Creating the classroom community and culture is one of the most important aspects of teaching - and one of my favorites. It is a privilege to share my days with my students, seeing the world through their eyes and creating a place in which each of them know they belong, a place where they know we will share special, fun moments together throughout the year, a place where they know they will explore the world and start to find their place in it. I am excited about the community we have built (and continue to build), and each one of your sweet little ones is an important and treasured part of it.
"Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much." -Helen Keller
However, at PNA, there are not just strong classroom communities, but a strong school community and culture as well. Throughout the year, students are given ample opportunity to share special moments and events together, like Space Week, 100s Day and our recent Science Party, and to support one another in their endeavors.
"There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about." -Margaret J. Wheatley
An important component of project based learning is a public product, which takes students beyond their classroom and shows them that what they do at school matters, that it is important on a deeper level, that others care about it too. Oftentimes, this aspect of PBL allows us to enrich and grow our school community by providing an opportunity for students to support one another in their inquiries, studies, and passion projects.
This week, our kindergartners were able to support first grade students by attending their lantern exhibition, oohing and ahhing over their magically lit creations. Our sweet mushers also felt the love as the school came together to truly make the Iditarod an enriching and meaningful event. First and second graders acted as check points, either being veterinarians or checking for the mandatory supplies. It was sweet to see how excited - and serious - they were about being part of something they treasured as kindergartners.
"The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members." -Coretta Scott King
Preschool students cheered our mushers on at the start of the race and the rest of the school cheered them on at the end, complete with signs and words of encouragement. When one student did not like the loud noise, students switched to silent cheers to usher her to the finish. It was a touching moment and a small example of the thoughtfulness and compassion we are able to build together by inviting students into each others' projects and events. It is wonderful to be part of a supportive community. I am happy we actively work to build that at PNA so that each of our sweet little ones knows they are valued, loved, and part of something special.
One of my favorite things about teaching kindergarten is watching our sweet little ones grow in their confidence and leadership skills and take more and more ownership of their learning. While there is ample opportunity for this throughout the day, it often occurs during Inquiry Workshop, the time in our day in which we engage in Project Based Learning. It is especially rewarding to see the way, at this point in the year, students naturally step into the role of confident leaders in our classroom (and school). That was my goal with Inquiry Workshop, and it makes my teacher heart happy to watch it play out daily as our little learners interact with one another, working towards a shared learning outcome.
During Inquiry workshop, students often ask me, "Can I share this with the class?" (in reference to something they have learned or created at school or to something they have brought from home to enhance our study), or "Mrs. McCormick, you've got to see this! Can we show everyone?" Watching our little ones become confident leaders and learners who are excited about learning and helping their classmates learn is one of my favorite parts of every day.
This did not happen overnight. As an educator, my goal is for students to become confident, lifelong learners who know they can make a difference in our world. One powerful tool towards this end is Project Based Learning. This year, I wanted to enhance an important component of PBL, student voice and choice, while honoring our little ones' need for play-based learning. Thus, Inquiry Workshop was born. I love that during Inquiry Workshop our learners have the freedom to play, explore, and share their learning with their classmates.
This week, I witnessed students coaching other students and helping them problem-solve. Other students brought in dog booties and a dog coat so students could see these items that we had been learning about. A few other students, students who do not usually ask to share, wanted to share the test run of a sled they built. When our guest expert and musher visited, students introduced themselves and asked relevant questions afterwards, questions that would further drive their learning. Students have also had the opportunity to mentor preschool guests the past few weeks, inviting them into their play and learning and teaching them how to be part of it. It has been amazing to watch students take ownership of their learning and share what they are learning with confidence and excitement.
It is important for learning and activities to be developmentally appropriate. Usually, when they are, students are naturally engaged and learn effortlessly. As educators, we often say, "Students are having so much fun, they don't even realize they're learning!" While I understand and appreciate this sentiment, I try to emphasize to my students that we are ALWAYS learning and that there is always more to explore and discover. Our world provides such a rich wealth of interesting things. It is a privilege to share this curiosity and love of learning with our sweet little ones by providing engaging and playful learning opportunities and helping them understand more about how we learn.
It is rewarding to see our sweet little ones engaged in and looking forward to not only special events, like the recent 100s Day celebration, but everyday activities throughout the year. In the kindergarten classroom, each learning opportunity is carefully curated to not only hit learning targets, but to provide opportunities for students to learn through play and exploration as well as through authentic and engaging experiences. Favorites include Inquiry Workshop, which is highly play-based, as well as Reading and Writing Workshops, which provide authentic opportunities for students to play with words and read and write actual books. Math concepts are introduced through engaging lessons and then practiced repeatedly through games. Engaging in all of these activities daily not only helps students learn important concepts and skills, but provides the opportunity for students to better understand the rhythm of learning as well.
It is highly rewarding to see evidence that students have internalized the learning process by repeatedly engaging in playful and authentic learning experiences that reinforce it. After our most recent entry event (receiving a box full of stuffed huskies needing adopted and trained for the Iditarod) and listing questions we had about caring for our dogs and the race, one of our sweet students suggested, "Mrs. McCormick, we should ask a real musher (or, "moosher," in her words) to come tell us about it." This one simple statement showed her understanding that we can consult experts when we need to know more about a specific topic.
As educators engaging in PBL, we have a study planned out (usually including guest experts or field trips) so that it covers the necessary standards and learning goals, but students drive the study. As the year progresses, students learn the rhythm of learning and thus work more independently within its structures. It is always a proud teacher moment when students confidently and enthusiastically lead our learning and engage naturally in the process of learning and exploration. What a privilege to be part of this each and every day!
There is a book series by Scholastic that I love titled, Ordinary People Change the World. We've been exploring the question, "What makes people the same and different?" during Inquiry Workshop, and these books have been a great addition to our study, sparking many conversations and discussions.
After reading "I am Martin Luther King, Jr." on Monday, students continued to explore at our inquiry stations. One student asked me if Martin Luther King, Jr. was a president. When I said no, he asked, "Well then how could he do all those things?" I reminded him that ordinary people can change the world, that Martin Luther King, Jr. (just like Abraham Lincoln, who we had read about earlier) saw something that wasn't fair in our world and decided to change it. This launched us into a meaningful discussion about how our kindergartners, even now, could work hard to choose kindness, work to help others, and change things that aren't fair about our world.
We talked about how one of the best ways to do this is through the words we speak to others and the thoughts we put into this world. In "I am Martin Luther King Jr., the author illustrates this beautifully: "But by speaking from the heart, I found out how "big" words can be." [...] "Was it easy? Absolutely not!" [...] "Today, [my letter from Birmingham Jail] has been read by millions of people. Like I said, it is amazing how big words can be."
How amazing and fortunate we are to be able to have such powerful conversations with our little ones, to share the stories of amazing men and women who had a vision for a better world for all, and to inspire this future generation to work hard and fight injustices. How humbling that we get to influence and equip this generation to make a difference in our world - and to choose kindness always.
There are various types of texts for developing readers, which can sometimes be confusing. Each type of text has pros and cons, and as with most things, a mixture of both is beneficial for most children.
Leveled readers are texts with predictable patterns, picture support, and large print. Although some researchers believe they encourage children to guess rather than read, they offer richer texts and stories than decodable readers.
Tips for Using Leveled Readers:
Decodable readers are texts that include high frequency words and words that children can decode with their current knowledge of letter/sound correspondences. For kindergartners, these are usually CV, CVC, CCVC, and CVCC words (c = consonant and v = vowel). Perhaps the most well-known decodable readers are BOB Books. The benefit of decodable readers is that students decode each word, so they do not develop the habit of guessing. A few cons of decodable readers are that the texts are usually not as rich and students can become tired and frustrated from having to decode each word rather than relying on a pattern to help them.
Together these texts help build a strong foundation for reading by developing different skills that your young reader will continue to use as they become more advanced in their decoding and comprehension abilities. Thank you for your continued support and partnership in your child's education!
At PNA, we strive to educate students to be exceptional learners and independent thinkers of vision, courage, and integrity. One way that we do this is by equipping our students to think for themselves and come to their own conclusions. We do this by helping them to ask questions and seek answers, rather than simply providing answers.
"The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see." -Alexandra Trenfor
Across the grades, students engage in various inquiry learning throughout the day, across all subjects, but it is perhaps most prominent during project based learning. PBL is an especially powerful tool to help students ask questions, seek their own answers, and draw their own conclusions. Our kindergartners favorite time to explore and investigate is during Inquiry Workshop, which is the workshop in which we study our social studies and science standards through project based learning - and play and exploration.
As students play and explore at various stations, they have the opportunity to naturally engage in many of the scientific practices defined by the Next Generation Science Standards (Dinnerstein, page 67):
According to Renee Dinnerstein in Choice Play, during inquiry play, "the children engage in these practices in developmentally appropriate ways. With support from their teacher, in a variety of different explorations across the year, they can learn to use all these practices to experience the world as scientists (page 67-68). Not only will they experience the world as scientists, but as engineers, artists, mathematicians, readers, writers, citizens, and explorers as well.
Furthermore, it provides an opportunity for students to drive the learning, take responsibility for it, and explain their thinking as they share their findings with others. This is the natural way we learn and share knowledge. As students continually engage in the process, it becomes second nature for them (Dinnerstein, page 78). And, perhaps most importantly, it provides a fun and meaningful way for our little ones to learn.
At PNA, we not only emphasize academic excellence, but social emotional training as well. One important piece of this is helping our students develop a growth mindset.
According to Carol Dweck, Ph.D., "In this mindset, the hand you're dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way--in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments--everyone can change and grow through application and experience. Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person's true potential is unknown (and unknowable)--that it's impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training."
At PNA, we educate students to be exceptional learners and independent thinkers of vision, courage, and integrity. Not one of these important mission pieces is possible without a growth mindset. We want our students to understand that they are not born with a fixed amount of intelligence or talent, but that they can cultivate intelligence and talent through effort and experience, through learning, experimenting, failing, and growing. You do not need to always have the correct answer, but rather ask questions and seek answers to everyday problems and wonderings. A growth mindset leads to resiliency in our students and helps them realize they can accomplish more than they think possible.
Play is increasingly disappearing from schools nationwide. Recently, the Center for Responsive Schools published a journal on the importance of play for students of all ages -- and even adults. Play has physical, social, emotional, and cognitive benefits for students and is an integral part of any school day.
Some of the benefits of play and physical activity include (Dorshorst, 2019):
Our little ones have opportunities for both structured and free play throughout the day. Students enjoy structured play opportunities during morning meeting, math, word work, PE, Inquiry Workshop, and brain breaks. Free play opportunities come during quiet choices (their settling in time before morning meeting), recess, and PE.
This past week, our kindergartners and I had the opportunity to join first and second graders as they went to the field to play in the deep snow. It was one of the highlights of my week to watch as students joyfully trudged up "mountains" before sliding back down, ran across the snowy field, and explored and played in the winter wonderland. "We were having an adventure!" many students eagerly told me. These types of opportunities are so important for the growth and development of our little learners.
"With all of these benefits in mind, the question shouldn't be whether or not we can find time for play in the school day. Instead, we should be asking ourselves: how can we make play a foundational part of every student's school experience?" I am thankful to teach at PNA, where I have the freedom to structure our school day to meet my students needs through both academics and play.
Dorshorst, M. (2019). Fun is Essential! Incorporating Play into Today's Classroom. Center
for Responsive Schools Journal of Social and Emotional Learning, 1 (2), 4-5.
(2019). How to Integrate Play into the School Day. Center for Responsive Schools
Journal of Social and Emotional Learning, 1 (2), 4-5.
November tends to be a time that reminds us more than usual to be thankful. I am grateful for the opportunity to be your little one's teacher. Thank you for allowing me and PNA to partner with you in your child's education. I assure you it is not a responsibility we take lightly. I love spending my days with my students, seeing the world through their eyes, and watching their delight as they discover and grow.
Think back to math instruction in your school years. I'm sure it was much like mine, filled with algorithms and abstract idea, ideas that I memorized and used to calculate answers, but did not understand. In grade school, I was not a fan of math. It wasn't until I was training to be a teacher and was introduced to math concepts visually and creatively that I started to enjoy--and truly understand-- math. Suddenly, when I could represent and explain them visually, those algorithms and abstract ideas made sense.
A paper from youcubed, a Stanford center designed to provide research-based mathematics resources to teacher and parents, explains my experience, which I share with many educators: "In our extensive work with school districts, teachers have also been inspired by visual and open mathematics. When we give teachers visual experiences of ideas that they have only previously encountered numerically and abstractly, such as multiplication facts or algebra, they gain insights into mathematical concepts and ideas they had never before experienced, and start to understand more deeply. They also feel empowered (Boaler et al., pg 10)."
The researchers go on to say, "Inviting people to think visually about mathematics is liberating for teachers and students alike. Mathematics is a multi-dimensional subject, and problems can be solved with numeric, abstract or visual mathematical pathways - we now know that our brain networks are correspondingly multi-dimensional and need to be developed and used. It is our belief that learners would develop stronger mathematical understanding if we helped them develop the visual networks in their brains, increasing their ability to work mathematically with a fully developed brain network (Boaler et al., pg. 10)."
If you've ever wondered why your child's math learning seems so different than the learning you most likely experienced as a child, it is because our our math curriculum stresses mathematical thinking, approaching problems in many different ways, and visual representations. Students explore patterns and relationships within mathematical concepts, usually through visual representations.
Brain research in recent years has revealed the importance of visual learning and representation in math. Traditionally, educators have taught math visually only as a bridge to more abstract thinking. Now, however, research has shown the importance of visual mathematics in all areas of math, even those traditionally labeled as abstract or higher-level. Brain research now shows that "everyone uses visual pathways when we work on mathematics and we all need to develop the visual areas of our brains. The problem of mathematics in schools is it has been presented, for decades, as a subject of numbers and symbols, ignoring the potential of visual mathematics for transforming students' mathematical experiences and developing important brain pathways (Boaler et al., pg 7)." Math learning is an inherently and highly visual process and visualizing math concepts deepens engagement, understanding, and enjoyment of math.
The paper concluded with three take-aways for educators and parents (Boaler et al., pg. 11):
Jo Boaler, Lang Chen, Cathey Williams, and Montserrat Cordero. "Seeing as Understanding: The Importance of Visual Mathematics for our Brain and Learning." youcubed at Stanford University.
Kindergarten teacher, wife, creative, lover of words and adventures