Friday, November 27, 2015

The Whole Child: Reflections on a Classroom Visit


We were so excited to have an opportunity to visit Anamaria Ralph and Kathryn Powell in the classroom today. We host visitors often and know the value of seeing authentic learning in action. We came prepared to observe, interact, and learn.

The Environment: Child Centred, Reggio Inspired
Immediately after entering their classroom space, I felt calm and drawn into so many areas. Anamaria warned us before coming that her space is small and she had a large group, but truthfully you wouldn't know it. The space came alive when the children entered. Their natural curiosity and excitement for learning took over the classroom.

The entire room was focused and zoned in on the whole child - from the set up and flow of the space, to the interactions between educators and children, to the schedule and routines. This team has truly reflected about what is best for their children and takes lead from their actions.

Reflective Practice: The Key to Growth 
Both the educators and the children were reflective. In listening to the educators speak to the children, they asked questions about their thinking, they encouraged oral language through discussions, and they provided time after their Learning and Exploration time for the children to reflect and share. The children were truly the leaders of their own learning.

Student Led Documentation:
We observed children documenting their learning in play, educators capturing moments in play, and both educators and children reflecting on the learning (through observations and images). Something we practice in our room is also inviting children to document their learning either in the moment or afterwards. It provides a genuine opportunity for children to connect with their learning, to think critically, to read, and to write.

Looking Closely and Investigating the Natural World:
We were drawn into the Nature area by some of the students. They excitedly shared their learning without prompting or questions. They explained why they had collected and investigated different pumpkins, gourds and their decomposition process. They reflected on earlier experiences in the year as well. The educators invited children to bring in a nature treasure at the beginning of the year to promote oral language, discussion, and relationships. By the end of November, this early year experience was still so vivid and important to the students.

To Look Closely at their Investigation:

Connecting with Documentation:
Cheryl had a similar experience in the book nook area. Students invited her to share in a documentation book. Within minutes, they had forgot that Cheryl was there as they recounted, discussed, and remembered experiences from the previous year through the pictures and documentation.

It reminded us of those experiences in school that stood out to us. We all remember those teachers and those projects or moments that are vivid in our memories. This team has truly created those experiences that have their students so excited and engaged in their learning journey.

The Process and Language of Art:
For both Cheryl and I, we are working towards improving our confidence, skills, and knowledge around art and young children. Neither of us have a background in art and sometimes learn alongside the children as we explore new techniques, tools and materials. Today, it was wonderful to watch the children slow down, look closely and sketch. It gave us an important reminder of how art too is a language of expression that we want to continue to foster for both ourselves and our children.

One of the teachers that we brought, Lara Roberts, commented that she felt "art infiltrated into all mediums in the classroom". Artistic expression was a clearly valued and a focus for the children in this space. Further to that, you could visibly see the time and thought that was put into instruction around art in the classroom. The children understood how to engage with different materials, how to use them in different contexts, and how to express themselves through art.

Anamaria explained that at the beginning of the year it was a focus for them. They slowed down the children and didn't add paint until a student noticed the area and asked for it. They began slow with just black and white. Their children continued to explore colours and colour mixing creating their own colours and putting them in paint pots. To encourage and support them in communicating their thinking, the educators provided opportunities for children to record how they made their colours in a binder that sat near the art easel. Other children referenced it and could use it if they needed to mix up a colour again in the future!

Literacy through Stories:
With our brains so ingrained with mathematics over the past couple of years, it was refreshing to see so much literacy happening to spark our thinking too! At the beginning of the year the team decided to zone in on stories and creative story telling. They began simply with reading different stories and having rich discussions with the children about stories, where they came from and what they like about them. As we observed today, we saw the evolution of this through their play. So many children had books in their hands and were retelling them everywhere in the classroom, in a natural way. There was a table set up with a book and loose parts, many children recreated stories on the building carpets, on the light table and in the sand.

Anamaria shared a reflection with us about using a new structure of "My Story" instead of "My Plan", inviting their students to document the story of their learning, the story in their play, or the story they are retelling. I am hopeful that Anamaria will blog more deeply about this entire process and I am already beginning to research a bit more myself about the concepts of storytelling and how it is connected to learning.

I think the images in this picture and our their blog speak for themselves, but I have to say today was inspiring and invigorating. Thank you so much for reminding us that there are many ways to make a classroom environment work in terms of space, routines, schedules. Thank you for valuing student voice and making their learning so visible for them, parents, and children to benefit from. And thank you for inspiring us to think deeply about our own learning journey.

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