Bringing Inquiry To the Next Level

This is the part that’s not always easy.

My students find something that they’re into. Because they’re 4, 5 and 6 years old, they get really into it. I get into the fact that they’re into it, and (admittedly) go a little overboard – everything that we do touches on that interest. As soon as I get super enthusiastic about something, they must sense it – my desperation to hold onto this inquiry, my longing that it turns into something great must be palpable – and they move on to something else. I feel a sense of sadness, because after all, I worked so hard on making this inquiry “the inquiry“, and poured so much of myself into it, and now it’s all over. But every time, I decide that, as Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote, “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it,” and make up my mind to go for it again, with that new thing that they’re into. And so the cycle continues. But I’ve learned that pushing inquiry is not my job. As I stood back, and watched inquiries grow with very minimal involvement on my part, I began to realize something: my job is not to push inquiry … it’s to facilitate it.

Facilitating inquiry can mean many, many different things. Continue reading Bringing Inquiry To the Next Level

The Environment As a Classroom

If you conducted a poll amongst my family and friends, it would be unanimous: they would all tell you that I “hate outside”. Not, “She doesn’t like outside,” or “She’s not a fan of outside,” but I guarantee you they would use the word hate. I mean, in the summer, I might hang out on my deck and read a book, or chat on the phone in the sun, but in the winter, you can find me curled up in front of the fireplace in my basement, with four blankets around me. While I wouldn’t say personally that I hate outside, but rather, that I just don’t feel like I get it.  All of the activities that seem to unite my Northern Ontario brethren under a banner of “Look at how outdoorsy we are!” just wasn’t passed along to me. I feel like I’m missing some part of my Greater Sudbury DNA.

The kindergarten curriculum treats outside like another classroom, which you can imagine,

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We explore how to make igloos with molds. Can you make an igloo with cones?

to me, sounds like a special version of my nightmare. And they don’t mean it the way that you might remember the outdoors when you were at school – this is not 20 minutes of recess. This is at least an hour of meaningful outdoor learning. When I came back to kindergarten and found out that the outdoor exploration time of my students would be facilitated by me, there was a certain amount of anxiety. And probably not for the reasons you’re imagining. I wasn’t worried about having to go outside with the kids, but rather, about making that time outside meaningful.

But what does meaningful learning even mean?

Continue reading The Environment As a Classroom

Documentation in the Digital Age

When coming from intermediate, junior and even primary grades into kindergarten, one really has to check what their expectation of “work” means. As teachers, we’re so used to children being able to express themselves through writing that it is easy to imagine what you’re going to grade. The kindergarten program, though … you need to get really creative. Giving a test? A project? Not really a thing in kindergarten.

My expectations for assessment have gone out the window since arriving in the kindergarten program. Anecdotal evidence has become my thing. Everything that the kids do is accompanied by my notes on what they did. But what can that look like in kindergarten?

Well, last year, it culminated in a lot of paper notes. I made quick and easy charts and wrote everything that the kids were saying. My teaching partner and I would sit down together at the end of the day and compare notes, and discuss what the kids had been learning about. By February, though, I had discovered that that was probably not the most effective use of the talents that I have, which is that I’m pretty techy – I began experimenting with a variety of apps (and really loved Sesame Snap), but hadn’t really gotten it down by June. So when I got a new kindergarten classroom this year, and found out that I was going to be running it all by myself, without an early childhood educator, I had to buckle down and rethink the way that I look at documentation.

I had to start by thinking: what is the most effective way that I can document? To really come down to that, though, I considered a few thing: first of all, I’m not exactly a quick writer, and found that I was struggling to really to quote the students directly because I couldn’t keep up with how quickly they spoke; second of all, my school board is moving towards using Google Apps for Education, and I wanted to join in on the fun; I also needed to find the quickest and most effective way to organize all of this documentation in a way that would make it easy for me to not only find it, but reflect on it and share it with parents; and finally, I’m pretty technically inclined, so why not use that to my advantage? Continue reading Documentation in the Digital Age

Driving Inquiry (aka: How I Learned To Knit)

Inquiry is the main driving force in kindergarten classrooms throughout Ontario. And after a year and half of this, I feel like “I’ve got” inquiry. You want to learn about turtles? Cool, let’s go look for books and I’ll spend the afternoon sitting on a carpet with you while I hint at the strategies that you’ll need to pick up to get the information you’re looking for. You want to learn to make a snowman? Sure, let’s go outside and play in the snow all afternoon. You want to learn about space? We’ll find some fun and educational YouTube videos and see what we can figure out.

I still get butterflies in my stomach when a student asks me something that I have no idea about. I now automatically say, “I don’t know. Let’s find out together,” but that wasn’t always the case. That comes with building a good relationship with your students. I think it’s important that we tell our students, honestly: “I don’t know.” Those are powerful words, ones that kids need to hear from grown ups. I don’t have every answer. Nobody can. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel a little queasy when I don’t, because I want to be helpful. I want to be the best guide for them possible. I want to be what they need. But it can usually be solved with saying, “I don’t know, let’s figure it out.”

Then yesterday, it wasn’t.

Continue reading Driving Inquiry (aka: How I Learned To Knit)

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