Exploring Identity: How do I see myself? How do others see me?

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Exploring identity, and beginning to understand who we are and who we are not as individuals and as a community, is a huge part of my teaching. I start this inquiry on day one and continue it throughout the year. One big project we do is with skin color.

When it started to come up in our conversations, I read a few books that explore skin color. The Colors of Us, Shades of People, The Skin You Live In, Chocolate Me and All the Colors We Are, are a few of our favorites. We learned about the science behind skin color and played around with mixing paints that match our skin color. Based on the beautiful language in The Colors of Us, we chose our words for what we would call our skin color. We made up colors like, “whipped cream peach” and “cocoa caramel mocha” and “honey gingerbread”. We mixed the paints and made our self-portraits.

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Our big questions that guided this inquiry were:

Why is our skin different colors?

How do I see myself?

How do others see me?

Who am I? Who are we?

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We read books, had lots of conversations, made art and played around with self-portraits in many different mediums – using paint chips, buttons, empty picture frames, ribbons and assorted loose parts. We interviewed our friends and asked them, Who am I to you? and How do you see me?. In our completed self-portrait paintings, we wrote the answers to these questions. We also created and drew a symbol that represented who we are in the world.

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This exploration into skin color and self-identity was a celebration of who we are and who we are to our friends and to each other. It made our community even stronger and helped us explore, appreciate and celebrate the differences and the similarities that make us special. We will continue to go back and revisit our thinking, revise our thinking and celebrate who we are as a community this year.

Building a Conversation

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I’ve been playing around with hands down conversations as part of our morning meetings. Inspired by my friends and brilliant thinkers,  @kassiaowedekind and @TeacherThomp and the work they are doing with talk, I’ve really enjoyed this new start to our day.

As the kids come in each morning, I listen to what they are chatting about. I get a sense for what is interesting to the kids that day and use that information to start our hands down conversation. After our morning announcements, we gather together on the rug and I invite someone to start our conversation around that topic. The conversation may (and often does) change topics, but I help them get started with a common topic. For now. Yesterday, everyone was talking about the upcoming tornado drill.

“We have to go in the basement!”

“Tornadoes don’t happen here. They never do.”

“It’s raining now, are we really having a tornado?”

“Is this a practice or real?”

“What is a tornado?”

I could sense that this was something we needed to talk about before going into the hallway for the drill. The kids took the topic and had a great hands down conversation, answering each others questions, talking about worries, and putting each other at ease. I joined the conversation a little, sharing about my experiences as a child in Michigan with real tornadoes and super scary drills in the basement of our school. But I wasn’t the center of the conversation in any way. The kids respectfully listened to each other, added on to what others said, asked questions and jumped into the conversation when there was that natural opening. They are starting to monitor each other for interruptions, often reminding friends to, “please don’t step on my words”.

We’ve talked a lot about how we “build a conversation”, something I first read about in Maria Nichol’s wonderful book, Comprehension Through Conversation. When we first started these conversations, there were about four kids who dominated every conversation. The rest of the class listened (usually), but rarely jumped in. I brought that up to the kids and we talked about how we build a conversation when different people add to the conversation. I used blocks to show how building a conversation by adding new people is a lot like building a structure by adding new blocks. They got it. I was really amazed at how that shifted our conversations and how more kids participated.

Starting our day with authentic, hands down conversations, with opportunities for all children to talk, has been a wonderful shift away from the structured, very school-based, “share time” when one child shares and then picks a few friends to comment or ask questions. I’m looking forward to exploring this more and to reading about the thinking that Kassia and Christy do on their new blog.

 

Currently – In Our Classroom

watching – tall block towers, pieces of art in various stages of completion, children making books, book boxes bursting at the seams, a vet clinic that has just about lost the excitement, legos that have been made into Bayblades and are spinning all over the room

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listening – to children talk about art, “I see….I think…I feel….”, and to children learning how to navigate conversations in authentic ways

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appreciating – the freedom to allow kids to play and a large space to give kids multiple spaces to play, work and live for 180 days

loving – the excitement around our field trip to the National Gallery of Art tomorrow

dancing – the life cycle of a mealworm, which is actually not a worm, but an insect – they become baby beetles

wishing – for more time to do documentation of all the learning that happens every day

planning – the launch of our next PBL – creating an geometry art museum

creating – a collaborative art piece on a canvas with blues and greens for the background – looking forward to adding more things to our mixed media piece

reading – Art Is…, Alfie: (The Turtle That Disappeared), Uni the Unicorn and the Dream Come True, The Big Umbrella, The Water Princess, Sandy’s Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder, Action Jackson, Be Kind, The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art, Love

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writing – nonfiction books, guided reading books for my kids about friends and things they love, labels for our beautiful stuff to create with

wondering – about Reggio practices, about culturally relevant teaching, about what worked well today and what didn’t, about where we are going next

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Day 6

What Kind of Class Do We Want?

img_6072I love the way winter break is like pushing the reset button. I’ve enjoyed relaxed days with friends, family, books and the mountains. It’s been fabulous. It’s recharged my mind, my body and my soul. I’ve allowed myself to step away from my classroom (physically and mentally) and now I feel a renewed sense of excitement, energy and possibility as I get ready to return in a few days.

My kids and I have enjoyed 17 days off. While it’s been wonderful, I know that January 3rd is going to be like starting all over again in many ways. Seventeen days to a five and six year old is an eternity. But I love the idea of a second “first day” of sorts. It’s a chance to re-establish our community, to get to know one another again, to reteach those things that were falling apart in December and to revisit what kind of class we are. It’s like a blank slate that we can create together again.

One thing I always do that first week back is to ask my kids, “what kind of class do we want to be? What kind of community do we want to have? Who are we?” Those are big questions, but my kindergarteners never fail to think deeply, to reflect on what was working and what wasn’t, and to create a promise of sorts that guides us for the rest of the year.

We start this conversation in our morning meeting on the first day back. I take notes on chart paper as we talk and start to determine what really matters to us. We read new books and revisit old favorites that first week back and talk about what makes characters kind and likable, or unkind and unlikable, and how that might look in our classroom. Books like Grumpy Bird, Each Kindness, It’s Okay to Make Mistakes – and any Todd Parr book, Red, A Crayon’s Story, I Used to Be Afraid, Walter Was Worried, The OK Book, Elephants Cannot Dance, Ish, The Invisible Boy, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?  and Last Stop on Market Street – just to name a few of our favorites. The main idea here is to determine what would make our classroom a wonderful place to be – and how can we contribute to that.

We revisit the chart daily, adding and revising our thinking. After a week or so, we create our own chart – through interactive writing – that reflects who we are in this classroom. We always display it in a prominent place so that, as one of my kids said last year, “everyone who comes in here knows that this is how they have to be. You can’t be mean and come in our room.”

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Last year’s chart as a work in progress – adding things to it as we discuss.

This document serves as a class pledge or promise for the rest of the year. We read it and use it as a tool to solve problems, resolve issues and remind us of what kind of class we are. It’s a powerful tool to come back to when the inevitable problems arise.

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Last year’s  finished chart with photos!

How do you reset after a long winter break? Best wishes to everyone for a fantastic second “first day”!

Update: Here is our chart from last week (January 2017). We will be working on making our class chart next week. Stay tuned!

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Recreating Our Classroom Community – Part 2

2014-01-09 15.38.53In my previous post, I shared some thoughts on the importance of reconnecting and recreating our community as we went back to school after winter break. January has turned into a constant dance of recreating routines with many snow days and 2-hour delays. It’s been a challenge to try to maintain a predictable schedule and keep routines flowing as Mother Nature continues to hand us arctic temperatures, snow and ice. My kindergarteners and I created this chart on our first day back from winter break. It’s been an anchor for us during the month of January. We read it together each morning during our Morning Meeting and I ask the students to turn and talk to a partner about what word they are going to focus on for the day.   We share out and then revisit the chart through the day as I notice children trying hard to live the vision we created together for our class. At the end of our day, during Closing Circle, I ask children to reflect on how the day went and how we are working together to have the classroom we imagine. This has resulted in some great conversations with children acknowledging areas that we need to work on and celebrating areas that we are successful in showing. As February approaches, I will continue revisiting our vision for our classroom and hopefully we will be able to get back into a routine. We shall see what else this winter holds in store for us!

How are you managing all the snow days and late openings? Have you tried this in your classroom? We’d love to hear from you!

 

Recreating our Classroom Community in the New Year

IMG_4581It’s Sunday afternoon and here I sit, looking at my to-do list, planning for the week ahead in kindergarten, working on a presentation for later in January, checking Facebook…daydreaming out the window about how great the past two weeks of winter break have been. It’s a new year (on the calendar, at least) and I’m excited about seeing my kids tomorrow. I’m a bit worried too. While these two weeks off have been wonderfully fun and relaxing, well…it’s been TWO WEEKS OFF from school and routines for my kindergarteners. I know how important it is to rebuild our community, revisit expectations and routines and to make a plan for the rest of our year together. In a lot of ways, I see it almost like a second First Day of School. It’s a refreshing fresh start and a new beginning.

Tomorrow I want to be sure and listen to every child. I am sure they will be full of stories to tell and memories to share from their two weeks off. I don’t want to jump right into the new math unit or literacy unit of study right away. I want to make time to welcome the children back to our classroom family, to allow them to reconnect, play, enjoy each other, share their hopes and dreams for 2014 and to ease back into our routines and life in the classroom. I want to start our morning meeting by making a chart of “What kind of class do we want to have in 2014?” with the kids – creating a future for us together in the new year. I want to remember that community is at the heart of our classroom and when we’ve been apart for two weeks we need time to reconnect and recreate. What a fun opportunity as we return to our classrooms tomorrow! Enjoy the time with your students and I wish you a most excellent 2014!

What are you focusing on as you go back to school after winter break?

I love to watch you…

Day 5 Kid pix 006A few weeks ago an article circulated Twitter, Facebook and the daily news I read.  The title, 6 Words You Should Say Today, caught my eye and I read the article. It’s beautifully written and made me think immediately of the kindergarteners I teach. It was one of those articles that I kept coming back to, seeing so many connections with my daily teaching.

Our words are powerful. They create (or break down) our communities. They support (or discourage) our friends, the children we teach, our family and ourselves. Peter Johnston has written extensively about the power of language in our classrooms in Choice Words and Opening Minds and I have read and reread his books numerous times. They have shaped who I am as a teacher in many ways. I think a lot about the words I use in my daily teaching and am constantly reflecting on how I talk to my students.

After reading this article, I immediately started using the words they refer to. They are just perfect as we are creating our new community of learners in our classroom – as I am observing, kid watching and gently guiding us to becoming caring, kind, passionate learners who live and work together for 180 days. I’ve noticed such big smiles on my kiddos faces as I watch them busy at work and then say,

“I love to watch you do math.”

“I love to watch you make books.”

“I love to watch you play.”

“I love to watch you dance.”

“I love to watch you take care of each other.”

It’s so simple, yet so powerful. Six (plus) words that I am making sure I say all day long – because I do love to watch these young learners discovering what school, learning and life is all about. I want them to know how important they are. Important enough for me to slow down, observe, reflect and share with them how much I love what I do.