Friday, October 12, 2012

Why It's Important to Have Multiple Adults in a Classroom--An Experience in Teaching Kindness

There's a child that started in Room 1 (so, under two years old) a couple of weeks ago. On his first day, I could tell that working with him would be a challenge. He pouted stubbornly when he didn't get his way, threw himself crying on the ground at a whim, and hurt other children aggressively. But I worked with him patiently that day, explaining aloud what he was doing (for comprehension) and expectations of the classroom. I was excited about the prospect of watching him grow into a respectable and kind citizen of our daycare community.

I've worked with him a few times since then, each time requiring the same amount of patience and not to a noticeable amount of progress, but it seemed to culminate today when I happened to be working in the room. He had been sent to the office once already by the time I arrive for grabbing a little girl by the hair and ripping out a chunk of it. He just isn't having a very good day, the other teachers told me, but it's nothing out of the ordinary.

So at snack, I sat him directly next to me so that I could talk him through any issue that arose. He's a great eater and finished his snack quickly, but then looked to his neighbor for more to eat. The neighbor, noticing the hand encroaching upon his banana, picked it up quickly before it could be stolen. This caused the first child to become upset, thinking he had rights to the banana and was being kept unfairly from it. "That's not your banana; it's [Child 2]'s. You already ate your banana." This announcement from me only seemed to frustrate him further, and he flung his hand in a feeble hitting motion. "We can't hit. That hurts people," I reminded him. It was to no avail, because he repeated the motion a few more times. I placed my hand out to catch his, and when the neighbor noticed, it reminded him of giving high-fives, and he wanted to join in. "Oh, high-five," I told the second child. "[Child 1], do you want to give high-fives, too?" Thus, the issue was forgotten and we played at high-fives for a while. I also gave the child ample smiles during snack, and was pleased to receive them in return!

During our "recess" time at the playhouse (the rain kept us inside today), the other teacher in the room worked with him a little, but having been around him all day, I could tell she was losing her patience. The director, working on a project nearby, told her to send him to the office again if he pushed or harmed the other children in any way. It happened shortly after, and the other teacher did send him to the office to sit by himself for a little while. The director mentioned to us, then, that while he doesn't want to, he may have to ask the parents to take him to a different center if his behavior doesn't change.

At that point, I started thinking harder about the situation. It seemed that the other teachers that work with him (which is more often than I do) don't regard him with much affection. It's easy to become frustrated with a child because of his behavior, I know, but if "the hard line" isn't aiding his progress, something else must be attempted.

Thus, I spent the next hour until his mom came following him about the classroom.

When he hit another child with a toy, I picked the second child, first to assess the situation, and when I discovered that the second child was mostly startled and hadn't come to any real harm, I continued to hold him for comfort. "Ouch. That hurt when you swung the toy," I told the child at hand. I bent down and sat on the floor next to him, still holding the other child. "See how he's crying?" I asked. "He's crying because it hurt when the toy hit his head." I rubbed the second child's back comfortingly, and the first child noticed my motions. "Do you want to give him gentle touches to make him feel better?" He did. "That's good. Soft, nice touched." He hugged the other child of his own accord, which I commented on as well. "Oh, yes, soft hugs will make him feel better, too. How nice."

When the second child stopped crying and walked away, I followed the first on to his next adventure, toy cars. We rolled them back and forth to each other, me commenting on what we were doing in a kind voice. My attention was only on him, and from how eagerly he was responding, I don't think he receives much of either of those (kind voices or one-on-one attention) very often.

I followed him to the other children and told him countless times, "No, we can't take toys from others--it's not kind," holding the hands clutching a stolen treasure out to the victims and gently massaging his fingers until he let go. I told him, "No, we don't hit our friends, that hurts them," countless times, as well, patient all the while. I could tell the other teacher in the room was still struggling with her patience, as she called his name warningly, even as I worked with him, but I told her with my body language that I was handling the situation. He didn't need any more warnings, he needed love and understanding.

He also shared toys of his own accord, too, which I talked up exaggeratedly. "Oh! You're sharing that toy with her! How kind! That must make her feel happy when you share your toys with her. Thank you!" It was an equal mix of happy and tough times.

I was changing diapers when his mom came to pick him up, but when she left, the other teacher told me over the baby gate into the bathroom, "I think he kind of freaked Mom out." "Oh? Why's that?" I asked, worried. It turned out that Mom had heard from the office about the hair pulling incident and came in to apologize to the little girl herself. She had picked her son up and was talking to the girl when her son said, "Mama, I hug." She put him down and watched as he gave the girl a gentle hug, like the ones I had practiced with him. Mom was apparently shocked.

THIS is why it's important to have at least two adults in the room. I wouldn't have been able to work so diligently with him today if she wasn't in the room keeping an eye on the other 9 children.

I'm still looking forward to watching him grow, and I don't think the director is as apt to send him away after today. I just hope in the future that I can find the patience I had today and that I was any kind of example to the other teacher on the importance of guiding with love.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Toddlers and Pretend Play

I've been spending the past week and a half with the youngest at the daycare again, a class of 12- to 24-month-olds. They certainly keep me on my toes. Once, the box of plastic food and dishes was out when I came in in the morning. I'm not too fond of this box in any classroom, the biggest reason being that the direct representation of food doesn't lend itself to creativity like a box of only dishes would. But in the youngest's room, there's something else at hand as well.

When I first spent time with the littlest ones, I taught about how playing with pretend food means only pretending to put the toys in one's mouth. It was to little success. I watched the older ones take to it reasonably well, but they were two years old already or fast approaching. The littler ones couldn't seem to comprehend the practice, and when I went in that morning, I was frustrated already because I knew that almost all of the children in the room that day were closer to 12 months than 24.

Yet the toys were already out, so I had no other choice than to begin the long struggle that felt like, "come on, please mimic me already!" For the half an hour that remained until outside time, I watched the eyes and faces of the children as I carefully explained again and again, "No, not in our mouth. Just pretend," and demonstrated. It just wasn't there. There was no understanding on any of their faces.

This box has no purpose in this room, I thought to myself. These kids are just too young to understand how to pretend.

It hit me all at once what I had just realized.

Well, that's it then. I guess I really am a Montessori teacher.

One of the most common arguments I hear against Montessori education is about the lack of imaginative play in the classroom. The link in the above post writes well on the topic, but even upon reading it, I still hadn't made up my mind definitively on the issue until that moment last week.

Even in the older classrooms, some toddlers still don't understand pretend play, as evidenced by the teeth marks on every piece of plastic food and dishes in the establishment. They must be told very specifically that, "That is a toy. We don't put toys in our mouths. It's just for pretend," and I haven't seen any other teacher say this.

So I know now that I believe children can't understand pretend play until around the age of two, but what of giving imaginative play toys to older toddlers?

Well, children will play whatever they need to play in order to develop the skills they currently need, despite what invitations we make available for them through toys. A friend recently described to me how her two-year-old gave voices to and played dolls with crayons one day. Similarly, my parents have a photograph of me playing intently on the floor with a piece of trash that looks like a wadded up piece of paper. If children want to play housekeeping, nothing will stop them from finding what they need to do so, but I don't believe that we need to provide them with the confusing, mixed messages that pretend toys send.

(It's a little disheartening to me to realize this, actually, as I was planning on giving my two-year-old nephew the elegant, painted wood Food Cutting set from Melissa and Doug as a gift. Although it does list the age the toy is appropriate for as 3+. Unfortunately, because I'm a long-distance aunt, I don't get to spend as much time with him to know when he would truly benefit the most from this gift.)

In the meantime, what should these little ones be working with? Well, pouring, scooping, matching, classifying, and practicing cleaning various things. You know, Montessori activities. :)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A letter to the director of my daycare: The importance of outdoor play

Earlier this week, the director of the daycare where I work led a meeting with the teachers to discuss current events of the school, one of which was that parents were complaining teachers kept children outside too long. The director told us that he didn't care overly much, but that he didn't have anything to tell the parents when they asked what the children learned when they stayed outside. I spoke up immediately, saying something like, "You can tell them that they learn communication skills and develop spacial awareness." He agreed and said that he was just voicing concerns.

Since then, I haven't been able to get that scene out of my mind, like a missed opportunity to sell him on the wonders of an outdoor curriculum. Finally, Sunday morning, I couldn't help but write an email. I wrote it quickly, only taking about half an hour of time, so the end result is a little sloppy. I'll probably look back and cringe at myself for the lack of organization and poor writing (in fact, I'm already noticing changes I could have made), but I decided that I would post the letter here, as well.

I've been thinking a lot recently about how you were concerned you couldn't tell parents their children learned much when we stayed outside for a long while. On the contrary, I think being outside is one of the times when children learn the most.

Young children need as much time as possible to practice running and moving about in a wide, open area so as to grow their bodies, strengthen their muscles, and develop spacial awareness. It also gives them a good dosage of sunlight and fresh air to develop healthy immune systems. That, I think, is the most important reason to play outdoors--to develop strong, healthy bodies.

Second is the interactions between the children as they play, the communication and ability to empathize with others that lies the foundation for the rest of their lives. While we're outside, the kids are learning the skills that they need to get along with each other. The other teachers and I frequently model correct and friendly usage of language for the children to try when they want to play with a friend. If a child says, "I want to play with that ball," the one that another child has, I tell him, "Go ask if you can play with her." And he does! The child gets up and runs to the other child to ask, "Can I play with you?" Most of the time, this leads to a happy game of laughing children. But other times, of course, the other child wants to be left alone, to which I tell the first child, "Oops. [Child B] said, 'No.' She just wants to play by herself right now. What else can we play?" In that case, the child is learning many things: first that other children have feelings that must be respected, second that they can't always have what they want and that the world goes on regardless and they can still find something else to play and still be happy.

Another thing children learn outside is how to occupy themselves and create their own games (particularly in my favorite playground at name of daycare, the older toddler area where there is minimal equipment, just grass and a large area to run). This is especially important today while children are growing up in an age that gives them everything instantly. Computers, cell phones, and TVs offer endless "entertainment," but it's all passive--sit back and let the electronics flash bright colors and show pretty pictures. What would we do without them? Which is why the slow pace of the outdoors and the creativity of being able to design your own game with no man-made parts are so invaluable. (Not that technology and video games don't teach a lot and have their own important place in education, which I absolutely know that they do.)

We also learn respect for environment. There's a tree outside of the older toddler playground with branches that hang into our reach, and we've had many discussions about how it's not polite to pull on the leaves that are still attached to the tree because the tree is still using them.

We often practice writing letters and drawing pictures on the cement with chalk, too. One girl frequently comes to me with a piece of chalk in her hand and asks me to write, one at a time, all of her friends' and teachers' names. Since we've been doing this, whenever a friends' name is written elsewhere, for instance, on a potty sheet, she can correctly identify the child. Name and letter recognition at such an early age, and all on her own initiative!

And that doesn't even begin to cover the importance of a play-based curriculum in a world full of standardized-testing and teacher-as-the-authoritarian-figure-at-the-front-of-the-room.

Remember, there are schools that spend their ENTIRE time outside, regardless of weather., I know these are fundamentally different than our school, but I just wanted to emphasize that being outside is so important to these educators that they base their entire curriculum on it.

Finally, a few links. The first is from a blog that I like, although I know most of the skills listed are more pertinent to forest kindergartens than to our school. The others were found with three minutes of googling.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Tabula Rasa Classroom--Building a Learning Environment Together

This past winter I read Paula Polk Lillard's Montessori in the Classroom. The book consists of a Montessori Kindergarten teacher's diary entries during the school year. In it, she wrote about something in particular that I keep reflecting on, and that was her method of beginning and ending the year. Lillard begins each year with her classroom completely bare, a blank canvas for children to paint together upon. Likewise, she closes the year by asking the students to tear everything down and put materials back into the closet.

What follows is as mostly a promise to myself and future students.

When I have a classroom, we will begin tabula rasa, as well. "This classroom belongs to you," I will tell the children. "It will be our home together, and we will use this space to help us learn."

Each material I make available will be useful and serve its purpose in our quest for knowledge, information, and learning. When it no longer serves a purpose, I will remove it. When a material enters the room, it will be thought-provoking and will therefore be discussed.

All materials will be of high enough quality to deserve being shared with the students I value.

There will be authentic instruments and cultural items from around the world. There will be no need for cartoons when photographs exists--there will be photographs and books of our universe, planet, and people.

There will be computers, highly accessible, available to answer questions and look up anything.

There will be no patronizing themes or puns. The walls will not be covered in generic decorations purchased from catalogs or teacher supply stores (and thus found in countless other classrooms across the country). Rather, each item that goes on our walls will be constructed lovingly. There will be artwork created by individual students and larger pieces created by all of us together. There will be charts and graphs that the children will be proud to say that they designed. There will be lists of questions we are researching and words we want to remember. We will proudly display our evolving list of agreed rules.

And at the front of the room, framed, will be my Pledge to Guide Today's Students, my reminder and promise to the children and to myself, the reason our communal classroom exists.

We have the serious work of learning to do, and our classroom will show it.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

"The tree is still using those leaves."

There is a tree whose branches overhang into one of the two toddler playgrounds at the daycare center I work at. It seems that there is a cycle involving those branches that goes something like this:

1. The branches are growing down over the fence.
2. The branches are now long enough that the toddlers can jump up to pull the leaves off and break off portions of the supple limbs.
3. The branches are now shorter and forgotten, out of reach of the children.

And repeat. It's like a free trimming service.

Except that it builds unfriendly habits towards nature.

Which leads me to say, "Do not take from living plants. The plants are still using those parts. If you find parts of a plant that are on the ground, we can take those--the plant is finished using them and has given them to us like a gift."

(I think I may have gotten a line similar to this from the book, Teaching Kids to Love the Earth.)

But, of course, the two-year-olds I work with are not used to thinking along such terms, there are too many children on the playground at once for them to ignore the commotion of the others playing and pay attention to comments like this, and the other teachers are not on board with this care of plants, either.

So once every two weeks or so, I do everything in my power to prevent the flurried dance of two-year-olds jumping, pulling, tugging, and falling into each other in order to harm a tree.

Montessori teaching is difficult at a center that doesn't embrace the Montessori philosophy.

More on such thoughts later.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Word Harvesting

In February of this year, I had the opportunity to attend a professional development seminar by Tim Rasinski. He's a great and inspiring educator, but the thing that held my attention was something he mentioned only briefly, and that was an approach to vocabulary he called Word Harvesting. He read an article about a school whose test scores went up so tremendously that they were audited to see if the tests had been altered in any way. The scores were authentic, and, after looking into it, were found to be attributed to this style of vocabulary instruction. I'll come back to this story after I talk more about what Word Harvesting is and how to implement it.

During the seminar, Rasinski read the first few pages of the Caldecott and Newberry award winning children's book Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, asking us to note any words a child might not be familiar with. In another demonstration, a hypothetical class studied one poem a week, picking out words to study. In both instances, students use authentic texts to focus on words they might otherwise read around. The next step is to put these words on a word wall and discuss their meaning. Afterward, the students and teacher use these new words in everyday conversation.

One of the things that intrigued me the most about the aforementioned article about the school with improved test scores was that classrooms walls became absolutely covered with chart paper recording these harvested words. I have a sort of pet peeve about creating artificial classroom environments, but this an example of a truly authentic environment. What better way to decorate your communal space than with words you mean to (and want to remember to) use on a day-to-day basis? And what better way to demonstrate to your students how important vocabulary is than to help them fill their environment with it? I found that to be a very powerful message.

So when I started student teaching with my 4th grade class, I wanted to implement this into our schedule.

The students were incredibly excited about it to begin with. The classroom teacher did not have a word wall to begin with, so I didn't have to "change the rules" of it, which I was a little nervous for. Rather, I began fresh with a blank bulletin board and explained our process. I handed each student a sticky note to either keep on their desk or use as a book mark (I'm the type of person that would use it as a book mark). I told them that I would normally tell students to write down any word they didn't know the definition of, but that because I wasn't sure how many of those we were going to find, I wanted them to write down any word they found interesting and wanted to add to their vocabulary. (Turns out there were actually a lot of words they came across that they didn't know.) We talked briefly about our academic vocabulary vs. daily vocabulary ("the words we know and understand vs. the words we actually use when we speak"). I reminded the students to write relatively small so that multiple words could be recorded on the same sticky note (and to remember to record the page number and book from which they found the word), but left the pad of sticky notes where they could access them at any time.

The 4th graders were excited to find interesting words and to announce their words to the class. Because so many wanted to share every day, I decided to call name sticks so that each child got a fair chance to share. I had the students state their vocabulary word, find the word in the online dictionary projected on the SMARTboard, and read the definition aloud. I wrote the word on a standard-sized index card while they did so and stapled it to the bulletin board. Then we discussed the word and attempted to use it in sentences.

The first problem was that once I called a name stick, the other students, disappointed, checked out. They seemed not to care about words their classmates found, only their own words. They didn't want to create sentences with the new words, and at times I couldn't even the student that gave the word to create an original sentence using it. How could I have made this more interesting? Probably by solving the second problem.

Which was in using the vocabulary words in daily context. I recognize that this was absolutely my fault in failure to model properly. I can only clearly remember using one harvested vocabulary word in everyday speech. I know it's difficult, but I now see that, for the entire method to work, the teacher must devote special attention to using the words her students have harvested. I know that's the critical point that I missed. It's tricky and requires flexibility and concentration, but it's absolutely necessary.

A third, smaller problem was the time required to discussing and defining harvested words. I say it's a small problem because while it does take time, so does anything worth doing. I found that I needed about 3-5 minutes per student/word, and on the days I did it, I usually only got around to two or three students. Perhaps the process would have gone faster if we devoted more time to it and got into the swing of it.

From 4th Grade Student Teaching

*Unfortunately, although I emailed Rasinski for the article he read from during the seminar, he did not respond with a link or title.
*Vocabulogic -- Word Harvesting: Using Authentic Literature as the Source for Vocabulary Learning (Rasinski)
*Center for Development and Learning -- Word Harvesting: Using Authentic Literature as the Source for Vocabulary Learning (written by Tim Rasinski)
*Essential Strategies for Word Study, a book by Tim Rasinski and Jerry Zutell
*Word Knowledge - Harvesting Words, a Scholastic PDF from the above book

Friday, June 1, 2012

Practicing Pretend: First Week in Child Care

I've now worked at the day care for one week (technically four days, because Monday was a holiday). It was tough at first, getting into the swing of things, and the morning before my second day, I thought to myself, Just WHAT have I gotten myself into? Thankfully, every day since has been progressively easier. It really is a less stressful job than that of a public school teacher, I've found. Yes, every job has its perks as well as troubles, but I'm absolutely enjoying this atmosphere. I'm still in training, but I look forward to getting a "classroom" of my own. Aside from the 30 minutes today I stepped into an "older-kids" room (I'm not sure if it was considered a "Kindergarten class" or a "School-age class"), I've still only worked with the toddlers, but I'm actually liking it more than I expected to, and I'm sure that's because of ratios. The toddler room is kept at a 1:5 teacher-child ratio, while the pre-K rooms are 1:8, Kindergarten rooms are 1:12, and school-age rooms are a big 1:20. After my student teaching, I definitely like to keep to as few children as possible so I can focus and stay devoted to them. But it certainly is a change to get used to caring for such little ones.

If I have the opportunity, there are a few things I'd like to implement when I have a room that primarily I will be in charge of:
1 - In Montessori fashion, get less toys on the shelves. With less to distract, children will be able to focus easily on the thing in front of them. Plus, it's less for a little one to be responsible for--less for a little one to need to clean up.
2 - In Montessori/Waldorf fashion, include no toys that beep or make noises or music. The more that a toy does for a child, the less the child has to do for herself. With simpler toys, a child is left to exercise her creativity in order to play.
3 - In Vivian Gussin Paley fashion (and Teacher Tom after her), allow ample story telling, recording of children's own stories, and reading aloud and reenacting of those stories.
4 - Ample singing (even in, gasp!, foreign languages), word play, and nursery rhymes to promote phonemic awareness.
5 - Frequent hand washing, particularly after coming in from playing elsewhere or eating, or after potty training, to promote proper hygiene.
6 - I'm lucky enough to work at a facility that encourages daily teeth brushing, but it's best not to brush right after eating. I'll save our brushing until after nap time.
7 - Time-outs reserved solely for when a child actively defies the teacher. I debated this one for a while. I didn't want to include time-outs at all because it's more effective to simply discuss behavior and use it as a learning opportunity. However, it has happened this week that toddlers have said, "No," to a request I'd given, and, for the safety of the child, I simply cannot allow that to develop into a habit. As tough as it is to admit, I truly DO need children to follow directions. I will keep their best interests at heart and never ask them to do anything unnecessary, but when a child decides to disobey, I'll need to follow through with a 2-minute time-out.

Until that time, I still have some more training to do!

Recently, the toddlers have been interested in picture books around the end of the day and have been allowing me to read to them for about an hour each day. It keeps their focus well actually, and what's great about having two adults in the room is that when they grow restless, the little ones can find something else to occupy themselves with while I keep reading to the ones that are still interested. Most of the time they come back after about ten minutes, anyway.

Today we practiced proper Pretend etiquette, which I'm proud of. We had the plastic food out, and many of the toddlers were putting the toys in their mouths. I know that they're one- and two-years old, but most of them have runny noses, and one went home yesterday with a 102 temp after nap. With that in mind, I sprung into action. One at a time, starting with the current offenders and then moving to the rest whenever the issue arose again, I began a game/discussion/lesson of how to pretend without putting toys into mouths.

My words went something like this:
While gently pulling the hand that's holding the toy away from the face, "[Child's name], no, we can't put the food in our mouth. Just pretend that you're eating that [food item]. Watch me." Then I'd demonstrate the procedure of miming eating, either with the toy they were playing with or another that's in front of me. "See? I'm pretending to eat the [food item], but I'm not really putting it in my mouth. It's just pretend. Now you try it." Next I'd hand over the toy I was using to demonstrate. If they continued to play by putting the toy in their mouth, I'd start over, but if they followed my lead at that point, I'd say, "That's right! I like the way you're pretending to eat the [food item], but you're not really putting it in your mouth."

A couple of them picked up on it very quickly while others needed more practice. The youngest (I believe she's 20 months?) didn't seem comprehend the "game" at all, but I was glad to keep showing her, anyway. The second youngest, however, occasionally after our lesson, held a purple, plastic fork in the air for me to "eat" from. Perhaps as a reminder to himself of what to do with said fork?

One boy preferred to ignore the plastic food all together and focus on the epitome of pretend food, the invisible kind. He brought me a red plastic bowl and proclaimed it to be french fries, while shaking a small, red, plastic bottle of "ketchup" over it, and when I'd "eaten" it all, he'd run back to the play kitchen to bring me more, ad nauseum. But honestly, I was glad to play, knowing the repetition was building his creativity and confidence.

Little ones certainly demand a lot of patience, I'm learning! And I'm happy to say that I'm able to provide them with it.

Edit (7/14/12):
After more thought, I've come up with some other things I would do to a daycare classroom. Reggio Emilia schools create spaces using the philosophy, "The environment is the third teacher," emphasizing the importance creating a classroom in which children can thrive. That being said I'd like to:

-Remove the rocking chair. I'm continually telling children not to play on it. It creates too much of a hazard of squished fingers or toes. The rocking chair is mainly for rocking inconsolable children, but I don't find it necessary. For a couple of weeks when I had a 14-month-old that cried during nap, I picked him up and stood with him, swaying slightly, to quiet him. But I'd like to use that method sparingly, as well, as to not build a dependence on that type of behavior. The rocking chair is the only adult-sized chair in the room, but that's okay, because I would add...

-Floor pillows of many shapes, sizes, and colors. They can be used as large, soft toys or for seating.

-Remove all meaningless wall decorations and replace them with rotating artwork made by the children, including large, communal pieces on butcher paper.

-Remove all cartoon-y toys so that only realistic toys are present. Young children have a difficult time determinging fantasy from reality (another Montessori philosophy), and I don't want to contribute to that. For example, leave the stuffed toys fashioned after koalas, birds, and cats, but remove Barney (that's not what dinosaurs looked like) and Elmo (is he considered a monster?).

And just for clarification to number 2 above, the noise-makers I was referring to were all electronic. Instruments, like bells, drums, or guitars made out of empty boxes and rubber bands (although probably not the latter for the young infants), are fine by me.

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Classroom Management" in Fourth Grade: Student Generated Rules and Consequences and More

Early into my nine weeks with the 4th graders I taught with, I could see that the rules of the classroom weren't working for us. My "classroom management" (which I now feel compelled to put in quotes because of my evolving view of the term) skills were severely lacking, and I knew there were a number of reasons why:

1. I was a new face, and the students didn't know if they could trust me
2. For the same reason, the students wanted to test their boundaries
3. The cooperating teacher had not set clear boundaries and instead relied on authority and a case-by-case plan of discipline
4. The cooperating teacher's and my own classroom management styles were dissimilar
5. The grade-level team had relatively poor communication about discipline which led to an entire 60-some students that were used to getting out of hand
6. It was the last quarter, and the students were anticipating summer

Thus, a couple weeks in, I decided that something must change. Taking a card from Teacher Tom, I wanted to take a shot at allowing the students to create their own list of classroom rules they wanted to abide by and consequences for when those rules were broken. The evening after a particularly poorly run lesson, I went home and planned for a classroom meeting the next morning. I thought up a few example rules and consequences in case the students ran out of ideas or didn't hit on something I felt was important.

(There are a lot of details involved in the process I followed, so I've included the rest of the post following the cut.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

An End and a Beginning

Well, that's that. A chapter in my life has been completed. Today I completed the last of my student teaching hours and said goodbye to my students and mentor. I am now the holder of a Bachelors of Arts degree in Elementary Education.

And, boy! What a roller coaster of a chapter has it been! Though I've maintained composure in my writing, I've honestly been all over the place with my feelings and emotions, particularly these past few months. I've literally gone from despising everything and cursing myself for "settling" on my profession one day to brimming with excitement and hope the next (and then back to despising everything the following day). I'd like to go into more detail about that, and I even have a post already written up, but because of the nature of the content, I shall continue to refrain from that topic for the moment. I am extremely proud of where I've been, however, so I doubt I can contain myself for much longer.

I also have a few posts in mind about the last nine weeks and my short time running solo during my student teaching. I've been holding off on posting recently, mostly for time constraints, I suppose. How terrible it is to realize that during my student teaching, I actually devoted little time to reflection. Yes, I did spend SOME time with my thoughts, but I feel that because I didn't write anything up formally, I haven't been thorough or honest enough with myself. What a retched feeling to admit to.

Now I'm ready, though.

Let the catharsis begin.

At least two separate posts about activities in student teaching, plus one explaining my predicament (if you will), will be posted shortly.

But first, I've noted that just as one chapter comes to a close, another one begins. Literally as soon as I got into my car to leave the elementary school for the last time today, I got a call from a day care that I had applied at offering me a full time position. I'm thrilled to say that I accepted. It doesn't pay much, but honestly, money's one of the last things on my mind. I DO need to save up for MTCM (I'm ready to send in my application, but I'm lacking the $1,500 that's due within 10 days of my acceptance), but I'm a simple girl and don't need much to live on.

Without going into much detail, I could tell I was on the verge of early burnout if I continued down the path I was on. I'm so excited to begin something new. This will be my first experience working with toddler and pre-school-aged children, but I'm eager to put into practice some of the theories and ideas I've developed from reading Montessori, Teacher Tom, Vivian Gussin Paley, Magda Gerber's RIE, and a personal friend that teaches at Head Start. The facility and staff seem to be laid-back, and I believe that everything will turn out wonderfully!

I'm still awaiting news on teaching positions for next year, but I'm not anxious about it. I know that whatever is meant to be will happen, and right now I'm just glad to say that I'm again filled with hope and inspiration thinking about my new job working with the very little ones!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Questioning Credibility: A First Day of School Activity

In seminar yesterday, my classmates and I were fortunate enough to have a Dr. John Williams as a guest speaker. Aside from a wonderful and personally pertinent conversation on ethics (more on why it's pertinent later), Dr. Williams demonstrated how he began the school year when he was a teacher. He began by greeting each student at the door, shaking each of their hands, and looking them in the eyes. He then handed them each a sheet of paper with directions to get into groups and prepare questions to validate his credibility as a teacher. I loved the idea of questioning a teacher's credibility. After all, his plan is to spend a year with you, "teach" you material, and, in general, just be the adult in the room. Don't you, first of all, want to know that he is worthy of those tasks? Because I feel it pertains to my Pledge to Guide Today's Students, I thought I might take this idea and make it more of my own.

I do like the idea of a discussion about credibility on the first day, not only because it will show my students who I am, but also because it will introduce to the students a sort of academic theme we will maintain throughout the year--questioning credibility in all materials we use and aspects of our education. I think I'd like to begin with having the students look up the word credibility, first. The problem with that is that I don't want to have physical dictionaries in my classroom. Could I trust my students to use computers first thing, without even discussing it? Well, of course. Why not? That will set the tone for the year, as well--I respect you enough to trust you with this task, and I believe you are mature enough to handle it.

I could have directions on the board, perhaps something like, "Sit at the desk where your name is. With the people at your table, find the definition of Credibility using the laptop provided [or 'the computer with the same number that's on your table' if I don't have laptops]. With your group, develop 4-5 questions you want to ask ME to determine MY credibility. Order them by importance and then sit quietly while you await further directions." Then, of course, I would come in and answer the questions and lead into a discussion about credibility in general and how it will come in to play in the day-to-day activities of our classroom.

I'm eager for the chance.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Using Images in the Classroom

Rather than work on my senior paper today (lack of motivation is the result of assigning an activity, rather than letting the student have full responsibility over her own education), I discovered Yes! Magazine and spent hours pouring through the website. Although it's aimed towards adults and children older than elementary-age, it fits greatly with my Pledge to Guide Today's Students, discussing topics from peace and justice, the environment, happiness, and activism. There's even a section for teachers that includes lesson plans!

The lesson plans on Y!M follow a specific format. They begin by showing the students an image, usually ambiguous one, such as a unique macro or perspective. Step two is to ask the students to use their observation skills to note what they see and their inference skills to try to figure out what the image is or what is occurring. Third, the teacher asks what questions the students might be thinking about what is happening in the picture. Fourth, she tells the children the title of the image (which usually answers the questions about what the picture is about) and reads some background information about it, which leads into a discussion. Finally, the students are allowed to investigate more through extension activities.

Along similar lines, I've been collecting images online, mostly from National Geographic's Photography site, to use in the classroom. I had planned to use them as journal prompts, asking the children to either write what they think is going on, make up a story to go along with the picture, write what the story makes them think of, or anything else, really. Anything the students want to write would be acceptable.

I like my idea of using the images as journal prompts, but the Y!M method of teaching through images is wonderful as well. It's better in some ways, allowing the students to use observation and inference, as well as grabbing the students' attention, setting the stage for an important lesson, and using real-world situations to teach. However, it doesn't call for the creativity that's involved in writing from the students' own minds or producing an original, inspired work of art.

Both methods are perfect for my classroom, and it will depend on the situation and particular image as to which is more appropriate. I can use the Y!M's method when there's a powerful image I want to use to make a specific point and still use the journal prompt / creative writing method when there's a powerful image that conjures emotions or lends itself to stories. In other words, I can use images for the sake of photo journalism or for the sake of aestheticism.

Edit 08/17/2014: Here's an article from Edutopia that came across my Facebook feed. Someone else commented with this website, which isn't strictly related, but still interesting.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Montessori and Waldorf -- Post from Vibrant Wanderings

Discussions of the similarities and differences between Montessori and Waldorf education are rampant on the internet. Even a few of my own friends have spoken of personal biases towards one or the other.

Regarding that, I found this post from Vibrant Wanderings to be thoughtful.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Third Grade Journal Entries on Environmentalism

I taught a unit to the third grade class I'm student teaching with about environmentalism, mostly pertaining to the three R's. Because of how the theme relates to my Pledge, I thought I'd post the responses I received to the final journal entries. I've edited the responses as little as possible just to aid in comprehension. Also note that class is a majority ESOL.

Monday, February 20, 2012

List of Montessori Secondary Schools

What follows is a (so far, incomplete) list of American Montessori secondary schools and the unique qualities they have.

A Look into Secondary Montessori Education

Because Montessori didn't write about extensively about secondary education like she did early childhood and elementary, not many secondary Montessori schools exist. I wrote previously that a natural progression from the independence training that early childhood and elementary Montessori schools provide might be an opportunity for children to be completely in control of their own education.

I haven't had the chance to read the translations of Montessori's work, but I've read recently online that she briefly mentioned her idea of secondary schools involving adolescents gaining an education through their experiences working on a farm. Wikipedia has it cited as:
"The essential reform of our plan from this point of view may be defined as follows: during the difficult time of adolescence it is helpful to leave the accustomed environment of the family in town and to go to quiet surroundings in the country, close to nature." (1989, p. 67)
Hershey Montessori School in Ohio seems to have taken that quote to heart when designing their school. They have received much recognition. Here is the Montessori for Everyone blog on Erdkinder (German for Earth Child) and the Hershey school. And here is NAMTA's David Kahn on the Hershey school and Colegio Montessori de Tepoztlan in Mexico.

Noted Montessorian Michael Olaf writes that adolescents need to spend time working with money, finding themselves, and trying different unpaid apprenticeships.

I'd like to get more of an idea of some existing Montessori secondary schools. Perhap they will give me some insight or inspiration. I'll create my list here.

Finally, NAMTA published a journal titled The Montessori Adolescent Analysis in Retrospect that I'd like to get a chance to read sometime (although I'm curious what they mean by "in retrospect"). They also host a course called The AMI Montessori Orientation to Adolescent Studies (hosted at the Hershey campus). I'd really like to attend after I get my Elementary I and II license.

EDIT (2/29/12): Montessori Muddle is a great blog I found that advertises itself as "Middle and High School ... from a Montessori Point of View." From the looks of it, the author talks about a little bit of everything. I can't wait to get reading.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

First class meeting reflection

I've tried a few times to write about the first class meeting I facilitated with the third grade class I'm student teaching with, but I can never finish the thought. I get so frustrated so often during my internship, and perhaps I'm internally not letting myself think everything through properly. Perhaps I'm unconsciously afraid of what I'd find if I did. Consciously, of course, I blame everything on the "public school" scape goat. And, of course, I'll really need to give myself honest reflection time, but perhaps just not during my internship. It feels like that would be unprofessional somehow. In three and a half months time, I'll be back to normal (hopefully).

In the meantime, I'd like to actually finish a thought about my first class meeting. During planning for a day in which my cooperating teacher would be gone, I decided it was time to have a discussion with the students. I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to say, however, and wound up improvising most of it while I went along. I knew only that I wanted to touch on respecting each other despite your feelings towards a person, ignoring what others say even when it makes you angry, and disagreeing with others respectfully. At the last minute request of the cooperating teacher in her notes to the sub, I started the dialogue with a story, even though it didn't exactly fit with what I fully wanted to talk about. But, really, without it, I would have hardly known where to begin.

While the third-graders were in P.E., I moved the desks to create a larger space on the floor (because they haven't been taught how to move their own desks quickly like I would have taught them) and taught the substitute how to run my Flip camera so that I could watch the meeting again and reflect. When the students returned, we sat in a circle and I read the short book. They were surprisingly somber during the story.

Afterward, I asked what the story made the students think about. I received answers from the title of the book and a synopsis of what the characters in the illustration did, so I told them that the story reminded me about how the class doesn't always work together as a team. Then we brainstormed problems that students in the class have and solutions to those problems. I wrote on hand-held white boards during the meeting, but transferred the notes to poster-sized paper and hung them in the room afterward. I'll include the ideas below.

When I could see that the ideas had been exhausted and the students were getting anxious, I transitioned to role-playing, hoping to build empathy for the problems we had just discussed. The students were excited for the chance to role-play, perhaps because it meant finally getting up (we had been sitting for around 30 minutes) and perhaps for the near-silly nature of the activity. I had two practice what to do "when someone is bothering you" (here illustrated by one student taping his hands on another and saying, "Bother bother bother..."). The "bothered" student acted out the ideas we had brainstormed, first telling the other to stop, then walking away, and finally coming to tell me. Another set of students acted out what to do when someone near them continued to talk without permission ("Blah, blah, blah..."): tell her politely to be quiet and give her a quiet signal.

Unfortunately that was all we had time for. Now that I know that this group of students responds more positively to role-playing than dialogue (probably because they haven't had the chance to be actively involved in a real discussion), I look forward to future class meetings with just a little less time talking and more time acting out. Hopefully I really can appeal to their empathy this way.

Student-generated brainstormed ideas:
Someone is being mean or trying to get me in trouble
1. Stay in control and be respectful.
2. Say, "Please stop ..."
3. Swallow any mean words
4. Ignore them
5. Use a calming technique
6. Walk away
7. Tell an adult

Someone near me won't stop talking
1. Say respectfully, "Please be quiet, I'm trying to learn."
2. Give them a silent quiet signal.

Calming Techniques
1. Take deep breaths
2. Get a drink of water
3. Go to the restroom to splash your face with cold water
4. Write your feelings
5. Write someone a letter
6. Read a book (with permission)
7. Draw a picture (with permission)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Outdoor Preschool in Norway video

I haven't written anything about Outdoor Preschools yet, but here's a 30 minute video of one in Norway.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Free School / Democratic Education--Introduction

A year ago I heard an episode of This American Life about children and politics. It included a segment about the Brooklyn Free School, a school in New York run democratically by the students as well as teachers. The segment focuses on the participation of the students in the rules, class meetings, and politics of the goings on in the school. This is because the Brooklyn Free School is based on a model by A.S. Neill whose English boarding school, Summerhill School, is one of the first with a democratic foundation. In both schools, students are encouraged to set their own rules democratically with their peers and teachers, everyone's voice counting for one vote. The This American Life segment about the Brooklyn Free School emphasized that rules can be made and unmade by students, but most of the time, nothing is done.

"[That's part of the plan.] You know, so what if there's no resolution? The point is they're left with something to think about. What are you going to do about it? You know, that's more interesting to me than somebody deciding that this is the way it should be. And then it's all easier, and it all goes nicer." -- Katherine Chew on This American Life

More about democratic education later.

Read more:
Wikipedia--Democratic education
Institute for Democratic Education in America

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Community/Neighborhood School" Idea

Yesterday I watched Designing a Great Neighborhood, a documentary about creating a neighborhood in Boulder, Colorado.

I have a love/hate relationship with these kinds of things, sort of Utopia-ish. I'm fascinated with utopian/dystopian novels. I love reading them, but I can't ever sort out my feelings for their ties to the real world. On one hand, it's great to see so much effort going into the creation of this neighborhood--the windows are positioned to take in as much daylight as possible. The roofs, to not block the sun for other buildings. Everything's been planned with such precision. At the same time, you DO wind up with sort of cookie-cutter houses. Yes, they have been designed for efficacy, but the unification IS a bit unnerving.

Those personal feelings aside, I was still fascinated with the documentary and found myself immediately wanting to move there, planning certain details I would have done differently from a design aspect. "My" neighborhood would certainly need schools, of course, because that's where I would work.

At first I considered an elementary, middle, and high school, all in a row next to each other (which is how the schools in the small town I lived in for half of my childhood were positioned, now that I think about it). That way, all of the children could walk to school together with their siblings.

But the more I thought about it, would the high school be necessary? There wouldn't be enough students in the neighborhood to fully populate the high school, so others would have to be brought in--others that would be outsiders. Surely the children could gain enough independence to travel outside the neighborhood on their own to the high school. But then they'd be the outsiders. And they probably wouldn't even get a good education there, anyway.

But wait, if I'd trust that high-schoolers had enough independence to travel the city on their own, that means their former education would have had to create that independence in them. And what better way to create independence in a child than Montessori?

Yes, it's perfect because then the children could transition from a Montessori elementary to a Montessori secondary education. And because I'm not familiar with any secondary Montessori schools, in my mind it looks pretty much like a Free school (which I'll have to blog about later because I realize that I haven't yet).

Well, then, it'll be a three story building, functioning as a community building when school is not in session. The first floor would have the stage for performances, etc. and the early childhood center. The second story would be for elementary aged children, and the third story, for post-elementary. I hadn't determined whether an adult would need to be present on the third story or not. Ideally, the children would be so in charge of their own education that they could function completely independently and only need to visit an adult downstairs occasionally.

It's such a great model for a school, I wish all schools were fashioned after it. Right?