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early learning

getting-started-with-inquiry

This is a monograph about getting started with inquiry.  There is a list on the last page that gives 6 tips on how to get started with inquiry  http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/CBS_StudentInquiry.pdf 

This great line….

Inquiry allows students to make decisions about their learning and to take responsibility for it.
 
 

 

why-document-student-learning

Today I had an opportunity to read through some research on why documentation is important to student learning. In the attached article http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/CBS_Pedagogical.pdf there is some great reference points about how students learn and think and how we as teachers extend our understanding of documentation as we discuss, share and collaborate with colleagues.  Another topic that was interesting was peer feedback.  I tried this informally late last year and when I felt they were ready.  I also tried a form of strengths and next steps (one star, one wish) in  my literacy assessment. It was a great opportunity to have a conversation about the student work.   Again, I did this in late February.  I was amazed at how they were able to share not only what they are good at, but where they need to improve!! 

Another important part that stood out the most for me was the accountability.  We are constantly defending the play-based learning approach to parents, the public and what better way to display learning through prompts, pictures, and questioning.  Display student work with their dialogue, questioning. Have their portfolios out and accessible for them to refer back to, display learning over time–history from previous years.  Create a communication board on inquiry and show students engaged in learning!      Have a read and enjoy!

differentiated-instruction

As we get to know our students and document their learning, you will discover that every child will learn at their own pace.  In the Kindergarten program there is ample opportunity to differentiate instruction for children throughout the various centres and they can begin where they are comfortable. 

An example of differentiating instruction that was supportive in strengthening skills in literacy was to use visuals. When I chose my read aloud for the week, I ensured that when we discussed “characters”(for example) I had copied pictures either photocopied or in colour, I also included a drama piece when we focused on retelling the story.  When it came time to work one-on-one to test comprehension, I often used the pictures of the characters to help them.  Another idea that I also used was to photocopy 5 main parts of the story and have the children assemble it in order and orally tell me what they remembered from the story.

In looking at the environment of the classroom, surely posting up student work to display what they have learned makes them feel valued.  Posting pictures of the students while completing various tasks, displaying learning charts/anchor charts from the inquiry process with children’s names next to their ideas, and having clear learning goals discussed and displayed in the centres helps guide learning in the classroom.  It also displays to parents what the children are learning.  The entire classroom environment sets the tone for learning and really shows what is valued and important.  In our school we have implemented a program called First Steps.  We talk about setting rules for circle time through simple songs, being respectful, and we centre on student strengths.  Attached is a great checklist to reflect on your classroom and school environment http://earlylearningcentral.ca/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/R-of-M-grade-1-creating-the-whole-school-learning-environemnt.pdf .  Reflecting the culture of your students into the classroom also provides a great learning point.  Since most of my students are from an aboriginal background we discuss the medicine wheel and how it ties into nature.  I have framed pictures of the students dancing in powwows, books and artifacts are displayed around the room.  Reading resources have been easily integrated into my reading program.  The use of visuals (pictures, book, artifacts)  have been introduced in my oral language groups as a starting point for discussions. 

If children have special needs, an IEP is a place where you would need to document specific learning instruction (accommodations)  that will best meet the students learning goals.  In Kindergarten, it starts with clear goals, visuals, and oral discussion for them to be successful.

communicating-with-parents

Communicating with parents on a regular basis provides them with information about what their child is learning.  Begin a parent of a school age child and not always getting the answers to “what did you learn today?”, I have a new appreciation for the monthly newsletter!  Communicating with parents and developing that open communication right from the beginning of the school year allows educators to develop a rapport and it allows parents to provide us with information about their child.  The link below will provide some ideas on how to engage parents throughout the year and during conferences.  http://earlylearningcentral.ca/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/assesment-v14-35-36-comm-w-parents-used-oct-29.pdf

Last year I revamped my newsletters and tailored them to show “what” we are currently learning as opposed to what we “will” be learning.  The layout was about 8 pages and it was in a book format.  I shared pictures of students engaged in learning with the oral conversations listed below.  I tried to include about 10 students or so and if I missed anyone I included them in the following newsletter.  I focused on our inquiry projects, but also included the activities that related to math, literacy etc.  On the last page I created a section for parents to provide me with feedback about what they saw or anything that they wanted to learn more about.  Be sure to check permissions before sending out photos!

I really enjoyed creating these newsletters and it was relevant to what we were doing.  Any upcoming events or information I need to pass along outside of the learning, I created a small section and kept it brief—my point was to showcase the student learning!   Well worth the extra time.

is important because it gives parents an idea of what the children are learning and certainly includes them in the learning going on in the classroom.

documentation

Documenting the learning of our students can often be a daunting and overwhelming task.  Keeping focused on what we need to find out about our children and deciding on open-ended question prior to the activities can narrow the focus.  Some focused questions to get you thinking about your students are;  What do I need to find out about them as learners?  What do I need to learn in order to plan a program for them?  What do I need to see children demonstrating? 

Keeping the oral conversation open at a centre allows us to collect a great wealth of information.  What we planned may not go as we expected, but it may teach us a whole lot about how our students learn.   At times, I have planned in my mind what I think they will do and I have my open-ended questions handy to start the conversation, but by placing out materials that are interesting, the students will lead the conversation in new directions and I will carefully as questions as needed.  This is good!  We will learn from them! 

When do we observe?  Observation should happen daily and early on in the school year.  It is part of what we do in the classroom to plan for student learning.  Gathering a base-line early on in the year, and then seeing a progression as they are learning new things.  Placing yourself in discrete positions around the room may be something to consider so that you do not interfere with the natural play and they will not rely on you for answers or help.  Daily observations are either planned or incidental.  For the incidental observations,  I may over hear something, or see someone doing something new–for these moments I always have a clipboard with blank paper on hand and my Ipod charged!  For the planned observations there are many ways to keep things organized. 

Some ideas of how to record learning that have worked for me are;

-notebook or blank paper on clipboard to record anecdotal notes

-pre-made observations sheets with children’s names in each square

-An Ipod to record conversations and take photos  ( I type these up later)

-index cards that can be moved into a child’s individual folder or sticky notes

For photos, I have seen teachers display a digital photo frame in their classrooms!

Once I have this information collected and depending on the learning goal—I use the pictures and conversations in my newsletters to display learning to parents, I display dialogue and pictures in the classroom on poster board, and I create learning stories/classroom books to add to our reading centre. 

Assessment That Informs Instruction in the Thinking it Through resources shares other ideas around observation and documentation.  http://earlylearningcentral.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/documentingthroughplay.pdf  Primarily Play is also a great resource for grades 1-3 that has a section on documenting learning. http://earlylearningcentral.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/makingdocumentation.pdf

opportunity-to-engage-in-centres

Play is critical to learning. Children learn best when they can play, explore their world and  interact and talk with adults and peers. From personal experience, I have seen some students disengage with mindless tasks quickly and you may even see some different behaviours.

Centres are an excellent way to share the oral language experience, see their personalities and creativity, and to collect great assessment information.  I often carry around a clipboard with both blank paper, and paper divided into  squares where I can record a child’s name.  You just never know what is going to happen as you share…..

When planning a centre think of these:

  • What is my big ideas, my goal that I am trying to achieve?
  • What are my open-ended questions (2 or 3) so I can begin the conversation? Oral language assessing?
  • Do I have enough materials that they can explore?
  • Pause and Reflect on what you see and hear from your students?

Listeded below are some links within this site that discuss the importance of play.

Colouring sheets to materials that will explore their creativity……..

Research on play vs worksheets http://ultimateblockparty.ca/home/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Play-or-worksheets.pdf

Playing is learning http://ultimateblockparty.ca/home/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Planning-for-Play.pdf

The importance of play http://earlylearningcentral.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/importanceplay.pdf

classroom-environment

When thinking about your classroom organization for the students attending in the next few weeks, the Thinking it Through document -Learning Centres booklet starting on p.9 makes some great points to ponder when reflecting on your classroom set-up. http://earlylearningcentral.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/TIT-aug-8.pdf

  •  The classroom should be warm and inviting to students, and the Reggio Emilia approach is to have the classroom serve as a “third teacher”. 
  • the environment reflects our values as teachers, and informs and shapes the kind of learning that will happen
  • consider positioning of centres (loud vs quiet), flow
  • include natural materials as much as possible-in my science centre I have pine cones, rocks, twigs, leaves just a few to start off and then the children will be responsible to help build this centre
  • think about large and small groupings-tables in my classroom  are incorporated into centres as well as for snack.  This way they have a multi-purpose and it reduces the amount of large furniture.  I also have no desk, but I have 2 filing cabinets one for my daybook and supplies and the other for files.
  • p. 15-17 poses some reflective questions to consider in classroom set-up
  • starting on p.32 some recommended learning centres are listed discussing there purpose, observation pts, material lists, furniture, and a suggestion for location.

In our classroom, my ECE partner and myself think about making it a “home like” environment where the walls have little commercial bought products, but picture frames handing where we will eventually display children’s art work.  I purchased a few plants, we are going to add some lamps to create a cozy feeling in our reading corner, and last year we had some birch branches cemented into flower pots and strung with white Christmas lights to add that outdoor feel to our science centre.  In the first few weeks we have just enough materials out, so that we can observe, establish routines in the classroom, get to know the children and their strengths, and to see what they need to develop their learning.  Some centres are permanent like building, but the items within it will change.

home-communication

Making the personal connection before school even begins may relieve some anxiety for those little ones entering a formal school setting for the first time.  Sending a hello note or a phone call to introduce yourself is a great way to break the ice. 

Myself and my ECE partner work together to create a JK handbook that informs parents about things like lunch/snack, clothing, communicating with notes, bookbag routines etc.  When they come for their first half day we discuss with parents all this information and answer any questions they may have.  Our board gives every new student a bookbag when they start JK. In this bag we place notes and reading books (started after Christmas) to ensure safe, dry delivery to home.  In the past I used very large ziplock bags with the child’s name on the cover or you can also purchase nylon bags from the dollar store that are more durable.

Regular communication is important for parents and students.  The later part of this school year I changed how I prepared and presented my newsletters.  Firstly, have always sent my letters home in the form of a book  to encourage reading.  The material in the letters no longer tell what we will be doing in the classroom over the month or so, but what we have done in our inquiry projects with authentic pictures and kid writing.  I do however leave a very small space to inform parents of anything like fieldtrips, an important upcoming event, but the newsletter now reflects the students and what they find to be important learning in our classroom.  It is more work, but the students just love it and it gives me an opportunity to sit with children and ask them what they want to include.  It is a good time for me to reflect as an educator on what the children have enjoyed and remembered doing.