Tuesday, January 15, 2019

An Anti-bias Work Team at PTCC

This year Peabody Terrace Children's center has an Anti-bias Education Work Team. It is composed of veteran PTCC teachers eager to spend the year learning skills and content necessary to create emergent anti-bias curriculum with children, colleagues and families in this way. Our work team is shaped by the participants, but the administrators and I created some structure to define it.

Our learning goals.
Every member will be able to:
  • Assess and increase our understanding of our own racial identity, biases, privileges and areas of growth.
  • Recognize bias in the systems in which we play a part
  • Work together to support systemic change; here at PTCC and elsewhere.
  • Appropriately talk to adults and children about what we know.
The administrative team has charged this work team to:

  • Create a strong, shared definition for “anti-bias education”
  • Pursue internal and external research to answer a question relevant to our work
  • Assess our center’s anti-bias practice
  • Develop shared goals/plan for institutional change
  • Create examples of in-depth, pro-active, multi-disciplinary, anti-bias education at PTCC
The anti-bias work team is made up of teachers who...

Have worked here for at least a year. To honor the special work of teachers in their first year at a new school we are only opening this learning opportunity to more veteran teachers.

Want to read, watch, listen and learn on our own time. We expect teachers to put our professional development hours toward this effort because it requires significant learning.

Are ready to try new anti-bias teaching strategies and practices in their classroom. Like our students, we learn by doing.We support one another as we take risks together.

Can share our learning with the community. "Each one teach one." is an African American proverb that comes to us from enslaved African people who taught one another literacy and other skills and practices to resist and escape enslavement. These words may have been brought to this continent by their captured ancestors who held knowledge as a liberatory gift that comes with an obligation to share with others. This sustaining belief and effective strategy supported civil rights organizers and others working for justice. In this tradition, we will share our learning with our community; through conversations, team meetings, documentation, and a culminating presentation.

We meet once a month to learn and reflect. We've decided to use John Nimmo and Debbie LeeKeenan's Strategic Planning process from their book Leading Anti-bias Early Childhood Programs; A Guide for Change.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sight & Sound

Surrounded by mylar and paper, every movement makes a sound.

This year, we are exploring SOUND throughout our center as our umbrella project. This has, of course, taken different forms in different classrooms. In the infant rooms, the emphasis has been on offering materials that make sounds when manipulated – crinkly mylar and paper, drums, shakers, etc. The teachers have also been paying attention to the sounds that the babies make, as well as the specific sounds (both in the classroom environment and elsewhere) that the babies seem to notice and investigate. Many of the toddler rooms have been thinking about sound in relation to instruments, singing, and performing in one way or another – from an interest in the Beatles that developed from a love of “Yellow Submarine,” to trying to identify musical instruments and artists from sound alone, to being in a band themselves, to creating their own instruments. One group of toddler teachers, noticing the ways in which the sounds animals make were an important signifier for their children (who love animals), have begun to listen to animal sounds with the children as a way of continuing this thread.  Another group has been thinking about the way sound relates to cause and effect – when something happens (a ball rolling through a tube, a toy dropped on the ground, a shovel of sand dumped into a bowl), there is often a sound that accompanies it. The preschoolers’ investigations included exploring the different sounds that paper can make when it is manipulated in different ways during some visits to the Studio, as well as games with trying to match different sounds and experiments with how sound travels and changes through different materials.
Paper becomes an instrument.

Recently, I have been thinking about the way that sight and sound are linked. This first popped into my head back in December when I went on a nighttime river walk with a group of children and their teacher. It was dark (daylight savings style), and we brought flashlights with us to light our way. Part of our discussion as we walked along was about looking for animals who might be hiding or nesting nearby. As we made our way down to the riverbank, we shined our flashlights back and forth into the trees and grasses, looking for creatures. Did we see any? No. But something else happened – the children began to hear things. Rather than the usual process of pointing at things to ask “What is that?,” the children were cocking their heads and asking, “What is that sound?” They were noticing noises that weren’t necessarily new (cars rushing by on the road, branches knocking together in the wind, water lapping at the shore, geese honking in the distance), but that had gone unremarked in the light of day. This brought to mind that idea that “losing” or dampening one sense causes the others to be sharpened. With less visibility, the children were relying more on their hearing to explore and “see” the world around them.

Shining a light to try to identify a sound in the bushes.
This idea of “seeing” with your ears rather than your eyes actually goes much deeper than this. The research of Lore Thaler, Stephen Arnott, and Melvyn Goodale has found that the use of echolocation by some blind people actually activates their visual cortex, essentially helping them to create a sort of image in their brain through the use of sound. The artist Neil Harbisson, transformed the different colors of the spectrum (and some that are even beyond human vision) into audible frequencies, allowing him to effectively “listen” to them. There have actually been studies that show a consistent correlation between music, emotion, and color for listeners, suggesting that these associations are culturally significant in the US and Mexico, and, perhaps, with time may be found to be universal.  This, for me, connects to a provocation that I have often offered to children over the years: listening to music and thinking about it visually. What sorts of lines or movements would you make with a paintbrush on paper to capture this song? What colors would you choose for this music?

One of the things that I value about an umbrella project is that it offers us a unique lens through which to look at (and listen to!) children's play. Because of our emphasis on sound this year, I have found myself picking up on the ways in which this topic has surfaced in children's play and conversations, and I know many other teachers have as well. It also has led me to make connections between the things that happen day to day at school and my understanding of sound in the broader world, much in the same way that our curriculum for children strives to relate to their lives beyond our walls. I think the next step for many of us this year and in years to come is to take these individual moments and conversations and build upon them, deepening our exploration of sound into something beyond noticing and questioning and into hypothesizing, experimenting, and theorizing.

What possible "next steps" could you imagine for the children who went on the night walk? For children who are interested in different instruments and performance? For infants who are encountering many materials for the first time? 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Our first Umbrella Project!

Investigating Together:

Exploring the Charles River as a Center

“Learning and teaching should not stand on opposite banks and just watch the river flow by; instead, they should embark together on a journey down the water. Through an active, reciprocal exchange, teaching can strengthen learning how to learn.”
-       Loris Malaguzzi

The idea of embarking on an umbrella project came from work that is done in both Reggio Emilia, Italy and in the Sabot School at Stony Point in Richmond, Virginia. It is a center-wide investigation undertaken by children & teachers that continues throughout the year, in various forms both big and small. Together as a center, we defined what the topic of an umbrella project might be:

“A compelling, enticing, accessible, physical thing, event, place or idea (a noun) that elicits a emotional and metaphysical response between people. A catalyst with opportunities for investment in deep, dynamic connections, new ideas (growth).”

 For our first umbrella project (which we investigated during our 2016-2017 school year), we chose the subject of the Charles River – a unique and beautiful piece of nature in the midst of our urban surroundings. The river has always been a part of our school’s landscape – it can be seen through the Studio and T2North windows, and it is a location for occasional walks – and this year we sought to strengthen our relationship with and understanding of it through this investigation. For many classrooms, even the act of allowing children to get out of the buggy by the river was a revelation in itself. For others, the process of returning again and again led children to ask for and recognize just what a “river walk” meant. In addition, our attention and consciousness of the river opened our eyes to the way in which it changed over the course of the year – from the blooming flowers in summer, to the falling of the leaves in autumn, to the freezing of the water in winter, to the appearance of goslings in the spring. 

In order to share just a fragment about what I found to be a powerful center-wide experience, I used some of the headings from Ann Pelo’s book, TheGoodness of Rain: Developing an Ecological Identity in Young Children : walk the land, learn the names, embrace sensuality, explore new perspectives, create stories, and create rituals. Pelo describes these as ways in which we can foster children’s relationship with and stewardship of the natural world, and I believe they were all present in our investigation this past year. 

Walk the Land ------------------
Returning again and again to the river throughout the year allowed us to broaden our knowledge of its terrain. We learned the best places for children to throw rocks and sticks, or to look out over the river, to collect, to watch boats, or to gather flowers. Children grew familiar with the landmarks they would pass on the walk to and from the Charles. Teachers marked the evolution of children’s ability to traverse the challenges of uneven ground, long grass, mud, and tree roots.

At the beginning of the year, the prospect of walking along the river was a bit daunting for some. Many classrooms began with buggy and stroller rides, not yet venturing to let the children down to explore. However, over time, both teachers and children became more comfortable with the river and its banks, finding places where they felt safe to investigate beyond the buggy. Even our youngest infants spent time sitting, laying down, or crawling near the river. Building a relationship with this place allowed us to broaden our comfort zones  and place more trust and autonomy in children.

Create Rituals --------------------

Over our year of visiting and revisiting the river, many classrooms developed rituals to help build community and to strengthen children’s connections with place. In some cases, this took the form of finding a “spot” that a group would visit during each trip to the river. A gated ledge that allowed children to view the river up close without fear of actually entering the water became a favorite place for many to search for sticks to throw in on each walk. One classroom always stopped to look at the “turtle stone” that they passed on the walk to and from the river. For some children, it was important that everyone have a turn to push the crosswalk button as we waited a the juncture of memorial drive and DeWolfe street.

Embrace Sensuality --------------------
The sound of waves lapping after a boat has passed… the honking of geese… the feel of wind against your face or the sun on your back… the smell of autumn leaves, of chamomile buds, of daffodils… the softness of milkweed seeds… the prickle of burdock and sweet gum pods....  the sour taste of sorrel … the spicy taste of wild chives…

The river invited us to explore with all of our senses. We opened our ears to the sounds(after hearing a jet ski zoom back and forth, one child remarked, “It’s like a motorcycle!), and our skin to the feel of the  river’s offerings. Our eyes took in the many delights on display – the colors of autumn and spring, the ice and snow of the winter. We searched out opportunities to smell and taste where we could. Each visit became so much more than a walk – it was a full-body experience.

Explore new Perspectives ---------------
Our commitment to the Charles River led us to witness its beauty through a variety of lenses and from a variety of places. We watched it through windows, through the pillars of the John Weeks footbridge, and up close on its banks. We represented it in multiple media, and we took note of the ways the river itself changed through the seasons.

Visiting the river also offered teachers an opportunity to take on a child’s point of view. Infant teachers wondered at the view of the trees a baby might see lying on their back. Toddler teachers noticed how a seemingly small hill provided a real challenge to children still learning to walk. Preschool teachers shared the joy of being able to gather flowers without the restrictions of more manicured environments. The sight of a goose on its nest or a snail on the path brought as much excitement and interest to the adults as to the children.

Learn the Names ---------------------
As we move beyond the generic names of nature – bird, flower, leaf – into the specific, we are building our relationship with the natural word, just as we would a person. Over the course of the year, children and teachers across our center developed a greater intimacy with many of the things we encountered near the river.

Young toddlers came to know the difference between a goose and a swan, while older children (and teachers!) grew knowledgeable about some of the plants that grow on the riverbanks (“Watch out for burdock – it’s so sticky!”). We revisited these things in a variety of ways – not only on the walks themselves, but by bringing remnants into our rooms through photographs, collections, drawings, and field guides.

Create Stories ----------------------------
As we build relationships with a place, we begin to collect stories about it. We remember the things that we have seen, the special encounters we have had, and the changes we have noticed as a result of our kinship with this landscape. Through our documentation, teachers remind children of these stories and share them with those who were not present.

One example of the development of a story came early on in the year. Many children spent time painting under a large oak tree near the footbridge. Then, one day, some other children discovered that part of the tree had cracked and fallen. Over the next few days, children from many different classrooms encountered the tree in various stages of removal –from branches being cut to a stump in the ground, to an empty patch of dirt. This is a story that many preschoolers still remember and will reminisce about as we cross Memorial Drive.

This year, we are exploring sound as a center. Stay tuned - I'm sure there will be posts about it as the year progresses!

- Katie 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Anti-Bias Education is Not a Concept or a Skill, it's a Learning Disposition

Last Wednesday, we welcomed fifty educators as part of Boston Area Reggio Inspired Network’s 2017 series. We reflected upon how we’ve brought liberatory teaching into our own practice, and planned strategic next steps using Margaret Carr’s structured view of learning dispositions.

Learning Dispositions are “situated learning strategies plus motivation”.
-Margaret Carr, Learning Stories; Assessments in Early Childhood

Teaching and learning are situated within a specific group of people with a variety of identities and within our larger contexts; our classrooms, communities, nation and world. Anti-bias teaching starts out haphazard and ad hoc sometimes but before long we realize our work must be strategic to stay accountable to our goals. We are motivated to do this learning and teaching by its obvious urgency; children’s worldview, culture and safety can be at stake.

“Becoming is better than being”

Carol Dweck’s “process goals” and “performance goals” describe two different approaches to learning, and it is crucial that we are not perfectionists in the work of education for freedom. Dweck researches learners’ orientations to errors and other challenges. Learners with “performance goals” and a fixed mindset want to get it just right without effort. They want to “be” smart or strong, but dislike making mistakes, and feel uncomfortable with the struggle it takes to “become” smart or strong. “Process goal” learners have a growth mindset and seem to enjoy struggle, and recognize that good outcomes; the right answer, for example, or a new skill, come out of hard work and mistakes. They are willing to do what is needed to “become” better.

We can’t wait for anti-bias education until we are ready, worry about achievement or get it right the first time. We can only counter bias through the invaluable process of becoming more knowledgeable, more open, more awake, more willing to act and move through our errors with humility.  Because biases and unfairness are in the world, they are in our classroom and in us.  We will struggle and we must be ready to listen when folks tell us that we’ve made mistakes.

We need a view of learning that sees “development as the transformation of participation” (Carr, again, naturally). These domains take a process orientation for granted and measure that process through a narrative built of observations.

She identifies five domains of a learning disposition:
Taking an Interest,
Getting Involved,
Persisting with Challenge or Uncertainty,
Expressing thoughts and feelings and
Taking Responsibility.
These domains are a perfect way for us to understand our own growth as teachers for liberation.

Learning from History
Many years ago, I asked our mostly white staff to self-identify; whether they knew nothing, something or were experts about anti-bias curriculum. Everyone RAN over to the “experts” part of the spectrum. (I didn’t know what I didn’t know about people’s poor ability to accurately appraise themselves about things they don’t know much about, and I underestimated the personal drama of being asked to do it publicly.) People in the “expert” area explained themselves;  “I have an Asian neighbor.” or “I don’t see color.”

These folks were beginners, but they thought they were experts. I learned from my mistake; this time, we used Carr's domains as an objective yardstick to help us figure out what kind of learning we’ve done and what kind we are headed into.

After a short presentation about our collective journey with anti-bias education at Peabody Terrace Children’s Center, we used a protocol to create our individual narratives of engagement with anti bias education and reflect.

Then, we brought in the key element of feedback. We shared our stories with others and they helped us determine which of the learning domains we were working within. Finally, well-informed, we identified for ourselves what kinds of actions might help us move forward from where we are.

Domains of Learning Dispositions:
Learners taking an interest are developing:
  • A view of self as interested and interesting,
  • Interests,
  • Expectations that people, places and things can be interesting,
  • Abilities and funds of relevant knowledge that support their interests.
Learners getting involved are developing:
  • A view of self as someone who gets involved.
  • Readiness to be involved, pay attention for a sustained length of time
  • Informed judgments about the safety and trustworthiness of the local environment, Strategies for getting involved and remaining focused.
Learners persisting with difficulty or uncertainty are developing:
  • A view of self as someone who persists with difficulty and uncertainty
  • Enthusiasm for persisting with difficulty or uncertainty,
  • Assumptions about risk and the role of making a mistake in learning
  • Sensitivity to places and occasions in which it is worthwhile to tackle difficulty or uncertainty and to resist the routine.
  • Problem-solving and problem-finding knowledge and skills,
  • Experience of making mistakes as part of solving a problem
Learners communicating with others are developing:
  • A view of self as a communicator.
  • The inclination to communicate with other in one or more of the 100 Languages, to express ideas and feelings,
  • Responses to a climate in which learners have their say and are listened to,
  • Facility with one or more languages, familiarity with a range of context specific ‘genres,’ script knowledge for familiar events.
Learners taking responsibility are developing:
  • A habit of taking responsibility in a range of ways, to take another point of view, to recognize justice and injustice, a view of self and others as citizens with rights and responsibilities,
  • Recognition or construction of opportunities to take responsibility
  • Experience of responsibility, making decisions, being consulted, an understanding of fairness, strategies for taking responsibility
(Adapted from table 2.1, in Margaret Carr’s Assessment in Early Childhood Settings: Learning Stories)

As someone who thinks not only about individual development, but also about how our organization grows and changes, these domains also helped me to see which domain our center is exploring. We have firmly established interest, involvement, persistence and communication about anti-bias teaching. We are on the edge of taking responsibility; this is our next frontier. This framework takes for granted a "growth mindset" and in situating teachers' development within the realm of learning dispositions, it is my hope that teachers work to let go of their hangups that come with performance goals.
Does this structure help with some of the feelings of unsettledness, inertia, or hopelessness that sometimes accompany this work?

How could we use this way of understanding with families?

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Power of Loose Parts

What is a “loose part”?
Loose parts are essentially materials that can be moved around and manipulated in many ways, and which don’t necessarily have a single assigned “job” or use.

Why should we play with them?
In the 1970s, the Theory of Loose Parts was developed by architect Simon Nicholson in response to what he saw as a lack of opportunity for children (and adults outside the realms of architecture) to play around with concepts of building and construction in their daily lives. The principle of the theory is as follows:

“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.”[1]

In other words, when people interact in a given space, the more options they are offered, and the more the available options can be combined and recombined, the more interesting and diverse the results. The repercussions of this idea for the early childhood classroom are clear – when we offer children more materials that are unscripted, hold multiple possibilities, and can be put together and taken apart in numerous ways we see more creativity, engagement, and discovery on the part of students (and I would argue on the part of the teachers and parents as well!). And these benefits are not limited to the realm of building and spatial thinking, but can extend far beyond, into the realms of dramatic play, artistic expression, literacy , and mathematical thinking… to name a few.

Below are just a few instances of children at work with loose parts in our center. Where do you see inventiveness and creativity at work through these materials?

Tubes of varying sizes inspire Alec and Grace to investigate stacking them and trying to fit them inside each other. Grace tried to cover one long tube with several smaller ones, while Alec tried to see if he could nest two tubes of the same size. 

Atom discovers that these small plastic containers stack one on top of the other very nicely. He builds a tower, taller, taller, taller, until it begins to wobble. When it falls down - crash! - he picks up the pieces and begins to build again. 

J and F investigate the structural integrity of this "house" made of carpet squares. It was able to hold several heavy blocks for its "roof" before it finally collapsed. 

Julius and Quinn examine a tube stuffed with mylar together. The mylar is crinkly, sparkly, and noisy, and the tube is tricky for small hands to manipulate. It rolls and tips as they try to angle it just so, searching for the best way to look in and pull out the mylar. 

Leon and Cathy found some pieces of sheer fabric in the movement studio while they watched a projection of some Riverdance performers. They used the fabric as costumes, as something to hide behind, and, finally, as something to hold behind their backs, the same way some of the dancers held their hands behind their backs. 

Jihye and Emmett discovered a wooden place-mat and a piece of bumpy, translucent plastic in the Studio. Looking through them, they noticed that their view of the world changed! The other children in the Studio also noticed that it changed the way Jihye and Emmett looked, making it hard to see all of Jihye's face, and making Emmett look "foggy." 

[1]Nicholson, S (1972). The Theory of Loose Parts: An important principle for design methodology. Studies in Design EducationCraft & Technology 4, (2), 6.