Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bringing the Studio to Our Classrooms

The times Toddler Two South children have used wire in the Studio, there have always been interesting moments – Yoshi using one wire to hook another, D. trying again and again to poke wires down into the plug of the sensory table, S. creating a ball by smooshing the wires in his hands. However, when these endeavors became frustrating (or once they have been accomplished) the children would lose interest in the material, testing to see which of the handles and curtains in the room they can play with.

This led to a few trial weeks of bringing the Studio into the classroom. In other words, I would bring materials into the Toddler Two South room, set them up at the table, and remain there for a few hours, inviting children to join me in exploring what I had brought.

I noticed a difference in how our exploration of wire felt as a result of this change in scenery. First of all, each time that I have done this, all of the children came to the table and participated in some way. A few children (especially those newer to the classroom) were content to sit and observe, or perhaps hold a wire and stretch it out with their arms. Other children came to work at the table for an extended time, and many revisited the wire provocation in small bursts throughout the time it was available. There was still a space set up for careful work with the wire – a space that I felt was, in part, defined by the constant presence of a teacher – but children were not tied to it the same way they are in the Studio. If they felt finished with what they were doing or needed a break before coming back to try again, they were perfectly free to do so. At the same time, I felt comfortable reminding children of what they had been working on and inviting them back into it later on. This allowed children like Yoshi - who had considered the wire's possibilities as a hook - to extend ideas begun at an earlier date through more practice and new experiments. 

As a teacher, I felt as though a weight had fallen from my shoulders as I spent time in the classroom with the children and the wire. The burden of constantly keeping so many minds engaged with same material all at once was gone, and instead, I was able to focus in on the children who were interested in the material in the moment. If someone left the wire table after a few minutes, I did not feel worried or discouraged the way I might in the Studio. In the Studio, a child leaving the activity often creates a distraction, if not for the whole group, at least for the teachers who hope to re-engage them. In the classroom, a child leaving the activity meant opening up space for a new person to join, or an opportunity to tidy up the table a bit, which often attracted someone else’s attention.

All of these observations tie back into a lot of what has been on my mind lately about both the role of the Studio as a physical space and my role as the atelierista, who is responsible for that space while also being responsible for work happening in all of our classrooms. I am excited by the success I have felt in Toddler Two South and other classrooms when I have brought materials to them and helped to define a more focused area for work within their everyday space, and I am excited, too, about what this might mean for the Studio space I leave behind. My vision is that, as we are building more space for focused work in the classroom, the Studio can transform into a laboratory – a place where groups of children invested in an idea or a problem can work together to solve it or where a teacher can bring a small group for close observation in order to further her research questions from the classroom.

When do you find a separate, focused space helpful in your life, and when do you prefer to be in a place with many options, people, and ideas in play at once? 

What themes do you see continually resurfacing in your child's classroom? Do you have any ideas you could share with teachers about how we might bring these themes to the Studio? 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Waiting for the potty IS our curriculum! Thinking about our hidden curriculum with videos

A beloved colleague said the above when teachers complained about the parts of the day that seem to take time away from learning. What he meant was that young children are learning from every experience in our care, and that the ways that we choose to care for them are another way of teaching. These moments are part of the "hidden curriculum", and provide an opportunity for us to learn about ourselves as people and as teachers. When we look at how we help children with their coat, or sing a song to them we learn about who we are, which informs how we teach. 

We spent a few weeks examining our hidden curriculum so that we can shift our practices and allow even incidental moments to be informed by our highest values and our best thinking. Each week, a different group of eight teachers came together and read an excerpt from the first part of Parker Palmer's brilliant essay "The Heart of a Teacher".

Here is a little of the wisdom teachers and staff shared in reaction to this piece:

Katy: When something doesn't go well, we pick it apart, "Why is it hard?" When something is going well, we rarely reflect on it and think "What did we do well?" so we can remember that. This is true in supervising staff as well.

Sarah: I really resonated with the second paragraph. It took me a long time to realize that everyone who is a teacher feels stupid or worthless or that they're not good at their job sometimes. Sticking with the cycle long enough, I've gotten to more self-compassionate practice. I'm a flawed person and I'm a good teacher.

This week, we considered transitions, which make up a big part of our day, by watching teachers and children transition together.

We started with a ten second video by way of introduction. Sara, a toddler teacher, walks with three children to a play yard. Afterwards, I asked the group "What are these children learning in this moment?"

  • to stay together (They are all holding hands.)
  • that the destination is exciting ("Here we are! Yay!")
  • there are many ways to get there (for example, waddling like a penguin)
  • learning about Sara as a teacher, her sense of humor... if I were with her I'd feel safe
  • they know to hold hands, they know they can leave their room together and get somewhere fun together
These are the kinds of things that all children are learning when we don't realize that we are teaching. Sara is a master teacher and she was teaching these children as she skipped and celebrated with them in this tiny moment. I believe that the more that we watch each other and ourselves teach, the more we practice paying attention, the less our curriculum is hidden and the more children are learning the kinds of things we want to be teaching.

We spent the next hour or so watching three videos: a toddler 1 class getting ready to go outside, a toddler 2 class waking up and getting ready to go outside and finally a preschool classroom cleaning up their classroom. Teachers had three protocols to choose from to focus their thoughts as they watched. One was about limited resources; tracking time, space and attention and how they were allotted. The next was grounded in our Reggio Emilia inspiration examining the role of the teacher, the role of the child, and the role of the environment in the clip. Finally, Some teachers used a list of Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence to see what kind of learning was taking place.

Monica: I noticed that even though they were running back and forth and doing other things, they were trusted by their teachers. the kids who needed attention, they got the attention they needed

Mari: I was thinking about our Reggio inspiration...the image of the child, the trust. Each [of the children] were focused on something different, touching  a basket, looking out the window, looking at [the class next door through the window]. This was a situation where it could be chaotic for a teacher "Don't' touch that! Come here! Your coat, and here's your hat!"  

Sarah: There was a lot of room for intra-personal learning, one kid is lying on his or her mat, taking care of themselves, waking up. Phineas is given the choice to eat inside or outside, when he is frustrated they say "I just didn't hear you, it's not a big problem." Teachers helping children learn who they are as individuals.

Debbie: I was struck by the kinesthetic part... that once they got their coat on, they weren't just sitting on the bench, they were running through. There was energy that was all allowed and encouraged.

H: I noticed the role of the teacher: I liked all the questions, asking for teamwork, asking "Can you show me where this goes?" instead of just picking it up.
Athletes watch videos with their coaches to really see the way that their bodies work, the consequences of their choices as they work. We use videos in our professional development for the same reason; to notice things from the outside that we can't from the inside. Our center values collectivity, so we watch videos together. 

The ones we watched were all taken in one hour last week, we didn't prepare for them in any way. I just showed up with a camera and asked permission and teachers graciously assented. Every time I share video of a teacher to other teachers I'm humbled by the willingness of the watched to share themselves and by the gratitude, sensitivity and recognition offered by the watchers.