Monday, November 27, 2017

The Next Step

The Next Step

Let's discuss the "So What"
It is here that teacher's must think deeply about "what" will make the topic choice a rich and meaningful project. So many ideas float around in a day and its impossible to pursue them all. We must look for ones that will leave the children enriched.
We look at what we hope the children will gain on the journey.
If we can validate the choice then the topic is worth exploring. That is the so what.
 Like the children, each time we encounter a topic we expand our knowledge base.
The So What of the community project
In order to thrive everyone must feel connected to other people. 
Communities are part of life.
More that just a place to live it is a place of people, voices, shared space, rituals and customs. Coming form the Latin term  meaning "with gifts" the term suggests a general sense of humanity, reciprocity and a shared practice of doing good for others that comes from working together for a joint purpose.

If we give credence to the old African proverb that “it takes a village to raise a child” then we can
understand the impact that community has in
helping us raise our children.

Children need more that just supportive parents. As they branch outside the home they require a larger support network to grow into healthy citizens.

It is a child’s right to expect the community to provide them safe neighborhoods, adults who are good role models and dedicated teachers and politicians who keep children's rights at the forefront.
When children feel a connectivity to their
community they are more apt to develop a sense of civic and social responsibility. They build trust, learn to resolve conflicts peacefully and have a genuine sense of caring for others.
Given this premise we move forward to engage our children in this exploration.

The initial provocation to build a community left us with a good base to begin our work.
We had many questions and thoughts to plot out a plan of attack.
What forms of the Hundred Languages would the children use?

What would be addressed first?

As we move along in sharing our work, I'd like you to bear in mind that no project is ever linear. It does not follow a direct path. We often find ourselves going in circles, returning to a previous thought sometimes weeks after the idea was initially addressed and explored.
The framework for the community was up and the discussions continued among the children and teachers.
After each of the children added their homes we began to add elements such as street signs, people, vehicles, and community building.
While we worked the children demonstrated a sound understanding of the physical elements that come together to make a community.
When we begin to work with the children on their questions and thoughts around a topic we call this the "Now What."

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Beginning of a Class Project

Over the course of the last few months, I've received many emails asking me to post the evolution of a class project.
I'm sharing this one in hopes that it helps those who are struggling with finding their path.
I must stress that this is only our way of working and it should be used as a guideline if it fits your practice.
Most school years, project topics present themselves quite readily. However this year, there hasn't been much buzz about one particular area of interest. There are many smaller experiences floating about as well as our work on the changes in the season and all that it presents.
We decided that a provocation was needed so we decided to see if we could somehow expand our inquiry into what makes each of us unique. The children had already made their portraits and addressed what makes them special.

 We considered the possibility of inviting the children to consider how each of them fit into their community.
Communities are made up of individuals all working for a common purpose. Each person brings their own talents and skills to the table.
However,  before we could delve into the work we would first have to see WHAT  their understanding of community was.
WHAT is a community?
As expected the children offered the physical aspects of a community.
It's where we live.
It's the places we go, church, school, grocery store, community centre, daycare...
This was our launching point.
The entire classroom was cleared of furniture and the children were invited to create the  places that make up our community.

You will notice that I have highlighted the WHAT. This is the first part of your work as a teacher.
What is the topic choice?
What do the children know?

This will lead into the SO WHAT
Now that you have a topic you must validate the choice you have made.
So what will you do with the choice.
So what comes next?
If you can validate the WHAT with the SO WHAT your project will take off.

Had the children not responded to the teacher's invitation, this project would not have taken flight.

To enhance their structures, we added drawings onto the overhead projector.
Finding the space for all their ideas is challenging and this is a great way to boost the work!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Learn One New Thing Each Day!

People, especially teachers, should wake up each day charged with the desire to learn or experience new things.
This keeps life interesting and helps us to become the best version of ourselves.
When we stop seeking, inquiring, researching and reinventing our perspectives, we grow old, dull and complacent.
Complacency is a teacher's downfall. Days, months and years of repeating the same experiences, rolling aimlessly from one day to the next and never finding joy in the moment makes a dreary classroom.
We see this in the teachers who flutter from one job to the next. They are the lifeless, the disengaged, seeking environmental change to motivate them.
The truth is that these grasshoppers lack internal commitment to their craft.
Children are children and the work is the work  no matter where you hang your hat.
It's astonishing to see how many "teachers" lack the ability to form meaningful relationships. This is a core flaw, not in teaching skills, but in a person's foundation.
Without relationships there is no meaningful exchange between teachers and children.
These types of educators bring little to their classrooms; they do not seek new knowledge or experiences. They are doldrums. 

There is a simple recipe to to making "Teacher Pie"
Mix a dash of anticipation for each new day.
Throw in a cup full of excitement.
A pinch of attention to detail.
A sprinkling of inquiry.
A heaping tablespoon of care.

Bake at high heat for a lifetime of learning and inspiration.

Happy Harvest Everyone!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Smoke and Mirrors

I often wonder when I look at Instagram, Facebook and blog posts how much is authentic and how much is smoke and mirrors. I know firsthand that teachers face many challenges in working in a Reggio Inspired context. The smoke and mirror happens when the fundamentals are missing. Not only is the understanding of the guiding principles and processes involved falling short but the ability to BE a teacher is falling short. The question is, is it happening at the college and university level? Why aren't graduates ready to delve into their work?

Let us consider that to know a practice, trade or skill you must live it. Only a surgeon who has performed open heart surgery can teach another how to do it.  This must also be the case with teachers of teachers, not only those who educate us in colleges and universities, but also those who seek to support teachers through workshops, courses and mentoring. They should have been or be practitioners of what they are seeking to teach. Only those who work in the trenches can know the challenges and how to face them. This, however, is just my opinion and I am a small grain of sand on a vast beach!
There are many considerations when it come to managing a classroom. Beyond providing enriched environments, provocations, supporting ongoing projects, daily experiences, documenting…. teachers are charged with daily routines, orienting new staff, mentoring student teachers, supporting children with specials needs, managing children who are stressed and struggle with self regulation, consoling new children and keeping abreast of the mountain of policies and procedures mandated under the Child Care and Early Years Act.

How do we go beyond the smoke and mirrors?
Let me begin by saying that any teacher, whether an ECE, elementary or high school teacher must have a deep and abiding respect for childhood while having the same dispositions she seeks to support in her students:
·         thinking and communicating with clarity and precision;
·         listening with understanding and empathy;
·         creating, imagining, and innovating;
·         thinking flexibly;
·         responding with wonderment and awe;
·         thinking about thinking (meta cognition);
·         taking responsible risks;
·         striving for accuracy;
·         questioning and posing problems;
·         thinking interdependently;
·         applying past knowledge to new situations;
·         remaining open to continuous learning;
·         being able to engage in conversation;
·         forming meaningful relationships.
She must be joyful, laugh easily, and be able to find humour in the chaos. She must have a strong VOICE! Learning does not happen in silence.
It is not easy to manage and support authentic inspired processes.
However, it is effortless to snap a photo of a child engaged in what looks like a beautifully inspired experience and then manipulate the document to suit the need to produce pedagogical documentation. I believe this happens more often than not.
Meaningful exchange between children, and children and teachers requires uninterrupted time, tranquil settings, and respect for process. The final product is not what we seek.

Yet, time is a teacher’s nemesis. How much of the day is dedicated to “work”? 
Routines, breakfast, lunch, snack, toileting, nap and prepping for outdoor play especially in winter takes up 2/3 of the day leaving an hour or two at best to do “the work.” 
Somewhere in between she has to prepare and post documentation, discourse with their team and gather thoughts and plans on how to proceed the next day. At any given time she may be managing well over 10 experiences and projects.

There is hope!
Here are a few tips for good practice;
1. Visit authentic settings. Not necessarily those advocated by a workshop host who may have a tie to particular settings but one you have researched. There are some hidden gems out there!
2.  Read articles, find workshops that are given by people who have lived the practice they share. This is not to say that there are not excellent professors who host exceptional workshops or who speak at conferences. They are part of the learning journey! Do not insult your intelligence when you make a choice about what to attend.
3   Take your work home. There is no way to avoid it. Authentic practice takes time which is not easily gained during the business of the classroom;
4.       Have a strong voice, converse with your students not just at them;
5.       Work as part of a team-no man is an island and good practice needs support;

The journey is long.  Do not rush to the finish line because you will never get there!

Happy trails my friends!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Conformity or Change

Are you riding the wave of conformity or going against the grain?

Conformity is so easy. No hurtles, no obstacles, just riding the wave of what is common and easy. 

Imagine what it would feel like to be a teacher who sets new standards, someone who dares to challenge the norm and gives rise to a new reality of working with children.

Taking the challenge to change will bring about an infinite amount of experiences like the one you see below.

Ultimately, the change has to happen for the right reasons. As teachers and people we have to be true to what we believe. We cannot jump on the wagon because everyone else is doing so. 

I was never one to conform to practices that did not work in unison with my vision of what an educational system for young children should be.

For me shattering the bonds of conformity was liberating!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Questions are not Always the Answer

Over the course of the last year, I've been listening carefully to the discourses that transpire between children and teachers. 
My observations have led me to question the process of questioning young children while they work.

Many times the teacher's chattering, about much of nothing, overshadowed the children's work. Other times the silence could be sliced like a piece of cake.
Then I wondered, do we question other adults incessantly like we question young children or do we observe them to discern what they are doing and thinking? After all aren't our actions conveyors of messages?
Perhaps meaningful observations are what we should focus more of our time on. 
Of all the scenarios I observed, 
few had thoughtful 
 context, common sense and respect for the intelligence of the child. Not because the teachers didn't care but more because they didn't  know how.
Meaningless questions and empty discourse does more harm than silence.

Questions such as what colour did you use in your painting hold little sway in sparking an intelligent exchange. 

What is the answer then to the dilemma of asking good questions.

The truth is the focus must lie on thoughtful provocations, intelligent materials, a sound knowledge in child development so key areas can be easily identified without prodding the child for obvious answers. We must know our students and the hundred languages they engage to know the world and make sense of their experiences.

If teachers master this then the rest comes easily and learning truly happens.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Next Day

We returned to our loose part studio the next day to continue our work on the story,
The Giving Tree. The girls decided they wanted to make a life size representation of the tree. They selected materials that were made of wood keeping in line with our original provocation of using only gifts offered by trees.
When they finished the tree, they turned their attention to making the boy. They agreed that he would have to be large enough to fit under the tree.
It was interesting that Hannah drew a heart on his shirt.
~Why did you place the heart there. He doesn't have one in the book?
Hannah~I put it there because he should learn to have a heart. That way he can be happy for all the gifts the tree gave him and love the tree. Then he won't be selfish!
Venus~That's right because the tree sacrificed herself for him.
When the tree was done and the boy was placed beneath her branches, I asked the girls if we were done our work or did they want to continue on.
They told  me they were done. And so we ended the experience. 
As their teacher was I content with the outcome?
Most certainly I was. We had spend two days together discussing the value of the gifts offered by nature. We read a loving story and engaged in the use of loose parts. That all afforded me insight into their level of thinking and understanding.
A few days well spent!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Nature's Gift

The Love of A Tree
April 25, 2017

Yesterday Venus and Emma worked in the studio. There was no plan for the morning so I offered them an invitation.
~Can you find materials made of only wood?
They were receptive to the suggestion and pieced
together a wood totem using cardboard cylinder, wood slabs, tree bark, wine corks, and a few other pieces.
As they worked,
I asked~Where does wood come from? 
The girls thought about it for a moment but were not
I knew they knew the answer but nudged them a little.
~What grows in the forest, is tall and full of leaves? 
~Trees, wood comes from trees~ Emma
 ~Nature offers us so many beautiful things doesn’t it?
When the girls were done they returned to their classroom with the promise of continuing the work the next day.
The next day I asked the original girls as well as Hannah to meet me in the studio where we read.
The Giving Tree
The discussion, after reading the story, outlined how the girls understood the gifts offered by the tree; the shade of her branches, the fruit that she bore, the wood to provide the shelter of a home and the trunk of her tree to fashion a boat.
They learned a new word, sacrifice. The tree offered all she had for her love of the boy.
We talked about how selfish the boy was because he cared only for himself.
The girls drew representations of the story. 
Join us tomorrow as we plan to make a loose part representation of the story line.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


For those of us who are seasoned in working in an authentic inspired learning context, it's often frustrating when we encounter, for a lack of a better word, copy cat work.
Social media is as much as tool as it is a hindrance to teachers.
Images inspire us to want to do the same work with our students but work without context and meaning offers very little to children.

Similarly taking courses and participating in workshops may often leave teachers feeling more frustrated and "lost" than inspired.
My thinking is that the best teachers of teachers are those who have worked in the trenches.

To know a methodology well you must live it, practice it and believe in it before you can teach it to others.

Perhaps adopting this mindset can help you in your quest.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Teachable Moments

There are many moments during the course of a day when teacher's find, what is called, teachable moments. They are embedded in the ordinary, in the things that children do simply because it is wonderful to be a child.
Such was the case when this group of children put together their snowman, Snowcone.
He could have been just a snowman. Instead the teacher took the opportunity to entice the children to give their snowman a sense of identity and to create a short story.
The art of telling a story that comprises of a main character, a setting and plot is key in the development of literary skills.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Meet the Monsters

Meet a few of the Monsters of Reggio Kids.

Why give voice to an interest such as monsters?

 After all, are they not just imaginative creatures that are best left in story books? 
Children's fascination with monsters, mystical creatures and superheros is unprecedented, something that pop culture manipulates through movies and toy sales.

Monsters capture the attention and imagination of young children because of their odd appearances and super human traits. When children create monsters through drawings, clay, or loose parts they feel empowered. Sometimes this helps them to conquer their own fears and inhibitions.

 Further to this, these spectacular creatures provide a perfect opportunity to support literacy through rich dialogue and story telling. Often times stories told using monsters as the main characters, end up containing battles over right choices, kind acts, good verses evil, building on children's moral character.

As we work through the stories with the children we get insight into what makes them tick!

Is their monster a reflection of themselves or a struggle they are experiencing?
Does their monster possess power over the elements; fire, water, wind-lending us a peak at children's scientific knowledge.

Their monsters may know their shapes, alphabet,or phonetics.

The children are currently working on a story board using their monsters as the characters. The moral of the story; everyone is different and they should not be excluded because of the differences.
Instead unique qualities are what makes them, monsters included, so very special!