Monday, April 9, 2012

"Signs of Spring" Inquiry

In one particular first/second grade classroom, the children are engaged for an extended period of time on an interdisciplinary curriculum revolving around inquiry. The children were given much freedom during this unit, even in titling the unit itself. The "Signs of Spring Inquiry" they entitled it.


Ultimately, that was what much of this power unit revolved around, and the children executed this beautifully. Of course, as any good teacher should do, they were given some guidelines and direction, but independence and responsibility were highly encouraged.

Most often, the children worked in groups independently at their tables as the teacher would walk around and assist those in need. This teaching style is one I am quite fond of. Especially at a young age, lecturing the children (especially for an extended period of time) will most likely do more harm than good. I once worked with a fellow teacher that said lecture only as long as they are old. So, for example, a seven-year-old should only have to sit quietly and listen for seven minutes until his or her focus is broken and the mind begins to wander.


This inquiry lasted for several weeks and was driven by a project-based and child-centeredapproach. The class was invited to go outside over several succeeding days and collect real,authentic data--the best kind.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Power of Choice


That's what anybody wants, especially a child.
Children desire the opportunity to be independent and choose!
Literacy choice time is the perfect time to embrace this innate desire with open arms.
Literacy choice empowers students with choices and autonomy by independently working on various literacy choices that the teacher carefully sets up. Although it may seem like the children just choose an activity and are sent away to go work, the teacher still plays a passive, more discreet role that allows the children to get the most out of this time. Careful preparation prior and scaffolding during and after this time is crucial for literacy development.
Upon watching a video provided by fellow educators, I realized that this self-selected activity time is quite similar to some of my own experiences and personal observations. Although the concept is nearly identical, (only my school calls it, "The Daily 5"), the approach carried out by the teachers is drastically different. The teacher from the video carries out a calm demeanor, encouraging the children to feel comfortable in the environment in which she ultimately is responsible for. She does not rush the students or pressure them into a particular choice.

On the contrary, what I have personally observed at times by some teachers, does not take the time to allow the children to comfortably choose their activity. They are rushed and pressured in front of their peers to pick certain activities based on their abilities.

Thus, though the concept of literacy choice time fosters independence for the children, the teacher's role is still just as important as any other part of the school day. Fostering confidence and the ability to acknowledge both their strengths and weaknesses is inherent for growth.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Playing With Our Words

As many early childhood educators are well aware, there is value to letting a child play. During play, children develop, not only physically, but they develop in nearly every way--physically, socially, emotionally, and...ACADEMICALLY! Imagine a child writing in a classroom?

How does that look to you?

Are they having fun?
Is it a chore?
Are there any manipulatives assisting them?

As the authors of Reclaiming Play ask, "what literacy value is there in children's fascination with popular media products?"

Toys are not just toys.

Toys are manipulatives! They are devices used creatively to inspire storytelling, dramatic play, to gain access into peer groups and understand social norms.

It is more than likely that a parent desires their child's classroom to be child-centered, to be motivated by the child's interests, needs, and challenges. However, many (parents) are not convinced that bringing in toys from home is a powerful tool to use inside the classroom. This is understandable, and on the surface, why would a parent want toys permitted during the school day?

Here are some of the concerns teachers, parents, and other concerned individuals may express:
Isn't integrating media toys into the classroom inappropriate? (249)
Isn't play adhering to frivolous or stereotypical acts? (250)
Won't some children who don't have popular toys feel left out? (251)

Allow me to address some of these concerns...

Isn't integrating media toys into the classroom inappropriate? (249)
-We must be acknowledge popular culture into the curriculum rather than ignore it. It is prevalent in these children 's lives; it is up to us to mediate and teach them about what they are inevitably presented with.
-"It's likely that the absence of popular media toys in early childhood classrooms particularly disadvantages working-class children"(249).

Isn't play adhering to frivolous or stereotypical acts? (250)
-Culture is omnipresent in children's worlds and serves as an important and linguistic resource.
-Acommodations can be made.
-Toys provide opportunities for a rich, meaningful literacy play.
-Concrete examples of work in the classroom that can be seen as a result for encouraging the use of toys can/will be provided to the parents.

Won't some children who don't have popular toys feel left out? (251)
Despite what some may believe, wealth in this content is more about the knowledge of wealth rather than a monetary wealth. As stated in the article, Reclaiming Play: Toys as Popular Media Texts, it is stated that "children can gain social status among peers by demonstrating knowledge connected to [various media texts] with friends"(321).

Remember: Play to learn; learn to play.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Discourse of Discourses

One of the most daunting and dreaded words in the teacher's language. Standards inevitably pressure one to reach specific targets. 'Accountability' coincides with standards. How do we hold ourselves, as teachers, and our students accountable in the most suitable way?
Of course, each teacher will have their own approach; writing is not defined in just one way.
Thus, creating a discourse amongst the academic realm. The skills mastery discourse, for example, revolves around the necessity for meeting set standards and criteria. This specific discourse expects the administration, specifically teachers, to identify certain targets within a framework for children; the children are expected to meet these. Essentially, it focuses on the degree to which a learner's skill performance adheres to mainstream norms.

According to those that resonate with this discourse, writing is an "ideologically neutral school task through which children demonstrate skill competency or display content knowledge" (344).

It does NOT focus on communicating personal meanings or carrying out social functions.

Here is an even more specific break-down of
what is expected of both the teacher and the student:

As children write, they are expected to follow teacher directions and complete their work in "conventionally accurate ways" (344). Such actions of a child that can be seen within this discourse include: repeated practice (such as flashcards), sitting correctly, independently reproducing the correct text.
Within this Skills Mastery Discourse, teachers are expected to act as technicians. They are expected to reach the report card benchmarks. They must score according to a writing rubric and send the collected writing samples to a central administration center.
Annual Yearly Progress is a primary component of this discourse. During faculty meetings, for example, the collected samples and class averages get compared and critiqued.

With all of this being said, it should ALSO be expected to have some discomfort! Such expectations will undoubtedly create inner and outer tension for any teacher. It will most likely leave a teacher to feel compelled to adhere to the government mandates.

Of all the discourses available to consider, what is important is to examine them all and provide a suitable and balanced mix of a variety.
One's choices should be intentional, but also heartfelt.
The choices you make will vary from year to year. Each child and class is unique and deserves considerate and genuine examination.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Messy Hands

Even when presented the same text, readers often have different interpretations of what they are reading. As mentioned in 'The Case of the Messy Hands' article, Debra Goodman points out that "good reading means 'making sense,' not 'getting the words right'"(190).
...How do we make sense of this?
One fun strategy for making sense of language revolved around a detective-like game called, Messy Hands. If something confuses you while you're reading, then (pretend) to make a smudge over that confusing part.
What word can make sense in place of that smudge?
Meaning clues and language clues are KEY to solving any reading mystery!
Also, here's a hint provided by Debra Goodman:
If you can't come up with a good guess for one of the smudges, then just keep reading!
You can always go back later.
The Case of the Messy Hands activity would be a fantastic strategy to integrate into the classroom. My suggestion? Let the kids actually get messy and play with their words!