Wednesday, September 7, 2016

SHOULD we prepare Kindergartens for Grade 1?

This may quite possibly be one of the biggest questions and reflections we hear when interacting with other primary educators. 

Many Grade 1 teachers ask, "How are you preparing the students for Grade 1?"

Our response is always that in Full Day Kindergarten, our goal is not to "prepare" them for Grade 1. Our curriculum does not ask us to ensure that students put a period at the end of each sentence, it does not ask us to ensure that children can print nicely on lines. 

In fact, our curriculum is just that...it is unique as it encourages the development of young learners with a focus on exploration, experimentation, and play. Our goal in Kindergarten is to support children in developing healthy relationships, solving problems, exploring early mathematics and literacy concepts, and developing self regulation.

We have met so many educators in the primary division that approach this transition differently. In fact, some say "How can I prepare my learning environment for the children coming from FDK?" or "What should I know about the children coming from Kindergarten?"

It is so helpful and important to build the bridge between FDK and Grade 1. We can build this bridge through courageous conversations. We can invite colleagues to spend time in our rooms and we can share our professional learning.

We have decided to explore inquiry and what learning looks like in the primary classroom now that Full Day Kindergarten has rolled into it's 7th year.

Please welcome Jennifer Ohrling, an inspiring and passionate educator whom we have worked alongside for a number of years. She has blogged with us before about her experience as a planning time teacher and we look forward to future collaboration to support this transition and relationship as children move from Kindergarten into the primary classroom!

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I have been teaching for 16 years.  In the education world this experience does not lessen the wonderings about what is best practice for the first few weeks of school.  I have handled this fragile time in a variety of ways.  I have sat children down with checklists to see what they know (and don’t know). I have delivered complex lessons (because I must start as I intend to go). I have travelled around the school over and over (because they must learn how to transition and walk through the hallways).  And I have spent the first weeks building relationships with kids by reading beautiful stories and allowing them to explore their new learning environment. 

This year I am moving to a new school and teaching a blended class of Grade Ones and Twos.  This is something I am familiar with.  I taught this split for 4 years at the beginning of my career.  I spent countless hours thinking about how to deliver the very different science and social studies expectations to two grades.  I developed a system for how to get more complex math concepts to the grade 2’s while the grade 1’s were at their seats. I know better…. this experience means nothing when preparing for young learners.  So much has changed over the last 15 years and it is my job to ensure that I understand the type of learners who are walking into my room in 6 days from now. 

As I reflect on the question “How do I prepare for these grade one and two students this year?”  I need to be fully aware that for the last 6 years students have been in a full day kindergarten program with a focus on deep inquiry and play based learning.  I know this because I was deeply immersed in the FDK program and am pretty fresh out of teaching kindergarten for the last 9 years. I have embraced the play-based model and in my own classroom and supported teams throughout our board. 

I still need to know for sure if I am ready for these inquiring minds.  So I enlist the help of Tracy Pickard and Cheryl Emrich.  If you’re on this blog you know why, I don’t need to explain that.  I brought Tracy to my classroom to look at the space I have set up for grade one and two and asked her if she thought I was prepared for these inquiring minds. 



We talked about how important it is for me to prepare for the learners coming into my room. We discussed that of course they would be different learners than they were 15 years ago. Our model in education has evolved and transformed, so of course my teaching must too.

Tracy and I broke down our reflections into a few categories. 

Classroom Set Up:
The classroom is set up in a way that honours the learning journey Tracy and I have been on for the past several years.  There was a time our classrooms were beautifully primed with primary colours, thematic borders, endless alphabets, and every manipulative available labelled and accessible to all students.  We know now that “less is more”  and a natural calm environment helps children to feel at peace with their surroundings and better care for the materials that are available. 




There are many blank spots on the walls to let my students know that the walls are waiting for them to create and explore.  There are 3 BIG IDEAS posted so the students know whatever we do in any subject it will all relate back to 3 concepts that they can easily understand….. Growth, Relationships, and Responsibilities. 



There is room for students and more than just desk seating available for them.  They can work at tables at the side of the room as well as at their own desks.  The students are set up in groups however I am aware that some prefer to work alone. I feel good about the space and look forward to seeing the children interact with it.

Routines and Relationships:
For many years I have used the first few weeks to discuss the simple concepts of feelings.  I really enjoy Todd Parr’s books at this time of year with simple illustrations and concepts.  These books are readily available and students will be invited to create their own images of feelings throughout the week with the concept that all feelings are “okay”.  



Tracy reminds me that routines will look very different for students no matter what grade they are coming from and it is important to slowly introduce them all.  How will students ask to use the washroom?  Where will they keep their lunch?  Where will indoor shoes be stored?  Where will a pencil go that needs to be sharpened? When you think of all that needs to be done how did I ever think I had time to sit and determine how far a child count or how many shapes he/she knew on the first day?

Assessment:
Tracy challenged me to think about this.  She knows that I struggle with keeping up with an assessment routine that I feel good about.  As we talk we determine that the best form of assessment in the beginning weeks is Observation and Documentation.  I will write observations about my students and capture moments on iPad apps that I am comfortable with such as PicCollage and Noteability.  

I know how to document student learning from my many years in kindergarten and need to acknowledge that these learning stories don’t need to end simply because the students are no longer in FDK.  Documentation will tell deep stories about the level of thinking my students are at, how they view school, and what they need to move forward.  I have decided from there I will figure out the best process for capturing student learning. 

Flow of the Day:
In FDK teams spend hours determining the best flow of the day and how to eliminate transitions for young people.  Stuart Shanker reminds educators that eliminating transitions helps children with self-regulation.  FDK teams reflect on flow of day all year long and make changes when things aren’t working for the children.  I am keeping this in mind as I determine how to schedule the day.  I still have question marks all over my schedule and am aware that there are rules regarding minutes in all subjects that need to be followed.  
For now I will commit to building relationships with my students and roughly follow a schedule of subjects.  As the weeks progress the main goal will be how to connect Language with the learning in Social Studies, Science, and Health.  I have devoted 2 periods to INQUIRY to allow these inquiring minds to explore the room and engage in meaningful conversations about the Big Ideas being introduced throughout the day. 




Thank you to Tracy and Cheryl for inspiring me to explore the best practices for young inquiring minds. I look forward to sharing more about how the year unfolds!

3 comments:

  1. Hi, my teaching partner and I just returned from a wonderful conference for our new kindergarten curriculum and documents and through networking learned that you and your team make house calls. Meaning that you will come into schools and specifically kindergarten classrooms to do workshops. Is this true? If so we would love some information on this. Thank you.
    Corry Allair DECE

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    Replies
    1. Hi Corry!
      Thanks for getting connected. We have presented and collaborated in many different capacities over the years. If you send us an email to passionatelycuriouseducators@gmail.com and let us know more specifically what you are looking for (e.g., topic, group size etc) we can talk more about details! Looking forward to hearing from you!

      Tracy and Cheryl

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