Friday, January 11, 2013

The Problem with a Plan

Planning in Kindergarten is most definitely a challenging process. Uniquely in Kindergarten, there are not "units" of study that guide your instruction. In my experience it is not a linear process in which after teaching "addition", for example, all of the students will move onto the next concept of "subtraction".

In fact, the entire Kindergarten curriculum is (in my opinion) very cyclical. There isn't a starting and ending point ... and there definitely is not a defined order. That being said, the children will weave their learning through various areas and expectations of curriculum at different times in the year and at much different paces. For many educators wrapping your head around tracking all of this learning can be very overwhelming.

We have a structured day and schedule that provides large open blocks of time for play. During this time, the teachers and DECE's in our room interact with children in play to extend their thinking, to learn alongside the children, and to document their understanding of the world. We also use this time to provide small group instruction to students.

Here is where it gets do you possibly engage with all students, in all areas, every week? I think the first step is that you need to trust yourself as an educator. Children will naturally engage in all currriculum areas through play and with some guidance and direction they will engage with all areas.

As a team this year, we have found that this is where we need to collaborate to determine the "needs" of each student. A student may participate in a small group or project work focusing on art one week, personal social skills the next week, and writing the following week. In play, they likely engage in all areas most days!

The other challenge that I always find in this planning process is that sometimes in play a more genuine opportunity comes up...or exciting learning begins that draws you in when you had planned a small group. This is where that flexibility in teaching comes in and where we as educators need to leave our agenda at the door. If I have a math problem planned for the week, but something more genuine comes up in play I will embrace the problem and set my plan aside. I will reschedule a small group if something comes up in play that engages the children and draws me in to learn alongside them or to document.

To stay accountable and collect information about students our team feels confident and happy with the process we have developed this year. My partners have tabbed notebooks with sections for notes on each student as well as project/group work. Myself personally, I use "Notability" an incredible app on my iPad. In Notability I have a folder for each student and folders for projects or group experiences.

We found last year that collecting data and information this way was very successful and helped to keep us informed in the students areas of strength, need, and their interests. Where we struggled was ensuring that we were observing all children in all areas. This year to feel more comprehensive, we added a new process that has helped us to really deeply analyze our documentation and learning stories.

In each domain in the curriculum (Personal Social, Language, Math, Physical Education, and the Arts), we meet and discuss the children in more depth recording our collective thinking on a class profile. For example, we will come together as a team and decide to discuss Writing. We then begin with "Bob" and talk about what we all notice in the various contexts in the classroom. Our discussions are always rich with interesting observations.

Does this child demonstrate their skills in a variety of ways, places, and contexts? This process allows us to discuss similarities and differences in what we are noticing about the children in the specific area. I always find it fascinating when we all see the same thing in a child, but in different ways in the room. We also find it interesting when we see gaps in learning based on the different contexts of their play.

After discussing all of our children within an area - we are able to use our collective assessment to find patterns and gaps in children's knowledge. We plan small group and large group lessons using the information and we have rich discussions about provocations that would engage the children's thinking and support their academic needs.

When using this profile, we do not collect the information on it throughout the week or month. We use our own methods to collect data and THEN we synthesize our documentation together as a team after a period of time. We do not use a regimented profile with headings that indicate where children are in their learning. Instead, the profile is simple a blank box where we record what we know about the child. We find this to be much less restrictive than premade templates.

Although I feel more confident in our assessment and planning process I feel like we continue to learn and refine how to make this process more efficient everyday.

Somedays I wish the process were simple and that there was a template that told us exactly what to do ...
But the truth is ....children are complex learners and teaching/planning to support them in turn is a complex process.

And truthfully, the complexity is what keeps our minds sharp as educators. Our thinking cannot become stagnant when we are constantly learning and refining our skills!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful dialog concerning documentation and teaching all the domains of the kindergarten curriculum.

    This is my first year in FDK and I am trying to really change the way I have done things in the past. Previously, I would teach a letter a week for the whole year and do activities around that letter, as well as have other must do's for the students to complete. Last year I gave the students more opportunities for free language games and writing activities and found that their reading and writing skills really blossomed.

    This year I am still struggling with "teaching" letters/sounds, and numbers - having the kiddos practice these through play based activities - and jumping into 2 inquiry based flowing periods.
    How do you fit it all in?

    Every time I allow for extended inquiry based learning time I have several students truly engaged in meaningful activities, however I have a core group of boys who always choose to engage in building fighters/guns/swords out of Lego and snap cubes. Many of their ideas come from watching tv shows that are inappropriate and advanced for their age. I am struggling with getting them to really use and dig into their imaginations?

    I will continue to try to give them meaningful provocations and hope they begin to take hold. Perhaps I'm wanting to see changes too fast.

    I have truly begun to do lots of documentation using Evernote and am loving that I already have several really good notes in all curriculum areas for most of the kiddos. Walking around with the I-pad while engaging with the students has been extremely helpful.

    I would love to hear and comments/suggestions you have! Sounds like you have a great program going this year.

    Kim Clark