I Forgot How To Speak English

If you ask my kindergartners, anyway – that’s what they’ll tell you.

Last year, when I taught kindergarten, immersion into a second language wasn’t something that I had to really consider. A.B. Ellis runs an English program, and as a result, for the first time of my life, I wasn’t spending my days entirely in French. When I began the FI program at my new school, I knew that it would have to be different. I knew that this was the first instruction that these children would have into the French language. I also understood that this wouldn’t be off the hop, because first … we had to get a routine going. And it’s hard to get a routine under your belt if you don’t understand what the only adult in the room is trying to say.

Continue reading I Forgot How To Speak English

Writing the Room

Several weeks ago, I noticed that some of the students were beginning to copy down the things that I wrote in class. It started out innocuously enough – small buzz words that they liked; that soon turned into copying the morning message in full.

write the room
P.W. writes down the morning message from her day as l’amie du jour.

They had always been pretty interested in writing, but I hadn’t noticed any real progress until those morning messages began being copied. They would work for entire inquiry periods to meticulously write down everything that I wrote. It was the first time I had ever seen anything like it. These were kids that were ready to start writing sooner than I had anticipated that they would be. No use slowing down the train – the beauty of this model is that I can pounce on things like that and really try to stew an inquiry from it.

And they really did put their all into it. Together, we constructed the alphabet out of Writing Without Tears sticks. I took pictures of their creations, and posted it on a previously empty bulletin board – a bulletin board just itching to have something be put on it. It sat there, with only pictures on it for a few weeks and I waited, sure that it would spark their imaginations.

That wait took some time. The next day, not one student had even noticed that anything was different. What had I done wrong? It was all at eye level! It was with their own creations! I had spent a whole day from my weekend at school making it pretty and wonderful and inspiring for them! A week went by, and still, not a student even noticed that it had been put up.

Or at least, they hadn’t verbalized it to me. Shortly after that, though, I started finding scraps of paper with words on them. These were meticulously written words, carefully copied from my own careful script. So I started putting them up on the word wall. Now, they are proudly writing full pages of the words that they read around them all around the classroom.

I guess I just hadn’t thought of it the same way that they do, but words are everywhere. Literacy is all around us, constantly. We begin by copying or mimicking, and then, when we get brave enough, we venture into unknown waters to tread on our own. I imagine that is what writing is like, too – at first, it’s easier to copy all of the words that we have around us, before we start feeling confident enough to begin building them on our own. Words can be daunting – they’re such a peculiar thing, with such a peculiar spelling and meaning, that they have to be done just so.

But just from my desk, here in class, I see words everywhere. Their names are found in various places around the classroom on tags, in frames and on cards; the morning message is fresh and different every day with a new ami du jour, but it’s so startlingly familiar that the kids always know what it will say; the Jolie phonique songs are hung up under the alphabet wall; the stories that we write grace our walls; we brainstormed a page for every letter of the alphabet and they hang on the wall, as well; our art center is meticulously labelled. Words, words, words, everywhere you look, but because we can read them, we don’t give them much thought. When kids see them, they get excited to take up the challenge, and begin writing all of the words all around them.

I can’t wait until that develops into experimentation with writing and labelling in class, but until then, I’ll just be thankful that my word wall is coming along nicely.

What’s a Scribble

Have you figured out what that picture is up top?

September and October are the months where I spend a lot of my time writing for my students. We’re just beginning to review (or learn!) the letters of the alphabet, but don’t always feel confident or capable to write their thoughts to accompany their pictures. In September and October, what is most important to me is that my students understand that their thoughts and their voices matter. Their captions for the beautiful pictures that they draw are important. Their explanations matter.  Continue reading What’s a Scribble

Whole Body Listening

I know that at the beginning of the year, I can only get six-eight solid minutes every carpet time out of my students, so I have to make it count. I have found that this isn’t always easy.

So this gang of sweet, great and smart kids likes to shout things, which is not uncommon in classrooms. And there was no trick that I could think of that was helping me solve that problem. I didn’t like asking them to leave our carpet, just because they shouted something out. I’m excited that they’re excited about learning. I want to capitalize on that excitement, but it’s impossible to do so when kids are just shouting over one another to be heard. They have to learn to take their turn. But of course, we forgot that they have to be taught that.

It’s not about being “quiet”, it’s about being respectful to the fact that we need to listen and hear each other while we’re having whole group discussions. It’s about being calm so that you can really hear what someone else is saying. It’s about looking at someone when they speak, so that you can watch their facial expression.

Listening is hard. Listening is hard for adults … can you imagine how hard it is for kids that are just learning to listen?

But with the help of the Cookie Monster, it got a whole lot easier.

The video I’m embedding is called “The Biscotti Karate”, and teaches the Cookie Monster how to listen with his whole body: eyes watch; ears listen; mouth quiet; body calm. And so far, so good – it’s the most respectful I’ve seen them since we’ve started coming together for discussions on the carpet. We’re taking turns, we’re being mindful, and we’re breathing in deep. We’re listening, instead of thinking about what we’re going to say next. We’re reflecting on the words of others, which is an important part of listening.

So really, at the end of the day, the question is this: what does the Cookie Monster have that I don’t? What does he have that none of us have? Watch it to find out.

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