Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Before Engagement and Motivation

As a school over the past five to six years we have been working hard to understand what Engagement and Motivation looks like and how it is achieved for all children. Over this time we have refined our practice, using approaches like Mantle of the Expert and Play to increase student agency and in turn increase the level of engagement and motivation without the need for dangling carrots. This journey has been huge for us and I have been so glad that I have written about it along the way, because there has just been so much learning going on.

Over the past few years I feel like we have really started to nail this, but there has still been a niggling group of children, that despite our best efforts have remained not disengaged, but definitely not as engaged as everyone else. Now we could have accepted that we can't reach 100% of the children 100% of the time, but that wouldn't fit with who we are. These children were a conundrum, and there is nothing that sparks an inquiry more effectively then a nice conundrum.

These children, their behaviour and lack of buy in has caused us to dive deeper, to really look honestly at ourselves, our approaches, our relationships with children..the whole package. What has come out of all this hard work has been the realisation that engagement and motivation is a great goal...but there are elements that need to be in place, solid foundations, for it to be even possible for this goal to have an impact on some children.

What we have come to understand is that for some children, they are not even in the place that such grand goals can have an impact on them, they are just not ready to access the learning on offer, not in the right place to allow them to be fully engaged or motivated...their energy is elsewhere and in some cases this energy is on self-preservation.

These children can often be a real source of frustration in the classroom for us as teachers, we feel like we are almost standing on our head to engage them and keep them motivated, but still they stay on the periphery, avoid the learning on offer, opt out, appear disinterested...almost appear to have a learned helplessness. However the fact of the matter is these children are not ready for the tricks of the trade we are pedalling and no matter how exciting we wrap up the present that is learning, they are quite simply not able to, or ready to unwrap it. So we have a choice, we could blame the child "hey we are doing everything we can right?" Or we could accept that something is currently blocking their ability to engage and find out more.

As a school we are still early days into our learning in this area, but so far we have come up with four levels that children need to be able to pass through, or have in place first.

These levels fit with the brain development 'framework' that I have based largely on the work of Nathan Wallis, I made this to represent the phases of development children needed to go through to build their brain before we start to engage with what we can loosely call 'academic' learning.

The intention of these levels is to slightly expand on this and for us to be able to pinpoint a child's needs when they may be presenting as disengaged or have a lack of motivation. Because this usually presents as children move into a more 'teacher' directed environment it is seen as useful more for children older than seven/eight who we would expect to be in a good state of engagement given we have worked hard on the foundations.

These are my levels, based on what I have learned around this goal, they are not intended to be hard and fast and I am sure I will need to amend and add to them over time as I learn more about the brain.

The idea with these levels is to pinpoint the level a child is actually at, so that we can engage at this point, rather than expecting them to progress academically, or to be showing us learning dispositions we would expect of a child their age, we can provide support and coaching at the point it is needed, in order to help them ultimately be an engaged and motivated learner.

Level One – Do I feel safe, am I attached or am I trauma affected (if a child is in here for development, this needs to be where we engage with them) I am currently working on the idea of a nurture room to help these children.
Link to a draft of this idea here.

Level Two – Do I feel connected to my school, family, community, culture and have a strong sense of self and who I am.  The nurture room would also be of benefit here.

Level Three –
Can I self-regulate, can I name my feelings, do I have emotional IQ, do I have empathy? Do I feel good about myself?

Level Four – Growth mindset and learning talk – do I understand how my brain learns, appreciate challenge and understand that with persistence I can always improve?

Level Five - I am ready and able to be engaged and motivated in the classroom.

Ultimately what I have come to realise is that for some of our children, there are barriers to being able to be motivated and engaged, no matter how amazing our teaching.  It is then up to us to figure out these children, to have a good enough relationship with them, that we no at what point we need to engage and how to help them. 

For us this is very much a work in progress, but my aim is that we can make school a place where 100% of the children are being catered for according to their needs and not being put in the too hard basket, or being blamed for their lack of engagement.  A goal worthy of striving for in my opinion.

I like this quote, but would change interested, to able to....because in order to be interested, we have to be in the right place to be able to accept this learning and then in turn be interested in it.  If all of my energy is going on just existing, and staying safe, then how an earth do I have the energy to be interested.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Trauma and Play - What is happening for those children that struggle to regulate in a play based environment?

Throughout this journey into play over the last five years, one question comes up often, it has been one I have struggled to answer and actually have felt ill equipped to answer. The question is around those children that just cause absolute chaos in a play based class, that break things, fight, basically run riot. Those children who are oppositional and rebuff our attempts at forming strong relationships, basically seem to undermine everything we do.  What do we do about these children? 

I have not felt able to answer this question, because I am incredibly lucky to work in a school where children usually come in with the ability to auto-regulate or to regulate with support from an a trusted person (co-regulate.) Don't get me wrong, we still have children who come in with obvious issues with regulation, due to early trauma or otherwise, but we don't usually have groups of them, we have one or two who we can work effectively with and help to self-manage.

After reading this book

I now feel a little more able to answer this question.  But please know I am no expert.

Firstly however let me say this. For children who come in with strong attachments and for want of a better word 'normal' abilities to regulate, a play-based environment based on self-direction is the absolute best. Children starting from this foundation learn so much within this environment and absolutely blossom emotionally and socially. They cope beautifully in this environment because this is how they are programmed to learn.  They don't need us to direct them or manage them.

Children with early trauma are still built to learn this way, however they are as yet unable to thrive in this environment without a few modifications (which we can make very simply, without going back to our old methods of control.)

Before I go any further:

This short article is helpful if you have not read anything about attachment theory and the link to self-regulation.

This is an excerpt from that article:

What might extreme or unhealthy ways of auto-regulation look like?

Unhealthy patterns of auto-regulation most often include behaviors that are attempts to control. A sense of control of people, places, and things provides a sense of safety; since it is vulnerability for children with attachment disorder that is the scariest position in which to be.

Individuals who feel completely out of control are going to fall apart and do anything they can to gain that control. They attempt to achieve control over other people, places, and things; they find this helps them to achieve control over their own activated nervous system and their emotions. For children, attempts to control can come out in physical, emotional, or psychological manner.

In physical control, children will exert physical force to cause fear in those around them. Rages, throwing and breaking items, and physically hurting others are attempts to control out of a need to help themselves feel better.

In emotional control, children will be able to play with the emotions of others, making others angry, sad, or happy. Depending on the background and prior experiences of the child, they may be quite “street-smart” at being able to know instinctively how to play others emotions to get what they need.

In psychological control, children will lie, triangulate relationships of those in authority, and otherwise manipulate. Much of this is done on such an instinctual level to help calm their own nervous system down; they feel that they are doing these things to survive.

These become the behaviors that seem crazy and extreme to parents of children with attachment disorder; therefore, make daily live very chaotic and difficult. It is dysregulating to live with a child with controlling behaviors The children are not able to communicate any of their internal happenings, so these behaviors come with no warning


Children who have developed unhealthy strategies for regulation will initially struggle in an environment where they have complete choice.  Unlike their peers, who are able to regulate, this environment will cause them stress and because of this stress we will see the behaviours that are described above (that have been described to me by so many teachers over time.)

Sadly many see this as a reason to ditch play and go back to complete structure.  I can absolutely see why, in essence it is the environment based on too much choice that creates these behaviours, and if you are one of those teachers where the majority of your class struggles with regulation for whatever reason, it would seem easier to go back to complete structure.

However I urge you not to do this.  While too much choice is stressful for them, an environment based on play is ultimately what they need.  Just like any other learning, they just need some scaffolding around this environment.  As we would for any other learning, we need to meet their needs and in this environment this may mean shortening periods of play.  Coming back together more frequently for emotional and social coaching or reflection.  Recognising triggers and providing safe places for them to go to.  Specifically teaching them calm down strategies (benefits all.)  Teaching them about their brain and how it works (benefits all.)  Providing more structure around the play for these children, a few choices, rather than complete self-direction to start with.  Trying a strategy we use, which is ten by ten, ten seconds connecting with that child positively, ten times a day.  Harder than it sounds.  Watching what we say and how we redirect behaviour, these children see themselves as bad, the language we use with them is important.  We also don't want to over praise them, they won't believe you and it will make their behaviour worse.

You will gradually see them developing regulation skills and be able to remove some of the scaffolds.  With these children, as with most, it will be ten steps forward and nine back....progress will often be slow emotionally and socially and they will try to deliberately hijack situations as a form of defence.  We must stay strong and constant for them despite what they throw at us.

What we do need to recognise and absolutely understand is that play is going to be difficult for them, their brain has been in a constant state of stress, relationships have been traumatic and disconnected, they don't trust us, why should they?  Free play (for want of a better word) will cause them stress, they will feel out of control and they will take back control in ways we perceive as 'behaving badly.'  They can not help this.  Having to regulate themselves for any period of time is tiring, they become exhausted and it is hard for them.  Safe spaces are important.

So, my answer, please don't let this type of behaviour stop you journeying into play, but recognise it for what it is, and respond to it by putting in place strategies to support regulation.  The most important thing we can teach children is the ability to regulate...from that everything else will come.  The last thing we want them to become is adults that can not regulate.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Why it is struggle, not acceleration we should be aiming for.

The word acceleration has been one that has irked me since it became the catch phrase of the Ministry and ERO.

In my opinion it is productive struggle we should be aiming for, not acceleration.

I got thinking more about this after a conversation I had with a group of learners identified as Maori and working below their expected stage in mathematics.

Our data had thrown up some interesting patterns and I wanted to hear first hand what might be going on with mathematics for some of these children.  If in doubt, I always turn to student voice...I absolutely always learn something and am presented with ideas I wasn't expecting.

So I gathered together this group, posed myself as an investigator, wanting to know more about maths in our school and proceeded to ask them about maths.    I was prepared for them to tell me they were bad at maths, found it hard and wanted more teacher support.

Not only did these so called 'lower' level learners not do this but they talked about their love of maths.  They could also speak eloquently of how they behave if things are hard...they spoke of loving challenge and knowing what to do if it was just out of their reach.  When asked how they would feel if all maths was abolished tomorrow and the never had to do it again, they all responded very loudly "NO."  They spoke of loving the challenge of problem solving and the 'surprise' of the answer at the end.

This conversation got me to thinking.  These children that struggle, really learn a lot about themselves as learners.  In an environment where the process of learning is made visible, where children are well supported in productive struggle, where challenge and mistakes are embraced....these learners flourish.   They are heavily involved in the process, it does not come easy, they have to develop many strategies and in turn they don't shy away when things are hard.  They are also working with teachers who have actively worked to improve their mathematical pedagogy over the years and in my opinion are doing a top notch job!

I would hypothesise that in an environment such as the one I describe, children are well served by the struggle and don't need us to accelerate them through this process.  What they do need from us is the time to struggle and work through this.

In fact as a parent I would rather my child was engaged daily in productive struggle than find things easy or be so supported/scaffolded that little learning was going on.

If they are not, what happens?  Well in my opinion I don't think they ever truly understand themselves as a learner and when things get hard, they are much more likely to give up.   I am sure we all know those children or young adults, or even adults, full of potential, full of ability, that never truly achieve what we expect, or even shy away from what they are truly capable of.

In my opinion it is our job as teachers to give all children this gift...the gift of failure, mistakes and challenge and the absolutely amazing feeling of getting back up again and having success because they didn't give up on themselves!

Productive, supported struggle - the gift we can give all of our learners.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Transforming Reading

Some of you may know that we have been on a journey over the last few years to transform reading at school.  Our aims have been and continue to be:

1)To only start reading when children are developmentally ready.  To stop using chronological age as a guide for expected progress.  To see the growth rather than the deficit.  

2)To help all children to love reading from the moment they start reading, to be so interested in reading that they largely self-initiate the process and take an active role in driving their own progress.

3)To concentrate on the fact that 1/3 of children won't learn without explicit phonics and that by using this approach we won't hurt anyone's learning, but instead help everyone.  (Neil Mckay)

4)To ensure that within our play-based programme, oral language, visual learning (use of pictures for storytelling and the drawing of understandings) along with lots of stories and shared reading play a huge role.  

5)To read individually with children, allowing them to go at their own pace and allowing our teaching to be explicit based on what their need is in that moment. 

6) Most of all, for all children to have success.  For their journey in reading to be seen as a team effort through Year 1-6.

Last year we started our journey into Decodable books.  We found they had a huge impact almost straight away.  After some searching I found the Pip and Tim series that Liz Kane Literacy sells through her site.  These books immediately helped our teaching.  

But we had a conundrum, what about the older children, who have disengaged from reading, while the decodable books are not 'babyish' they certainly don't appeal strongly to these children (I am thinking year 3 and 4 boys here.)  After much research and google searching I found a few titles of Project X code through Mighty Ape.  I purchased ten of these books (no order) just to try and the children we initially tried them with LOVED them.  They were almost transformative for their attitude and sense of success.  I then had to work out how to get my hands on the whole set.  We ended up buying a set through book depository and I got myself stung with the import tax.  It was crucial that we found a New Zealand stockist. 

This video gives you a little taster of the excitement Project X has to offer our readers.

The books are beautifully illustrated, they are fully decodable and sequenced  through a set of worlds, where wonderful adventures happen.  The set end up about level 20.

We were then incredibly lucky to get a donation from a local company for another full set.  This time I had found a wonderful supplier of the books here in NZ.

Edify Ltd
Fiona van der Hor -

We are now incredibly lucky to have fundraised enough to have three sets. They are not cheap, but they are incredible. If you are looking to transform reading for those that are struggling, disengaged and needing a phonetic intervention these just might be what you are looking for. Our learning support teacher aide uses these and the children look forward to reading every day!

It quickly became obvious that we needed a wider range of decodable books and luckily brand new of the press are the Alien adventure series and the Superhero series, all again fully decodable and great for classroom use. These are also x code books and available through Edify.

These readers are gorgeous, so engaging and children love them. They are expensive however, but very very worth it. We are currently working on fundraising so that we can have these available to all classrooms up to Year 4 (and beyond if needed.)

Now we have a new wonderful problem, when our children finish the Project X code series at level 20 they are disappointed and don't want it to end. Luckily for us, the Alien adventures series go right up the levels, so we are purchasing these extra levels so these children can still have the X code experience!

If you are thinking of transforming reading and you have similar goals to of reading and success, then maybe these decodable books are also for you?

I feel lucky to have found them!

Sunday, 23 June 2019

What a day looks like for us....

I thought I would put together a post that summarises what a day looks like for us now given we have changed and evolved a little.  It is of course pretty fluid, but this would be a pretty typical day for us...not planned, no timetable, just guided by our components of play and our focus for the term.

Our bell goes at 9am.

*Children come in and play for the first 10-20 minutes.  We do the roll based on the photos that they have moved to indicate that they are present.  During this time we will talk to children, check in with those that need a bit of extra 'care' and maybe catch up with a developmental check in if time.

*About 9.20am we will come to the mat and sing our morning songs in Te Reo.  Then we will have our class meeting.  This will revolve around something noticed the day before and will be something recorded in our learning journal.  The discussion will revolve around this.

*About 9.30 children will go back to play.  While they are playing we will rove and we will read individually with some children or conduct developmental check ins.  Attempting as well to capture photos/videos for seesaw and for class reflection.

*About 10.35 we will come together for storytelling (writing)  this looks different each day, but revolves around oral language and conveying a message.

*11am is morning tea - however some will already have eaten as they are allowed to eat when hungry.

*11.20 we come back together for number agency (our maths.) Generally this is about 40 minutes.

*12.15 back to play at the end of agency.  ( another couple of readers or developmental check ins)

*12.30 is lunch playing time for the whole school

*1.15pm is lunch eating time

*1.30pm we will do some basic phonics, playing with sound and listening to words then move off to play.

*2.15pm big book or chapter book sharing and then tidy up.  Reflection on photos taken throughout the day.

*2.40pm interest reading for five minutes (book browsing)

*2.55pm home time

Each day is not the same, but we aim to fit storytelling and phonics in three times a week, on other days that may mean we have longer for play.  Children engage with all activities where they are developmentally at and there is no pressure at all.  Depending on what focus is coming through the play, we may have extra reflections throughout the day.  We read with children twice a week, so are not trying to get through all of our readers every day.

Other days may just be taken over by what we are interested in and even agency will not happen on those days.  What is important to me is that our day is guided by the children as much as possible.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Reframing assessment

For those that have read my earlier posts, you will know that I am not a big believer in new entrant assessment of any kind, or testing for the sake of testing.  This play-based journey has had a flow on effect for me, it has allowed me to see how assessment (for want of a better word) can be used as and for learning without causing stress or anxiety.

Let me start by saying this, I believe that if you are to truly embrace play as a pedagogy and student driven learning our old ways of using assessment need to discarded.  Assessment that 'tests' what a child knows, even when they are not developmentally ready has no place in our classrooms.

Basically if we are obsessed with measuring, we will never be able to truly embrace the beauty of individualised learning and developmentally appropriate practice.  There is no way I can embrace play and the ethos behind it and then think it is appropriate to assess a child on print concepts at six, given that in my individualised environment, based on development, this child may not have yet started engaging with any formal learning around print, because I know they are not developmentally ready.  What would I be proving?

All I would be proving is that according to the 'test' my children are not doing well.  We all know this is not the case, the test is simply not testing something these children are ready for.  It would be like me turning up to work tomorrow and being tested on my handstands, I would fail dismally, but what would that prove and how would trying to teach me to do a handstand help me as a learner?   Nothing as it is likely there are many important foundation skills that would need to be put in place for me before I was even anywhere near ready to learn to do a handstand.  And is it likely that handstands are my most important next learning step?  Have I had input into this?

This is true for our little learners, assessment of skills they are not ready for yet or not at all interested in are a waste of their time and ours and only go on to reinforce to these learners that they are somehow not good enough.

I have no idea why our system is so obsessed with using assessment in this way, proving what a child can not do, when we already knew that, rather than describing what they can do and setting reasonable next steps.  I mean imagine if I was put into handstand recovery based on the fact that I can't do one, would it really be of benefit to me if this simply wasn't something my brain or body was ready for or if I had no desire to improve as I felt removed from the process?

I am absolutely not against assessment, not at all, in fact I use assessment almost all day every day and love it.  Assessment is just framed differently, it is seen as learning and for learning.  Children play an active role in this process without even knowing it.

I know more about my children now than ever before and when they turn six, I certainly don't need a six year net to give me standardised comparative data, in fact I can write an accurate description based on them as a learner without the need for the stress that this 'test' causes.

Does this mean I never use diagnostic testing like this?  No of course not, but this is woven into our day in ways that are appropriate to the individual and based on where they are at developmentally.   In the way our class operates, with individualised pathways it is entirely possible that I could use elements of a six year net if I felt that using that would give me genuinely useful information.

It is interesting because the more I have come to see assessment as 'just part of' our daily programme, the more useful it has become to me.  The more I start to view it in this way the less aware I become when I am actually engaging in an assessment task because if feels just like the learning process, not something separate or at the end, but something part of the whole, something natural, useful and dynamic that helps me to learn more about the child and the child to learn more about themselves.  It has all just become about the evolution of the learner in our classroom, part of the cycle of their growth and this is why I shy away from the word assessment, because it still conjures up images of end point tests and summative judgements.  When I use the word assessment in relation to what we strive for I am talking conversational, diagnostic, dynamic, narrative, observational and always involving the child and shared with the whānau as much as realistically possible so that they are also part of the process.  We are aiming for description over comparison.

My ultimate aim is to be able to use one piece of 'assessment' for many purposes.  For myself, for the child and for the family.  Seesaw as a sharing tool has made this aim entirely possible and relatively easy.

For assessment to be purposeful it has to be a shared process of growth, of progress, of step by step success.  Shared and owned by the child and family as much as it is of use to me.  However it does not have to be a hugely time consuming process and there is one key tool above all others...the teachers ability to notice, recognise and respond.  It is our understanding of next steps, of the learning process, of how to respond to need, of noticing even the smallest detail that may be a hurdle for a child and putting in place something to help them that is absolutely crucial..there isn't one assessment tool that can tell you something you are not yet skilled enough to understand.

And so the burden is on us to learn, to learn constantly about the brain, about how it learns to read, to understand the building blocks of literacy, to get a real grip on maths, what happens in the brain when we learn maths, what number sense entails.  It is up to us to understand how the brain develops, to know what the child is ready for and not ready for.  It is up to us to understand social and emotional growth, to know what it looks like when a child feels unsafe and may have an insecure attachment.  It is up to us to understand dispositions, competencies, how to encourage values recognise how old the children in front of us 'actually' are.  It is up to us to be constantly learning and if we are doing it right, assessment processes should guide us to these questions that we can ably investigate and begin to understand a little more each time.

When I talk assessment I am very much thinking dispositional and 'academic' dependent of the developmental stage of the child and what is right for them.  There would be little point assessing reading if the child has not yet starting engaging with learning to read, however there are building blocks behind this process that we can be using as 'marks in the sand' and therefore the very important point here is that assessment may look different for each child in the class...and so it should.  To allow myself to do this I have created some building block documents based on my own research and experience.  These are below.

These documents help me to engage with a child where they are currently up to and to set small next steps.  The element at the bottom of the last chart is crucial though, if a child does not feel safe and happy, if they have an insecure attachment or are displaying significant behaviour issues, they will not be ready to learn, or focus here needs to be emotional and relational, forming a strong trusting connection and allowing the play based environment to work its magic.  In the instance a child is not secure, engaging in or trying to force any sort of academic learning (at any age) is a waste of time and we need to understand this.

And so, what have I discovered so far about quality assessment.  Quality assessment is that which informs us, the whānau and involves the child.  Quality assessment informs next steps and may even highlight areas for further investigation when it comes to learning needs.  Quality assessment is based on the understanding that learning is not linear and will often lead us to branch out or  circle back before moving forward.  Quality assessment should be so embedded within the learning process in our classroom that it may not even be recognised as assessment by the observer.  Quality assessment is transparent, without hidden agenda and quality assessment happens because it is useful and necessary, if it isn't, it does not happen at all.  Most importantly there is no one fit suits all, assessment may look different for each learner according to their current learning path and needs.  Quality assessment is not comparative, it is based on growth and progress for the individual learner and therefore tools may be used to assist the learning journey of one child, but not needed for another as they are at a different point in their learning journey.

What I have also come to realise is that it is hard to make this type of quality assessment work in a classroom that is teacher directed and bound by timetables.  It works in a classroom that is student driven because the teacher is free to do what makes us most effective, notice, recognise and respond.  A student driven classroom frees the teacher to work individually with children or with small groups, making this type of non-linear assessment work.

So what is it we currently do in our Year 0-2 classroom?

- We allow children just to be, just to settle, we spend at least half a term getting to know them, noticing interests, dispositions, urges establishing their level of security within our classroom and taking time to deliberately create strong trusting relationships.

- We share dispositions/urges/interests/social emotional development through posts on seesaw.  Using these dispositions as a guide.  We aim to write a longer narrative supported by video or photos twice a term for each child.  Dependent on the child's needs these may start to be based on academic growth.

These narratives are literally only a few sentences and have been a more manageable way of incorporating narrative assessment for us, in a big class it can be quite overwhelming to feel that we have to write a full learning story.  We reserve longer learning stories to whole class items in our learning journal.

A couple of examples below:

During his time in the 'Space' yesterday, -------practised writing his name. It would be great if you could also practise at home, so the correct formation of the letters is consolidated. On Thursday it is also a day that I like to sit and chat with each of them. ------certainly likes to talk about superheroes, especially Spiderman. He enjoyed colouring some pictures of spiderman in, making sure he used the correct colours for the suit. ------- gets on well with all his fellow classmates and is kind and caring. This is a great disposition to have.😄

This is ------ story from yesterday in her writing journal. She is able to draw a picture and tell us what her story is about. It is great to see her use some words that were modelled on the board to help her write her story. We have seen greater persistence, when completing tasks in the class. As -----has become more comfortable in the classroom environment, she also appears more resilient, and will keep trying even when she finds the task hard. This has been wonderful to see!

A volcano 🌋 3D art inspired by a unique big idea 💡 once again. This inspired a lot of learning about volcanoes and dinosaurs today! The persistence and focus required to complete these is quite remarkable.

- After half a term we start to engage one on one with a child on developmental goals, establishing where they are at, and where we need to meet them.  These goals are here and will be played around with according to the needs of the child.  We will also share the how and the why on seesaw as the children moves through them.  Once fortnight we will meet individually with the child to check in with where they are up to.  Until children have moved onto the early literacy section of these developmental goals, these are of paramount importance and our most important form of assessment.

- As appropriate developmentally we use samples of 'writing' to talk to children about what they are doing really well and what their next steps are, these are shared with whānau as well.  We use this to 'assess' growth.

- As a child is developmentally ready (has working memory well established) we start to give them a number goal which we share with home and conference one to one with.  These number goals are broken down from the i-kan.  We meet with children one on one once a fortnight to check in with how they are going and provide feedback and next steps.

- Throughout play we take a lot of photos and videos and use these to guide reflections.  We share a lot of these photos and videos on seesaw to build up a whole picture of the child, their strengths, interests and urges.

- Throughout Number Agents we will video strategies and use these to guide our reflections with the child and whānau.

- When children are ready start reading, we actively use the decodable texts to guide next steps, sharing videos of our sessions with whānau or writing a narrative about next steps.  We will conduct a running record when we feel this is sensible to do so, and will be useful to us, however actually asking children why the self-corrected, or how they solved that word is very valid and useful information.

Each child has an individual learning journey where all this information is compiled over time.

Using these approaches we can form a nice well rounded picture of the child that we can confidently share with parents when we have learning conferences.  We have a depth of understanding about a child that we did not have before and it has really come from simply slowing down and appreciating the nature of development.

Is this the be all and end all?  No of course not, we are still on our journey and will always be learning and growing.  Our ultimate aim is to be able to create a respectful and knowledgeable   picture of growth about each and every child that clearly shows their strengths, passions, urges and captures who they are.  A picture that clearly says "I SEE YOU"

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

What might play look like across the levels?

Before I Start

When using play as a pedagogy, the hardest dilemma is in fact what the play may look like and be provided for as children progress through the levels. It is one schools wonder about most often and one reason that play may be used effectively in the first year, but not beyond. This makes it difficult for the children who have flourished in a play based environment to then fit into a more prescribed, directed room. Often leading to frustration and stress for not only the children, but the teacher as well. Relationships in a classroom that uses play as its primary pedagogy are something that come to the fore. Play allows us a deep understanding of interests, urges and strengths, which in turn gives us a way in with children. This is more difficult in a traditional, teacher directed room where children are more likely to go unseen.

While this will differ from school to school depending on philosophies and values I want to attempt to capture what it may look like, how it will be provided for and what else needs to be included as children become developmentally ready and interested. I will write from what I know, which is from the point of view of our school and where I would ultimately like to see us working. We have not got there quite yet, but are working towards this. For me, it is all about relationships. Using developmentally appropriate practice does not mean children are left to their own devices, what it does mean is that as teachers we learn to meet them where they are at, rather than expecting them to meet us.

Firstly let me say that the it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but in fact to just reframe the ‘academic’ learning through a lens of authenticity, student voice and purpose within an approach that honors playfulness, the powerful importance of strong relationships and developmentally appropriate teaching and learning.

Secondly we need to address the purpose of levels...they are a means of grouping children with their peers, but if we are to look at this from a developmental perspective, they fall down. Just because children are a similar age, does not mean they have similar needs, nor should a ‘higher’ level be used to indicate that a child is further on in their development as this simply may not be the case. We all know those children who are incredibly mature at six or seven and those that leave school socially and emotionally very similar to how we would expect a five or six year old to be. Does this mean they won’t do well, not at all, it just means that age is a number and if we are to engage deeply with children and actually understand them as individuals we have to appreciate the stages of development and the rate that some progress through these. I feel Piaget’s stages of development are relevant here, and it is very important to note the ages that have been tagged to these stages of development. This is a useful article here. Obviously this is not the be all and end all for development, and within each stage there will be a spectrum of behaviours and dispositions that we see developing, or not developing yet.

I believe that mixed levels as a compromise are an effective way of grouping children, children learn from and with each other as they play and engage in more directed tasks, so a range of children, not just grouped by age is a useful way to ensure this happens as naturally as possible. In an ideal world we would not group children in this way at all, but that is a huge area for exploration at a much later date.

Play in the first 18 months (at least)

In this time play needs to take precedence. Play should permeate through the whole day and be the mode of inquiry that teachers are working with. The children are the curriculum and so coverage comes out of the interests and urges as they are noticed and responded to. Te Whāriki is seen as the key guiding document for learning. During this time developmentally appropriate practice allows us to engage individually with children introducing them to more formal ‘academic’ learning as an when we know they are interested and ready. Writing should happen through storytelling initially, with specific phonics teaching being part of listening to and having fun with words, appreciating the importance of hearing sounds and understanding that words are made up of sounds. The teacher should have time to pull out children individually to work with them if they are ready for learning such as guided reading. Dispositional learning is seen as the most important thing and children should be actively learning social and emotional skills through authentic situations which are then noticed by the teacher, reflected on and responded to as appropriate. Kindness, empathy, respect and growth mindset are actively taught in fun and interesting ways that appeal to children, like song, drama, video and picture books. Children are introduced to all areas of literacy and numeracy, encouraged to have a go in a relaxed way, with oral language development and rich discussion being of paramount importance. Play is not teacher directed. It is not planned for and any planning is backward in nature. There is no timetable or structure to the day and this is guided by the children and their play. There are no ‘filler’ activities that are designed for teacher control, play is the mode of working in the day when children are not together with the teacher. The environment is key, it must inspire curiosity, play and investigation, there is an appreciation that the environment is not only the inside of the classroom, but the outside as well, where many will spend a lot of their time. The teachers use of space is important, mingling within the play, observing and not remaining located in one space. Thinking about their positioning in the play is vital. Learning is captured in clever and reflective ways, maybe via still image, picture, video etc and is used to guide reflective learning discussions that may or may not provoke further thought or investigation. Talk is paramount, a high level of vocabulary is used and explained. Children actively lead learning discussions and there is never an assumption that they don’t know. In an environment based on play a child’s prior knowledge is used widely and they are seen as the experts. Their questions, wonderings, noticings, big ideas very much guide each day.

Assessment is seen as working for learning, it is done as appropriate and used to gauge developmental progress initially. The majority of this happens dynamically throughout the day, individually and is shared with the child and whānau.

Play in Year 2 and 3

Play will continue to permeate throughout the day and be the sole method of inquiry, using children’s interests and urges to guide discussions and further learning. Play is not confined to one section of the day or week, but carefully managed and provided for throughout most of the day. If children are not involved in teacher directed learning, they should be playing. A rich environment is vital where children can have the opportunity to deepen their play. A focus on creativity, problem solving and investigation will allow authentic and purposeful learning. The teacher needs to become skilled at recognising and providing for these. Dispositions should still guide a lot of what is happening and deliberate teaching needs to happen around aspects of kindness, respect and empathy. This is vital as children become better at understanding that others have feelings and that the choices we make have a negative or positive affect. This teaching could be done through song, drama, animations, picture book or photos/videos taken throughout the day. There will be an appreciation that some children in this learning area (particularly those not yet 7) will not yet be developmentally ready for more academic learning and a balance for these children needs to be found, it is vital they are not stressed by activities that are beyond them. Writing, reading and maths will find their ways into classrooms in more directed, but also playful ways, happening each day, these sessions will be short and valuable in terms of growth for the children. These sessions may be inspired by the play that is going on in the room. Storytelling continues to be very important at this level, with a focus on children’s writing being their own, based on what they want to write about and expectations set around what the teacher knows about that child. Children may still be being engaged with on an individual level while others play, particularly in goal setting and areas like reading where it may be appropriate for them to be working on their own with the teacher. The timetable will remain fluid, but it does become important that children are taking part in more directed teaching as well that could flow from their play. However it is absolutely vital that this directed teaching is relevant for the needs and stages of the children.

The teachers use of space is important, mingling within the play, observing and not remaining located in one space. Thinking about their positioning in the play is vital. Positioning allows the teacher to notice what is going on and not only actively recognise and respond to the play, but to also actively recognise and respond to individual needs. Positioning allows us to be open when children need to be seen and heard. Relationships should always be of paramount importance. Student voice is gathered and actively listened to. Vocabulary remains elevated and talk continues to be of vital importance as oral language is a way into further learning. Growth mindset teaching is of great importance as children begin to understand how to reflect and respond to their own learning. Assessment should be for learning and summative assessment is only used if it is useful. Curriculum continues to be captured and recorded through play and used to reflect on, respond to and provoke further investigation. At this level the teacher will have in their head the ‘must’ get to elements of their day, however is open to the play taking them a completely different way. The teacher needs an effective system to record the learning so that the ‘curriculum’ is captured. It is vital the teacher has exemplary curriculum knowledge, particularly around the competencies, but also has a good working understanding of Te Whāriki as some children could still be working from here. Mantle of the expert may begin to be woven through in mini mantles as appropriate to the needs of the class at the time. It is vital that the playfulness and dramatic aspects of the mantle takes paramount importance here.

Play in Year 4 and Beyond

Firstly it is vial that we acknowledge here that although these children are older, their urge to play is still as strong as their more junior counterparts. It is also important to understand that in terms of development children at this level still may be operating where we would perhaps expect a 7 year old to be developmentally, once again, this needs to guide how we interact and what we expect.

It is vital that playfulness, authentic and purposeful learning situations permeate the day. Student voice is huge and wherever possible this should guide learning. Children also still need opportunities to free play without teacher direction and the environment can play a key role here. The NZ curriculum will guide learning direction, with the competencies being the most important consideration. Quality literacy and maths will be provided for and a lot of integration will happen through Mantle of the Expert. Assessment is seen as being for learning and it is vital children are an active part of this process. Learning goals and next steps are vital within this process and narratives used should share these with parents. Creativity, problem solving, flexible thinking, innovation and imagination should continue to be drivers for learning. Dispositions remain a focus, with growth mindset teaching being very important. Strong relationships form the basis of success. Timetables should be fluid with opportunities to follow interests and wonderings.