One Sunflower

performance enhancer

The organist at my church is an accomplished pianist. Everyone looks forward to the moments when we are able to focus on the contributions Judy brings to our worship.  We are especially appreciative of opportunities for her to solo – during our offering and at the end of the service after the benediction.  I find myself leaning forward to watch and listen to her play.

This past Sunday, she was accompanied by a viola player.  The music was complicated and fast and required the assistance of our choir director, Debbie, at her elbow to follow along and turn the pages.  I was delighted to watch the intensity of these 3 musicians.  The viola player standing next to the piano, swooping his bow and plucking strings; our pianist with her hands dancing up and down the keyboard while Debbie sat quietly off to one side, her glasses perched on her nose as she followed along with the music and dipped her arm in carefully to flick the pages at just the right time.

I want to teach like Debbie turns pages – hovering just at the elbows of my students, following along intently as the music of their play demands rapt attention.


Friday’s observation

Friday morning, a colleague and I visited the classroom of another Head Start teacher. We arrived at the end of breakfast and watched as the students cleared their dishes and got ready for toothbrushing.  I wanted to visit this class in particular because the composition of the group is similar to mine in that all the children have Spanish as their home language.  But this class has bilingual teachers and they conduct the class primarily in Spanish with exposure to English at times.  My aide is bilingual but her Spanish support varies throughout the day and from child to child.

I was able to watch as the teacher led a story model and supported his students in the retell.  This activity is new for this teacher and I am thankful to him for being willing to walk this learning edge in front of an observer.  Watching him, I remembered beginning this work two years ago when I, too, would make my pictures proportional.  I am confident that he will learn as I have that there is powerful modeling that happens with the drawing of people – and to let setting details take a back seat for awhile.

I watched the teacher use “to-with and by” strategies providing support in both English and Spanish, helping the kids tell fragments of his story or embellish it as they were comfortable. Just like my own class – they love it and all of them wanted to participate.

It was wonderful to be able to sit back and observe another teacher working as well as spend time with students that I don’t know at all. I found I needed to try ways of engaging them based purely on what I witnessed them doing right at that moment.

I spent time with one little boy who brought books over to read to me.  He looked at the pictures and talked about what he saw in them.  It was quite charming – but there were only 5 books on the shelf!  I found myself wondering where the rest of the classroom library was.

Another little girl was playing with some flat plastic shapes that are magnetic on all sides so they stick to a magnet board and to each other.  She involved me in her play by bringing me a triangular shape and asking me if I’d like some pizza.  I’d never seen this toy before so I had fun exploring the possibilities.  At one point I grabbed a near-by clipboard and we began tracing the shapes and turning them into things like suns and boats, adding people and whales.

The daily schedule of this class is similar to mine – and being a Head Start class, has to meet all the same mandates that I do – serving two meals, conducting toothbrushing, as well as all of the health and safety protocols that go along with those activities. The day is quickly gobbled up.  My morning observation flew by.  I probably won’t get another opportunity like this the rest of the year but both my colleague and I left wishing we could make it happen more often because we learned so much!

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follow through

I told myself I would try some new things this year.  New routines, new ways of engagement, new record keeping, new reflective practices. I began by:

1) Naming target goals and working to make the majority of my daily activities with my students focused on achieving those goals.

2) Focusing on practices that I hope will build a social climate in the classroom that fosters real empathy, competence and feelings of success.

3) Creating supports for myself that remind me to build in problem solving experiences, play themes and rituals for developing expertise.

4) Recording more with my camera and with daily responses to questions about the “critical aspects of learning” I see in each student which I got from a workshop with David Matteson. (creating meaning – applying prior knowledge to new experiences, problem solving – ask questions when confronted with a challenge, communicating effectively – skillfully articulate learning, working cooperatively – work with others in a way that increases learning, and understanding and demonstrating quality work.)

Progress so far:

I love my new daily routine and the simplicity I’ve built in for planning each week.  I’m staying on top of what I need to be doing according to our pacing guide and what I feel is important to develop my student’s social skills, fine motor skills and print/book awareness.

I think I am paying better attention to my students and what they are doing.  I’m trying to notice the way my students engage in the work of play and integrate learning from one day to the next.  More than that, I’m trying to record my own “ahas” about what I’m seeing and thinking.

I created new small groups today – it is fostering new partnering in play Ms. A likes to group the animals by common features.  I sat down to draw a picture with one child and soon the table was full of students drawing.  They looked at my picture and tried to replicate it, teaching themselves new skills in the process.  We did color mixing with our silk flag painting a few weeks ago – then Mr. S tried it on paper, putting different colors of paint on top of others.

We have a chestnut tree at the end of the field – favorite things to gather on our walks.  Add tub, tray and scale – voila – new learning opportunities.  Mr. J likes to play in the water every day – every day!— but I noticed that he’s learning and trying out new vocabulary with all the confidence he has with this medium.

It is still a struggle to stay on top of the social services portion of my job – but I’ve made improvements there too.  Our data entry system is critical in helping me with that because I can see all my child’s files at once when I’m logged on.  (It will help if I’m not asked to duplicate a bunch of record keeping about the work that I do have to do with families.)

Friday I’ve arranged to go and observe another Head Start classroom – something I’ve never done before! I’m sure it will make me think and re-evaluate even more!

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