Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Responsive Classroom - Interactive Modeling

This week I'm taking a Responsive Classroom Workshop.  I love their whole approach to classroom management.  Through Engaging Academics, Positive Community, Effective Management, and Developmental awareness, their four key domains, teachers learn to create a supportive learning environment for their students.

Today we spent a lot of time on the concept of Interactive Modeling.  So often teachers tell students to do something and then get frustrated with the child doesn't do it "the right way."  Something as simple as turning in homework can be done differently in each classroom and children need to know what "turn in your homework" looks like in your particular classroom.  To do this you need to use Interactive Modeling.

Interactive Modeling looks like...
  1. Say what you are going to model and why.  Make sure you are clear, concise, and connect it to one of your classroom rules.  "We agreed that we take care of our materials in this classroom.  To do that I want to make sure you know how to put the glue away when you're finished with it."
  2. Model the behavior.  Don't narrate, just silently model.  The children can't pay close attention to your actions if they are also trying to listen to your words.
  3. Ask the students what they noticed. "What did you notice me doing?" If necessary you can use prompts to make sure all of the steps have been verbalized.  "Yes, I did put the bottle into the box.  What color was the box? Yes, that's correct, the green box is for glue."
  4. Invite one or more students to model, just as you did.  
  5. Again, as the students what they noticed.  This should largely be a repetition of step three, and the responses should be similar. 
  6. Have all students practice.  Depending on what you are modeling you can have all students model immediately, or have them take turns through out the day or week.  If they aren't modeling immediately, be sure to tell them that they will get a chance soon.  "You will each get a chance to paint this week and when it is your turn I'll watch to make sure you remember the steps to clean the paint brushes."  In my glue example you can have them all practice right away if there are enough glue bottles. 
  7. Provide feedback.  Reinforce successes.  "I notice that you closed the top of the glue bottle before putting it in the box.  You are helping to take care of our materials in this classroom."
Interactive Modeling can be used to teach routines (like how to respond to an attention signal), social and emotional skills (such has how to decide who goes first), and academic skills (such as how to create a graphic organizer).  

Remember that although you modeled the expected behavior and had the children practice, there is always the chance that they will "forget" or just get a little lax about following the process.  You may likely have to remodel and have them repractice throughout the year, depending on the class and complexity of the task.  

Interactive Modeling allows you to teach children how processes and routines work in your classroom so everyone knows what is expected, providing the structure and organization needed for a calm learning environment.

For more information about Interactive Modeling you can check out the Responsive Classroom website.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Last day of school

Today was the last day of school for the children at my Montessori School. It was a day of cleaning up and graduation ceremonies, culminating with a family picnic in the classroom because of the stormy weather outside.
Although I am leaving on my own accord, a choice in which I am confident about, it was still a sad day of goodbyes and farewells. I will miss the families and children at the Montessori School. One thing I really like about working with younger kids is the involvement of the families. In the older grades children take the bus and from school and you can go all year only meeting the parents once or twice. With young kids you see parents (or caregivers) daily. In the Montessori program children stay in the same classroom for three years so you truly form deep bonds with them. Families are also very committed to the program and generally send all of their kids through. As I leave this year I said goodbye to the children in my classroom, the parents, and also the younger siblings that I see each day and who will be attending the school next year. One graduating boy was very sad that I was leaving because he had told his incoming sister all about me and she was excited to have me as her teacher.
I know I will find something even better for next year, but I will miss the connections I have made. I promised everyone that I would be “out and about” this summer, hitting up all the playgrounds with my kids, so maybe we’ll see each other again. It is a small community we all live in.
(I still have a few in-service days of cleaning and preparing for next year, so I’m not entirely done, but it was the final day for the children.)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Chocolate carrots?

"You smell like chocolate carrots!" said a girl to her classmate.

Those are my favorite kind!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


"Never do for a Child, what a Child can do for himself." - Rudolf Dreikurs

One thing I really like about the Montessori philosophy is the emphasis on independence.  Children are encouraged, from the very first day, to be independent.  As much as possible we take the time to teach them how to do things instead of just doing for them.  Children are taught self care skills like blowing their noses and fixing their hair.  I'm in 3-6yr old classroom where children are still learning these skills.  I see these children as very competent little beings and it often takes my by surprise.  I think back, not that long ago, to when my own children were this age and I don't remember them being nearly so capable.  I'm sure that has more to do with my parenting than their abilities.  It's interesting now to watch parents engage with their children before and after school.  Parents do so much for their children and I see the child quickly fall back into a passive role when their parents are around.  A child who can dress themselves fully for the outdoors will suddenly become helpless when Mom is right there, and Mom will jump right in and dress the child.  When parents come into the classroom to observe they are often surprised with how independent their child and the other children are  I've heard many parents say, "I wish my child would do this at home as well."  It has been interesting to observe this at the Montessori school and has encouraged me to raise my expectations for my own children at home.  So far they are living up to them!   I also think a lot about how I could encourage independence in children outside of the Montessori environment, and what independence would look like in a slightly older classroom, like my daughter's second grade.  I think at all ages children could stand a little more independence in school and at home.


"I got my flea shot, Miss Tessa.  Did you get your flea shot?"

Flu shot, my dear boy, I think you mean flu shot.  :)

Sunday, January 04, 2015


I reread a great article today about why kids fidget in school.  Fidget, move, bounce, pace, fall out of their chairs, flick things, and do all the other little things that make a teacher say (with more or less patience depending on the time of day) "Please just SIT STILL!" 

According to Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, in her article "Why so many kids can't sit still in school today," published in The Washington Post on July 8th of 2014, the up-tick in ADHD diagnosis can be attributed to the decrease in free play time children have these days.  She says that children today, compared with children from the 1980s, have decreased core strength, decreased balance, and underdeveloped vestibular (balance) systems - all due to the restricted movement children face these days.  She writes:

"The problem: children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters are a thing of the past. Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society."

This makes sense to me and I see it daily in my family and my classroom.  My own children are constantly flipping over, hanging upside down in their chairs, bouncing around, moving in odd fidgety ways, and just moving their bodies significantly more than adults do.   Sometimes it drives me crazy, but I try to be patient and remind myself that they NEED that movement.  They need to develop their balance and core strength.  Probably the adults could benefit from more of that as well!

In the classroom the kids often fall out of their chairs, run, skip, hop, and move in ways traditionally considered not appropriate in school.  At the Montessori school the children have extended recess time and go out in most any weather.  They are allowed to roll, climb (on the play structure), and run.  In the classroom we do expect them to move quietly and in control of their bodies, which some children can do and others definitely struggle with, but the Montessori philosophy incorporates movement naturally into many of the materials and children are rarely asked to sit for extended periods of time without movement. 

In a follow-up article published in The Washington Post on October 7th, 2014, Hanscom touches on the many ways teachers are trying to incorporate movement into the classroom, including yoga balls and movement breaks.  She says that while these small steps don't hurt, they really don't address the ultimate problem either.  Children need extended periods of time to move freely, as their minds and bodies dictate. 

The solution she seems to be getting at is more and longer recess time.  Many schools struggle with this solution because while it seems obvious, it is difficult to fit extended recess AND extended academic and test preparation into the same day.  There are only so many hours.  It can be argued that children can have higher quality learning in a shorter period of time (quality of quantity) if allowed more time for movement.  I haven't seen published data supporting that, but it's probably out there.

If you take a look at the map in her article you'll see there are significant differences in the rates of ADHD between states.  I wonder if schools that do have more recess time have lower rates of ADHD diagnosis.  I wonder if communities that promote healthier living (safe, quality playgrounds, bike baths, "walk to school" programs, etc.) have lower rates of ADHD diagnosis.  I wonder if communities could make the case for increased recess time, but also I wonder if more parents made free play a priority if we could together reduce the rates of ADHD diagnosis.  Instead of driving kids from one organized activity to another, instead of giving them iPads in the car and game systems in the house, instead of worrying about all the dangers of the world... if we just sent them out to play.  Or at least organized extended playground time with friends.   (All of my questions could probably be solved with some quality time on Google, but I don't have that time right now so for tonight they will remain questions.)

In the meantime, I think we can incorporate more movement and more understanding in the classroom.  Perhaps the kids can stretch our their legs or lay down during circle time.  Perhaps more walking around the room, or somersaulting, or skipping could be allowed.  I know it depends on the child, the teacher, the class, the room, and the school, but I also know that we can make steps in the right direction if we try.

I think we as parents, teachers, and caring community members need to work together to support our children's biological need to move, to develop their own bodies, to grow, and to thrive.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Ideas for Any Classroom

I've been in the Montessori classroom for over four months now and there are many aspects I really like. There are also many elements of the Montessori philosophy that can be applied in a general classroom, elements that I think would help a classroom run more smoothly and promote community and kindness in the classroom.

For example, in the Montessori classroom the teacher is quiet and should not be "the main event" or the central figure. In our classroom we speak in hushed voices and encourage the children to do so as well by teaching them about volume control and practicing silence.  When the teacher requires full group attention she will ring a small bell and, if appropriate, sing a short song, such as "It's time to put your work away and come to the rug."  When I first started here I was amazed at how quickly the quiet bell drew the children's attention.  The older children know to listen for it and the younger ones quickly learn. 

This could be implemented in other classrooms by using quiet voices, teachers and students, which requires people to move their bodies instead of just using their voices. Instead of a call across the classroom to a student, the teacher walks over and talks quietly to the child. Children are encouraged to do the same with their classmates and teachers.  A friend of mine, who teaches in a public school, recently said, "I wave my arms, dance around, raise my voice... what more can I do to get their attention?!"  I thought, hmm... maybe there is a better way.

The Montessori classroom is about building independence and self reliance in children.  Materials are placed at child-accessible heights, sinks and toilets are small, and children are encouraged to be as independent as possible.  This could be replicated in a public school setting by thinking through each request a student makes and deciding if that could be done more independently.  Do the students really need to ask to use the bathroom, get a tissue, or get a drink?  Do students know where to put their papers or find materials without assistance?  Of course it depends on the school and the children's age.  I think it is worthwhile to make the classroom as accessible as possible to promote confidence and independence in the students.

In the Montessori classroom the students have a lot of responsibility for themselves and others.  Each child has a job that they are responsible for completing each day.  We rotate the jobs every few weeks so the students get the opportunity to learn all of them.  Students also have more independence in group settings, such as show-and-tell where they chose who goes next, and lining up where one child may be asked to line the others up when they are ready.  The students offer their assistance to one another in the coat room when they are zipping coats and tying shoes.  These behaviors are encouraged and may could be replicated in any classroom setting, building both the child's independence and the overall sense of community.

Students in a Montessori classroom do much of their work on mats on the floor. This works well as they are each working on individual tasks.  The mats also help the children contain their work and define their work space.  Children are taught to keep their work on the mat and to be respectful of other people's mats.  In a public school classroom the children generally work at desks or tables, but perhaps in some situations working on mats would be helpful.  During free play time, keeping work (or toys) on the mats can help the child stay focused, and during work time some students may benefit from working on the floor instead of at a table or desk.  Having the mats available and the procedures defined promotes flexibility and independence.

At the core of the Montessori philosophy is that young children are rooted in the real, the "here and now" and learn best by doing practice, real-life activities.  Magic and fairies and stories are all fine for the older children, but for the young ones they need to be grounded in the real world.  Much of the materials or "work" in the Montessori classroom is focused on developing those real world skills.  Classrooms often have material focused on individual skills, such as buttoning, zipping, tying, snapping, polishing, folding, and washing.  These materials, while teaching individual skills, also build eye-hand coordination, encourage wrist and hand movements, and set the stage for successful writing movements later on.

While a public school classroom may not have the budget for all of the fine Montessori materials, much could be done with specific, targeted materials to help children develop the skills they need to be independent and confident, thereby setting them up for continued success in school.   

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


"Ms. Tessa, can you tuck in my ears?"   

Winter can be hard for bundled up four year olds! :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Montessori workshop - day two

On the second day of the Montessori workshop we focused on mathematics in the morning and science and history in the afternoon.

I love the Montessori mathematics curriculum!  Montessori starts by teaching quantity. Using teen beads and bead stairs and more, the children get lots of practice with counting. Then they are introduced to the symbols with teen boards.  The child is shown various numbers and told their name.  At this point the child has heard the number names before during all their counting practice and now they are starting to see symbols, another way to represent the numbers they have been practicing.  As the final step the child is shown the number and the correct beads together, thereby linking the quantity with the symbol.  At each step the child is allowed ample time to practice and learn the work.

The children go on to learn about "squared" and "cubed" using bead chains, decimal places using number cards and tangible materials, and then to addition and subtraction with the same materials.  Using individual units, the ten beads, and the 100s and 1000s wooden blocks (I need to be better at remembering the names of these materials!) the children get a very clear understanding of numbers, counting, and mathematics.  One of the workshop participants was amazed to see the "five cube chain" and learn that five cubed is just 5 x 5 x 5.  She had always thought that "cubed" meant multiplying the number by six because a cube has six sides.  Being able to see the tangible materials made the concept clear to her.

In the afternoon we talked about science and history.  The science curriculum includes the study of flowers, land and water, continents, and more.  She showed us many activities and tools that could be used and how to adapt them to different learning stages.

The Montessori history curriculum, she told us, is the study of the Earth's history and the passage of time.  They don't focus on human history (politics, wars, etc.) at this level.  She talked about demonstrating for students what a second feels like by asking them to jump or clap or perform some other task for one second. They do several repetitions with different actions to get the feeling of a second.  Then they discuss "collecting 60 seconds" to make a minute, repeating the activities for one minute each.  Then collecting 60 minutes into an hour, at which point she sets a timer for an hour and tells them to go off and do their work.  When the timer rings they regroup and discuss what they were able to get done in an hour.  Again, activities focused on making the intangible tangible.

She also showed us two cool materials she uses to discuss time and location.  The first is a months mat that shows the months, with a tangible item related to each one, in a circle around the sun, to reinforce the cyclical pattern of the months and seasons.

The second is a nesting box to show place.  The largest box represents the universe and then they come apart to show the galaxy, solar system, planet, continent, country, state, town (not in hers but should be!), school, and you.  The inner most piece is to represent the child. She used a small toy, but you could also use a photo or a mirror or some other representation.

Each box is painted in the theme of what it represents, such as stars, planets, flag, state bird, etc.

I don't want to rush summer vacation, but I'm excited to get into the classroom and see all of this with real students in real situations.  It almost sounds too good to be true,  but the instructor insists the students will get it.  I'm eager to explore the materials we have in our classroom as well.

As with any good workshop I came away with my initial questions answered, but so many more on my mind.  There are many things I'm going to ask my lead teacher and many other things I'm going to research on my own. A big one, that I will have to talk to the teacher about because it is teacher specific, is just how to keep track of it all!?  With so many presentations to make, most of them part of a series that scaffolds on a previous one, and each child working at their own pace, it seems like a challenge to keep track of who has been presented what, who has mastered and who is still working, and what presentation does each child need next.  I see a complex spreadsheet being necessary, but my teacher says she keeps it in a pretty little journal.  I'm going to have to study that!

We ended the day with a discussion on listening games, silence games, and the importance of supporting your fellow teachers.  It sounds like Montessori will be a wonderful place to work.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Montessori time

I'm excited to say I took a position as an assistant teacher at a local Montessori school.  I love the pace and philosophy of the Montessori curriculum and I'm excited to learn more about it.  This week I am at a Montessori Advanced Assistants course.  

Today's agenda covered the Montessori philosophy, the adult's role in the classroom, and a demonstration of practical life, sensorial, and language materials.  It was interesting to see all the different materials and learn how to present them, the Montessori version of a lesson.

One of the primary parts of the Montessori philosophy is the idea of allowing children uninterrupted work time.  Children are allowed to chose their activity and then work on it until they are done, without an adult interrupting with additional instruction or conversation.  This uninterrupted work time helps children develop their focus and extended attention span, something I think many of us are lacking! (I say as I type this blog, watch TV, and browse for a new audio book all at the same time!)  I think people these days have so much going on in their worlds that it's no surprise the rate of ADHD is on the rise, among kids and adults alike.  Montessori says to be respectful of a child's work time, a meditative time for the child.  

Another thing we discussed is the idea of modeling a complete lesson, from initial naming of the materials on the shelf ("this is the binomial cube") to proper transport, usage, cleanup, and replacement.  One participant said she can recognize Montessori graduates by their automatic completion of tasks, including returning materials to the appropriate places, something I've noticed most kids need frequent reminders about.  It is also important for the adult in any classroom environment to make it easy for a child to complete their task by having an organized and well prepared environment.

As part of the sensorial demonstration she showed us several triangle boxes consisting of flag triangular pieces that you use to create squares, rectangles, and more.  As I watched her modeling the presentation I started thinking about my time in 5th grade last fall and how so many of the students had trouble seeing the shapes within other shapes.  When calculating area and perimeter the teacher was asking them to break apart irregulars shapes and form them back into an easier shape to calculate. For example, you can "cut" a triangle off the end of a parallelagram and "move" it to the other side to create a rectangle. So many of the 5th grades struggled with seeing that, but children working with the Montessori materials in the primary years will have early exposure and will be able to understand the math concepts better when the time comes.

As I persue this Montessori path I'm going to have to work on my own attention span.  The instructor today emphasized the need for slow, distinct, and deliberate presentations.  She said to minimize discussion during presentations because if you are talking and do-ing at the same time, children, especially the very young ones, will tend to look at your face and not pay attention to your actions.  I had never thought of that, but it's so true.  Children do tend to look at your face while you talk, a habit that people seem to outgrow unfortunately.  I have the habit of narrating everything I do, which I believe is why my kids have very string vocabularies, however I'm going to have to work on quieting myself, focusing my efforts on clear, non-verbal modeling, and allowing the silence. 

Tomorrow we learn about math, science, and cultural studies.

Random fact: did you know that Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of South Park, are Montessori grads?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

It's official - I'm a teacher!

UVEI graduation was this evening.  After a long, hard-at-times year it is suddenly coming to an end.  Tonight was a shining example of the saying, "the days are long, but the years are short." 

Fall in fifth, spring in kindergarten.  Both had their pros and cons, and both were great.  I miss my fifth grade buddies and I know I will miss the kindergarteners as well.  They gave me a sweet book today in which each kiddo had drawn a picture of me and them and written a sentence about what they like to do with me or how they will miss me.  It was very sweet and made me feel very happy and loved.  I have two more days with them and then we’re out for the summer.

Tonight I graduated from UVEI and officially have my Elementary Teaching certification.  I’m certified to teacher K-8 in the great state of New Hampshire.  In the next week or so I’ll receive my license in the mail, then I’ll turn it around and get my VT license.  Then, maybe, I’ll get a job!

Hubby and the kids came to the ceremony tonight to continue their wonderful support of my new career.  I put them in charge of the camera and they did a great job! :)

This is my faculty coach speaking and my coaching group. It was a great group and I really enjoyed working and learning with them this year.

I got my teaching certificate and a family photo. It was a good evening!
We have two more days of school and then out for the summer.  I'm going to miss everyone and being in the classroom, but I'm also looking forward to some summer downtime!  

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A reading success!

I'm running a reading group in my kindergarten this spring.  I have four kiddos, all reading at the D level (F&P score).  Two are very motivated to read, but the other two try to race each other through the books, paying little attention to the actual process of learning.  They race because they are competitive, but also in part because the books are boring to them.  One of my racers is a boy and I've been trying to find something that would appeal to him as our books about puppies don't seem to do it.  I selected a non-fiction book about tadpoles and frogs with him in mind, but he wasn't interested and the girls squealed in disgust, much to my amusement!  We started a unit this week on "day and night" so I introduced a new book to the group called "Night Workers," about people who work at night.  He loved it!  The cover picture is a road construction vehicle in a tunnel at night and he was hooked before even opening the book!

Yesterday I asked my mentor teacher if it would be ok to let him read the book in front of the class.  It's not something we normally do, but I knew it would make him feel motivated and it was relevant to our day/night unit.  In How People Learn, John Bransford notes that social opportunities have an effect on a learner’s motivation, saying “young learners are highly motivated to write stories and draw pictures that they can share with others.”  He was excited about the idea, practiced his reading with diligence, and read the entire book to the class with pride.  I was equally proud of him!

In my classroom I would take the opportunity to let all students read to the class, if they wanted too.   There are A level readers in class who run over to me after reading group time to read their new book to me.  They are working with the para in the room and are so proud when they learn a new book.  I know they would be equally excited to read to the class.  I think it would also give the class a chance to practice understanding differences between students and a chance to encourage and support their fellow classmates, whatever their learning levels are.  Perhaps each day or each week there could be time for a couple of students to read to the class.  I think it would be a win-win for everyone!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Getting closer...

Only 14 days until I graduate and can be an official teacher!  Only 13 days of school left!  Eeek!  The year has flown by.  I applied for my NH license yesterday.  All online and easy-peasy.  Now I'm gathering things for my VT license.  That is completely offline and a bit more of a process.  It will be worth it in the end though, when I'm a classroom teacher next year! 

I want to write a delightfully detailed post here, describing all that I have been doing and feeling these last few weeks... but unfortunately I am completely "written" out!  I'm working on ten "competency narratives" showing my beliefs, understandings, and experiences with the ten teacher internship competencies for my UVEI portfolio.  I recently finished my 60 page TCAP project, and I'm now working on cover letters, resumes, and interview portfolio.  Writing, writing, writing!  My kiddos complain of having to write two sentences and it's all I can do not to pull out the stacks (e-stacks, it's all in Google Docs!) of writing I've been doing lately!

I've read a few great books this spring, including How People Learn, Multiple Intelligences, Mindsets, and The Continuum of Literacy Learning.  Some more interesting than other.  In full disclosure, also The Goldfinch and Inferno. :)  Gotta have a little fun in there!

There is a lot going on at school as well.  Reading groups, math story problems, day and night studies, and more.   We should get a few more good days of education before the summer slide sets in! 

I will be back soon with deep thoughts and insightful comments, but for now every thought I have is going into my competency narratives and cover letters.  Writing, writing, writing.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Over-Protected Kid

I recently read a great article in The Atlantic magazine (also online).  Hey! Parents, Leave Those Kids Alone, by Hanna Rosin, is all about the rise of the "over-protected kid" culture we now live in and what has been lost in childhood due to it.

As an educator and a parent I really connected with this article.  Rosin starts off at "The Land," an adventure playground that sounds much more theme-park like than it really is.  "The Land" is an acre-sized open space for kids to roam in North Wales, UK.  It has tire piles, pallets, a creek, mud, a fire-pit, and much more... all open and available for kids to explore.  I'm not sure if something like that exists in the lawsuit-happy USA, and if it did, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable leaving my kids.  "The Land" has a few adults who monitor the kids, interfering only in extreme situations, but generally staying out of the way and letting the kids roam free.  The reason being that "kids should face what to them seem like “really dangerous risks” and then conquer them alone."  This is what builds self-confidence and courage.

I agree with the idea.  I think kids are handed everything these days, being driven to playdates and sports practices, monitored 24/7.  I considered myself fairly laid-back as a parent, but even I find myself in irrational worry situations sometimes.  My kids, ages seven and eight, went on a "safari" around our neighborhood a few weeks ago.  They were super excited, packed up tons of stuff (bug collecting gear, a map, snacks, all the things they thought might be useful) and then went out.  I gave them firm boundaries, despite the fact that our neighborhood is quiet and safe.  The kids collected a few friends a long the way and had a great time, but I spent the entire two hours totally nervous when I couldn't see them from a window.  At one point they went inside a house to wait for friends to get ready and my heart started racing.  Oh no, I forgot to tell them not to go into houses!  I barely know that family (except they are elderly, raising grandkids, always very friendly when we see them outside, and have been known to bring over fresh-from-the-oven cookies to share) and now my kids are in their home!  Pure, irrational panic.  The kids were fine, of course, had a great time, and learned a few things about winter safaris.  In a different era that would have been a normal afternoon, not a parental milestone that took more courage for me than for them.

In the article Rosin also discusses the rise of playground safety standards, brought about largely by lawsuits in the 1970s.  Now playgrounds have very strict, very detailed, safety standards covering heights and angles of slides, spacing between bars, depth and type of padding below surfaces and much, much more.  Playgrounds have become so safe and sterile that children are bored by them.  Happening across an old playground is an exciting and novel experience for children.  I know of one playground that still has a merry-go-round, one that you can actually push and spin around, not a fancy musical one with slow moving horses.  Kids love it!  "Children are born with the instinct to take risks in play, because historically, learning to negotiate risk has been crucial to survival; in another era, they would have had to learn to run from some danger, defend themselves from others, be independent. Even today, growing up is a process of managing fears and learning to arrive at sound decisions. By engaging in risky play, children are effectively subjecting themselves to a form of exposure therapy, in which they force themselves to do the thing they’re afraid of in order to overcome their fear. But if they never go through that process, the fear can turn into a phobia."  Super-safe playground eliminate all risk, thereby eliminating opportunities for children to face their fears.

Are playgrounds safer now?  Do injury rates go down as playground safety standards go up?  Studies say no.  Because kids have this inborn need for risk they just use the playground structures in unintended, riskier way, like climbing on top of the covered slide, or walking across the top of the monkey-bars, in places where monkey bars are still allowed.  The "safer" the structures get, the more creative the kids get, or else they lose interest altogether, which is something we see on school playgrounds.  When kids go out for recess they are closely monitored by recess teachers enforcing strict rules such as no running in the structures, no climbing up the slides (something kids LOVE to do!), and no wrestling.  All intended to reduce injury at school, but also reducing risk and challenge for the kids.

I had recess duty one winter day and I saw a group of fifth grade boys wrestling in the snow.  I watched them for a few minutes and everyone seemed to be having fun, though one boy was frequently on the bottom.  At one point I went over, paused the game, and checked in with the bottom kid.  He was laughing and having a great time.  I walked away.  A few minutes later another recess teacher came over and separated the boys, reminding them of the "no wrestling" rule, a rule I wasn't aware of at the time.  I understand it from a school liability standpoint, by oh what a loss.  Fifth grade boys really need that opportunity to get their energy out, to run, and rough-house.  That's how they learn and grow, testing their strengths and weakness, testing their roles with dominance, testing their muscles, and just getting their physical energy out.  Instead they come in all wound up and bickering and we, as teacher, are supposed to push that aside and try to refocus them on academics.

I see the same thing in kindergarten each day.  The five year olds are bored of the play structure and instead find ways to bug each other, then bring the bickering back to the classroom.  There is no physical challenge for them at recess, no testing boundaries, no pushing themselves, no way for them to clearly work out the social dynamics they need to learn.  Instead they turn to teachers, asking the adults to work out every minor disagreement for them. 

A school in New Zealand agreed to participate in an experiment suspending all playground rules, "allowing the kids to run, climb trees, slide down a muddy hill, jump off swings, and play in a “loose-parts pit” that was like a mini adventure playground. The teachers feared chaos, but in fact what they got was less naughtiness and bullying—because the kids were too busy and engaged to want to cause trouble, the principal said."

Could we do that in this country?  Probably not, especially without written permission from the parents of every child.  Is it the ultimate answer to the problem, no, of course not, but I think it would be a start.  Suspend or perhaps just reduce the rules.  Of course that would require a change in liability, and a change in the parents' perspectives.  Change, Rosin says, will have to come from the parents.  She feels the culture is starting to slowly shift, with many parenting books appearing on shelves advocating a more relaxed, hands-off parenting style.  Change, I agree, will have to come from the parents, but as a parent I know it will be easier said than done. 

Monday, April 21, 2014


Last month I visited several other schools and classrooms.  I've done so both semesters, each time focusing on grades near my placement.  In the fall I visited 4/5/6 grade classrooms and last month I observed K/1 classrooms.  The purpose to is see how other classrooms are run, how other teachers do things, and to get more ideas about what type of school and classroom you'd like to have.  I love the idea and I'm so glad it's part of the UVEI program.

In one of the classrooms I observed the students were discussing the H brothers and practicing making their sounds.  The teacher had a neat chart to go with it and clearly the students were familiar with the story and enjoyed it.  I snapped a picture and brought it back to show my mentor teacher.  She loved the idea and asked if I'd make a poster for our classroom too.   Happily!

With inspiration from the first poster and a few I found on Pinterest, I made three digraph posters this weekend.  Three because I made one for her classroom, one for the other kindergarten teacher, and one for myself!

In this second picture the poster looks a little funny, but it's just because the top was curling up.  I didn't make fancy shaped edges.  I printed a copy of the H brothers story from Project Read and glued it to the back of the poster.  I laminated them at school this morning and now I'm looking forward to introducing this story and poster to my kindergarten class.

In my Internet wanderings I came across a few funny digraph YouTube videos as well.   A teacher put up a series of kid videos here and this is a totally silly video called We Are The H Brothers, with four grown men wearing Th/Ch/Sh/Wh t-shirts and doing very silly things.  There are a lot of resources out there these days!


Tuesday, April 15, 2014


This year UVEI is participating in the New Hampshire IHE Teacher Common Assessment of Performance (TCAP) program, a pilot program to design a state-wide teacher assessment.  I believe other states are doing similar things, all with the hope, I think, that it will go nationwide in the near future.

I like the idea of a common assessment so teachers are assessed using the same standards across the board, much like students with the Common Core State Standards.  I'm not saying they have to teach the same things or the same way, but it makes sense to me that there would be common factors in the assessments, much like the standards that exist for other professions.

This TCAP pilot program is not a requirement for UVEI, but they gave us the option and encouraged anyone to try.  I decided it would be a good way to challenge myself, pushing my learning at UVEI further.  It has given me the opportunity to think deeply about my lesson process, from the initial examination of the class through to the assessments and lesson reflections.  The whole process is considered.

For my lesson series I started with the Bridges in Mathematics program, which we use at my current school.  We were approaching a series of lessons around story problems, so I decided to do my TCAP project with that.  I created a four-part lesson series based on the Bridges program and tailored to my particular class.  I did case studies of several students and considered how to address their needs, and those of the class as a whole, in my lesson plans.

A student created story problem.

I then taught, recorded, and reflected on my lessons.  The lessons included acting out story problems, using sea creature plastic figures to create story problems with manipulatives, drawing our own story problems, and then solving the problems the students created.  The four-part series ended up being five lessons in total because the class thoroughly enjoyed the final lesson, solving story problems their peers had created, and wanted to continue past our available time.  For the fifth lesson we reviewed the first four, reviewed story problem solving strategies, and then tackled some of the more challenging problems the students had created. 

Using strategies to solve a story problem.

While teaching the lessons I made observational assessments on a formative assessment checklist I maintained throughout the lesson series.  I also collected the story problems the students created and I had them each solve one story problem on paper so I could collect that as well.  I scored those two work samples against a rubric I created for this project. 

I'm now in the final writing stages of the TCAP project, making sure I've addressed all of the questions answered, thoroughly analyzed my video clips, checked and double-checked my writing, and then checked it all over again.  Then I will submit it to UVEI and see where it goes from there.

Then, on to the next writing piece!  No shortage of planning, reflecting, and writing in a teacher's busy day!

Friday, April 11, 2014

A literacy conference

I went to the Vermont Council on Reading's spring conference today at the beautiful Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa.  The topic this year was "Building Literate Lives Through Common Core Standards" and Gay Su Pinnell was the keynote speaker.  In her introduction the presenter said it would be her last conference keynote event, but she seems far too energetic for this to be her last speaking engagement ever, so I'm not sure what exactly they meant by that.  For her keynote she talked about how to encourage a love of learning and the importance of reading for meaning and understanding, not just for speed.  "Giving the gift of a literate life should be our goal for our students," she said. 

In the afternoon Q&A she talked about leveled reading and the importance of not broadcasting a child's F&P level.  There was a discussion around whether or not to share the specific level with parents (she says no) and the pros and cons of doing so.  The pros being that parents want to know and it's an easy way to mark progress.  The cons being that it is important not to rank children by reading level and you run the risk of making it a competition.  Parents often don't understand the importance of fluency, not just speed reading.  Pinnell talked about fluency as involving many parts, including phrasing, pausing, word stress, intonation, rate, and integration.  There's more to it than just comprehension.  She recommended a book titled "The Art of Slow Reading," by Tom Newkirk as a starting point for thoughtful consideration of text.   

In the mid part of the day we attended breakout sessions.  I went to one called "Asking Questions, Answering Questions, and Everything in Between: Making Learning Visible with the Common Core Standards (K-8)."  I think they are just throwing the term "common core standards" at the end of everything these days!  Very little of the conference dealt with the CCSS at all.  The parts I attended anyway, perhaps some of the other breakout sessions touched on it more.  My breakout session had an interesting sounding title, but in truth had very little to do with making learning visible.  She did however have interesting thoughts on promoting social change.  She touched briefly on learning walls and demonstrated an interesting, interactive version of Reader's Theater which she called "imagery theater."  Using the book "The Story of Ruby Bridges", she showed us a way to pause the story (after having read it through to the children at least once, possibly several times), have students volunteer to play roles from the story and act out a scene.  At a pivotal moment have your actors freeze while the rest of the class walks around them, discussing what is going on and presenting alternative options for how the story could continue.  It creates a powerful way for children to change the outcome of a story, to be the agents of change. 

I had the good fortune to carpool with a fellow UVEI intern, so we had time for lots of great discussions and idea sharing.  Add in the sunshine and our lunch-time walk and I'd say it was a great day!

“We read in bed because reading is halfway between life and dreaming, our own consciousness in someone else's mind.”
― Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Assessment mistake

Last week I taught my kindergarten class a science unit on force and motion. It wasn't a unit I created, but one that an intern in the other kindergarten created last year and the teachers liked, so I offered to teach it this year. On the third day we did a hands-on experiment where the students each got a chance to push little wooden cars through four different buckets, each containing a different substance: wet sand, dry sand, water, and air. At the end of the lesson I gave them an assessment showing the four items and told them to X the one that took the most force and circle the one that took the least force. I was going to give them clipboards and spread them around the room, but we ran out of time so I just had them sit at their seats. I repeated the simple (or so I thought) two-step instructions several times and even looked around the room for a quick place to write them down, but nothing was convenient so I just repeated them again.

The first two students handed in correct sheets, then a third student handed in a sheet with three circles and one X. Two more marks than needed and completely invalidating the assessment. I grabbed my one remaining blank copy and started to re-explain the directions. Before I got far though, other students started handing in their papers and I noticed every kid hand marked all four items with Xs or circles. All of them did it! I sighed, shook my head, and just started collecting them.

When I showed my mentor teacher she just laughed. She said, "I knew, as soon as you gave two step directions, things would not go well!" She had chosen, wisely, to let me learn that lesson all on my own. We both had a good laugh.

The next morning I made more copies of the assessment and pulled the kids aside one by one, telling them I had given them incorrect directions and asking them to redo the task. Many of them found it amusing that the teacher had made a mistake.

For the final assessment at the end of the unit I was careful to take them through the directions one step at a time. "First circle all the things you can push," pause, pause, pause, "Next put an X through the things that are moving," etc. My final assessments came out much better! :)

Friday, March 21, 2014


I visited the Waldorf School this week as one of my grade level observations this semester. UVEI recommends visiting three schools/districts and observing classrooms at or around your current grade level placement. Last fall I visited three schools and observed in 4th, 5th, and 6th. This spring I'm visiting different schools and lower grades.

Of the many differences I noticed between the Waldorf School and the public schools I’ve been involved with, the pace was prominent. During my morning at the Waldorf School not once did I hear a teacher say to hurry up, which is something I feel we say constantly in kindergarten at my school. Our days feel so fast and I often feel like we are rushing the students from one activity to the next. Even snack is rushed so they can get their snow clothes on for recess. Lunch is rushed. The only thing not rushed is quiet time when we spend a half hour telling the kids to lay down and be quiet, but even that doesn’t feel calm.

Today we took the kids on a field trip and it was the epitome of rushed. We cleaned up early from free play in the morning, rushed through number corner and morning message, then hurried them through bathrooms and getting ready to go outside. We scurried to the bus and to our seats for the show. Then we sat and waited for half an hour before the show started, all the while telling the kids to sit down, sit still, be quiet. The show was nice, but very slow paced and some kids did better than others. When the lights came back on we sat for another 15 minutes telling the kids to be still and be quiet while we waited for our bus to be called. Once it was called we rushed down the stairs and out the door, only to find out it was the wrong bus, so we stood in the cold for another ten minutes waiting for our bus. Of course we were late getting back to school and therefore late for their already-rescheduled late lunch time. We zipped back up to the classroom, coats and boots off, lunch boxes in hand, and hurried down to the cafeteria for lunch. They had about ten minutes to eat before we had to rush them off again, already late to their special. One girl, who often gets stubborn and shuts down, was starting to protest the rushing and I ended up sitting with her in the cafeteria for an extra five minutes while she eagerly and actively ate her entire lunch. I made the executive decision that she needed a few minutes to breath and eat a healthy lunch more than she needed those five minutes of art class. I know I made the right decision too, because she kept it together for the rest of the day, which I doubt would have happened if I’d taken her lunch away and rushed her to class.

This was not a typical day, of course, and they aren’t usually that rushed, but they do move fast and we do spend a lot of time hurrying them from one place or activity to the next. I find the pace exhausting sometimes. At the Waldorf School, though, they moved slowly through the transitions. The teachers spoke in song (there was a lot of singing!) and the students were allowed time to complete their tasks. It was very nice and very calm.

That said, if you removed all academics from the public school schedule there’d be a lot less rushing as well. There must be a balance in there somewhere.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Solo week and play-dough

This week is my first solo week in kindergarten.  Yesterday was awesome and I was really looking forward to today.  I was up late last night making play-dough for a fun project around the Monsters Love Colors book.  I thought the kids would love it.  Unfortunately today did not go as well.  I think they were going easy on me yesterday and today they decided to test every single limit.  Every. Single. One!  Sigh.  So my play-dough is now sitting on the counter at school, next to the book and a big bag of googly eyes.  Maybe we'll get to it tomorrow.  Or maybe we'll have  snow day tomorrow.  You just never know with kindergarten in March.

In all fairness, the students did test every limit but I, being over tired from staying up late to make play-dough, did not respond as well as I should have.  There's always a lesson to learn.  I'm off to bed now so tomorrow WILL be a better day!

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Expert versus Novice

When I started my fall placement I thought my mentor teacher was a genius.  He had so much information in his head and was so quickly able to pull facts relating to the content, the teaching pedagogy, the class, and the individual students.  He saw trends in student behavior and scores without even looking in his grade book.  One day he taught a lesson, modified it slightly for the next class, then skipped a whole portion and modified it drastically for the third class.  We were teaching in a departmentalized fifth grade, which gave me the opportunity to observe or teach the same lesson three times in a row and learn from each one.  I asked him why he had modified the lesson so much for the third class and he said, "They were just off today.  I could tell from the moment they walked into the room."  I, on the other hand, could not tell at all.  By the end of the class period I could definitely see it, but not at the beginning.  I was also unable to keep all the information in my head and resorted to many, many notes.  I sometimes wondered if I had brainpower to be a teacher and keep track of so much information, a problem I had never had in my previous careers. 

When I started my second placement I was again impressed with how much information the teacher seemed to have in her head, but I also noticed that I felt a little more confident and able to hold some of the same information.  Like maybe, given time, I too could manage it all.

Recently I started reading How People Learn, by the National Research Council, and it's all starting to make sense.  One of the chapters talks about experts versus novices and the different ways they attain, process, and retain knowledge.  They say that experts are able to see meaningful patterns in information and are able to organize knowledge into "big ideas" for more efficient storage.  Novices, on the other hand, don't have the background knowledge yet to see meaningful patterns, so novices are simply trying to retain all information with no meaningful way to store it.  Chris Jernstedt, Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College, agreed, saying "the amateur is taking in way too much information and needs help learning how to discriminate what is important."  (UVEI seminar, 10/29/2013)

In addition to knowing what information to store and how, experts also have more efficient retrieval of knowledge because it has been "conditionalized," meaning it includes not only the knowledge but also the contexts in which that knowledge would be useful.  Expert teachers know not only what information to store, but also why and how that information will be useful in the future. 

The book then takes it a step further to discuss adaptive expertise and the idea of meta-cognition, which the authors define as "the ability to monitor one's current level of understanding and decide when it is not adequate."   [How People Learn, p47]  Maybe that's the step that elevates one from good to great, the ability to monitor your own understanding and press further when you feel it's not enough. 

While I still believe my two mentor teachers are geniuses,  I now understand better the skills they have have developed over time as they moved from novice to expert teachers.  It took many years and lots of practice learning what information is important, what patterns to look for, how to group information into "big ideas" and how to effectively store and retrieve that information.  

"The ability to recognize the limits of one's current knowledge, then take steps to remedy the situation, is extremely important for learners of all ages."  [How People Learn, p47]