It’s Their Day, Too

2014-12-05 12.41.58I recently read a blog post written by a mother, sharing how frustrating some days can be. I related to this post not as a mother, but as a teacher. It’s easy to get caught up in things that can suck the energy out of our teaching – the trainings that often don’t directly relate to the work we do with our students, the new mandates and requirements that are handed out, the lack of planning time, the lack of support from our administration, colleagues, (or even our nation), the slow response of systems that are supposedly in place to help our kids, the constant addition of things we must do, the lack of time to do these things, the endless assessments, the constant raising of the bar, the negative perception of how we do our jobs and how we all just need to work harder/better/faster. It can be exhausting.

2014-12-05 14.36.46When I find myself getting sucked into this frustration, I have to stop and get grounded again. It’s not all about my day and my huge to-do list and my deadlines, benchmarks and expectations. It’s about the kids. It’s about being present and in the moment. It’s about listening.

Our children come to us each day to learn, to grow, to have fun. To laugh, to explore, to be in awe of something. To discover things for the first time, to have that “a-ha” moment, to change perspectives, to open their eyes to a new way of thinking, to find a passion. It’s their day, too.

2014-12-05 14.36.50Some of my best days of teaching look nothing like what’s on the lesson plan. They come from listening to my kids, following their lead, and remembering why I am a teacher. Some days the lesson plans and assessments need to be pushed aside and I need to sit down with my kids while they explore worms in a nature box. I need to be there to help them find a worm book in the class library and listen as they wonder and investigate the worms crawling on their hands. I need to laugh with them, wonder with them and encourage them.  I need to run to the art room for paper to cover our play stand because they decided a gingerbread house needs to be built today. Not next week, but NOW. Because NOW is where five year olds live. I need to stand back as they gather all the gingerbread men books we’ve read to decide what characters they should make to put inside the gingerbread house. I need to listen and be responsive to what they need.

2014-12-05 12.41.51Now. In this moment.

Because it’s their day, too.

Expressing ourselves in Writer’s Workshop

Co-authoring a book to give to a child who had a birthday in our room. The crowns were made first!

My young writers continue to amaze me! We make books daily in our 45 minutes to an hour Writer’s Workshop and many children protest when it’s time to stop. But what about those friends who only last 5 minutes or so? You know them…you hand them their writing folder and before you’ve finished passing out the rest of the pile you hear it…”I’m done!” When I taught first, second and third grade we learned on the first day (a la Lucy Calkins), “when you’re done, you’ve just begun!” Children knew that writers were  never “done”. They knew to add to the words or pictures, read their book to a friend for more ideas or start a new book.

But I think it’s different in kindergarten (and I would  now argue in first grade as well…and even second grade…). Developmentally, 4, 5 and 6 year olds may not be ready to stick with making a book for such a long period of time. A lot of them are – but there are kids in every classroom who just aren’t there yet. The last thing I want to do is to force them to sit quietly and make books. All that’s going to do is make them hate writing.

When children proclaim they are “done”, I first ask them to read their book to me. Of course, at this point in kindergarten it’s usually reading the pictures. Then I ask them what they need to do next as a writer. I make sure my talk during this time continues to refer to them as writers, and helps them see different possibilities for what “writing” might look like. Perhaps they need to go find a stack of Mo Willems books to look at to get an idea for their next book. Maybe they need to get the toy dinosaurs out and create a scene to get an idea for their next book. Maybe they need to pull out the storytelling kit that goes with a favorite read aloud and make up a new story. I honor what the needs are at that moment, and make sure I’m not forcing the writing piece. I play the role of a gentle encourager, helping my young writers see possibilities for sharing themselves with their classmates and the world.

As I writer, I know that some days I just don’t feel like writing. I want to express myself in another way. I know that I will get back to writing tomorrow, but for now I need something else. I think our young writers feel this way too. Sometimes what my writers are doing during Writer’s Workshop isn’t making books. Maybe today as writers they are making crowns or invitations for the afternoon Explore time when the princess party will resume. As I chat with these writers, I may suggest that a “how to make a crown” book might be just the thing for the future princess party attendees. Maybe painting a picture similar to an artist we are studying is what a writer is doing. They are using a piece of art as a mentor text instead of a book. Another child may be talking to an iPad or computer as he makes a book in one of the many creative apps we have on our iPads or computers. Maybe a group of children are composing a dance to share the butterfly life cycle. They are drawing the cycle and deciding ways to act it out. Maybe another group of children are Tweeting or blogging and talking to children all around the world. The point is, writer’s workshop can (and does) look different for all children, depending on what they need at that moment as a writer.

Playing with animals in Writer’s Workshop

While all of this is going on, many children are bent over their books and writing folders in what looks like a more traditional writer’s workshop – writing, drawing, creating. But others are moving, playing, talking, painting, creating like children do. And that’s OK. It’s the energy of children “making stuff”, as Katie Wood Ray talks about. And all of that “stuff” is and will become texts in many different modalities for children to share and express themselves through.

And that’s what really matters to me – that is the purpose of our Writer’s Workshop.

Reading, Creating and Playing with Art

Playing with art on the SMARTboard

We have spent the last two weeks immersed in Wassily Kandinsky’s art. My kindergarteners have been talking about his art, tracing over it on transparency paper, playing with it on our SMARTboard, and creating their own “Kindergarten Kandinsky”. It’s been exciting to listen in on the conversations as the kids compared different pieces and wondered why Kandinsky made the choices he did as an artist. We have had fun playing “I spy” as the students looked closely for “the big blue circle next to the small triangle behind the three parallel lines”. They have enjoyed talking about the pictures Kandinsky made with shapes and we had quite an interesting discussion about how Kandinsky couldn’t have intentionally made an “Angry Bird” in one of his paintings since it was made 100 years ago. It started a great discussion about perspective, imagination and creating stories in our minds. I loved how they connected it to making pictures in our minds as we read!

They love looking at the big art prints on paper and the Kandinsky SMARTboard station has been a top choice during Explore time. I have a feeling the Kandinsky prints will continue to be a part of our classroom explorations and conversations for quite some time.

Cutting shapes for our mural

We ended our Kandinsky study by creating a class mural – our “Kindergarten Kandinsky”. The kids cut out a variety of shapes and lines and we carefully placed them on a large piece of butcher paper. We talked about where the shapes would go, how they would overlap, what the proximity to other shapes and lines would be and negotiated our artwork together. After everything was placed as the students wanted it, we glued it down. The kids were so excited to have a giant “Kandinsky” to discuss and talk about, just as we have talked about his original artwork.

Negotiating placement of our shapes on our mural

Our finished "Kindergarten Kandinsky"

After spring break, we are starting a photography study of the alphabet through found pictures in the environment. I think the Kandinsky study has opened our eyes to reading pictures and seeing beyond the obvious. We are ready to look for letters in nature and in our environment. Stay tuned for a post in a few weeks on this new project!

Art as a mentor text

Talking about art while tracing shapes and lines

My kindergarteners have been looking closely at the artwork of Wassily Kandinsky as we learn about geometry in math. We are using his art to explore shapes, lines, color and important vocabulary for positional words that are part of our state standards. I’m using Kandinsky’s art just like I use mentor texts throughout my literacy workshop. It’s been very exciting to see how the children are learning math while “standing on the shoulders” (as Katie Wood Ray says) of this artist. His fascinating abstract art paintings engage my students and allow us to surround our math instruction with rich talk about a variety of geometric terms, as well as art terms. For example, mathematicians use the term “rhombus”, but artists use the term “diamond” to speak about the same shape. We  are creating an ongoing shared writing text with what we are noticing.  This writing that came from their talk looked like this: I see a red square next to a blue curved line. I see a big yellow curved line overlapping a black circle. I see 5 small circles under a pink rhombus. 

Last week we used the program Pixie in the computer lab to create our own Kandinsky inspired works of art. The students used a variety of shapes, colors and lines to create their own work of art. They talked about how they were choosing the placement of their shapes and carefully planned out their work.

This week we are creating our very own “Kindergarten Kandinsky” wall mural as we use his work as our mentor text to create a piece of art showing our knowledge of shapes, colors and lines. Stay tuned for an upcoming post about this!

I value the importance of visual texts, such as our Kandinsky pieces, as another form of literacy. Teaching children to read art, to create art from using artists as mentors, and to talk about art is a key piece of my literacy instruction.

How do you use visual art in your teaching? 

Our Pixie Kandinsky Inspired Art