¡Mi casa es grande!

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I have been rereading A Quick Guide to Boosting English Acquisition in Choice Time the past day or so, and I was reminded of something I had seen in class a few weeks ago while observing some students during choice time.

While they were working, I heard a group working in one of my building centers with some Brackitz. One of the boys had just finished building a home with the planks and he announced to his group, “¡Mi casa es grande!”

It caught my attention because it was said in Spanish and he, and his group, had been speaking rather excitedly about all they had been building in English. While it was said in a language that was foreign and not understandable to most of his group, they didn’t miss a beat. They all got it. They all understood. And I thought that was one of the coolest things I had seen all day.

One of the things I’ve started allowing the past couple of years, is opportunities for my English Language Learners to speak in their native tongue. While I may not understand, if they are in the midst of play, does it really matter? I teach kindergarten. At this age children, regardless of what language they speak, are still developing and growing in their vocabulary. It’s my understanding that a lack of schema, which is “relevant background knowledge, prior knowledge, or just plain experience,” can hinder comprehension in reading. I think it also applies to language development. If we deny our English Language Learners the opportunities to develop language in their native tongue, it will have an adverse effect on their learning of English.

I think the English will come naturally for my students. Most of my population speaks English. I conduct the majority of my day in English. When in choice time, it’s a good chance that they will be playing and talking with native English speakers. They will get it. A coworker of mine was telling me recently that it takes 3-5 years for English Language Learners to develop social language and 4-7 years to develop academic language. This shows, quite plainly, that it takes time. I am working with kindergarteners. This is not going to be “their year” to master it. My native English speakers are probably not going to master it either! What they need to be given is the opportunities to grow and develop their schema.

Now, back to the book. Why is imperative that we give all of our students ample amounts of choice time? Why is it so important? According to the book, choice time is powerful for many reasons. Some of the ones they listed are:

  • “It is safe.”
  • “It is visual and hands-on.”
  • “It occurs within a sea of language.”
  • “It is accessible to everyone.”
  • “It connects to other parts of the day.”

Choice time is a vital part of my day. It is my belief that some version of choice time should be happening in every classroom from PK all the way through elementary/primary/intermediate school. It’s important for all of our students and their language development.

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Worthy


“Then he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on each of them, and blessed them.”‭‭Mark‬ ‭10:16‬ ‭GNB‬‬

I know this isn’t a normal start for a post of mine, but I read this the other morning and something about this verse struck me, and, whether you are a person of faith or not, I ask you to please stick with me. 

“He placed his hands on each of them..”

Let me give some backstory as to why. This was a story of Jesus. It was the end of the day. He and his disciples had been traveling and teaching all day, and, at the end of the day, up walk a group of parents who wanted to bring their kids to see and meet Jesus. The story goes on to tell of the frustration of the disciples, but not Jesus. He took time for each and every one of them. 

What struck me from this was the importance of each and every child. As a teacher, it’s so important for us to see the value of each and every student, child, person we come into contact with. 

Someone told me once that each child we get in our class is the very best version of what we are being given. What does this mean? I think it means that each student we get is the very best version of themselves at the moment they come to us. So many times we, as teachers, can look at our class as “that class” or maybe a student as “that student” and we shouldn’t…. as tempting as that may be sometimes. 

In the verse and story, each child was seen as worthy of His time. Each child was seen worthy of His touch. Each child was seen as worthy of His words. 

We need to always remember just how vitally special and unique each and every student we every come into contact with is. They are all worth our time and words. No matter how tired or how frustrated we may be. They are all worth our very best and we are so fortunate and lucky to be able to call them our students, and, sometimes, our kids. 

I Am So Proud of You

I was back at school today cleaning up and my mind couldn’t help but think of all the students, both mine and all those I’ve come to know these past couple of years. 

There are so many things I would have loved to said as they left for the summer or even left for good moving on to other schools, but one of the most important things I know I said to some was this, “I am so proud of you!” 

I am so proud of all the effort you put forth. You showed such courage and bravery as you tried new things, and took risks as you investigated ways to construct your learning in all areas of the curriculum and in areas not in the curriculum that were sometimes more important. 

I am proud of the way you played, became part of a community, and helped one another learn and grow. You showed empathy, compassion, respect, and resilience. 

Your sense of wonder and inquiry amazed me on many an occasion. I have to admit that, at times, I may have learned more from you than you did from me. 

I know I couldn’t have said all of this to each and every one of you, so please know, that when I say, “I’m proud of you” that I mean it all. 

Story Stones – More Than Just Rocks With Cute Pictures 


Last summer I took a picture of some story stones that I had made to use with my kinders. They never really got into them, but yesterday and today, these two came in to visit and they wowed me! They asked about the stones and what they were for. When I told them, they asked if they could play with them. Of course I said yes, and they proceeded to sit and play and rearrange and story-tell for over an hour!

All the time they were doing these they were editing and revising and completing the writing process. I found the entire experience fascinating to observe. As I was watching and, then later, reflecting on it all, it reminded me of just how important these types of experiences are for students above the early childhood years as well as English language learners.

We, as educators and parents, need to be advocating for experiences that help our students and children have the opportunity to construct knowledge for themselves. The results are truly beautiful!

Choice Time – Changing Opinions


My brain has been all over the place lately, but something that I keep coming back to is choice time. I have so many questions!

* How can I use this more to empower students?

* What can I do to make stronger connections and tie ins to literacy? Math? Other content areas?

* What do I need? What do I already have?

* How can I add a journaling component?

* Who should be doing choice time?

This last question has been a thorn in my side these past two years as I’ve learned more about choice time. I had an opinion, BUT I think my opinion is changing. I also feel like my newest opinion may be more accurate. 

Last year I strongly felt that all students through kindergarten should be participating in some sort of choice time so I added STEAM Fridays to my schedule. Fortunately I have great leadership who supported this move. After a month or so of doing it, I started having some 1st and 2nd graders beg me to come “play” with us. Since I have an inability to say no, I would allow some to come only with the permission of their teachers. 

Over the summer and fall, I became a student of this and read several books. Among my favorites were: (not affiliate links) 

1. Choice Time: How to Deepen Learning Through Inquiry and Play, PreK-2 – http://www.heinemann.com/products/E07765.aspx

2. Purposeful Play: A Teacher’s Guide to Igniting Deep and Joyful Learning Across the Day – http://www.heinemann.com/products/E07788.aspx

3. A Quick Guide to Boosting English Acquisition in Choice Time, K-2 – http://www.heinemann.com/products/E02615.aspx

When the new year started, I decided to make this a daily routine. It was an absolute joy to see and experience, but the experience did lead to the first four questions on the aforementioned list. The last question blossomed from a number of 3rd-5th graders who started asking to come down and “help” my kids specifically during this time. Again, inability to say no, I told them they had to have teacher permission. This process did have some hiccups, but the observations of our older friends led me to change my opinion once again. 

I now strongly feel that 3rd-5th graders need these experiences too! I have said before that through these experiences “compassion, respect, honesty, trust, courage, resilience, creativity, self-awareness, community, a sense of wonder and inquiry, empathy….” can be nurtured and developed. It’s true for these older students too. Let them be children!

For those still on the fence, let me address my picture. These are two 3rd grade students who came down to “help” this week. (They really did part of the time reading with several students and moving through our centers with some too!) After some time I noticed them move over and start playing together with these dolls. They started pointing and talking and moving the pieces around so I had to go investigate. Pulling a chair up to their table, I just sat and observed, watching and listening as they worked. They began categorizing and sorting all the different pieces. They discussed who could wear the different outfits and why. These moved things around if they decided that their initial ideas were wrong. They spoke in multiple languages which lets me know that native tongue and English were being merged with deeper conversations since they were being given time to investigate. Everything about what they did was positive and purposeful and developmentally appropriate for what they needed at the time. I was lucky to just be a silent observer with permission to just watch. This entire experience was proof that our older students in grades 3-5 need choice time as well. 

“THAT” kid


This morning I was lamenting the coming end of the school year with some teachers, and I got the reply. 

“But you don’t have ________________”

We’ve all heard it before. We may have actually said ourselves at some point. It ends a variety of ways of which I won’t try to even list because I’ll just leave out too many to count. 

Now before the judgement hits in, I’m not saying this was a bad teacher. We all have probably been guilty of saying something in jest, on accident, or as a result of being tired or ill that we didn’t mean to sound the way it did. I’ll choose to assume the best, because it’s just better to live life that way. 

Where I want to go instead is with “that” student. Why and how is he or she “that” one? True, we don’t entirely know their life when they leave our building, but we can have an impact when they are there with us. I contend, that, sometimes, we may be able to have a dramatic impact that can either improve or frustrate them to the point that we can change who that student is at school. 

As I was thinking on this today, the first thing I thought of was community. Building and establishing a community is the most important thing we can do first as teachers. Why? A community is where we spend most of our time. If we build a community that is safe, non-judgmental, calm, accepting, and encouraging we can transform our classroom and tremendously influence our students. In this type of community, we try to understand and empathize rather than judge and criticize. When the pressure is off, behavior will improve. It doesn’t mean bad behavior disappears, it just decreases the frequency. In this type of community, students are allowed to be risk-takers and be wrong without the fear of being ostracized by adults they want to look up to and friends/students they just want acceptance from. It’s a win-win for them and us. 

So, before we (myself included) label “that” kid let’s seek first to respect, care for, and honor them for who they are so that can feel safe enough to love and to learn. Who knows, we may just find an influencer and leader who can have a positive impact on others. Today, I did, and “that” kid had a positive influence on some of mine. 

It’s Not What the Word Says

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“It’s the human that interprets it, not what the word says.” ~ Gary Vaynerchuk

Who knew that Gary V had such deep knowledge about reading? Ok, I’m not sure that he really does, but he did say those words, just in an entirely different context. This, however, proves my point.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about reading, constructivism, and best practices. I’ve also been thinking a lot about this system of education we have now where testing has been anointed king even though it doesn’t deserve it.

So much of the training I’ve received in the past about reading has been so segmented and, I’m convinced, that this is not what works best.

What is reading anyway?

I looked up the definition of read and found that it means “look at and comprehend the meaning of (written or printed matter) by mentally interpreting the characters or symbols of which it is composed.”

When students “read” a text, it’s not about the words on the page only. It’s the interpretation of them. All of the schema a reader brings to the table, what the pictures tell them, and the words on the page all lead to this interpretation.

Sometimes I think we, as teachers, need to learn to “listen” when our kids talk, draw, and/or write about what they are reading. Sometimes we need to learn to “listen” to what they have written themselves in their own writing. We need to remember that’s it not always about what we think, it’s in the meaning and interpretation they bring that they tell us what they are learning.

Image from https://www.garyvaynerchuk.com

The Power of Book Buddies 


I work in a wonderful community of learners. It’s incredible to be in a place where children value one another and don’t mind taking part in the leaning of others. More than just taking part, so many of them want to see others learn and succeed. This week I was able to witness this (again) when we had some 3rd and 4th grade book buddies come spend some time with us this afternoon when we went outside to read.

Having book buddies is one of my kinders favorite reading activities. I find there are a lot of benefits to having them come down to read with us. 

My students get to hear stories properly read-aloud with good fluency and expression as well as develop an expanding vocabulary. They also get an opportunity to read with a partner in a non-threatening way which helps them develop their own reading skills. Another benefit is that it enables them to belong to a growing school community of students and friends.

We are so thankful for our older friends who help us and care for us so much!

It All Begins With Play

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compassion, respect, honesty, trust, courage, resilience, creativity, self-awareness, community, a sense of wonder and inquiry, empathy…. the list could go on and on… The more I think about the importance of play, the more it hits me as just how important it is for child development. There are so many benefits to giving students, giving children, the opportunity to do what comes naturally for them. Play. Regardless of age, they need to be given time to do this and I’m not talking about on a device.

Every week I have students from 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade who come by my kindergarten room and want to play. They go to my kinetic sand, my blocks, legos, cars, puppets, kitchen center, and art center. They want to play and experiment and discover not just new things, but themselves. My challenge to us all, including myself, those of us who are lucky enough to spend our days with children, is to let them play.

It all begins with play.

Blowing Rainbows

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St. Patrick’s Day and Spring came just at the right time this year to try a new way to paint rainbows, and, of course, read a good book.

Leading up to our painting and writing project we read several good books. Two of our favorite were “A Color of His Own” by Lio Lionni and “A Rainbow of My Own” by Don Freeman. These were great books to create a conversation about colors and rainbows.

Once we tied St. Patrick’s Day into with a clever leprechaun granting wishes, our project was ready to begin!

My kinders had a great discussion about the colors of the rainbows and things we could wish for that matched those colors. We attempted to lead them to think literally and figuratively. For example, red could be love or could be a bowl of strawberries! After talking about those things they completed a simple writing assignment. Here’s a link to the Rainbow Wishes Template we used.

After working on this, it was time to paint!

We started by giving everyone a straw and sheet of card stock to paint on. Next, we squirted lines of paint like a rainbow across their paper. When this was done, it was time to blow the paint while blending the colors together to create beautiful rainbows. When they were done blowing, we let them sprinkle some glitter across the paint to give it a subtle sparkle.

This was a beautiful project that we will definitely do again!