Monthly Archives: May 2014

Documentation

DSC_0013 DSC_0027

As we near the end of the school year, everyone is busy assessing the children we have taught, looking for ways to mark the growth that we have witnessed throughout the school year.  We are reading with our little ones, doing running records so that we have a measurable benchmark to send the next teacher on the ladder.  We give the next teacher examples of their writing, math assessments, transition notes to ease the movement from one grade level to the next.

DSC_0106

As we look to the Reggio Emilia form of documentation, evaluations are made daily just as we do at Trinity, but seem to be less focused on the children and more on the role of the teacher.  Each grade level team keeps a journal to keep notes and pictures of all that went on in the day with the class.  The teachers ask each other, “Did the materials keep the children interested?  Were the questions we asked too hard or too easy?  What should be our next step in following this thread of inquiry”?  In this way there was a very natural differentiation between the expectations that the teachers had for each child in the group.

DSC_0018

Much of the documentation is done through pictures and through dialogue with the children in the classes.   For our recent work with eggs and egg-laying animals, there is much to be explored in the area of documentation, particularly through pictures, writing, and the art work produced by the children.  As we began, our children thought only of birds, but soon found that birds weren’t the only oviparous animals they knew.  From exploration at Imaginon, writing their own books, making an oviparous animal from modeling clay, to observing the miracle of life occurring  in our own classroom the children built their understanding on a spiraling foundation.

DSC_0025
The children chose an oviparous animal to create from clay, and then had to decide which type of animal it was. This sorting of egg-layers into insects, fish, reptiles, birds, or amphibians included snails and rays—under which category would they fit? It was another place that inquiry was born from the explorations of the children.
DSC_0022
The reptiles included snakes, alligators, and turtles, and some of the children chose to write about the animal they created.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The writing of the children was a form of documentation that was reflective of their conceptual understanding of all of our work as well as a clear look at the progress they have made throughout the year as readers and writers.  One child picked a book about flamingos at Imaginon and used the information she gleaned from her reading to write her own book.

Flamingos lay eggs.  They protect their eggs.
Flamingos lay eggs. They protect their eggs.

From her work, I can see that she has a strong understanding of writing, with a number of words that she is able to spell conventionally.  The spacing between the words she is writing is excellent and she is using upper and lower case letters appropriately.  Her illustrations are lovely and go with her words.  This is an authentic assessment for a non-fiction story written at the end of her kindergarten year, and she has something lovely to share with her parents on Friday when we have our Portfolio Picnic.

DSC_0038
Foxes eat chickens. That is their enemy. Foxes are tricky.
DSC_0115
Blue crabs have one claw that is bigger than the other.

As we assess our children here at the final two weeks of the school year, most of our finest check-ins occur when we are conferencing with our children over their work.  As we are working on our running records to determine the final reading levels of our children, the notes we make as they read are as powerful as the accuracy rate of the reader.  We notice the expression that a child uses as he/she reads, the way they attend to punctuation, and the questions and observations they make as they read through the unfamiliar story.  When a child makes the observation that “there are too many W words in this story” it tells us that perhaps we need a mini lesson on ways to find the differences in the “what where when why who” that are found in so many of the books they read.

The pictures tell a thousand words, as do the questions the children ask us, not only at assessment times but throughout our days together.

The Writing Thread

 

DSC_0035

So as we continue to explore the world of oviparous creatures,  we watch our eggs and expand our understanding.  Our last post mentioned looking for ways to meld Writer’s Workshop with the expanding knowledge that we are finding as we see a growing cornucopia of feasts on our table of learning.  No longer are we just looking at the eggs of birds, but of those that are laid by reptiles, fish, amphibians, and insects.  As we discussed this abundance of egg-laying life, the children became more and more engaged.  Each week we walk to the public library to book shop, and before our most recent walk the children were given a task.  They were to decide upon an oviparous creature that they would like to research and use in their writing.  The children were bustling with ideas, discussing with their walking partner the creature they would like to research. 

DSC_0085 DSC_0087

We saw these eggs nestled among the strawberry plants when we were gathering berries, and here is the mother killdeer.  Suddenly we are seeing eggs everywhere, and are observing the animals who laid the eggs.  This mother killdeer was very nervous to see us around her eggs, and was sending out an alarm call.  We stood back and just watched as she edged back toward her nest, happy that these rambunctious kindergarteners had given her eggs some space.

When we entered Imaginon, we helped the children as they looked for books that centered on the animal of their choice.  We found books about flamingos, about penguins (a favorite, I might add), books about frogs, about ladybugs… All of these books came back to our classroom and were a key element in our Writer’s Workshop time.   Each child had their book to use for information as well as a stapled book to use as their own journal.  The results have been outstanding, with each child focused on his/her own animal, creating pages that reflect a clear understanding of characteristics of the animal they chose.  They have looked at what their egg-layer eats, who are the enemies of this animal, where do they live, how many eggs do they lay, what is the time from laying to hatching…  Their questions have been wide ranging and pertinent to the animal.

DSC_0109
Frogs sleep on the bottom of the pond.
DSC_0112
Some tarantulas are poisonous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They are completing their non-fiction books now, and we are looking for new ways to follow the thread.  Do we let the thread end here, since only 14 days remain in our school year, or do we stretch this out with writing fiction with their chosen animal as the main character in their story?  The days are dwindling down to a precious few, and there is much to fill our time together, but it is hard to release this powerful thread.  We still need to take a look at the world of mammals, and we  know that it cannot be with the same intensity that we have felt with our egg laying friends.  By the way, did I mention that three of our eggs hatched?

DSC_0033
Our babies on Friday…and they already have a home to go to next week!

 

 

 

Following the meandering red thread…

 DSC_0009

As our focus on eggs continues, the children have looked primarily on the eggs most familiar to them.  The birds in our yards, building nests on our porches, and the chicken eggs in our refrigerators awaiting your children’s breakfast tummies are those that the children picture when we mention eggs. This is especially true following Easter and those much loved egg hunts (or ‘egg scrambles’ as my husband calls them when he oversees the start to several of these seasonal events as The Wacky Wabbit).  This week we have encouraged them to branch out by reading about the other oviparous creatures in our world.  These eggs from turtles, fish, snakes, and other reptiles are much harder for us to find to examine in the classroom but, with books and the internet, we are able to find out about these animals as well.

I have been interested in finding ways to incorporate this ‘thread’ we are following in our work in Reader’s and Writer’s Workshops, for during Choice time we are able to make this study an organic piece of our time.   During Choice, we can “set the table” with activities, ponderings, and tastes that stretch the imaginations of our kindergarteners.  From watching our incubator to creating nests/eggs, our work flows from the interests of the children.  This week as we started branching out into other forms of egg-laying life,  I slipped a non-fiction book into each child’s book tub.  The first day I just told them to find the book in their tub and to be ready to tell us the egg laying family that was the focal point of the book.  These books ranged from books about snakes to frogs to fish.

The next day we stretched them as both readers and researchers as they were instructed to look more carefully at the book in their tub, sharing a fact they discovered with their reading partner, and then each partnership was to report to the class something they had learned from their reading.  We were truly amazed by the scope of their discoveries.  One child noted that “Big fish eat middle sized fish who eat smaller fish.  This is called a food chain”.  Another child noted that fish don’t close their eyes when they sleep because they don’t have eyelids.  Some information shared was most obvious to us as adults, but for the children it is important to learn that ALL birds lay eggs, not just a few.  Other facts were checked and corrected when we found that a finding was inaccurate, which was another way of broadening our knowledge.

As we think ahead to where this thread is leading us, we are drawn to giving the children an opportunity for their research to continue during Writer’s Workshop where they can use their skills in both reading and writing to create a book about one of the oviparous animals we are following.  The interesting piece of all this Reggio-inspired path is that it lends itself so beautifully to giving children the opportunity to look closely, to spend time with reckless abandon, knowing that all that they are learning is helping them as they grow as readers and writers. Nature has it’s own timetables as do our children. They may ‘hatch’ their passions  at times that are different from those we expect. We as adults have already conformed our schedules to our busy lives and we often impose such time tables on our offspring as well.  We can’t hurry our eggs to hatch, and we can’t rush our children along either.  Giving them the time and space to explore and to find the next red thread enriches their knowledge and understanding of the world around us. Learning is a process of communication, a dynamic and active process.  We are fully engaged, are tasting and enjoying everything presented on the table, and adding more to what is available as we have new questions that beg to be answered.