have been a lot of posts online about this subject recently, particularly in relation to reading development.  For the purpose of this blog post I refer to 'literacy development' as I believe that reading, writing and oral language can not be separated in terms of development, they are symbiotic and exist for the purpose of communication.

The belief that we are critically harming a child if they are not not 'taught' to read in the first couple of years is to me, very flawed when you look at progress from a developmental perspective.  The idea that if we are not 'directly instructing' them in reading from the day they enter school we are hindering their progress is a in my opinion scaremongering.  If a child is not developmentally ready to read or write and we apply direct instruction in literacy, we are likely to be doing more harm than good.  A child's brain does not stagnate if we are not 'directly instructing' them, the brain will constantly be stimulated in a rich environment and because children have a natural drive to learn, they are developing new understandings constantly. 

In fact if we use developmental readiness and interest as our guide and provide quality exposure to the early building blocks of literacy, they will make progress when they are ready.  Yes there are children with learning difficulties, but we are not doing those children any favours by engaging early either.  To put the cat amongst the pigeons, I think in some cases, our forcing of cognitive learning on a child that is not ready for it, could cause later difficulties for many.

I am not saying we don't teach, what I am saying is that we need know when it is appropriate to do so.  With these factors in mind I have been giving a lot of thought to my classroom this do I know when they are ready for more, and what is it that I need to be doing.

For those that have been following my journey for a while, will know that I use this framework and our early goals for gross motor skills, fine motor skills and working memory to gauge this readiness, along of course with the key factor of interest!

When children have moved into early literacy (more cognitive) based goals we will start engaging with greater understanding of phonics...easing slowly into the process of reading and writing.  We try to do this individually and each child's journey is quite different.  Some are very ready and will move onto Red 3 or Yellow straight away and not look back, we will still teach phonics but it seems to be second nature for them, like a duck to water with building blocks in place they become quite fluent quite quickly, as and when needed we will 'teach' a new sound pattern and it sticks.  

However some really need an increased focus on phonics, with lots and lots of practice and much repetition in a variety of different ways.

There is no one fixed approach, and if we take one approach, that is where our programmes fall down.  This term I want to trial using decodable texts more often with those early readers that need this for fluency, I am hoping that it will deepen their understanding of phonics and in turn really assist their growth as readers and writers.

In the reflecting on literacy building blocks, I really want to deepen my understanding of literacy acquisition, what do we need to do, to make this process more natural for children.  

This video is really interesting, and backs up the need for phonemic awareness and the explicit teaching of the correspondence between letters and words.  

In our play based class we do use a lot of whole group exposure, but a lot of the specific teaching is done as and when needed for the individual.  We do include the learning of words after children have a good basic grounding in phonics, but after watching this video I am wondering if we need to do this at all, are we benefiting them, or are we confusing them.  Maybe we would be better off giving them a series of decodable words instead of high frequency words that are not able to be decoded...hmmm that has got me thinking and is definitely something I think we might change once we've had a closer look at it.

As an aside to this, I have created a building block diagram/framework of my own that basically takes off, where the other diagram ends.  It is not concrete as yet and requires a lot of my thought this year, but I will share anyway.

I love learning more about the brain, how it works and how I can adjust my practice accordingly.  I think far too often we don't take enough time to think about the 'why' of what we are doing...I think the worst line I hear from teachers is "we've always done it this way."

Enjoy Term Two everyone!

Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Importance of the Arts and Creativity

This is something I have felt passionately about for some time now, since starting my journey with Mantle of the Expert my eyes were opened widely to the benefits learning through the arts could have for children.  Previously an area that I only dabbled with because of my own lack of ability, I quickly came to realise using the arts as a vehicle for the curriculum had an incredible effect on the engagement of all children (not just the ones talented in these areas) and increased the emotional connection ten fold.  Not only did it have a huge impact on their engagement, it also had an incredible effect on their understanding of what we were learning. 

The biggest eye opener for me was how using the arts as a vehicle for curriculum, opened up access to learning for those we would consider 'struggling, shy' learners, and even our ESOL children.  All children seemed to connect with learning in a much deeper way.  The arts is a language we are all capable of engaging with, yet as we get older, we forget and lose this connection unless it is part of our everyday life.

Using the arts as a vehicle for learning was like having a magic key that seemed to unlock learning for all and in that moment of realisation, five years ago, the idea of Number Agents 1.0 was born. 

Number agents has evolved over the last few years, and the storylines morphed as the children add their personalities and ideas to it, but one thing has remained constant....we are learning about maths, but through the vehicle of the arts.  Over the last couple of years in a play-based environment it has developed even further. 

What I came to realise is although I do not consider myself an 'artistic' person, this didn't matter at all, as adults we let this hold us back, but for children using creativity as a means of communication is as natural as breathing.  They don't measure their abilities by any standard. They sing loudly; dance with their whole being truly feeling the music.  They paint and draw with no abandon, and on any surface they are allowed to, including themselves.  They have no prescribed view of right or wrong, of what colour goes with what, find bits and pieces that go together to create a fantastic artwork or a wonderful machine.  They joyfully, with no abandon explore their environment, noticing the
small details that we as adults lost sight of years ago, the mark of a true scientist!   They giggle loudly at funny words that rhyme and say them over and over again just because they can, make up their own jokes with no need of a punch line that makes sense.  They dress up in weird and wonderful outfits and they use drama as part of their play, it is how they learn, so adding it in a more 'directed' learning situation may seem challenging for an adult, it is just a part of who they are for a child. 

What if we captured this ability and actively used it as an approach in our classrooms, what if we used the arts as a means to deliver the curriculum...could we ensure that children did not lose this creativity as they get older, may we even unlock aspects of their abilities that may have gone

untapped in other situations.  Could we have an impact on their overall wellness and sense of being...absolutely I have been overwhelmed by the positive impact it has had across our whole school!

 We all know how therapeutic creativity can be.  I love to write, would have loved to be an author...may still be one day.  I even took up painting when I had my babies as an outlet, I'd never painted in my life, but I absolutely loved it!  Music gives such pleasure to others, it can lift your spirit, even if you have had a bad day, it is like storytelling...the arts communicate directly to our soul, they ground us and centre us, they talk to the 'humanness' of us all.  You only have to go to a concert and feel the vibration of the music, the way it unites the crowd, it is like a zap of electricity to your soul.

Unfortunately over the years our curriculum and the experience we allow children to have in our classrooms has been narrowed by a 'theory' that there are important subjects and those that are just frivolous.  Firstly I don't believe in subjects at all, because we do not experience the world in 'subjects' and secondly I think we have it all wrong, those areas considered frivolous and all but excluded from some of our classrooms today, except for two or three week 'units' playing the recorder, or painting, are actually the most important areas of learning for us.  They allow us to see the world in a different way.  Not as a list of facts to be learned, or arbitrary knowledge that needs to be consumed, but in a way that allows us to see the connected nature of our world.    Engaging creativity and using it has the potential to truly unlock our human potential. 

Why would we deny children this right?

Maths, science, technology, social studies, even sport fall naturally out of the arts and by harnessing creativity we actually expand our ability to truly develop understanding.  If we truly want to be preparing children for the 'future' we need to be embracing creativity, not shying away from it. 

This is a great article here, that I really enjoyed reading.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

What is our job?

Over the last few weeks I have been mulling a question over and over in my a teacher what is our role...what is our most important work? 

For many teachers buried under a pile of paperwork it would seem that our most important work would be planning and preparing lessons, setting learning intentions and success criteria and then measuring their students against this.  If you have ever read any of my blog posts, you will absolutely know that this is an answer that would not wash with me. 

To answer this question for myself I have been delving back into my memories of school, Primary and Secondary, what is it from this time in my life that I actually learned.

Now this is going to sound harsh, but there is little learning wise I can remember from school, however I do remember a lot socially and emotionally, good and bad.

For the most part I enjoyed primary school.  I was an 'average' child academically...probably because I was never encouraged or given the learning experiences that encouraged me to step out of that average.  I was not a risk taker in learning, I liked to be right.  However I do think that I had the ability to do more, if mistakes had been cherished and the importance of struggle made clear to us.  Maths was not my strong point back then, or at least I was never given proof otherwise.  I was in the 'bottom' group with the other children that struggled, together we accepted that this was just our lot. 

Maths was also quite competitive back then....and competing in a subject that I 'struggled' with was just not something I was ever willing to do, I was happy to shrink back into the background... to be that child that was always labelled in end of year reporting as quietly confident. 

What rubbish that was!  Confidence was one thing I could have really done with.  I seemed confident perhaps, because I've always had a talent for acting.  I knew just to put my head down and enjoyed working from textbooks for maths, not because I LOVED this way of learning, because they were safe, the thinking was narrow, there was always one right answer, and best of all, the answers were in the back of the book.

I was lucky at primary school really, in a small school I was known, and had great relationships with my teachers (for the most part) so even if I lacked confidence academically, I still got what I needed emotionally.  High school was a different matter altogether, little miss average doesn't really get a look in at High School.  Not needing extra help, not needing extension, really not a priority.  So what does Miss average do, when attention is lacking, becomes the class clown of course, and when that doesn't work, gets suspended...hmmm who would have ever predicted my future career.  I was much more of a follower back then. 

My absolute passions were the outdoors and animals, I was an excellent athlete and I always shone in this area of learning...what my teachers didn't know is that for every activity that I mastered and 'won' there were just as many activities that I simply didn't take part in for fear I would not be the best.

 I guess perfectionist comes to mind here...I would slowly make my way to the back of the line for anything I felt I would mess up, because the teachers had this vision of me as this incredible athlete, I just didn't feel I could show them anything other than this competence.  I was praised over and over for this ability, for being the best, how an earth could I bring myself to shatter this illusion.

What a difference the power of yet would have done for me...a culture based on embracing mistakes may have completely changed my path in this area.   Perhaps I would have actually gone on with athletics...but sadly for me, as soon as I hit high school and there were others as competent as me and I didn't win each and every event, I gave up.

So this brings me back to the point of my post, what is our core role? 

Can you relate to any of my comments above, are there any children like me in your classes?  I bet there are, the safe sitters of the world can be found in every classroom, these safe sitters are our target audience, because if we get it right for them, if we can encourage them to take risks and embrace challenge, I believe we can get it right for all children.

I am going to offer up a contentious point of view here, you may or may not agree with me, obviously that is the beauty of having our own minds, but after much mulling, much arguing with myself I believe the one most important part of our job, our key role is not the teaching of content, or curriculum, but the development of character, the fostering of strong relationships and the building of emotional connections. 

Each child has such huge potential and it is our job to build strong, connected relationships that allow us to push children out of their comfort zones, to cherish the value of persistence, to embrace mistakes, to think deeply, to appreciate the process of learning and to understand that we do not always have to be right.  In doing this, we allow children to come to understand themselves, to appreciate not only their strengths, but also their weak points and how they can use struggle and challenge to overcome these.

Our ultimate role is therefore not to get swamped by paperwork, to write the perfect learning intention, to integrate an inquiry perfectly, or to spend hours marking work, our ultimate role is to spend time getting to know children, to know them well enough that we are able to find that learning switch inside of each one of them, that shows them just how much they can achieve and how much potential they have.

I am not saying to stop planning, to stop reflecting (I may be saying to stop writing learning intentions­čśť and success criteria, because children should have more ownership over the direction of their learning, and how an earth do we know where something is going until we get there) or to stop having a fantastic understanding of the curriculum and competencies. 

What I am asking you to reflect on is how much you remember of what you learned in school, or how much of your learning happens just in time, when you need it? 

Who was your favourite teacher and why...I believe most of us would pick a teacher who saw us, understood us, who fought in our corner it won't be the teacher that was so busy trying to cover everything that they never had time to stop and just see us.

Every child has a learning is our job to find it.  This switch is usually located close to their heart, therefore it is this that we need to connect with if we are to help them become successful, resilient learners who understand that learning is not confined to the inside of the classroom walls and only limited by their own vision of themselves as a learner. 

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Number Agents - Term One Reflection

Quite honestly, I am always super surprised by how well children just slip into the world of Number Agents.  This year has been no different and every year, I get better at building the storyline, increasing the children's belief in this imagined world.

Isn't that the amazing thing about teaching?  That we get to build on our practice each year and make things new an improved, not just repeat what we have always done?

This year with our play-based environment evolving and improving, I think the attachment to Number Agents has been even stronger.  The children ask daily if we are going to be agents, and just like the agents before them they take this world into their own play.

Through the hooking in process, which took us about three weeks, children became more and more intrigued by this world and just like classes before them started to invent their own stories about the portal.  That is where the idea of a crack in time and space came from, and now this crack is displayed proudly on our agent wall.  (this is how the villains manage to get through to our world.)

The children loved the message in a bottle this year, just as much as last year and took to the concept with the glee that only a child can show.  They loved it so much that this has been kept up as a way of working on strand on the days that  I am not in the room.
the bottle arrives
How we feel when a new message arrives
The black circle (portal) arrived first.  I didn't need to tell the agents this was a portal, they told me.

Then Head Agent appeared, with messages for us in speech bubbles.

Head agent was again welcomed with open arms and the children just slipped into the world of being agents, joyously drawing their plans for our construction crew to come through and build our offices.  Dressing up with excitement to take their agent photos.  Wide eyed with amazement when professor visited for the first time, and overwhelmed with absolute and pure happiness when the first villain arrived to take us on.

They learned the chant quickly and were hugely keen to take on the role of clients themselves rather than have the pictures of them as a signal of their presence.

This world leaves them so open and connected to what they are learning that the maths understanding just seems to be a natural part of the process.

I've never claimed that this was self-directed play, but over time I have come to realise that although I am orchestrating the storyline and the characters that visit each day, the children really do own this process.  This ownership and emotional connection is absolute key.  Framed as experts, this truly is their world!

So over the last few weeks we have settled into a beautiful rhythm, it is as if they have always been agents and are ready to take on anything I put in front of them. 

That is the absolute key really, this world is embraced by the teacher and the children in a beautiful dance of mutually agreed playfulness...the maths understanding is a bonus and fabulous side effect of this world.

An example of a dragon video, this character usually only appears in video form.

So far we have met the Knight Adder, Subtraction Shark and Captain Fraction.  Next term I will introduce more visual based problems through the Three Headed Colour Changing Dragon, introduce the Wacky Witch of Change Unknown, Doubling Dinosaur and Sum Snake.  I absolutely can not wait to introduce our new villain The Grouping Goblin.  He will visit once we have worked more closely on visual images and dot talks.

Our focus for term two will be on visual patterns and subitizing, last year these activities had a huge impact on progress.

If you are just starting out in Agency in Term 2, please take the time to hook children in, go back through my old posts to read about how this is done, I also have a video on youtube that describes the importance of this.

One item at a time, the wall has evolved.

The children call the question marks mysteries, so cute!

 "If you are wondering where agency came came from my imagination and a wonderful childhood memory.  As a much younger sibling with older brothers I spent a lot of time playing on my own.  I invented worlds where I was the hero, defeating villains.  This world has stayed with me for all these years, I wanted to give that wonderful gift to the children in my class and so far it has been nothing but positive."

Term One Reflection

Wow, that term went by in a blink of an eye.  We started the term with 27 children between the two of us, 14 of those first timers :)

Our term has been completely based around play, with children spending large chunks of their day directing their own play.  Usually during the day there will be anywhere between 2 and 4 more teacher directed sessions.

We have altered a few things to start the year, basically this year we are using the developmental indicators that we decided upon through our inquiry last year.  These indicators are a huge foundation of our classroom

The diagram associated with these can be found here and the goals directly associated with this here.

These developmental indicators have proved to be absolutely invaluable in helping not only gauge readiness, but to also 'see' progress in a different way.   About 12 of our children have transitioned to one to one reading with us twice a week and are showing good progress.  By the time they do move onto this more formal reading with us they are usually anywhere between R2-Y1...but even better they already have a good awareness of books and early book skills.  Reading and the whole point of it makes sense to them.  If they do not want to read with us, they do not have to.   If they want to take the book they have read with us home, they can, if not, they don't.

Interest reading has had a huge boost this year, every day children spend time browsing at books that interest them.  They retell stories, make the story up, read the pictures etc.  They then take this book home to share...or not.  It is important to have parents on board with this, so we have created this poster which we send home and pop into our visitor packs.

Our aim is for children to love reading.  If the spend the whole year, or more, getting ready to learn to read, it is no big deal.  I know that when they are ready, they will read.  I believe pushing reading straight on children when they start school can have the exact opposite impact that we hope it to have, it creates an anxiety around reading and for some children is a real roadblock to future progress.  Despite what many think, pushing children earlier into learning, does not mean they will be advanced or ahead of their peers.  What it does sometimes mean is that these children who are pushed lack understanding and comprehension later on, not something we want to happen.  They can also fall into that group of children in Year 3-4 that we notice lack social and emotional intelligence, those children who we just don't see 'growing up.' An over emphasis on academic means these children miss out on the much more important social and emotional learning that play has to offer them.

Writing has focused on storytelling, we had great success with this last year, and are already seeing the benefits.  There is no pressure, children need to have something to say, if they are to want to write something down.  We teach as we see children are ready...not before, and are reaping the rewards for this.  All of our children are happy to write, they feel successful, what more could we want.  It is not that we are not teaching them, it is that we are tuning into those moments in time when children need the knowledge we have to offer, in that moment of need, what we are teaching will make sense, and in turn be remembered.  I have blogged quite a bit about this process if you are interested.

Number Agents never fails to amaze me, and just like the group before them I have a keen group of agents who love participating in this imagined world, it is playful, it is intriguing and they feel a real sense of ownership and control...just like a storybook each day is a new page with new
understandings being developed and new characters being introduced.  I am always quite astounded by how much children remember when in this world, and this also transfers into their mathematical understandings.  They have an emotional connection to what is being learned, this means that they attach this connection to maths and in turn their progress is positively impacted on.

What I did discover quite quickly this year is in terms of play and urges, these children are very different from last years lot.  What worked for our children last year, what lit them up, just doesn't do it for this group.  Our children last year had a fascination with the bush, this group prefer imaginative role play and a lot of their play comes from their real world and a construction and transportation urge.  My goal this year has been to design provocations around the urges and interests I see and to let the play shape our other curriculum areas.  This term we have been involved in fishing and a lot of discovery around this interest, and forces, with much of the children's play exploring motion. 
Fishing has been a real interest

Our class scrapbook has worked perfectly to store class learning stories and I love using it for reflection.
Our Scrapbook of Learning Stories

Learning stories is another one of my main areas of learning this year.  We aimed to do two for each child this term, and used a form that showed the transition through developmental goals through to stories that focused on more curriculum based learning.  This term has allowed us to see that we have to tweak this process....we read individually, check developmental goals individually, catch learning for seesaw AND were endeavoring to do class and individual learning stories.  The conclusion we have come to is that there is only so much we can expect of ourselves.  During term two we will continue to write class learning stories where appropriate, but we will use seesaw to develop learning stories, adding a bit more detail than we have been doing, so that it gives parents a better developmental/cognitive picture of how their child is going.  We are hoping this will be more manageable for us and will still serve the same purpose.

We did write a snapshot paragraph for each child to end the term, updating parents on how their child is going and what their next steps are...these were very well received.

Another major change this year has been the way we start the day, and I have to say it has been really worth it.  When the morning bell goes children come in and start playing.  We wander around, great children and do the roll.  After about fifteen minutes children hear our welcome song playing and they come to the mat to sing with us.  After our songs we may reflect on the day before or talk about some of the learning that we could extend on during our play, or reflect on some sort of emotional/social learning from the day prior.  Children will then move off for their first block of self-directed play.

People often ask what planning looks like and what our timetable looks like.  This is a hard question and a difficult one to answer.  Planning evolves as the play evolves and the timetable is fluid, we have teacher-directed time that we want to fit in, but it falls as it falls without the need for a timetable.  Our day just flows, we don't pack up till the end of the day, and if children are absolutely humming with where their play is taking them, we will not disrupt this.

However I do plan in overview example is here.  Ingredients here.  Specific term one overview here.  Below is a basic timetable that we use, but it is not definitive, just indicative.  We work with readers and developmental goals during play-based time, this can be a balancing act and we keep handwritten records of what has been done each day, with specific children having specific days that we will 'check in' with them.  Now swimming has finished we will probably place agency back in the middle block.
Mat times are short, writing takes about 15 minutes tops.  We do spend longer in agency, but children are so involved in this playful world and adore the professor and cowgirl so much they don't even seem to notice.
What I have been amazed by again (and I don't know why because I have absolute belief in this approach) is the progress children have made emotionally and socially.  They share, they negotiate, they know each other well, they very rarely have conflict, and are largely able to solve their own problems using their words.  They are very aware that they have control over their day and will actively consult us if they would like to go outside of their 'external' boundaries in a search for extra supplies for their outside creations.  In a term this is quite remarkable.  Another thing...yes we have cohort entry...yes a couple were still four...guess what, you wouldn't have picked them, in a developmentally appropriate programme they were able to settle in happily, just like their peers.  Would I rather children started at six...yes for the most part, but if we don't have the ability to change this, then the least we can do is ensure our programmes are designed to cater for developmental needs rather than being based on age.  

Progress...that old pearler.  There are many who would have us believe that in a play-based class children couldn't possibly be making the academic progress they should be.  I am going to call 'fake news' on that assumption.  Our children are doing very well.  They are making progress I would expect, if not better and you know what...they understand what they are doing and learning has a point.

Where to next term?

For myself it will to be continue to work on making learning stories manageable by using seesaw and planning for open provocations that invite but don't dictate or direct the task.

For our learning?  Well the children have exhibited a real interest in barricades and defence systems based on their love of playing wars.  I was thinking of provocations around this area, like castles, knights, periscopes, but we will see where that goes and what direction the children decide to go in.  We talked to them about areas they would like in the class and they really want to garden and tinker, along with a keen interest in we will endeavor to create our classroom space around these ideas.

Looking forward to Term 2!

Monday, 9 April 2018

I just knew...

This is an answer that as a teacher I used to hate, or should I say rather than hate, it absolutely frustrated me.  "Can you tell me how you solved that?"
 "I just knew!" or the good old shrug of the shoulders, where a child would have the right answer, but had absolutely no idea how to explain how they solved the problem.

So many times I remember waiting patiently, giving them time, trying not to throw my voice in there, and in the end basically answering my question myself.  I often wondered why they were unable to explain their strategies to me. 

Since I participated in maths PLD, a few years ago now, I have had a few lightbulb moments and come to realise why the stock standard answer was "I just knew it."

There are several reasons in fact.

1) The way I presented maths encouraged children to be fast, and very much valued knowledge, children felt that they were successful if they did have the answer straight away.  They knew this was what I wanted and therefore it was the answer I got.  Even if they had used their fingers to solve a problem, or had to use counters, or some other strategy, they didn't feel that this was a valued way of working and they actually wanted me to think that they 'just knew.'

2) They actually didn't know who they had solved the problem.  We didn't talk deeply about how we solved problems, so articulating this was difficult for them.  Explaining a strategy is something that needs to be modelled and taught.

3) We very rarely explored problems that had more than one step, often the problems could be solved with pure knowledge with little strategy needed.  Word problems were not common and usually the questions asked had just the one answer.

4)The children worked largely in groups that were ability based, this meant that often the children in the group would have similar understandings and therefore couldn't build on the understandings of others, or hear different strategies.

So what has changed?

Well loads of things have changed, but thinking specifically about the response "I just knew" I suddenly realised the other day that this has not been an answer I have heard for at least two years.  I think there are some very valid reasons why.

1) We work as a whole class in mixed groups.  Discussion and sharing is valued.  Agents get to build on each others understanding and piggyback from each others ideas.  They are always keen to share.

2) We use visual images like dot talks and other images to discuss what we see and what we notice, this noticing is valued and there is not one answer.  We regularly use the sentence starter "I notice..."  for a range of activities.
We like to use images that the children have created through other activities.  
What do you notice?
How many....?  How do you know?
Could we sort them a different way?

What do you notice?
How many, how do you know?

We like to use images in groups and share our understandings before we talk as a whole agency.

3) We use talk moves.  Children are encouraged to talk about the strategy they have used and Cowgirl will scaffold or revoice this.  They still use knowledge, but they know that it is the strategy that is valued, the problems are sometimes multi-faceted and require deeper thought.  They are usually quite challenging.  Materials and fingers are valued.  We listen to each others strategies and agents have to think about whether they agree or disagree and if their strategy is similar.  These are the statements we use as sentence starters when sharing...
"I agree"
"I disagree"
"I think the answer is,------- because..."
"I have a similar strategy..."

Cowgirl will revoice their strategy and clarify what they are trying to say if they get a little lost.

Obviously discussion is highly valued, having a 'Goodie' with this specific role in the form of Cowgirl Calculation adds weight to the process.

I am happy to see an end to the answer "I just knew" and glad to see the back of maths that values speed and the correct answer, to maths that values discussion, strategy, open ended questions and visual images. 

Authentic maths - makes "I just knew" a thing of the past.

Cowgirl Calculation helps to revoice  and clarify understandings "So I hear you saying...?"