Friday, September 12, 2014

Teachers are Learners: Illustrating a Year of Project Work, Part 3

The following is the third and final part of a series of posts illustrating the ways our teachers took on the different principles of project work last year. Click here to find the first part and the second part.

Bring the small group work  back to the larger group and find ways to integrate the work into larger classroom life.

From the early stages of her group’s music project, Serena encouraged the budding musicians to share their work with their classmates (and our resident musician, Wayne). In the beginning, their experience of performing a song in progress allowed them to get some feedback to help them improve. Later, they worked to catalog important vocabulary words and use them to write new songs, one of which they also performed for their classmates and parents. As their vocabulary became more nuanced and consistent, Serena encouraged them to share their new system as useful tool for other songwriters in the classroom. Through this practice, the work of denoting and writing new songs has spread into the greater culture of the classroom, adding new focus to a general interest in music making.

Choose your small groups carefully, thinking about their relationships to the concepts and with one another.

When Tracy was considering the composition of her sea monster group, she took into account the different possibilities that the project held for each child. For some children, the experience would help them practice listening to others’ ideas and integrating them into their own. For others, it offered the possibility of a leadership role – getting to speak up and gain confidence as an “expert” on sea monsters. In her careful formation of the group, Tracy brought together children who had normally not played together much before, but who shared an interest in sea monsters and could benefit from each others’ strengths.  Among the group, there were storytellers, artists, safety advocates, and trap-builders, each working to make the lore of the sea monsters richer through their contribution. In bringing together this diverse group of children, Tracy not only helped build a successful project group - which they collectively named Team Blueberry Pickle - but also helped to foster new friendships and a greater sense of community throughout her classroom.

Stay curious about what you observe.
We were unsure what project work would be like for babies and young toddlers, but we were certain that our teachers would find ways to collaborate with some of our youngest citizens. While Cathy watched how babies played with balls and ramps for inklings of understanding, Eileen studied friendship, reflecting upon the demonstrations of empathy and fondness that she saw to draw her conclusions. Brae thought long and hard about how babies communicate with sign language and then with speech. She wondered why children chose one mode of communication over another. This team had deep, thoughtful conversations about their projects, and how they could continue to explore side-by-side with babies. On the other hand, when Henna joined the Toddler Two North team in the middle of the year, she had to build new relationships with the children in her class, while also listening for that special spark of interest that indicates that a topic might be worthy of deeper investigation. She knew that food held a special fascination and offered a number of different ways for the children in her class to relate to it. She was persistent in her study of the children in her care and their relationship to food, and offered a number of different and delicious provocations to her class.  

Celebrate and honor the children’s work by ending it in some meaningful way.

As our year (and our projects) come to an end, we are excited to see what celebrations unfold for these many projects. Clearly these children and teachers will continue to learn more, about the workers in their community, about how buttons influence the world around us or how to communicate with one another. However, one way that we honor children's collective exploration is by following the waxing and waning of their interest - by helping their work together form a shape with a beginning, middle and an ending. Part of the practice of progettazione in Italy, and the projects that happen elsewhere in Boston and all over the US, is to recognize the work that's happened, look at it as a whole, and celebrate it with families and children. In the final weeks of our school year, teachers, families and children marked this moment, honoring the learning they did and relationships they built. Seana planned a plane-decorating party for her paper airplane group, Carmel and Aline invited families to co-create a bird guide that will live on in our center, and Miwako’s group invited their classmates and parents to the final performance of the play they created, to name a few. What a wonderful end to an amazing year!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Teachers are Learners - Illustrating a Year of Project Work - Part 2

The following is the second part of a series of posts illustrating the ways our teachers took on the different principles of project work last year. You can find the first post here.

Emphasize dispositions such as critical thinking, perspective-taking, intellectual and emotional risk-taking, persistence, and bold imagining.

From the outset of her group’s investigation of ramps, Irene was guided by the question that inspired the project, “What happened?” As she brought children together to work at both building and using ramps, she also helped them to build the language, skills, and endurance of scientists and engineers. Over the course of their investigation of ramps, Irene offered children opportunities to make, test, and revise their predictions, as well as to solve problems and obstacles that arose during their tests. If a piece of their ramp broke, she supported them through the process of working together to fix it, make sure it worked, and realign it if not. She helped them to expand their repertoire of questions to include not only “What happened?” but “Why did that happen?”, “How can we fix it?”, and “What will happen if…?”

Watch for opportunities to integrate learning domains such as literacy, math, and scientific processes.

Throughout the center, teachers have found numerous ways to integrate learning domains into their projects. Although they were working with very different age groups, Irene and Seana both encouraged children to work at making predictions, testing them, and observing the results. Seana and Monica helped children stretch their writing muscles through writing lists and letters, while Tracy encouraged her younger preschoolers to write their intended messages on the sea monster signs they created.  Two teachers also used checklists to help children remember their work and analyze it later; the checklist made for Seana’s airplane group helped them note down their observations of how different airplanes flew, while Kerry’s group used a checklist to keep track of which colors of moon sand the different classrooms wanted them to make. In addition, by helping the children in her group follow the recipe to make the moon sand, Kerry gave them experience in both measuring and counting.

Find a starting place.

“How will I find a project?” This was on the mind of many teachers when we first started discussing project work. During the weeks that followed, two Preschool 2 teachers found their respective projects in very different ways, illustrating that there is no right way to begin a project. For Seana, inspiration came from an ongoing interest in paper airplanes already present in her classroom. After inviting several children to hone their airplane making and flying skills, she identified a dedicated group who came together again and again to fold, fly, and observe their planes. For Monica, on the other hand, the seed of a project sprang from a single lunchtime conversation. When a small group of children began to discuss the prospect of building a house for their classroom, she was struck by the enthusiasm and practicality of their conversation. She brought the group together for more conversation, and soon the House Group was born. Although each teacher found inspiration for a project group in very different circumstances, in both cases their projects grew out of their careful attention to children’s interests – whether ongoing or just beginning.

Write documentation that allows teachers, children and families to reflect on what's happening and contribute.

Documenting project work is unique in that it’s important that the larger class be made aware of what the project group is doing and because of the sheer volume of work children are creating on a regular basis. Kerry’s documentation in Toddler Two South honored the thoughts and questions of children by sharing them with everyone as the project progressed. She placed large pictures at children’s eye level so that they could reflect upon and revisit their work together. The size of the photos allowed multiple children to consider the pictures at the same time. The Preschool One team found that they were meeting so often with their groups, they didn’t feel they could adequately make a polished piece of documentation about every meeting. They knew that it was important to capture all of the children’s ideas, and record all of the different provocations that were part of the work, so M., Kara and Tracy started collecting “raw” notes in a binder that children and families could peruse. The notes allow anyone to get a real sense of the work that was happening, and provided the team with an organized way to reference their notes in team meetings when planning curriculum.