Sunday, 23 June 2013

We can see... the end of an amazing year!

As we come to the end of this year, my first year at my new school, I can not help but look back in awe at how much we have accomplished in a short ten months. My classroom became a home, and my students became a caring community. Students who were nervous to try new things blossomed into true risk-takers, often teaching newly-learned skills to their peers. A student who was silent at school for nearly two years found his voice, to the delight of his classmates (and his teacher!!!) with some truly fantastic support from his family. I include myself in that group: my professional annual learning goals including becoming more connected with teachers, students families', and with the greater school community. I can't help but smile as the last of our wonderful Kindergarten team here at Thornwood joined twitter and immediately saw the power of the amazing PLN (professional learning network) to share ideas and further our professional learning conversations. This blog, started back in the busy winter when I was finishing my K Specialist AQ and still sporting a cast on my broken wrist, has taken me deeper than I thought possible into reflecting upon my practice and the learning taking place in our class.

But I think the thing that changed me and my classes most of all, the thing that makes this year so different from the eight wonderful years of Kindergarten in my former school, is what happened when our class joined the "We Can See" project blog back in the fall. I discussed this back in an earlier post "We can share our stories" talking about how quickly students began to write for an audience of their peers. Even earlier in the year, two PM class girls sparked a counting project when they shared with me how they could count to ten in their home languages: Mandarin and Farsi respectively. This led me to record them counting, share with both classes, and start a "We Can Count!" Voicethread book (click to play) project. This book grew over the year and, in fact, a new student recently joined us from Japan, and he has agreed to join the book during this, the last week of school! This project well demonstrates how these students have a well-developed sense of identity and self-image (see the #1 expectations, below). Not long after starting this book, I learned about the "We Can See" project blog, and I knew it was a logical extension for my students who already knew that their words and images had an audience in the school and at home (through my class site links). I was right: the project was hit!
Not only do students understand that their works are being seen by peers and other followers, such as parents and Kindergarten teachers in Ontario and beyond, they also enjoy writing back to their far-away friends about the projects they see on the blog or on twitter. Together we have learned about different types of responses, and as such students offer a comment, a connection, or ask a question of their friends in other Kindergarten classes. Social media is such a prominent part of our lives, so it makes perfect sense to introduce students to responsible internet use (netiquette) while also meeting several of the expectations from the Personal and Social area of The Full-Day Early Learning–Kindergarten Program.

As children progress through the Full-Day Early Learning–Kindergarten program, they:

(Overall Expectation 1): demonstrate a sense of identity and a positive self-image
1.1 recognize personal interests, strengths, and accomplishments 
1.2 identify and talk about their own interests and preferences
1.3 express their thoughts (e.g., on a science discovery, on something they have made) and share experiences (e.g., experiences at home, cultural experiences) 
(Overall Expectation 3): demonstrate a beginning understanding of the diversity in individuals, families, schools, and the wider community
3.3 talk about events or retell stories that reflect their own heritage and cultural background and the heritage and cultural backgrounds of others (e.g., traditions, birthdays, cultural events, myths, Canadian symbols, holidays)

Full-Day Early Learning - Kindergarten Program (draft) pp. 58 - 62)

Back when I wrote that post "We can share our stories", I had begun by lamenting the fact that students weren't yet interested in making their own personal "I can see" stories. This is no longer true, as my Peel site now has a nice long list of Voicethread books for families to see and enjoy at home. My students are used to me taking two types of photos or videos: firstly, those that may be used within the class, which may include names, faces, and identifying features of those in the photos; secondly, those which exclude all identifying features so that they may be shared with twitter followers, our classroom site, my blog, or other forms of social media. Students are well-versed in my safety protocols and even remind me when I'm taking video clips to be careful around showing names on artwork. It has lead to some interesting conversations, then, when we see students in other classes creating their own personal "I Can See" books with very personal details included. I loved how they noticed these details and so we talked about the fact that in those particular cases, the teacher wasn't making a decision to break the rules. We read the "fine print" in those posts, and in those cases the teachers thanked the families for taking part in the project and allowing for their personal photos to be used. This lead to a conversation about "informed consent". Big ideas for young students, indeed.

Photo shared by Tijana's family.
It is with great pride, then, that I share my first such project with you. Tijana is a "butterfly" (or SK) in the AM class (JK students are "caterpillars" in my class). This means she is soon leaving Kindergarten. She is an artistic student who often shares her art work with us, asking me to take a video while she describes her creation, or sings a song for her class at share time. When she took a trip with her family to Florida during the first week of June, I asked her family if they would share any photos they took while away. They agreed, and sent me a link to the set of photos online. That same week, Ms. Schmidt's and Ms. Theis' Kindergarten class posted a new book on the shared blog, this time a book created by Taha in their class to share his trip to Egypt.  After our class read the blog and I scribbled down the many responses to his book, I mused how wonderful it would be if Tijana were able to create a book like that, too. Note: scroll down to the comments to see what my students had to say. The next day at school, Tijana showed the trip photos as a slideshow to her classmates, using the long pointer to point out interesting details from her trip. She did a wonderful job retelling her exciting days spent with her family. Then, with her parents' written permission, we set about creating her own "We Can See" book to share with our larger Kindergarten community and families. She and I worked together, a bit each day, to select photos, type messages, and record her story (link provided below). We didn't work every day, because of exciting interruptions such as outdoor play day, walks to the park, or days when I worked closely with other ongoing project groups such as our snail garden inquiry. I am very proud of her work and of all my students for the amazing growth they've shown this year. Butterflies, you are ready to spread your wings and fly off to grade one.

I want to say some important thank you's: thank you to Tijana and her family for agreeing to work with me in this way, and thank you to the families of all my wonderful students who signed the media release and my special Voicethread request form, and who share the books we make with family and friends around the world. Thank you to the wonderful administrative team at my new school who not only support my experimentation with social media, but who ask me to share my successes with others at school. Thank you to my fabulous, hard-working, always collaborative Kindergarten team at Thornwood, especially for all jumping in headlong into twitter with me. Water's fine! Thank you to Joanne Babalis for creating the "We Can See" project blog, and to Angie Harrison whose class project inspired Joanne to do so. You have all made this year incredibly special, one I surely will never forget. 

Thank you, reader, for reading along. Now please enjoy Tijana's book: "We Can See... Florida!" (click to open).

Note: If you try to open on a mobile device you may receive a pop-up request to download the Voicethread app. This isn't necessary, as you can view it through the web version (any browser will do). Try copying and pasting this link if the first option doesn't work for you:

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