Saturday, October 25, 2014

Literacy Through Play and Projects

Today Cheryl and I presented at the Early Literacy Alliance of Waterloo Region Conference at Conestoga College entitled "Living Literacy Throughout the Day" (#livingliteracy).

In the spirit of sharing some of what we shared with our colleagues, I thought I would blog about some of the ways that literacy comes through in projects and in through play with the students in our classroom. This post will be mostly visual with short notes that explain some of our thinking and discussions.

We began by talking about the fact that literacy happens in many different contexts and settings throughout the day. Our primary focus for the presentation was what literacy looks like in the context of "play".

We reflected on Katz statement that it is through intellectual learning that young children seek to learn about academic contexts. When working on projects with children, they will often ask "how do I write that?" or "where can I find more information about _____?". These opportunities provide time for educators to support the growth of academic learning for the children in the context of topics/inquiries of the children's interest.
Lilian Katz Video (from presentation - many more incredible ones on youtube):

This year we have been focusing on spending longer periods of time learning and exploring outdoors. We shared a bit about our alphabet project that began after reading the City ABC Book outdoors. The children looked carefully around the playground and school yard for lines and curves that reminded them of letters. Then using the app Explain Everything, the children traced over their photographers with red, similar to the text that we had read. What was most interesting throughout this project was that the children involved were not only those who had strong knowledge of letters but many reluctant readers and writers who greatly benefitted from studying and talking about the way that letters are formed.

We talked about the availability of materials to support young writers in the classroom environment. We have a designated shelf with different writing tools and materials. However, this year we have added even more writing materials throughout the room. If the materials are easily accessible to children it will be easier for their play momentum to continue and for them to incorporate writing into their play.

Whiteboards, markers, letter cards, clipboards and name cards to support student learning.

Different writing tools (pens, pencils, markers, erasers), sticky notes, and different types of paper. We encourage children to think about the type of paper they may need to write on (e.g., booklet, blank sheet, small/large paper). 

In our construction/building area we have clipboards and pencils to support the children in play. They use them to make signs, lists, and notes. We have had small group discussions about the roles of architects and creating blueprints or plans for building as well.

In our dramatic play area, we always ensure there is paper for making lists, writing notes, recording recipes. This is the first year we have included it in this area (in the past they would need to go get paper in another area of the room). We have found a big increase in the amount of writing happening in this area.

In our Pizza Shop - the children took orders on clipboards and through use of questioning we were able to support many children in engaging with writing (e.g., how will you remember what I order? what might you write down to help you?)

Outdoors many children created a restaurant. Cheryl supported them in capturing their menu using Pic Collage. They brought it out daily to use in their restaurant so that customers knew the prices.

Sometimes when you present children with a provocation, you need to slow down and listen for your invitation into the learning. Cheryl watched and entered into play with a group of children creating a village with these loose parts. They invited her to make a store. Prior to joining the play, the children had not yet accessed the writing materials that were added at the centre of the table. Cheryl added a sign on her store after she created it to read "Walmart", which sparked the children to ask her questions and then begin to label and add pictures/words to their creations.

Over the summer, I taught at a summer program for our Kindergarten students. We explored for a full day in the dark. One area was with a black light and highlighters. It was a magical experience that drew all of the children in to wanting to write messages for others to see and read.

These are just a few of the photographs and stories shared during our presentation. Literacy has been a journey for Cheryl and I over the past 4 years. When Cheryl entered into Full Day Kindergarten, literacy was an area that she wanted to zone in and learn more about. I am really proud of Cheryl today for sharing her vulnerabilities and speaking so confidently about an area that seemed foreign to her at the beginning of her career...."teaching young children to read and write". 

My biggest take aways from today...

Be REFLECTIVE and think critically about all of the decisions that you make as a teaching team (from the materials you put out, to where they are placed to how you interact with them alongside the children).

Make RESOURCES accessible for children. Give them the time, space, and materials that they need to read and write independently in the context of their play.

Value all children and their place in their literacy journey. Our job as educators is not to "fill" children with the skills that we think that they need in literacy, but rather to listen to what they need and guide them through the context of the play/learning.


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