Not a debate,
let them read.
A few months ago, I was thinking about our day. Kids had been complaining that we didn’t have enough time for Writers Workshop when it was scheduled right after lunch, and I wanted to ask the kids what their thoughts were. I had always set our daily schedule. I started to question this, and began to wonder why I had to decide what the schedule would be. Why can’t the kids have a say in this? I initiated a conversation during morning meeting about our daily schedule. They agreed that the time allotted for Writers Workshop was a problem. They wanted more time to write, and they also wanted more Explore (our free play time), so we decided that we should try to fix this.
We started by establishing the “non-negotiables” – things in our day that we didn’t have control over, like lunch, recess and our specials. Those went up on the white board first. Then we took all the cards we had written out at the beginning of the year and looked at them on the rug. The kids talked about how they wanted the day to go and we created the daily schedule together. It was fabulous. They created the schedule to work for them. And they even carved out more time for Explore.
Now, as part of our daily morning meeting, we go over our daily schedule and talk about how we want our day to look. Most days stay similar to how the kids changed it a few months ago, but sometimes a child will suggest having Mathematicians Workshop at the end of the day, or switching Readers Workshop to the morning, or something else they want to try out. I let the kids decide how their day will look. It’s our day – and the kids should have a say.
We had just returned from our monthly walking field trip to a local park, where we had found a fallen log and spent some time investigating and talking about what might live there. I was reminded of a book I had, A Log’s Life, and went over to our nonfiction book bins to look for it. The kids were waiting patiently on the rug, (as patiently as kindergarteners can wait), as I was looking furiously through the many nonfiction bins we have. I finally found the book – just after one of my kids said,
“We need to organize this library better! You can’t find anything in here! Why don’t we make it like the big library?”
Yes! She was right. The books that we had sorted in September as “learn about the world” or “stories” – were ready to be sorted again, with all the book knowledge that my kindergarteners had gained this year. I invited anyone who wanted to help with this project to gather on the rug during Explore time and we would organize the library better.
Several kids were interested and started working together, sorting the books into piles and having such wonderful conversations!
“We should keep all the dog books together. And all the monkey books in one place. And the snake books….wait, there’s a lot of books about animals. Maybe we can keep all the animal books together. But there’s a lot of books about dogs. I think dogs need to be on their own or there would be too many mixed in the animals. Then we couldn’t find dog books.”
“We have books about people…like farmers and nurses and Native Americans…Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Obama. We can make one place for books about people.”
“Here’s a book about colors. We read this book when we were making art and learning about colors. People use colors to do art, so it should go in the people place.”
I listened carefully and was amazed at how the kids negotiated the task, the organization and the labeling to make sure the library worked for them. Their conversations were so authentic and I loved listening to how they talked about where books belonged. They spent over two hours on this task and then proudly shared their accomplishment with the rest of the class.
It’s been one week and I’ve noticed how books are being returned to the correct bin and that this part of our classroom library has been revived – more kids are getting books from here and sharing new finds with each other. Ownership, pride, persistence, problem solving…these five and six year olds never cease to amaze.
I 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.”
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.
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!
Independent reading time is a key component of any reader’s workshop. It looks different at every grade level. What’s important is that we have a time, daily, for kids to read by themselves or with a partner, to choose what they read, and to have time to talk about what they are reading. In my kindergarten classroom, we have book boxes and a book box time every day. Every child has their own box. Inside the box is a variety of books. There is a Ziplock bag with their “just-right” books. In the bag there are guided reading books, paper books that we have read together as shared reading charts throughout the week, ABC charts, name books, cut apart sentences from guided reading groups and ABC books. Children know that they are to read their baggie books first. There are also “look books” – books they can read the pictures or retell the story. They can choose 5-7 “look books” to put in their book box. These are library books, books from our classroom library and favorites that have been read aloud. This might be a super cool book on snakes, a Pete the Cat book we’ve read out loud several times, a Mo Willems or Todd Parr book from our author study or any good book they find on our shelves. Finally, each child has a poem and song binder that is full of poems and songs we’ve read together as shared reading pieces. Our book box time is social, full of energy and full of engaged kindergarten readers – reading the words, reading the pictures, retelling the books, making decisions as readers and talking about books. Children choose a cozy nook to read, they decide if they are reading by themselves, with a partner or with a group, and they choose what they read – just like readers do. Here is a glimpse into our book box time. Enjoy!
This week I read an article citing a report saying that forcing kids to read before they are ready could be harmful. The report specifically references Common Core Standards in Kindergarten and says “there is no evidence to support a widespread belief in the United States that children must read in prekindergarten or kindergarten to become strong readers and achieve academic success”. While it was surprising to me to hear that there is “no evidence”, it was not surprising to read the other findings the authors reported. I hear over and over about blocks and dramatic play stations taken out of classrooms, recess taken away, and endless inappropriate assessments being given (an “online, practice quiz for kindergarten” should never, ever happen). Our children deserve better.
I agree completely with what the authors of the study share in the report. Children need to play – it is how they learn (and research does support this). But I also think it’s important that we give our kids every chance to get that important school literacy piece as soon as possible – with developmentally appropriate practices. It is tragic that, as the article states, “teacher-led direct instruction in kindergarten has almost entirely replaced the active, play-based experiential learning that we know children need”. I don’t think that we should force children to read, but I do think we can immerse children in rich literacy experiences early on and ignite an interest in learning to read and write. We don’t need to have hours of drill and kill and teacher-led direct instruction. We don’t need worksheets and mindless one-size-fits-all instruction. We don’t need hours of assessments. We don’t need to make kindergarten (or first, second..or any grade, for that matter) full of these things.
My classroom is a play-based kindergarten classroom, with a great deal of authentic and meaningful literacy experiences offered each day. We read aloud, we have choices throughout the day in curriculum, content and activities, we have a daily Writer’s Workshop, we play, we learn letters, sounds and links, we have 2 recesses each day, we have snack, we read pictures and words in books, we build things with blocks, we learn how to read, we dress up in the drama center, we play in the kitchen/spaceship/laundromat, we put on puppet shows, we learn how to form our letters, we discover things in sensory boxes, we have guided reading groups, we explore things we are interested in, we read charts and poems, we wonder, question and grow and we do it all in an active, playful, meaningful and developmentally appropriate way. And at the end of the year, some of my kindergarteners are reading at the county-wide benchmark. And some aren’t. But they can all tell you a favorite author and what kind of books they like. They can all read books they’ve written and tell you what author/illustrator they see as a mentor. They all see themselves as readers and writers. That is ultimately my goal.
I’m reminded of the phrase from medicine, “first, do no harm”. This needs to hold true in education. The last thing any of us want is a child refusing to go to school, locking himself in his bedroom, and hiding under his bed. We want children excited about learning, passionate about topics they are discovering at school, talking about favorite authors and illustrators, questioning, wondering and eager to learn, empowered because they know they have a voice in their learning. We don’t want to harm our children. If we are being asked to do things that we know are not developmentally appropriate and that may harm some children, then we need to speak up. It’s worth fighting for the blocks, the recess and the dramatic play. It’s worth fighting for our children. Thank you to the authors of the Defending the Early Years project study for giving us another tool to fight with.
This past year has been an amazing year in my running life. I’ve run over 17 ultra marathons and have set personal best times in several big races. Yes, I’ve put in the training miles and have my nutrition perfected – and I am passionate about running – but there is something even more important that has helped me achieve my goals this past year. It’s the people I run with and having a whole team of friends who believe in me. I was lucky enough to be welcomed into a close-knit group of runners last year who have been there for me in more ways than I can count – on the trail and off. They laugh with me, support me, run many long miles with me, and believe in me. I can’t help but see the connection between this and the students I work with every day.
I truly feel that my job as a teacher is to believe in every child – to believe they can learn and to expect wondrous things from them. I have to focus on what they CAN do, not what they can’t do (yet), and build upon that foundation. Kindergarten can be an overwhelming grade to teach. I look at my state standards (which are remarkably similar to those I had when I taught first grade several years ago…that bar just keeps being raised) and then I look at my students – this year over 7 of them JUST turned 5. They have only been on this planet for barely 5 years and we expect them to learn so much in the short year we have them. And they do. They learn to count to 100. They learn to read. They learn to make books that stay on topic. They learn about the monarch migration and how magnets work. They learn to solve problems, be independent, to tie their shoes and wash their hands after they go to the bathroom. They learn to use their words, be brave, be strong, put on their mittens, be kind and that they can make a difference in their world. We teach them all of these things, but we also believe in them. We believe they can do it. And they do.
And if we’ve done our job well, they will believe in themselves.
“I think that the best thing we can do for our children is to allow them to do things for themselves, allow them to be strong, allow them to experience life on their own terms, allow them to take the subway… let them be better people, let them believe more in themselves.” – C. JoyBell C.