Sunday, 30 March 2014

a lightbulb moment

A girl takes a picture of the project that started as an invitation to make music with water glasses, but quickly took a tangent to revolve around colour mixing, pouring, and "potions". Here she documents the process before adding more materials.

One of the wonderful additions to my ongoing PD journey has been the creation of the #ReggioPLC twitter chats, biweekly on Tuesday evenings at 9. These fast-moving conversations are nimbly led by the wonderful hosts Louise Jupp and Diane Kashin, whose thought-provoking blog posts and Reggio-Inspired Summer Intensive course grew my practice and my PLN exponentially. (see last August's posts for reflections on the wonder that was their inaugural intensive course, and see here for details about this summer's course). One theme that comes up often is the idea of welcome "cognitive dissonance" after these brain-stretching conversations about pedagogy, understanding students, documentation, and more.

I understand the reason people keep calling it cognitive dissonance: it does sometimes feel as though my brain hurts after a good hour of challenging my own and others' ideas. Such speed, like watching professional ping-pong, these concepts get bounced back and forth and tangled into our own stories and argued through various viewpoints. I don't, however, think it is dissonance for me. That would be uncomfortable, leave me feeling like I had been wrong, or mislead, in my thinking. Instead, I think what happens is that a light goes on, and shines on ideas I hadn't quite seen fully. I see more pieces of the puzzle, as it were. I see a bigger picture.

The light bulb has become visual shorthand in my class this year: when someone has an idea, they often run and stand under this light bulb on the chalkboard, as I did here when something a student said at meeting time gave me a big idea (and another student took my picture).

In my last post, I examined the history of celebrations as curriculum in my own teaching practice over the last decade (which I've had the good fortune to spend entirely in Kindergarten). I was nervous to share my conflicted feelings about using certain holidays as teaching topics, because I know many great teachers whose classrooms are full of learning and who do celebrate every holiday with true Kindergarten gusto. I didn't want to leave anyone with the impression that I judge others for using popular cultural days for material for teaching: if anything, I wanted to explain my reasoning for why I often don't but really have no set rule. I argued in that post about the meaning of St. Patrick's Day, an old religious holiday long since stripped of its religious meaning in popular culture, (though not in that of my Northern Irish in-laws for whom it is a day full of music and lively celebration) now a day full of single-use, disposable celebratory cups, decorations and wearables. I shared my discomfort with the waste, the teacher-created crafts that students merely follow in step-by-step manner to create a product (thus minimizing the valuable process of the creation), and the lack of connection to the big ideas in our kindergarten program. Royan's comment after the post sums it up better than I did in so many paragraphs before:
 "I certainly don't have any answers, but one question I usually ask myself is, "Is the [fill in the bank] celebration externally driven, or is it something the students in my room deeply want to celebrate for intrinsic reasons?"
So it is I'm back with a provocation that stopped me in my tracks, one that I instantly saw as creative, brilliant in its invitation to play with materials. I would use this with my students without reservation.
I'm grateful to MG for letting me quote her class twitter here.

There is the lightbulb moment: not dissonance, for it doesn't undo previous thinking, but instead brings it clearly into focus. In this invitation students are challenged to look closely at the form in order to find a way to reproduce it. Creativity is not stifled, but called upon. This is what our kindergarten program asks us as educators to do, throughout all the strands in all areas: identify what children know or need to know for what they are focused on, and extend their thinking with good questions and provocative materials.

What I love about the ever-growing PLN on twitter is how often an idea shared by other educators (Teachers, ECEs and others in this group) connects with interests I've seen in my students, or the way glimpses I've shared on my class twitter resonate for others. Sometimes I catch these stories mid-way, once they've already been taken up by the students in a class. The example below is one that stood out this week: a simple game (one I know as "snap" or "war") becomes a complicated ritual, a spectator event, a reason to record scores, and all student-led. I'm grateful to Kristen Enfelis (@KEnfelis, DECE in FDK) who kindly allowed me to share this conversation:

(I jumped in here too, hence the answer to both of us below).

There was a student-initiated project shared this week, too, one that helped me appreciate more keenly the role of the educator in an emergent curriculum classroom. This was shared by Nancy Niessen, a teacher who has inspired me greatly with her outlook on teaching through her thoughtful posts. So often since I joined twitter (a mere year and a half ago) I have found myself nodding along to Nancy's musings or observations from her classroom. Being a half-day Kindergarten teacher in Ontario is being a part of a rapidly shrinking group, one with no more members once the last schools like our come into FDK next year. Her additional insight as an AQ instructor for ETFO for the Kindergarten Specialist always make for rich conversations in the #ReggioPLC.

In fact it was Nancy who inspired me to begin a second account for my class this year (and from there to convince the rest of my Thornwood team to follow suit). I have learned much from seeing the way Nancy shares with her family followers on her class account: how to invite conversation between students and their families (with photos of books read and the prompt: "Ask me about...") and how to make student learning visible in a way that truly celebrates the students' efforts. This example below is only one of many such celebrations.

Seeing materials bloom into different projects is a clear indication that students have ownership over the direction of their learning. Nancy is an exemplary model of a teacher who listens closely and provides direction for further learning. I thank her, as I want to thank all of my inspiring PLN, for daily enriching my thinking, and my learning.

I have many people to thank, including my students, for helping me move my practice towards a more celebratory, creative place for all learners. And so I invite you to look for people who help you see, whether a better reflection of your own practice or a clearer view of the big picture in education.

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