Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Conflict Resolution: Lifelong Skills Are Rooted in Kindergarten

Even the happiest classrooms have moments with disagreements, arguments, and fussing between students.  There are misunderstandings, poor choices, hurt feelings, and problems.  In my classroom, I intentionally view these moments as training for bigger moments which my students will face throughout their lives.   As adults, we face similar situations daily. In the workplace, in families, and amongst friends, there are misunderstandings, poor choices, hurt feelings, and problems.  There are disagreements, arguments, and sometimes there is even fussing.  Kindergarten is the perfect place to learn social problem solving skills to help prepare children for handling conflict throughout elementary school, in middle school, in high school, and as adults.

When students come to me with a conflict, my first question is always, "Have you talked to him or her about this yet?"  I then encourage the students to talk calmly about what the problem is, how it makes each of them feel, and ideas for solving it.  Often the students are able to handle this on their own, and it is a minimal distraction.  Sometimes they need a moderator to help encourage respect and possible solutions, a job with which I am happy to help.

I know that some teachers have a designated place in their classroom where these problem solving talks take place.  For my class, it works better for the students to deal with it wherever we are.  If we're on a bathroom break, we deal with it in the hallway.  If we're at recess, we deal with it at recess.  If we're on our way to the library, we deal with it on the way to the library.

From these conflict situations, my students are learning:
  • To stand up for themselves and to voice their concerns in a respectful way.
  • To listen to the person with whom they are having the conflict.
  • To consider the feelings of the other person.
  • To work together to come up with solutions.
In the adult world, we call call these things:
  • Self Esteem
  • Empowerment
  • Respect
  • Empathy 
  • Communication Skills
  • Problem Solving Skills
At the beginning of kindergarten, this process requires much modeling and assistance.  As we progress through the year, the students are able to take increasing control of the process.  At this point in the school year, conflicts in our classroom are dealt with almost entirely by the students.  What a freeing point to reach as a teacher!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reflections on a Kindergarten Writing Journey

Kindergarten is a year of amazing growth.  On the first day of school, students walk in from a variety of backgrounds.  Some students have attended preschool, perhaps even in our building.  Some students have come from a literacy rich background and have a rich vocabulary, good letter knowledge, and a good sense of how print works.  However, I also have students who have had limited experiences.  I have students who cannot hold a pencil or write their name.  I have students who don't know how to "line up" or walk in the hallway.  I have students who don't know how to sit and listen or how to solve a conflict with a peer.  Students come in who know no letters or sounds, cannot yet count, or are unable to draw an identifiable picture.

As these diverse learners enter my class, we embark together on a year filled with joy, tears, excitement, smiles, difficulty, friendship, love, and learning.  Throughout the year there are good moments and bad, happy and sad, triumphant and disappointing.   Then, before we know it, we only have 5 weeks of school left, and we wonder where the year went.  That is exactly where I find myself now.

I came to the realization that the year is passing much too quickly at the end of last week when I was looking over the writing my students did about their Show and Tell items.  I was thrilled with the work they did, but it caused me to reflect on the struggles and successes we have had along our journey.

Writing in kindergarten has always been a bit of a struggle for me.  I struggle with balancing high expectations with developmentally appropriate learning for my students.  Should kindergartners be expected to write 3-4 sentences -- even those students who came in unable to hold a pencil, write their name, and didn't know any letters/sounds?  Should kindergartners be expected to have correct capitalization?  Is the content of the writing or the correctness of their writing more important?  Is it better for a student to write one sentence with correct capitalization and punctuation or to write several sentences with a few capitals mixed into the middle of words and have difficulty placing periods correctly?  How much detail should I require a student to include in his or her illustration?  Is there a point in the year when it's okay for their illustrations to become simpler as their writing becomes more complex or should I encourage them to reflect the complexity with their illustration?

I have read many books in the past few years as I have struggled with these questions.  Linda Dorn, Lucy Calkins, Katie Wood Ray, Katie Keier, and Adrienne Gear are the authors I have focused most on this year.  I've concluded that I want our writing workshop to be an organic time where my students'  writing grows out of their interests and experiences or as a reflection of a book we have read, not as a response to a given prompt.  I want to provide support through conferencing that takes them to the next natural step in the progression of kindergarten writing.  I want my students to express their meaning through pictures when it's right for them and words when it's right for them.  I believe that content is more important than correctness (although I'm sure there are many people out there who would disagree with me.).  I would much rather have a student write a few interesting sentences with errors than a safe, simple sentence correctly.  When guiding my students through revision, we will focus on a couple areas, but my kindergartners' papers will probably not come out perfect.  I believe that many students will be able to write 3-4 sentences, but with that student who struggled to get one sentence down, I will celebrate that one sentence.

These questions and conclusions have driven the writing journey that my class has taken this year.  Looking back it has not always been easy, it has not always been fun, but we have all learned a lot.

In August, this student demonstrated some beginning and ending sound knowledge when she wrote, "pn" for person.

In April, this student wrote, "This is a sening (singing) frog!  He can rebet (ribbit)!  He can mmvhas ibibls!" (move his eyeballs)  

In August, this student wrote "EO" for hippo.  He also wrote his name four times on the page as well as "Mom" and "the".  He demonstrated knowledge of a few words that he already knew how to write.

In April, this student wrote about his Skylanders toys. "I got voodood at toys are us.  I was going to git flame slingr but I got voodood.  But now I have flame slingr. He is coolr!" 

In August, this student told me he was going to write about a hippopotamus.  He drew it and wrote "H", but when asked about it, just responded with, "I don't know."
In April, this student wrote, "Ges what this Scilanders nam is.   This is Chile or this is stubsmash.  Look at the back to see if you are rite."  The back of the page says, "This is Chile."   This student is good friends with the student above, and they obviously have similar interests.

In August, this student came in displaying some letter/sound correspondence as she wrote "squid".

In April, she wrote, "I got to go to Gulf World.  It was fun.  It was my birthday.  I got to kiss a se liyn (sea lion).  I got to sak a dofine flipper (shake a dolphin's flipper).  I got to hld a algadr (hold an alligator) and I got to sit wit a fune dog."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Show and Tell

Today was the day my class has been waiting for!  They have been asking about it for weeks, counting down the days, and planning the exact best thing to bring.  The excitement in our classroom as the students walked in this morning was palpable.  It was finally Show and Tell day!

Before we started, we discussed some things we would be learning and practicing during our Show and Tell time. I explained that we were going to practice speaking in complete sentences.  We talked about ways to be a good, respectful listener.  After that, my students took over!   It was so much fun to hear the students talk about the treasures they chose to bring!  Some of my quieter students said a sentence or two and then let their classmates' questions carry the discussion.  Others commanded their classmates' attention from the beginning and maintained it throughout.  Some engaged their listeners by having them guess what was in their backpacks or used technology to display their treasures on the SMART Board.  It was obvious that a few of my students were born to be in front of a crowd!  

Each child got a chance to video tape another student's Show and Tell segment using our iPad.  We have practiced this skill with other, smaller recordings, but this was the biggest recording they have done.  Good news!  They were all able to do it entirely on their own.  They have even mastered the silent cue to the presenter that the camera is rolling.

The students presenting controlled the learning environment entirely on their own.  They said their bit, called on students who had questions, answered their questions, and controlled when their turn was over.  They also made certain that each of their peers got a chance to see their treasure up close.  I was very proud of all of my presenters.  I was also very proud of my listeners who showed good listening manners and asked good questions (and knew what a question was!).

After everyone had a turn to present, the children sat down to write about their treasures.  I allowed 55 minutes for this process, including a 10 minute mini-lesson.  That was great - for part 1!  Part 2 will begin first thing tomorrow as I had several students groan miserably when I told them that we had to stop writing because we were out of time.  Before they stopped, they wanted to be sure that they would get a chance to finish as soon as possible.  As I think back to the beginning of kindergarten when it was a struggle for most students to write for even 5-10 minutes, I am amazed at their growth!  Then I look at their writing and am amazed even further. (That's another blog post in and of itself!  It looks like I already have my inspiration for my next post.)

Today was such a good day in my classroom.  We had fun and got to know each other better (while addressing around fifteen Common Core State Standards).  I know all of my students will smile when they tell their grownups at home about their day today which is really what it is all about in kindergarten!