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?