Checking-In

Having just completed a unit where I felt the students had a great understanding of the central idea, I was struck by a horrifying thought. I wasn’t entirely sure how that happened. How could I use this experience to help me in the future? In some ways, the reflection that takes place after a successful experience can be more important than the reflection that takes place after a disastrous experience. I’ve made pancakes for my daughter so many times and I can count on one finger the number of times I’ve done it well. In fact I can write a book about all the things not to do when making pancakes. Of course I wasn’t paying attention that one time the pancakes were actually edible so my poor daughter is destined to eat burnt and crispy pancakes for the rest of her childhood.

All the disastrous experiences don’t necessarily show you the right way to do something. So I went about searching for an answer.

When I analyzed everything our class had done I noticed that we had completed far more check-ins for understanding than usual throughout this unit. When I say “checking-in” I simply mean taking the time to talk to my students about how they’re going. Checking-in in our class can happen very informally. For instance, if we have a few extra minutes I might just ask the students to look at our lines of inquiry and central idea, and tell me what they’re still trying to figure out or ask what they want to spend more time looking into. Another idea the students really like came from my friend and fellow Inquiring Minds contributor, Adam McGuigan. It is simply a massive thermometer posted on the wall attached to a teacher question, concept or line of inquiry. The students post their answer to the question along the thermometer based on their own perceived level of understanding. The students can revisit this thermometer throughout the unit and adjust their level of understanding.

One of the most powerful moments in our recently completed unit focusing on beliefs and values was a simple task of analyzing student questions and having the children sort them into groups. We realized that a lot of children were still struggling to explain how they express their beliefs and values. It was at this point that one child raised their hand and explained that they were Muslim and they showed this by going to the mosque every Friday, praying at home every day and reading the Quran. All of a sudden children were raising their hand wanting to explain how they expressed their different beliefs and values. This went on for 15 minutes. The next day we followed up this conversation by trying to match beliefs and values with the ways in which we might express them. We used many of the examples from the day before. When we checked in again a few days later the children felt so much more confident in their understanding of the lines of inquiry and central idea.

In my mind checking-in is more than just formative assessment. The key component is actually listening to children. It’s not just about finding out what they know and what they don’t know. It can also lead you in new directions and it provides children with an opportunity to help each other in their journey towards understanding.

I would love to hear how others check-in.

It should be noted that my wife is a fine maker of pancakes.

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten

The other evening, I was having over-drinks conversation amongst mixed professionals and it came out that I teach five year olds. “That’s cool, I mean, everything I ever needed to know, I learned in kindergarten” was immediately quipped back at me citing the 1988 essay by minister Robert Fulghum. My innards suddenly flip-flopped, and not because of the sensitivities of my stomach to the merlot, or my atheistic brain of the connection between my profession, nay- my calling, to the ancient musing of a minister but because of something else I couldn’t quite place my finger on.

Walking home later, I thought about it, did all I ever really need to know I learned as a five year old? Did the premise hold true 24 years after Fulghum’s essay was written? No, the answer is simply, no.

We live in a shifting paradigm in which we are teaching children who are learning for jobs that don’t even exist. We are teaching children who have connectivity with the entire world and who, by the time I had mastered tying my shoes and figured out to not lick light bulbs, will have learned to make their own apps and programs.

It has become our mandate to teach not just sharing and caring, but also coding. The onus is on teachers to develop the skills and aptitudes needed to integrate technology as an integral part of their teaching and learning cycle.

So teachers, get out of your comfort zone and into the place where the magic happens (yes, I said magic- but purely in a literary-parlancey kind of way).

There are many new and interesting ways that technology can be used for collaboration, communication and creation within the learning environment. Teachers are using Pinterest boards such as http://pinterest.com/edpublishing/ to post innovative tech for the classroom. Blogs such as, http://www.edutopia.org/blogs and http://www.teachthought.com/ as well as tech hubs such as, http://www.scoop.it/t/technology-in-education are dedicated to providing resources, inspirations and practical tips for use of technology integration.

My own learning environment is Reggio inspired and PYP driven, and the focus for technology is on playfulness and creativity. Children use the iPad to capture photos and create short films of learning adventures with http://animoto.com/, they make their own super heroes on http://cpbherofactory.com/ and then write and tell stories about their adventures through a puppet show app, http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/puppet-pals-hd/id342076546?mt=8. We enlist the older learners as teachers and invite them into our classroom every few weeks to showcase a new skill, app, or site that they have learned about. This benefits our older learners by synthesizing their understanding through teaching and the younger students by gaining valuable skills. More importantly, it teaches both groups that the use of technology does not have to be contained within a solitary bubble.

Perhaps it is not Fulghum’s essay that should be the go-to statement of early childhood education but rather, Jane Cowen-Fletcher’s children’s story, It Takes a Village. Now more then ever it takes a village to teach a class of children. No teacher has encyclopedic knowledge of the world, but the Internet does. The world is our village, the globe our community. We need to model for students that teachers are also life-long learners by embracing the skills and aptitudes we need to develop as we experience the shift in our profession. Technology gives us opportunities, outlooks and access that we simply did not have in our own kindergarten classrooms. It is a whole new world of learning.

So, what technology will you integrate into your teaching and learning cycle today?

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It seemed like a good idea at the time

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I had started reading education blogs as a tool for professional development. Not only was I learning from great blogs like this but also I was inspired. I wanted to start my own blog but I didn’t think I had the time to write enough posts to maintain an audience. I also questioned my knowledge. I am not a rookie at the inquiry game but I still have more questions than I do answers. Though I assume that’s how many of us feel.

So I thought back to my days at Bonn International School. I’m not sure I was aware at the time how lucky I was to be surrounded by so many brilliant, motivated and inspiring educators. They were dedicated and innovative, always seeking out the practice that was best. They also instilled in me a sense of collegial sharing. There was no competition, only support and encouragement. So I thought I would call upon all these people to once again inspire and educate me, and invite others to learn from them as well.

These brilliant people are curriculum coordinators, ICT coaches, deputy principals, early childhood educators, heads of student support services, ICT coordinators, team leaders, publishers, and elementary school teachers.

So once everyone was on board I went about trying to write my first post. It was at that point I realized what I was up against. Writing to an audience is daunting. I have three different posts started and all have been pushed aside because I either lost my momentum or forgot the thought I was trying to express.

So what seemed like a good idea at the time suddenly appears more intimidating. But that’s why I’ve brought my friends along for the ride.

Enjoy what’s to follow and be inspired.