Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Why are we so preoccupied with looks when it is what's inside that counts?

This photo got me thinking today:

So simple, but there is real depth here.  See that little tower?  Well it is not a tower, it is a sausage toaster.  It toasts sausages really really hot.  It also make them sour.  But it is multipurpose, it can toast other things, but not so hot, and not sour.  Did I expect that explanation, absolutely not, I was limited my adult eye, that simply saw a tour.

What an amazing imagination this child has, and what an incredible story it could turn into if she wanted to write it down.

This got me thinking.  There is not a lot to this is not impressive, it is not beautiful, there is nothing remarkable about it.  What is remarkable is what can not be seen, it is the learning inside what appears here in the photo and it is the learning that can then come from it.

This got me thinking further...many schools and teachers are so preoccupied with how things look, how amazing things look on the outside that the beauty of learning is lost.  

This is another example.  This looks like nothing.  It isn't remarkable. What is remarkable is the cooperation and creativity that has gone into it. The negotiation for space, and the willingness to let others add to our efforts.

The reality is that play-based learning is often not aesthetically pleasing.  It isn't something that you would see on pinterest.  It is not something that can be wrapped up in a bow and shown off for all to see.  True self-directed play is often not beautiful on the outside, but inside the learning it is incredibly beautiful.  If we are not willing to let go and accept that our planning wont be perfect, completed tasks wont be beautiful, they wont use equipment as intended and very rarely will things look how I want them to look, then I don't think play-based learning can truly flourish in our rooms.  Truly deep play is not something that can be defined by a tidy taskboard.

This is something management especially need to get over....classrooms will not resemble something from a magazine most of the time, and if it does, then the question needs to be asked if the children are really self-directing.  

Thinking about what is happening within our rooms got me thinking about our environment.  I have taught in and toured around schools that are immaculate.  The grounds are incredible, the play equipment is top of the line, colours abound and gardens are tidy.  Money is spent on appearances.

This is where I want to put it out there, if our school is to truly be play promoting there must be aspects of it that we allow the children to take over.  I am a big believer in natural play items, I love tyres, our school you will find sheets in trees, piles of mud, planks of wood...evidence that children are in charge of their space.  No it is not aesthetically pleasing.  It used to be, our grounds used to be tidy...or gardens were no go areas....this is not the case so much anymore....but giving this little bit of perfection away has allowed play to truly be promoted in our school.  For imagination, creativity, cooperation and negotiation to thrive.  

If a parent was walking around our school and then went to visit another more immaculate school, they may not choose to come to us.  But you know what, school isn't about them.  School is for children and play-based learning is more beautiful on the inside.  If they take time to listen and watch and don't define us by appearances, their opinion may be a little different.  

This is just food for thought....for our schools to be truly play promoting we need to accept that the learning is on the inside and what is seen on the outside often can not depict the quality and depth of what is happening on the inside.   This is not to say that parts of our school can't be immaculate...just that we need to let go and accept that other parts wont be...and this is a powerful thing!

Child centred environments.  Re-defining what is beautiful.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Play - Ways to break down perceptions when we are getting started

Based on what I have heard in my many discussions with other teachers around the country that want to start a play-based classroom is that there are two my barriers to break down .
1) Management perception of play
2)Parent perception of play

If you are anything like me, when you find something that you think will work for your children, you want to jump in boots and all.  Unfortunately we are not an island and there are things to be considered before we begin to make fundamental changes to the way things are done.

I believe the key to real, fundamental, systematic change is time.  At our place, when we are embedding change we give ourselves three years.  A finding out year, a trying out year and an embedding year.  Fantastically this links very well to the currently popular spiral of inquiry model.  At our place it is all about trusting hunches and trusting each other....I am well aware that others are not this lucky (sadly) but I still believe fundamental and systematic change is possible, if we are prepared to give it time.

In this post let's start with management:

If we think from the point of view of the spiral of inquiry, we need to find a 'problem' and develop a hunch.  What is the problem telling us?  What do we need to do differently?

I always find it useful to directly relate this to our story, so let's go back to where it all started for us.

 To the end of 2014, to ground zero and student x.  I am guessing some of you will be surprised that this all started with one student.  Student x entered school socially and emotionally quite removed from learning.  His vocab was minimal and he struggled to process even the most basic instructions in the classroom.  We were very worried.  Within our classroom we tried everything that had worked previously in our traditional new entrant class.  When I say traditional I mean quite structured and teacher led, however we had been using discovery time for a year, which I think also helped our thinking later on.

We needed to think on our feet, what could we do?  (this is the part I find so exciting!)

Based on this we developed a hunch that in order to help this little guy we needed to basically travel back in time, to all those things he had missed....we needed to go back and lay the foundations.  How were we to do this?  We consulted with our SLT and she was able to secure a little funding.  Together we developed a programme based on nursery rhymes.  Basically he would learn a nursery rhyme to the point of knowing it off by heart (incredibly challenging for him) and then learn a new one, until he had five he knew well.  We also implemented a programme that involved 3-4 statements to one question ....we did this with the whole class....the aim here was to feed in the vocab that was lacking.  After all, how can you answer a question if you don't have the words to answer it?

To help his progress with social and emotional skills we developed a small group that would go out for an hour a day with our brilliant TA.  They worked within quite a play-based way with a focus on movement and social and emotional growth.

As a flow on, we started to focus more on the nursery rhymes in our classroom.  I started an early years inquiry which very basically outlines what our next steps were and where we are up to now.  Rather than writing it all down again here, have a read and you will have a clearer picture of where we went.  This also links to our writing review (have deleted some info here)

As you can see we took some very deliberate steps towards play-based learning, but at the beginning I had no idea that was where we were headed.  In fact, those that have been reading this from the beginning will know how anti play-based learning I initially was.

So that is our story.  Student x made fantastic progress for him.  Now a few years into school he is still considered a target student, but is able to read, write, has much better independence in the classroom  and we are seeing the benefit of taking the time to lay the foundations.

Ok, so back to the point of this post.  How to convince management?  I believe you do it by starting an inquiry.  By showing management that there is a problem, by doing your research on play-based benefits, showing them this research and sharing your hunch.

But be willing to start slow.  From a management point of view, the fear is that 'progress' will be slower, that results will be affected.  If you are able to keep them in the loop about the progress children are making and continue to make in a play-based room they feel more confident about taking a risk.  

 It is also useful to ask them to put together a list of concerns, so you can speak clearly to these.  On most occasions they will be thinking that you wont be doing reading, maths and writing.  They need to be reassured that these things will still happen, but just look differently in a play-based room.  I know that these things happen far more effectively in my play-based room now than they ever did in my traditional new-entrant room where I was always in a rush to get things done.  Some will still be on the side of good old 'rote' learning of words, letters and numbers etc.  By showing them that this knowledge will develop alongside crucial cognitive and social development in a play-based room...and happen in an authentic way, you can help to change this perception.

We all want to jump in boots and all, but we have to be prepared to take our own journey.  Ours was rapid, once we saw the benefits...but because I am the new entrant teacher and the Principal, our situation is quite unique.  You have to find a way to take your management team on this journey with you.  Basically you need your own student x....I bet we all have one :)

Be prepared to take small steps.  Even if it is beginning 'discovery time' but taking a student-led focus with this.  Sometimes it is the word play that people are balking from.  We created a discovery shed and used this at lunchtimes, it was a small way to begin incorporating more play.

On the flip side, management also needs to be prepared to take a risk to allow some changes and allow time to see the benefits.  There are some practices that just do not gel with a play-based room.  Certain testing certainly has no place and can be done in different ways.  I guess the question management needs to answer here is, what is the point of the test and what is it telling me that is helpful?

And if it helps....our data has shown very little change over the past few years.  We still have 'good' results across all levels.  However the key difference I was hoping for had nothing to do with data.  It had to do with happiness, resilience, empathy, creativity and real personal growth.  On that scale we are rocking it!

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Some more thoughts on writing...and some tips.

Writing is the most asked about aspect of a play-based classroom (well in my experience anyway.)

One thing I have to say about writing is that we must be prepared to trust that by using a self-directed play-based approach, we are allowing children to develop the building blocks that will form the foundations of literacy.  These will not be immediately evidenced through work samples, and we have to give children time to establish these building blocks.  We may not see the progress quickly and it may take a LOT of time, but in my experience, when the neurons connect the progress is rapid!  We have to allow ourselves to trust this process and those in management positions need to trust our beliefs and instincts.

Writing does not always look the same in our class, but it does have lots of commonalities.  We teach phonics separately and use this when we are talking about writing.  We make it explicit to children that our picture is our story when we start school and that we can add detail to our picture that will later turn into the detail we put into our stories.  We repeat over and over that letters are just a way to represent sounds, these sounds join together to make words and these words join together to make sentences.  Do we expect them to get this straight away?  No, but by talking out loud we are allowing children to process and embed this understanding.   We also link our writing strongly with our work on growth mindset.  Talking about the power of yet and the importance of reflecting on our mistakes.  And most important, our brain is just like a muscle the more we use it the stronger it gets...mistakes are to be cherished as the way we learn.

In fact talking about writing is what we do....we talk a lot, we make it explicit.   We all write one big group.  Usually we will write about our play, or let the children choose what to write.  Sometimes we will use a sentence starter.   We all write our names, draw a picture and then we start to write.  We have a go and talk about what we are writing...we listen in and help with sounding out as and where needed.  If children simply scribble, or simply write letters or draw random shapes, we are not bothered, developmentally this is where they are at.

Some tips that I have found useful lately.

1) We use Heidi Songs Developmental progressions of writing here.  We dont even think about going near a piece of writing with an assessment tool till stage 10.  This form is kept in their little assessment scrapbooks and we highlight where children are up to.

2)We talk a lot about writing left to write and reading left to right....seems simple but this has really helped children this year.

3)The more detail a child draws into a picture the more inclined they are to write an extra sentence...they do this naturally without having to be asked.

4)Sounding arrows....these are simply and arrow that a child draws on their page when they come to an unknown word.  We liken them to a race.  The start of the race is the beginning of the line, the end of the race is the end of the arrow.  We talk about the beginning and end sounds being the first we hear because like a race these are the easiest parts of the race....the middle sounds are hard and come last because the middle is when the race gets hard.  We use these sounding arrows at phonics time as well when we are listening to sounds.

Just be prepared to let children write.  Trust in their ability to drive their own learning.  Engage in lots of talk about learning and the process, and they will get there.

Today we wrote about our favourite place...some stories are pictured below.  These children didn't stay on the mat with us...once they reach stage 10 on the progressions they move off and write independently...they also start beginning and ending their stories in different ways.

These children have had between 3-9 months at school :)

This lovely little girl is at about stage five on the progressions.  She has worked out her reading books contain she spent a long time in her blank book copying from her cute!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Can we really teach like Finland? Or do we really need to?

An online discussion has got the old grey cells turning. Finland is held up as the pinnacle in education and from everything I have seen and read, rightly so.  They respect teachers and respect the children...what a powerful place to start.

This is a powerful segment.

Some believe that Finland is just so different that it holds little relevance for New Zealand, I disagree.  I think that the fundamental concepts of respect, equity and fun have a lot to teach us.

But let's forget about Finland for a moment, I think what we need to do is get back to teaching like New Zealand!  Finland's system has a lot to teach us and there are systematic factors that allows their system to be so effective, systematic features that unfortunately us teachers on the ground have little control over.

But we needn't use this as an excuse, we may not be able to change the system, but we can change our schools, it is entirely possible to change our schools positively while still working within our current system.

New Zealand already has a ground breaking curriculum, a curriculum that is world leading and sadly a curriculum that has been narrowed by National Standards and the compliance that has come with these farcical benchmarks.

Luckily for us that curriculum is still there, it still allows us the right to place it at the centre of what we do and completely move National Standards completely to the side, and hopefully in the the bin!  It is us that has allowed National Standards to take over, to cause us frustration, to take away from our lovely broad curriculum and it is us that can make this right.

We are lucky at our school, or perhaps lucky is not the right word...we have been prudent and held onto the curriculum and everything it allows us to do for our children.  Do we 'do' National Standards, yes of course, we have to.  We report on them to the degree that the need to be reported and we send data through to the Ministry as we are required to do.  But our reports are still based on the child and full of lovely comments that actually mean something to the parent.

So, how can we teach like New Zealand, what are some small, or not so small ways we can once again broaden our curriculum. These are some of the things we have done and are in no particular order.

1) Bring back play, real play, play that involves risk.  Stop banning things.  Let them climb trees.  Take away rules and implement habits.

2) Allow children outside more often.  Make school grounds more open to creative play, stop spending money on colourful plastic playgrounds and start collecting tyres, wood, bits and pieces that they can create with.  Embrace the good old mud kitchen!

3) Ensure drama and the arts has a strong role in your curriculum.  Drama has had huge benefits for our school.  We use the Mantle of the Expert approach that I could not recommend more highly, it has had huge positive changes for inquiry at our school and has led to motivated and engaged children.

4) Ask the children.  Talk to them about what makes them happy, what they do or not like, get their opinions about everything, they will surprise you.  We have a school council of children, year 1-6 this allows me to have a direct link with student voice in the school.

5)Stop testing for testing sake.  Have a good hard look at all the assessments that are used, what is the point, if they are pointless, get rid of them.  We have stopped most testing in Term 1 and just use Term 4 data.  We use very few 'tests' now and assessment school wide is limited to mostly work samples, observation, running records, JAM/GLOSS etc.

6)This goes with number 5...get rid of stress where possible, teacher stress and child stress, a stressed child doesn't learn and a stressed teacher is not at the top of their game.

7) Give extra time, juggle release and timetables and allow teachers extra time to get 'paperwork' tasks done.  Allow them time to think, reflect and embed practice.  Don't flit from one PLD to the next.  We allow three years to explore and embed new learning.

6)Stop testing five year olds!  I am alarmed when I am told about the volume of testing a five year old is put through in some schools...what is the point?  A teacher will know within a week everything that needs to be known to move forward, without testing.  Where possible allow children to see any 'assessment' as one to one 'checking in.'  Use tools like seesaw and learning stories.

7)Use play-based learning for the first year at least.  The research around play-based learning is overwhelming and undeniable.   This does not mean children will not learn, in fact they are likely to surprise you.

8) Encourage playfulness across the school as much as possible, get age groups mixing.  Have a discovery shed or junk shed that children can access at lunchtimes or that children can access during class time.

9) Don't have staff meetings for meetings sake.  We didn't have a staff meeting after school for the whole first term.  We caught up with important items via email or via a quick Monday morning meeting.

10) Trust and respect.  Trust colleagues, respect each other.  Trust the children and respect that they have a lot to offer us.  Listen to each other, if someone has the bravery to speak up, they deserve to be listened to.

11) Promote kindness across the school and community.  We used bucket filling as our starting point for each class this year.  We also implemented KiVa anti-bullying programme which has been a fabulous addition to our school.  We are a values and thinking based school, to us the most important attributes are kindness, respect, resilience and empathy, from these powerful learning and relationships will come.

12) Have a common language for learning across the school.  We have used Habits of Mind over the years and for the last couple have really focussed in on growth mindset.

13) Promote fun at every opportunity.  Let children self-direct and trust that they can.

14) Stop ticking boxes for boxes sake.  Stop rushing, slow down.  Be flexible, integrate learning where possible.  Stop using learning intentions for learning intentions sake...yes sharing them out loud can be valuable, but often the best learning is not the intended learning.

15) Consider the role oral language plays in your school.  Vocal development is so crucial for future learning and it is a common deficit running through out schools.  Have a look at the talk moves as a starting point.

15) Talk to parents about everything and why you are doing it.  Allow them access to the research, fill your newsletter with anything that you think parents need to know.  Have events that allow parents to come into school and get involved in informal, non threatening ways.  Use social media to your benefit.

16) Take time to share with each other.  Set aside staff meetings that are purely about sharing.  We learn so much from each other.  Don't be afraid to ask for help and don't expect everyone to be the same and do everything in the same way.

17) We can't get it right all of the time.  We all make mistakes, it is how we grow from these that determines what will happen next.

18) Stop appraising and start observing and sharing.  Just like children don't respond well to tests, teachers don't respond well to being appraised.  We can get a feeling for the teaching and the class without ticking boxes.  Management needs to stop coming over the top and start working in classrooms talking to children and guiding where necessary.  Being a Principal does not make you all and powerful like the Wizard of Oz...I think we know how that story ended.

19) Make learning authentic.  Really think about the authenticity of a worksheet before you give it...or any task for that matter.  Children need to see how what they are learning will help them in 'real life.'

20) Relationships - take time to get to know your children.  There is no difference between the best behaved children and the worst behaved.  The best behaved children had their needs met before they got to school, the worst behaved came to school to have their needs met(Danny Steele via Twitter).  They are sent to try us, but they need us to really get know them, get them, respect them and care for them.
Ask yourself this at every opportunity "If I was a child in this class at this moment, would I be engaged in what is going on"  If the answer is no, stop.  Think about your classroom as a child would and shape your teaching around this.

These are certainly not a list of be all an end alls.  They are just some starting points.  I have been incredibly fortunate to have a very forward thinking Principal to take over from (10 years ago now) who put children at the centre of the school.  I have been able to continue on this path.  If it is any help, we had ERO last year, they loved Mantle of the Expert and play-based learning.  Don't let compliance be an excuse.

Put fun and children at the centre of everything we do....and we can't go wrong!  Let's teach like New Zealand!

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Teaching - First Do No Harm

This is not directly about Number Agents and is taken from my professional inquiry blog

It is has been entrenched in me that as a new entrant teacher one of my main roles is to teach children to read and write.  In fact I often feel like a failure when I pass children on that are only at emergent level...don't know their alphabet or recognise words.  I worry when they can't write, I feel like I have failed them...I wonder what I could have done differently.  Yet I know how far they have come, I know that when they started that couldn't speak in a sentence, hold a pencil, draw a picture, share with others, take turns, even wipe their bottom in some cases.  So why do I continue to do this, to worry, when all research says it is needless worry.

Even after all of the research I have done, after everything I know about the brain, after everything I have read this is still a battle that rages in my mind.  Within the professional discourse I have with myself, it is a real juxtaposition.

There is one reason for this and it is compliance.  National Standards force us into thinking children need to be at a certain point at a certain time...this is simply not true.  National Standards force parents into thinking that their child has to be at a certain point and if they are not, there is something wrong with them, or perhaps the school are not doing their job, or perhaps the teachers are simply not working hard enough....or perhaps they are playing too much!

Well you know is not the children that need to change, it is us.

I have found loads of overwhelming research that points to the fact that our system is wrong...perhaps we need to be brave and follow our instincts more often.


Copied and Pasted From The Full Article Here

The Evidence on Early Reading Instruction To report on the question of early reading, Sebastian Suggate summarized his own studies and those of others that shed light on the issue. Suggate is a professor of psychology from New Zealand who teaches at the Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences in Bonn, Germany. In 2007 Suggate began to study childhood reading, which became the topic of his doctoral thesis. His studies raise serious doubts about the effectiveness of early reading instruction. In his doctoral thesis Suggate concludes that there is no solid evidence showing long-term gains for children who are taught to read in kindergarten.14 In fact, by fourth grade and beyond, these children read at the same level as those who were taught to read in the first grade. Suggate has continued to study the question of why children should learn to read at five when those who learn at six or seven do just as well by age 11. He also considers what harm is done by focusing so much kindergarten time on reading instruction, leaving little time for other much-needed activities.15 Dr. Marcy Guddemi, executive director of the Gesell Institute, reports: 4 Defending the Early Years • Alliance for Childhood Reading Instruction in Kindergarten Dr. Arnold Gesell found that all children go on the same path of development; however, some go faster, some go slower, and all have spurts and set-backs along the way. The obvious example is the age that children learn to walk. Some children learn to walk as early as nine months, some as late as 15 months. But that is all normal and we all agree that the early walker is not a better walker than the later walker. A similar example is the age that children learn to read. Some children learn to read at age three or four years, others not until seven years or later. That range is quite normal. The most compelling part of the reading research is that by the end of third grade, early readers have no advantage over later readers. Some later readers even go on to become the top in their class. Reading early is not an indicator of higher intelligence. In fact, children at the top of their class in kindergarten only have a 40 percent chance of being at the top of their class at the end of third grade.16 While it is true that some children in kindergarten and the early elementary grades do need specific kinds of extra support in learning to read, the kind of support needed and when it is given is highly individual. It is competent, skilled teachers who can best recognize whether a child needs specific support or is progressing more slowly and simply needs more time.

A number of long-term studies point to greater gains for students in play-based programs as compared to their peers in academically-oriented preschools and kindergartens in which early reading instruction is generally a key component. Findings from HighScope’s Preschool Curriculum Comparison Study, for example, suggest long-term harm, especially in the social-emotional realm, from overly directive preschool instruction. In this study, begun in the late 1960s, 68 children from low-income homes were randomly assigned to one of three preschool classes. Two were play-based and experiential. The third was a scripted, direct-instruction approach. Interestingly, there were very similar short-term gains among the children in all three programs at the end of year one. But the children were followed until age 23. By that time, there were significant differences in social behavior.17 School records indicate that 47 percent of the children assigned to the direct instruction classroom needed special education for social difficulties versus only 6 percent from the play-oriented preschool classrooms. And by age 23, police records showed a higher rate of arrests for felony offenses among those who were previously in the instructional program (34 percent) compared to those in the play-based programs (9 percent). Rebecca Marcon found negative effects of overly directed preschool instruction on later school performance in a study of three different curricula, described as either “academically oriented” or “child initiated.”18 By third grade, her group of 343 students — 96% African American with 75% of the children qualifying for subsidized school lunch — displayed few differences in academic achievement programs. After six years of school, however, students who had been in the groups that were “more academically directed earned significantly lower grades compared to children who had attended child-initiated preschool classes. Children’s later school success appears to have been enhanced by more active, child-initiated early learning experiences.”19 A study with similar outcomes was done in Germany where play-based kindergartens were being transformed into early learning centers in the 1970s. The study compared 50 kindergarten classes using each of the two approaches. The children were followed through grade four, and those from the play-based programs excelled over the others on all 17 measures, including being more advanced in reading and mathematics and being better adjusted socially and emotionally in school. As a result the German kindergartens again became play based.

How Young Children Learn
All aspects of the child — cognitive, social, emotional, and physical — are inextricably linked in learning. Through engaging in meaningful experiences in the real world, including in creative play and interactions with caring adults, children build skills and knowledge onto what they already know. Within the overall patterns of development, each child’s trajectory is unique. Children develop at different rates and come from a wide variety of cultural and language backgrounds; they build new ideas onto their prior understanding and experiences. Thus, any child’s learning in any given situation is distinct. Children learn best when they are engaged in activities geared to their developmental levels, prior experiences and current needs. As they construct their ideas through play and hands-on activities that make sense to them, children’s knowledge builds in a gradual progression that is solid and unshakable. They build a foundation of meaning that provides the basis for understanding concepts in language, literacy, math, science and the arts. In active learning, their capacities for language development, social and emotional awareness, problem solving, self-regulation, creativity, and original thinking develop, transforming them into effective learners. Children learn through playful, hands-on experiences with materials, the natural world, and engaging, caring adults. How does experiential, play-based learning create the foundation for print literacy? Our written language is a system of abstract symbols that represent the spoken word. Young children take years to build the foundation they need to be able to make sense of print. An important aspect of this process is being able to understand these abstract symbols. Children learn that real things can be represented by symbols when they play and use hands-on materials. For example, a toddler might pretend that his wooden block is a phone to call daddy, a preschooler might turn her mud pie into a birthday cake, and a kindergartener might draw a picture of his family. Children engage in symbolic activities like these throughout the early years of childhood. Very slowly, especially in a print-rich environment and with the guidance of a skilled teacher, children begin to find meaningful ways to bring letter symbols into their play scenarios. This progression is gradual and very important; the great many ways that children use symbols in their play with materials builds the strong foundation for understanding the abstract symbols in our print system. Being able to read well will also depend on the strength of a child’s oral language development. Active, play-based experiences in the early years foster strong oral language in children. As children engage in active learning experiences and play, they are talking and listening all the time. They attach words to their actions, talk with peers and teachers, learn new vocabulary and use more complex grammar. As they build, make paintings, and engage in imaginative play, they deepen their understanding of word meanings. As they listen to and create stories, hear rich language texts, sing songs, poems and chants, their foundation for reading grows strong. Early education can also provide children with a wide range of life experiences that enrich their understanding of the world and help them comprehend the content of books. For children who have not experienced gardens or farms, forests or parks, supermarkets or a host of other public spaces, references to them in books can be puzzling. But teachers can help children plant seeds and tend them, name animals and care for them, visit parks and streams, and broaden their first-hand knowledge of the world around them. Through classroom activities, projects, and field trips, teachers strengthen children’s background knowledge for making sense of print.

Interesting - Children will teach themselves to read

And this article is just gold!

This extract is great:
We know that our little ones walk and talk on their own timetables. No rewards or punishments are necessary to “teach” them. Yet children are expected to read, write and spell starting at five and six years old as if they develop the same way at the same time. Academics are pushed on young children with the assumption this will make them better students. This approach is not only unnecessary, it may be contributing to problems such as learning disorders, attention deficits, and long term stress.
Studies contrasting reading instruction at age five compared to instruction at age seven find earlier lessons may damage reading development. By the time children reach the age of 11, students who were instructed earlier show poorer text comprehension and less positive attitudes toward reading than children whose instruction started later.
Literacy isn’t easy. It requires children to decode shapes into sounds and words, to remember these words correctly in written and spoken form, and to understand their meaning. Allowing reading to develop naturally or teaching it later tends to create eager, lifelong readers. Why?
So what, what does this mean for me and my practice?
In an environment that expects children to learn to read from five, it is breaking quite new ground.  What can we do in our classroom?
-We already delay the start of formal reading in our class for up to three months.  For most, this is just the right amount of time for them to display readiness.  But what about the rest?  What happens when we get to three months and they are not ready yet?  How do I communicate this to parents?  At the moment I have just been beginning individual reading....but what is the point?  Based on the research about, I am doing a disservice to the child.
-I think the key is to start a 'reading to' group.  This group will come to us to have a book read to them....they will take a book home, but it will be clearly communicated to parents that because their child is not quite ready to kick off with reading yet, that they book is intended for them to read to them.  So a slight step up from nursery rhymes...but still not formal reading.  I will trial this and see how it goes.  Perhaps sharing some of these articles with those parents would also be useful.
An interesting point to ask ourselves is who is more worried about a child that does not read or write in their first year. Is it us or the child?  I think in a lovely gentle, play-based environment that it has to be us.  We are worried because the gap is large, we have to then cater in year 2 and 3 for a wider range of need...or would we?  How can we change or view of what learning is, so that children can teach themselves to read and write when they are ready?  

How can you be boosted or accelerated if cognitively you are not even ready to read or write...and what is the point...who is it for?

Something to think about.  Maybe instead of the term below...we could have a column that just says, not ready yet...:)

Monday, 15 May 2017

A New Villain in Agency

Today the Three Headed, Colour Changing Dragon made an appearance.  That is him, hidden under that large question mark.

The idea of this villain is that rather than wreaking havoc with clients, it will set challenges for us to solve.  These challenges will have a lovely strand based link and allow the agents to use visual strategies to solve.  This was his challenge today.

The agents loved this new addition and this challenge worked really well.  Most chose to use popsicle sticks to represent the problem.  They had some initial difficulty when they joined the squares together mean they were sharing sides.

Some chose to draw the squares on their whiteboard (ipad)

This activity was really quick and felt incredibly valuable.  It will be a great link to maths eyes.

Following that we did some work with the dice.

The Knight Adder then paid us a visit and set us the word problem that basically translated to 5 + 4 + 3 =  
The agents used a different range of strategies, but taking into account that most of these children have only had four months or less at school they did incredibly well and showed excellent independence.  They are also getting really good at stating whether they agree or disagree with another's answer and giving a basic explanation for the way they solved it.

This is what our agency wall looks like at the moment...still a few more villains to uncover!

Friday, 12 May 2017

Using Agent Talk Moves And Other Bits And Pieces

This week we have been focusing in on the talk moves a little more.  Cowgirl Calculation has been leading us in this.  Talk moves was one thing that we were introduced to during maths PLD in 2015/16 and I have to admit it is one thing that I struggle to really get going with our age and level.  So this year I am taking it really slow, I want to keep it really basic and have made our number agent talk move poster to reflect this.

Cowgirl Calculation role models the clarification of ideas by saying "Thank you agent, so what I am hearing you say is.."  By her role modelling this language I hope that as they progress they will begin to use this language themselves.

So far we are only focusing on two things.  We have taught children to say "I think the answer is...because..." and this week we have been focusing on getting agents to reply "I agree with .... because..." or "I disagree with....because..."  As these become embedded we will encourage agents to identify when they have used a similar strategy to another or a different strategy, this will initially be role modelled by Cowgirl.

I also want to encourage agents to verbalise that they don't understand...but this is a work in progress.

Talk moves are incredibly powerful and I can really see the value they add to our problem solving...they just require a lot of persistence and a lot of role modelling.  I guess that is the beauty of Cowgirl Calculation.  So if you are a little like see the value, but getting them to a point of independence seems a wee way off....keep persisting they will get there and it will be worth it.  If not for you, for next years teacher :)  I am told my children from last year are very good at talking about their strategy and the way they have solved problems.

Cowgirl Calculation

So this week we really went back to the basics of what a set is and how we can break a set to find partners that make that number.  There are some great number bonds songs on youtube that helped us this week.  

This is an example of one of the cool number bonds videos.

The Professor has been helping us with number bonds

This is an incredibly difficult concept, but it is a huge part of number sense...being able to see how a number can be made in different ways.  It is one that over time we will keep plugging away at.  

A great way we reinforced this idea was through the old marbles in a jar trick...agents sat with their i-pads, when I dropped a marble into the jar, they recorded a tally mark on their board.  At the end the counted the tally marks and wrote the total marbles that must be in the jar.  When they got confident with this, they close their eyes and recorded their tally marks.  This was cool because their marks were not necessarily in one straight line, given their eyes were their counting skills came into play.

(When I say tally marks, I refer to just small lines on the board, we have not yet shown them how to make groups of five...this will come soon.)

As an extension on this, to link with our Number bond work we then had agents count the marbles as they went into the jar...add that group up, circle that group, then we dropped more in....they counted up how many more had been added, then worked on adding the two groups together.  It helped us to show them that a total of 12 marbles were in the jar, but this had been made up of 7 and 5.  

This is a difficult concept....and the more children can see how groups can be made in different ways the better they will be when it comes to solving problems independently as they will have a real sense of number.

This last week has seen us battling the Doubling Dinosaur
I love this character as you really get a chance to see some strategies coming through as children start to understand their doubles and can apply this.  Most of our children have had three months or less at school, so the the fact that they can start to solve problems like 6 + 6 + 2 is impressive.
This guy wrote this number story independently from his understanding of doubles and addition.  The problem presented was "The vet had six cats in one room, six cats in another room and two more cats in another room, how many altogether"

As you can see each problem solving group currently has a bag of materials.  They are not yet ready for their tool boxes.  Head Agent will deliver these when he feels the independence with using materials is there.

This is Head Agent 

Moving into the next week we will revisit Subtraction Shark and The Knight Adder.  
 Subtraction Shark
Knight Adder

I am expecting a real improvement in how they solve addition and subtraction based word problems, so will be interested to see if this is apparent.

We will be looking at moving to using some subitizing cards and dice to help us see patterns and notice how they are made up.

We will also look at starting to count in different ways, starting with twos and fives.

It is so nice to have agency in full swing.  We now have a routine of moving into company that works so well, the counting to 100 song comes on...

When agents hear this music...they move into agency.  Once the song has finished we are ready for our chant and then into it.  

These are the villain files we have in our confidential folder so far:

Friday, 5 May 2017

20 reasons our play-based classroom works

Another post got me thinking about what I think has been the crucial elements of a play-based classroom that has self-directed play at its heart, but also has teacher directed elements that children are also deeply engaged in.

I notice going into Term 2 that our children (almost 30 of them, soon to be over this) are very able to self-direct their play.  They play with a range of people, they create, they invent, they negotiate and they are also keen and engaged during teacher directed sessions, we very rarely have behavioural issues...

So why is this, why do I think we've been able to achieve a play-based class that so far ticks along in a lovely balanced way?

So I should say first that I am no expert and the way I have set up my play-based class is just me following my gut...I am myself only 18 months into this journey, I am by no means an expert.

1)To begin the year children are just allowed to play...we do not take any specific teacher directed sessions, we just let them settle in.

2)We start straight away using drama games, these are awesome for encouraging learning talk.

3)We use class dojo big idea videos.  These are based on growth mindset and persistence.  The children love love love them.  We really focus on our brain being like a muscle and challenge being good for us.

4)We create our own little videos with the puppets, the puppets talk about having the same worries and issues that our new entrant children may have, we then help them with these issues.

5)We use the dip.

Our resident puppet explores the dip and we help identify where she may be in the dip based on what her learning talk sounds like.  We have a little laminated picture of her that we can move through this dip.

6)For the first few weeks we watch the children.  We use the way they play to help us gauge their readiness for reading.  When they are playing genuinely with others and displaying focus and persistence we use this as one of our indicators.

7)We may not start reading with a child for up to three months.  To start with we just allow them to be.  They take home a pack of nursery rhymes and some alphabet activities and we encourage parents to just spend time with this if they are keen.

8)Any teacher directed sessions are quick, no more than 15 min to start with.  Phonics is the only thing we meet for every day to begin with.  

9)We do not use worksheets or any other teacher driven busy work at all.  

10)Most of our learning just revolves around talking.  We encourage children to notice things.  We really focus on oral language and opportunities to talk.  We really focus on hearing sounds, hearing rhyme and environmental sounds.  

11)We play outside as much as possible and are lucky to have a close outdoor space that children can use most days if it isn't raining.

12)We take photos of the play as  much as possible and when we come back together will share these photos on the screen and talk about the about positives and any problems faced.

13)We don't tidy until the end of the day.  Children can come and go from their play without the worry of it being put away.  We have a lovely noisey pig which we squeeze when we want children to gather with us. (Thank you to the other teachers that gave us this idea.)

14) We take the first six weeks to learn the components of what we call daily six.  We then can weave these throughout the day as and when needed.

15) We start reading in week three only with the children that are ready.  We read individually with them during the morning as and when appropriate.  They self-select books and have their own little goals.

16) We build up slowly to Number Agents, we use drama games, we hook them in, then we build 'maths' teaching did not really start till week 6.

17) We appreciate that a lot of maths and literacy learning happens within play-based sessions.

18) At the start of the year and again at the start of each term we use kindness as focus, this year we focused on bucket filling.  We also take the opportunity to talk about and understand emotions using picture books.

19) We use marbles to reward lovely play and interaction, children love this.  They go with our bucket filling and they get to take them home to their 'buckets' at home.  We have not other management strategies and as the term goes on, the marbles handed out get more and more infrequent...children simply don't need them in order to be 'positive.'

20)Most of all, we just slow down...we allow children to lead...if something timetabled does not happen, we don't worry about it...our focus is on social, emotional and cognitive growth through play.  We have faith that if we can provide opportunities for this to happen, that the 'academic' learning will come later.

I have written a very short book that expands on these can be purchased here, or by emailing me 

This is a screenshot of our timetable for next week, it does not differ much from Term 1.

This is our focus mind map for this term.  

I am happy to help wherever I can and for those in Whangarei to visit and talk if that would be beneficial.

First Week Back - Noticings

The first week back went really well.  What I love about play-based learning is that you get a chance to sit back, observe and really think deeply about what is going on and what else you can do.    You get to watch the dynamics and really notice how children negotiate, share and create.

Our class is at 28 now....obviously as the class gets bigger you would normally notice a real change in dynamics and perhaps behaviour.  often as the class gets bigger it becomes a little more about in a typical class you try to keep the structure and routine of your 'timetable' class.  Often in a typically run new entrant room you begin to hear 'I can't' you begin to see pockets of children that are really struggling to 'manage' themselves....particularly on the mat.

This simply is not the case in a play -based room.  While the numbers have got bigger, really there is little change to management.  The dynamics do start to change as different personalities come in but children are better able to negotiate and get on with their peers.

Another concern that is often expressed by others is that while in a play-based class is that those that need 'extending' or are more school ready than their peers wont get what they need 'academically.'  This is not the case, in fact the opposite is true.  These children  push themselves in a play-based class as far as they want and need to go.  We notice these children spend a lot of time writing, creating patterns etc and during teacher directed time they notice so much.

I have found that during teacher directed sessions that since I started responding with "great noticing" to children's statements, they are more inclined to 'notice.'  Seems so simple and is just a basic tweak, but it has made them more inclined to talk about things they have noticed.

I have been blown away by the different types of play as well.  We use our outside space as much as possible and at times there will be bikes, scooters flying around while others are playing with balls and swords.  It is amazing the way they negotiate space without any intervention by us.

Another thing we have noticed is the risk taking that goes on during the play.  It is incredible to watch children take risks, but only to what they know about their ability.  They don't push themselves beyond what they are able to do.  We have a brilliant playground, which some children have started to display their jumping skills on, while some know they are capable of doing this without harm, others will modify what they are doing, just so it is still within their comfort zone.  It has been amazing to watch.

Number Agents has also kicked off well.  I had to modify my plans this week as what I had planned was simply too hard and just a little beyond what they were ready for.  Keeping it basic and aiming for quality over quantity is the key and that is what I love about being able to plan day to day, moment to moment.  We continued to battle the Wacky Witch of Change Unknown this week, however this concept is so difficult there needed to be a lot of scaffolding going on.  What I realised was children need to develop further their concept of a whole group, then be able to break this set into two to find the partners.  This understanding is crucial and a lot of reinforcement needs to go on over time.  While we are meeting the Doubling Dinosaur next week, I will continue work on making and breaking sets.

Below are a selection of photos of our week.  I deliberately added one baby and two swords to our play this week.  Two swords knowing that a lot of negotiating and sharing would need to go on...this was brilliant!  One baby because I knew our girls would love this addition, but that they would have to work out ways of playing together and sharing.

Using the mirror to make patterns, this is hard to see but she had made a garden.

A lovely picnic.

Visit day, it is amazing to witness how smoothly these go now.

Boys challenging the gender stereotype.  They spent a long time with these dolls.

Mix and much play going on here.

Working on hs drawing skills.  This boy could barely scribble when he started.

One of our very ready children.  Has started to add detail to her stories and writes independently with a thirst for words.

Sword play.

Great little costumes $6 at Kmart.

Swords and bikes :)

Writing about the play in our journals.