The big idea that we discussed through the day was the ‘teacher’s orbit’ that consisted of 4 activities that they are expected to all the time:
Assessing should take place as soon as the first term starts, in spite of the fact that this is not explicit in the curriculum. It is of critical importance for the teacher to know where her children stand with relation to letter-sound recognition, representational drawings, etc., in order to plan her units accordingly. Assessing must take place with the child and without the child. In the first instance, the child is asked direct questions by the teacher or asked to describe what they are doing as they do it. In the second case, the teacher examines products made by the child, along with their observations of the process in which the child was engaged while making that product.
During assessments, teachers should be conscious to begin with thinking about what they see in the child’s work first, instead of being quick to pass judgments and criticism.
An interesting discussion followed on the use of dictation by teachers in order to record the comments of the children on their pieces of work, so that it could be referred to by parents or even the teachers in the future while looking through the child’s journal or portfolio. Some teachers present at the workshop went on to argue reasons for why they believe dictation helps – to honor the child’s work, to capture the richness of exactly what they say, etc. However, others were of the view that teacher recordings on students’ work also sends the clear message that ‘our way is better than yours’, and some even felt that a better way of revisiting and assessing the child’s work is by asking them to retell the story whenever needed (instead of just putting a post- it with their previous comments on the work). Such retellings also assist the child’s recall and focus skills as they describe their work. One solution to the dilemma is that teachers could keep private notes of their observations in their own diaries, but of course, this would not be possible to do with every page on every piece of writing done by every child.
Reflection takes time and commitment from the teacher, and that might be one reason why many of us don’t do it often enough. Instead, we must include it in our system of regular practices, and schedule specific time allotted to this all-important activity. Reflection is necessary in order to make inferences from our observations of students’ work, and think about the direction and measure of progress being made by individual students and the class as a whole to inform our unit and instructional planning – in terms of individual and small group conferring, and mini-lessons.
Teaching was discussed mainly in terms of how writing workshop could be used for small moment writing exercises. While discussing the curriculum’s expectations for most Kindergartener’s to read by the new term in January, Natalie emphasized the critical role that writing workshops play in realizing this goal. She also went on to discuss how more teachers need to be committed to the use of ‘storytelling’ as a significant part of their daily class schedule, especially at this point in time when the next two units of the curriculum go back to exploring narratives.
Interactive storytelling can be conducted in a large group even, where the whole class makes a story together of an instance that they experienced (e.g. fire drill at school). Further, focus in writing can be explored here by asking the children to break into their small groups later and write about the same incident from a different perspective (e.g. what was happening on the outside of the school while the drill was going on).
An effective activity to introduce small moment writing is ‘interactive drawing’. Here, an oral story is produced first which will be analyzed and used to ‘zoom in’ to create small moment writing opportunities. The teacher should model this process by showing the students a drawing (story) she has made (that looks like it is at the child’s level so that they relate to it). The story may be on a topic that contains many subtopics in it, for example, a story on the park with slides and swings can be broken into the subtopics of slides, swings, and lawns. Once the teacher demonstrates this ‘zooming in’ she goes on to say how she will now draw stories on only one of these subtopics, for example, she will make a story on slides only. This helps the students work on a story whose pages all stay within the same setting and take place over a shorter period of time i.e. small moment writing. This exercise, where the children choose one aspect over another in their bigger story, helps them think about the reason behind their choice more deeply and the importance of showing meaning in their work. Once a specific topic has been chosen, say ‘slides’ in our example, then the children work together on a chart paper in a large group (just as a pen would be shared in interactive writing). While a few children might be working on a page, the others are asked to think about other aspects of the story and drawing such as lines, angles and views, shapes, emotions, etc. Once this activity is completed in a large group, the children may be asked to break into their smaller groups and work on individual pieces based on another incident they might have experienced with slides (taking our example again). The teacher can go around conferring in groups now.
Natalie also advised against emphasizing too much on one-to-one conferring in Kindergarten, keeping in mind the fact that the rest of the class may be totally lost at this time. Instead, she encouraged the teacher to confer in small groups more for this age group specifically, allowing the teacher to maintain overall discipline and prevent losing any child’s attention.
Towards the end of the workshop, we discussed the fact that parent’s understanding of ‘good writing’ must be expanded to include the skills of structuring and organizing, detail and elaboration, control over focus, use of voice and sound, and semantic consistency, in addition to the one they tend to focus disproportionately on – the use of writing conventions. This way they would appreciate their child’s writing more.
Natalie closed by mentioning that at the end of the day it is important not to get lost in the details of instruction and activity; due importance must be given to the bigger issues of whether or not the students feel loved, enjoy school, and adopt and practice moral/ethical behavior, etc.