Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Willingness to Change: Reorganizing from Set Groups to Interest Groups

In discussing some of the positive aspects of having set Studio groups, I also mentioned one of the major drawbacks of this style of Studio distribution - the fact that it leaves very little room for re-organization around common interests. My grand hope for our Studio is that it may function as a space for children and teachers to really dig deep into the possibilities of a medium, a theme, or an idea. But I sometimes find myself scratching my head as to how to get to this point when each child in a group seems to have a different interest.

This was the problem I brought to my meeting with one of the preschool teams two weeks ago. I had noticed that, when the children in the set groups were provided with a provocation - such as rolling slabs - a few of the children would be interested in what was offered, some would insist on crumpling their slab or on using the rollers as parts to build with, and others wanted to add water and explore the same sensory experience we tried out early on in our clay investigation. In other words, three distinct interests had emerged through the clay: rolling slabs for use as a writing and drawing surface, building, and getting messy.

Although this teaching team had decided to use set groups at the beginning of the year as a way of mitigating the stress and confusion of assembling Studio groups in the moment, they were willing to reassess and reorganize the groups in order to better suit them to what the individual children were actually interested in. We now have, in fact, four Studio groups for this classroom: a group exploring writing on clay; a group who is investigating long-term building projects; a group experimenting with water, clay, and the messiness that results; and a group specifically exploring the vocabulary of clay.

These children have only had one full week with their new groups, and I can already feel a difference in the time we spend together in the Studio. Some of the children with an interest in building are working to create a train together, while Y. is working to construct a model of the airplane he rides when he flies to Israel. In the drawing/writing group, children are excitedly drawing the symbols they use to represent each other in the classroom and sharing them proudly with their peers and teachers. The vocabulary group created a list of words describing the things our hands can do with clay, and worked hard to try them all out. Today, the sensory group first explored their sticky, wet clay with their hands, then with paintbrushes, noticing the effects of the brush bristles on the clay's surface and of the clay-covered brush on black paper. A. and Kerem found that their hands could work like paintbrushes, too, as they smeared and smoothed clay across the paper's surface.
I am excited to see where these interest-based groups will lead, and I am so grateful to the teachers for being willing to revisit and reorganize their Studio groups to allow for this to happen. I am curious to know the thoughts of teachers and parents about this process of reorganization and reassessment in contrast to the constancy that I have discussed before. What benefits do you see in each of these approaches? Do you see any ways to compromise the two? Which approach do you prefer as a teacher (or would you prefer if you were a teacher)? Which do you think you would prefer if you were a child at our center?

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