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!

The Language of Art

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I saw this quote the other day and fell in love with it. I’ve had several conversations lately about the necessity of giving students an opportunity to use and create art in the classroom. I understand that this encompasses all the arts and I think they are all important. This is why I try to give my students opportunities to participate in various art forms each week, even if it’s just a quick moment to sing, dance, act out a story, or create some sort of visual masterpiece. All of theses are crucial experiences for our students. Sometimes, our students just don’t have the words they need or want to express a thought, an idea, a question, a statement… but they have the arts. Having the arts available gives students an opportunity to use “another language” when expressing themselves. And, when given the opportunity, there’s no telling what greatness they may decide to share with us. .

I Am A Proud Public School Teacher

img_8598I felt the need to post this and proudly proclaim it. There seems to be such angst against my (our) profession right now. I posted an article recently that was a pro-public education article. The comments came swiftly questioning if it were true. I wonder…

I wonder sometimes if they realize when they criticize public schools, they criticize me. When they say they don’t believe in public education, they say they don’t believe in me. When they say they don’t have confidence in our schools, they say they don’t have confidence in me. Worse yet, they are also saying this about our children; no belief and no confidence. Yet, I see greatness every day in them.

I am a public school teacher therefore I am public schools. Do people realize this is who I am? It is what I am. You are disparaging the hopes, dreams, and high calling of so many who are pouring their lives out trying to do so much more than teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. We are trying to shape a generation that can change the world with their own ingenuity. We are trying to mold and encourage dreamers, problem-solvers, leaders, and those that will serve this world as they grow. We take everyone who comes to us regardless of where they are from. We take the rich, the poor, and the middle class. We take the educated and uneducated, the fortunate and less fortunate, those with homes and those without, the citizen and the immigrant, the red and yellow, black and white. We take those who are gifted and those who are challenged. I love what I do and I know I’m not alone. Please forgive me for such a long post, but this is who I am. I am proud of this calling and all of those who take this journey with me.

Turtlely Awesome Project

  
What do you do when one of the schools pond turtles starts laying eggs?   
 You invite down a 3rd grade class (and a few extra friends) to join your kindergarteners and start learning about turtles of course! 
   
 

We are watching a documentary, doing research, doing a graphic organizer, writing, and have an art project planned!

Garden Writing

I’m so proud of my kindergarteners (and friends) today! We’ve been working on writing about what’s around us picking out lots of details.   
We decided to use our new skills to write a book about our garden. We just sat and looked for a while to see what our eyes and ears would tell us to write about and then we wrote and illustrated our writing. 

What a beautiful day we were given to do it!

 

 “The sun has yellow petals.” ~ Hatoun, age 7

This is quite possibly one of the most beautifully poetic sentences that I’ve seen written all year.