A lot’s been brewing over the last couple of quiet months.
With the demands of winter — assessments, benchmarks, report cards, observations, interventions — came stress and distraction from the teaching joys I felt in fall.
With these demands also came defending. Defending minutes of play, the off-course track that student-centered curriculum follows,
unstructured childcentered routines, and the decisions I make each day with the mindset: children are capable.
Most recently, I am defending my decision to not celebrate the 100th day of school.
A couple of articles made me rethink classroom routines — morning message, calendar, counting days in school, weather. With a schedule that already feels like I can’t possibly fit everything in, these routines that can consume 20 mundane minutes became replaced by more meaningful starts to the day.
It’s not to say that these habits can’t work their way into a classroom naturally.
A discovery of sprouting acorns led to a need to track growth and watering, a natural opportunity to introduce calendars.
Bomb cyclones, snow days, indoor recesses, and a forecasting choice time center awakened an interest in weather, and a sub-inquiry on temperature.
Repetitive, teacher-created morning messages are replaced by student-written or co-constructed announcements, letters from experts or friends we write to, or authentic opportunities for interactive/shared writing.
Authenticity and purpose are at the forefront of every learning experience I co-plan with my children.
Counting the days of school found no natural entrance into our learning road map. Instead, we’ve kept track of how many days old our sapling is. We’re counting the days we have left with a child before she moves away. We count the days until birthdays and holidays, the days we will be apart over breaks, but nobody ever asked, “How many days have we been in Kindergarten so far?”
As for the possibility to teach math concepts through counting days of school, we’ve had more natural entry points. Through a class obsession with banks and money, children formed a foundation for place value, as they counted groups of ten and one dollar bills. Needing to read our thermometers required us to practice skip-counting by 2’s from every decade. While doing so, we discovered patterns in two-digit numbers up to 100. In fact, an inquiry around a thermometer and its missing labels led to a creation of a vertical number line, which now multi-functions as s a measurement tool.
Today, in K-313, no one knew it was the 100th day of school, and that’s okay, because, what does it really signify? Instead, children diligently prepared cards and letters to distribute to everyone in the class on Valentine’s day. We spend time learning about every holiday celebrated in our community, and this one has been talked about by children for weeks, leading to conversations about inclusion, gender, and empathy.
Pre-planned curriculum works and is certainly a resource I rely on. But I constantly question the tasks, routines, and management systems I implement, especially when they are created by people who have never met my children. With hopes of nurturing life-long thinkers and active citizens, who have healthy habits of mind, I need to be responsive to the interests and needs of each unique group of children.
Defending work can feel exhausting, frustrating, and lonely. Luckily, I’m on a team of teachers who think and question together as a daily practice. I’m emerging from a professional cyber hibernation, in hopes of growing a larger community of teachers who are feeling a little trapped by curriculum, pacing calendars, and pre-determined activities within units of studies.
Coming up will be the thread of work that has led me to this thinking:
- Practicing Reggio-Emilia philosophies in a public school classroom
- Inquiry-a common thread between all content areas
- Driving learning from play, and deepening play through learning
- Planning, documenting, and assessing a co-constructed unit of study
- Organizing your schedule and classroom space in a way that invites curiosity and student-ownership
- Getting colleagues, administrators, and families on board
I have also started an Instagram account, @theorganicclassroom. Seeing pictures and videos by teachers who are driving learning from natural occurrences in the classroom and community has helped me to find the learning opportunities in my own classroom.
Comment below with questions, thoughts, worries, etc., or to form a new thinking partnership.