Thursday, June 27, 2013

Questions, Spaces and Stories; How We Illustrated Our Image of the Child This Year

This month our weekly provocations are opportunities for teachers to tell us about their team's innovations. We are hoping to share practices that other teams may want to try, and the methods of innovation - how we come to new ideas and fold them into our work. 

Our annual intention is to reflect upon our "Image of The Child" and how it appears in our environments, documentation and curriculum. This week, all three innovations demonstrated our trust in children and our eagerness to know more about what they are playing, working and thinking about.

The Question of the Day 
Erin shared with us the way that her preschool class uses the“Question of the Day.” She and a colleague learned this technique from a teacher at the Advent School . Each day in Preschool 1, kids and their families stop at a clipboard. The adult reads the question and the child answers it.  The question ranges from "How are you feeling?" or "How did you get to school today?" to "How do trucks work?" or "What happens when you go to the doctor?"

The Question of the Day offers:
  • A ritual at the entrance to the classroom. A daily and immediate reminder that school is a place where we stop to think and where our voice is heard.
  • A way to model for families how we honor children’s words by writing them down without comment or correction. This can be a struggle for some parents who have developed a habit of helping their child figure out a correct answer. This question is one where teachers always want to hear children’s unedited thinking. 
  • An engine for curriculum, putting children's theories about the world onto paper where they can be looked at together, extended, challenged and fleshed out. 
  • Another way to know children more deeply. As Erin told us "It helps you see how each child thinks over time. Somebody always has this fantastical, long poetic answer, and somebody else has this clear cut answer you would find in a book." 
Teachers asked some great questions. Tracy asked "What would you do, if someone didn't speak English?" Erin assured her that they invite families to translate the question into another language and to write their answers in that language, with or without translation. They also sometimes draw pictures. 

Transforming a Classroom Environment. 

Over the last year a lot of construction has been happening around us. As a result, all of our classrooms moved into a modular building for six months or so and then moved out again into their own spaces.This was a chore, of course, but it was also a great opportunity to look at our permanent spaces when they were empty and to learn from living in a different space. This experience profoundly affected Tracy, Monica and Miwako, and they used what they learned to shift the space in their room to everyone's benefit.

There were some changes that the teaching team made in their modular room that were based on necessity.
  • Because their new space was so open,  each area of the room flowed into another.  "It was this vast square." Tracy said. Teachers observed that with less divisions, children moved their play fluidly from one area to the next.
  • The only tiled area of the classroom was near the entrance, so this is where they put the mini-atelier. Our first impression when entering the room was filled with beauty and focused work.
When the class returned to their old space, the teachers kept these serendipitous changes with great results. 
  • This classroom structure had been static for many years, and teaching teams sometimes found traffic jams, or had problems when many children wanted to work or play together. Taking some inspiration from the more open classroom in the modular, the teachers created space for dramatic play and blocks to share one large space. Tracy told us that the space contributed to more intricate, collaborative play.
  • The more centralized atelier attracted children to creating their props for their play. It's old location, in the back corner of the classroom usually attracted children who wanted a quiet experience, but the new space is usually occupied by children in the throes of some dramatic adventure, or intense recreation.

It's clear that children, teachers and family all feel at home in the new arrangement. The team used their observations to reflect on what was working in one environment and then adapted it to another. Surprise! The same process that helps us plan curriculum can help us plan our environments too!

Image credit below.

Infant South adopted the Learning Story convention and stream-lined their documentation.

At our center, teachers have a great deal of agency in deciding how they want to make the life of their classroom visible through documentation. Lise's team was ready for a change. She said "It felt like the old format was quite a long process of busy work, sifting through several weeks of photos, feeling compelled to put as many photos as possible because they were there, and feeling like there was not enough time to go in-depth. I wanted to think in-depth about children. I wanted to highlight our role as researchers, rather than summarizers. I'd heard of Ben Mardell's idea of writing Zooms.  It's a way of looking closely, but they didn't feel quite right. We talked to Kendra, and said 'Here's what we want: Photos and observations go to families, we invite families to respond, we as teachers keep learning from our documentation'. Kendra said, it sounds like Learning Stories might be just what you're looking for." 

As soon as Infant South started using this method, they adapted it to suit their specific team. 
  • They chose to address their writing to the families of the babies instead of to the babies themselves.
  • Danielle, Lise's teammate, started using the "See/Think/Wonder" protocol to guide her reflections, and her team followed suit. "See is the observation, Think is our own thinking that includes knowing ourselves, our knowledge of development, and of an individual child. Wonder is questions we write at the end. I started writing those questions directly to parents. This has felt really successful and manageable....We've gotten a similar depth from parents. We send them out once a month and people write back. 
  • The team worked over the first few months to balance "coverage" with just following their curiosity about their observations. Now they each write a few stories each month (so each child gets at least one monthly) post them all at the same time.

I really admired the bold, long-term, reflective process this team took to figuring out how to best document their classroom in a way that served the needs of children, families and the team.

Improving Our Practice Without Adding More.
As our teachers take on more and more depth in their work, it can feel overwhelming because it feels like adding to what we already do. Learning stories, a more open classroom, and the Question of the Day have helped these teams go deeper into their research, their curriculum and in their relationships with children and their families without feeling overwhelmed. Rather than adding another thing, these innovations made space and smoothed out old ways of doing things.

Here were some of the ways these teams worked to bring in these new practices to their classrooms:
  • They looked outside of themselves; Erin visited the Advent school, the Preschool 2 team moved to the modular, and the Infant South team asked me if I had any idea.
  • All three teams discussed the change before it happened and then reflected on how things were going, making changes in some cases.
  • They connected this one aspect of their work to the broader themes in their classroom and the center.
  • They communicated with families about the new aspect of their work through email, signs and documentation. All three classrooms have heard from families that they are excited about these innovations.
If you're a part of our center, what's your take on Learning Stories, Preschool 2's environment and the Question of the Day? If you're not, do you have any advice to share about innovating at work?

yours truly,

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kendra,
    I just came across your blog via Pinterest. I found it very interesting as I also like to question what we are doing and why in our center. I just wrote a post myself on our use of loose parts and open ended toys if you would like to take a look., you can also find me on facebook at