Saturday, July 31, 2010

More Summer Reflections of Little Me - A First Drawing

"Airplane"  by Little Maryann, Age 3

The last time I wrote about "little me" I shared a piece of writing from, most likely, third grade.  It was a piece that I don't remember writing at all (see "Hopes and Dreams...").  

Today, I am sharing one of my first drawings.  I drew this when I was three years old, and, surprisingly, I DO remember drawing this (or at least I feel like I do).  Not only do I remember drawing it, but I remember how proud I was of my amazing accomplishment! Luckily, my mother saved it and marked the date.  Otherwise, this might not be something I still remember.

I always tell my second graders how important it is to keep a record of what's happening in their lives, either in the form of writing, photos, video, or drawings.  I tell them they will remember some things about their childhood, but not everything.  I ask them to recall the first day of kindergarten, of first grade. Few can recall many, if any, details.  Fortunately, young children today have many opportunities to document what's going on in their lives, from the most basic of ways--writing it down--to a full video production.  It is up to us to help them develop the skills to be the recorders of their history and to help them be aware of what's going on around them.  

Later, when they find an old keepsake that sparks a memory, it will be truly priceless!  Even on the last day of school, when the second graders receive their year's worth of writing journals, they are amazed at what they were, and what they have become.  Priceless!

The Share - Constructing Modern Knowledge '10, Part Two

I attended an education conference with my 20-year-old daughter (a junior in college majoring in communications - not education) in the summer of 2009.  We did not attend any sessions together the first day.  When we met up later, she was a bit confused..."Why don't the teachers talk at these conferences?"  And, apparently, she had no problem at all asking questions, giving her opinions, and disagreeing with the presenters during the sessions she attended. And, she thought it would be ridiculous to have it any other way.

While attending Constructing Modern Knowledge (CMK) this summer I found myself once again reflecting on "THE SHARE" part of learning.  

Young children, though there are exceptions, have no trouble sharing their thoughts, ideas, problems, items from home, or what they ate for lunch. At times there's a sense of urgency to their need to share an accomplishment.  And they'll share it with an individual, small group, whole class, or the class pet.   Don't try to postpone an excited sharer, either, because it's like waiting for Christmas - "Can I share about is time...what about now...?"  And young sharers, try as they might, don't always need their share to be related to the topic.  At our school, I've heard that some of our youngest sharers have taken to beginning their unrelated sharing with..."I know this is off topic but..."  Well, at least they've put some thought into what they're about to say!!

A learning environment where children can share is such a valuable part of their growth as learners.  It helps to create a respectful community, and it helps ideas to grow. Learning to share and to respect the sharer are important skills.  And, "THE SHARE" will flourish unless an environment develops that makes the children feel their ideas are not worth sharing or risks are not worth taking.

So what about the adults?  We've all been to a workshop, conference, meeting, where there is a lack of discussion or interaction.  We know what the feels like.  

I left this year's Constructing Modern Knowledge with a renewed sense of the power of sharing. There were many ways of sharing during the institute, whether it was as a speaker, asking questions to the speakers, joining in a small group discussion, exploring what others were working on, appealing for help or providing help, having a conversation, or by presenting a finished product. While not everyone shared in every way, it would have been nearly impossible, or a waste of money at least, to attend and not interact in some way with others.

As I planned a workshop for the week following CMK, I was excited to have "THE SHARE" built into the day.  I have reserved time during my workshops before for participants to share, and usually there's a reluctance.  This time I felt more optimistic.  The work session was collaborative, and I noted lots of good ideas that would benefit the whole group.  At the end of the session, however, there was that initial reluctance to present finished projects or works in progress. With some encouragement, presenters came forward, and it was a great part of our workshop.  Once the presenters began sharing, they were amazing!  

We have opportunities for teachers to present, places for teachers to post resources, and we've had events where teachers can showcase their work.  Each time, teachers (many of them) have been been hesitant, for a number of reasons, to "show off" what they know or what they've done, even though they have so much to offer. 

So why are teachers so reluctant, in some situations, to share, but in others, very willing to share? Or, another way to ask the question would be:  Why are SOME teachers so willing to share and others so reluctant, especially when the same teachers know how valuable it is to have collaborative learning environments for children.

Here are some of my thoughts, but I would love to know what you think...

Why do some conferences or conference-like events have a better SHARE than others?
  • There are events that some people go because they want to share - so THE SHARE is better.
  • The design of some events attracts those who have had experiences with sharing at events.
  • Certain events at conferences attract those who want to share - and THE SHARERS attract one another.
Why is there a reluctance to THE SHARE?
  • Not everyone shares in every way - whole group sharing is intimidating to some adults; there needs to be some small group opportunities.
  • Encouragement is sometimes needed - presenters/organizers need to recognize this.
  • A change of culture is needed.
  • Taking risks is not encouraged.
  • Some people need to be asked.
  • Adults don't feel a sense of trust.
  • Adults need to practice - in an environment where they feel safe
  • Too many of the same "give it to me" presentations.
Here's to an exciting year of sharing, both within your classrooms with your students and with your adult colleagues as well!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Step Out - Constructing Modern Knowledge 2010, Part One

I love those moments when someone enters the classroom and can't find me.  There's this certain look the person gets--adult or child--same look for everyone.  They are thinking..."Everything seems to be in order--the children are working, there is a busy hum and no one's screaming, there's not a sense of chaos--but there doesn't seem to be an adult in here."  And then they spot me huddled in a corner somewhere working with a small group or something like that, and their look changes...relief and amusement!  These are the times I am fully engaged with a student or small group.  We are working together collaboratively on a project, or I'm helping the children with their assignment.  Aside from the "find the teacher" moments, there are also times where someone might see whole class direct instruction, read alouds or presentations.

And then there are the "step-out" times, which are some of the most valuable moments for me as a teacher, but, for someone who was only just peeking into my classroom, might not at first glance seem to be times when a teacher is making good use of her time (so please come in and find out what is happening!!) The step-out times are when I can take on the role of observer, stepping in only minimally as needed and usually with questions to the learners.  It takes some practice to get young children to the point where they can work independently (especially if you are the only adult in the classroom), but they are certainly capable, and, with the right environment and support, they will gladly take ownership of their learning, allowing the teacher to be the observer, the questioner, the one who is documenting learning. 

Click on this link and you will see a short video of our morning time. (Sorry, the video is probably going to run a bit choppy and it only shows a bit of the activity, but it is worth taking a look.  It is part of a comic web site I am building.)  During the first part of the day, the children were in charge of their learning for most days.  For some of the tasks, they made up the rules of who would be in charge. In the video, the children are acting out an online comic. (They became HUGE fans of Sticky Burr, and there are books and an online comic featuring the Sticky Burr characters.)  Briefly, there were two children each week who were the "technology leaders."  They were in charge of this morning activity.  They would choose the actors and control the technology.  They decided if the room lights needed to be off (they stopped asking for permission to turn them off), for some reason, the technology leaders always chose to manipulate the laptop instead of the Smartboard even though the option was there (I don't know why - didn't ask because I didn't want them to think I was wanting them to use the Smartboard for this.), the class does not appeal for help from me at all (even when the camera was off).  They settle all disputes themselves.  Some of the noise you are hearing is from the hall, but when the class gets noisy, they "shush" themselves.  In short, they barely notice I am there.  And, every morning this activity occurs, I am left with an opportunity for valuable observation time.  I gathered some amazing information, including information about reading comprehension, how these children cooperate, and how these children problem solve.  I was able to use this information to build lessons and am now using this information to plan for next year.  If the children didn't feel capable of being the leaders and if they didn't have activities designed to allow them to work together in interesting ways, these opportunities to step out might not be available to me.

It was last year, at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2009, that I made a commitment to build more observation into my days.  As I reintroduced myself to the practices of Reggio Emilia, I was reminded how powerful observation and reflection is.  It is not a luxury or a way of disconnecting from what is going on.  It is a way of connecting the learning to the learners and of building a solid learning environment that is directly linked to the learners that are present in the environment at the actual moment.  And, with the current technologies we now have, we can document the learning and share it with the children, parents, other teachers, administrators, and the community.  

It might feel a little unsettling to sit and observe, especially if someone, such as an administrator, comes into your classroom to see what you are doing.  Just be prepared to share what you are doing.  Post to a web site the progress of a class project and include your observations when appropriate, share your notes with colleagues and discuss, hand out an extra camera to guests and have them join the fun! It definitely gets easier the more you do it.

So, when I returned to Constructing Modern Knowledge for 2010, I came with a sort-of plan in mind.  I did have about 25 projects that I wanted to complete.  I will say that I did dedicate time to learning and improving my skills with Scratch and Animation-ish, and thanks to the CMK participants, speakers, and faculty, I have a solid structure for a classroom project I have been working on for three years (my main goal for the week). You can see a draft/sample of one part of it here. I was looking forward to listening to some interesting speakers, and they did give me a lot to think about and process and share when I return to my district.   And, I definitely wanted to spend more time observing.  Last year I was able to observe because I was working on a video that documented what others were doing at CMK.  This year, I planned to observe for the sake of observing.  I spent much more time watching the process of project development, how adults interact with one another to problem solve, and how learners were reflecting on their learning and making plans to apply the process to their own school environments.  For me, this time to observe was just as valuable as the time I spent with conversation and on project work and learning new skills.   And, as in the classroom, even more important than observation is processing what you have observed and doing something with what you have learned from the observations.  I think many educators know that giving children time to work on projects, collaborate, problem solve, mess up and try again, and share their work with others is essential to learning.  But, we also have to give this time to adults so they can become better thinkers themselves. And if it looks like a waste of time, try stepping out and sharpening your observation skills and see what you discover!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hopes and Dreams...and Dash of Criticism??

I have been digging through some old papers, photos, etc., as part of my summer cleaning. There are old reports, standardized tests, report cards, class photos - some I haven't seen in many, many years. So I stumbled upon a piece of writing that seems to have been written in third grade. It was tucked away in my report card. It is my plans for the future, and I don't remember writing it at all. It appears to be a draft, and I am hoping a copy never made it to school as I apparently had some big dreams for the future but also had some serious criticisms for my current teacher built into the text. It does make me think...I know young children are dreamers...I know they have ideas about what they want to learn...I know they love to love their teachers. I know that when you ask young children how to make things better, they will tell you, but are we all willing to ask? Or, are our student's ideas going to be tucked away in an attic for 30+ years? (And, no, I'm not scanning in a photo!!)

My Future
(as planned by Me, probably in third grade)

     I have a lot of plans for the future.  I would like to live on a farm because I like all kinds of animals.  I like planting food and then picking it.  At my farm I would like to have a big pond.  In it there would be ducks, fish, geese, and swans.  I would have a giant barn with horses, cows, and in the hay maybe kittens.  I would want to be a teacher.  I wouldn't be mean like you.  I wouldn't be the boss all the time, and I wouldn't give lots of homework.  I want to teach kindergarten, first, second, or third grade because I think I will be small, and I don't want to look small.  If they are small, I will look bigger than I really am.  I kind of want to be a model or a movie star because they get paid a lot.  I might just want to be a mother with about three children, but I'll never know until the time comes.  I hope you liked the story of, you guessed it, me.