Snapshot of a provocation

Can we maintain relationships with people who don’t share our values?

Our plucky, young Grade 1/2 students are currently inquiring into the central idea, Understanding perspectives helps people manage relationships.

It’s profound stuff! Students are learning how to understand others on a deeper level, and learn why people may behave in different ways. What’s important to one person may not be important to another, but we can still maintain relationships- or decide to end them- when we disagree. Values, perspective, conflict resolution, communication, respect, and self-management are just some of the concepts and skills students are exploring.

As a provocation to reinvigorate the students’ interest towards the end of the unit, the teacher and I hatched an evil plan- we agreed to have a loud argument in front of the students!

After I stormed out of the classroom in a huff, the magic happened- most of the students were very concerned after seeing our argument and looked sad, but said nothing.  One student finally asked what happened.  The teacher explained that she didn’t do her homework because she didn’t think it was important, and now I was mad at her because it was part of a project all the teachers were working on together.

The students concluded that I was mad because I thought the homework was important, but the teacher did not.  The teacher then explained that not only am I her boss, but I’m a good friend as well- it’s complicated! The teacher said that, even though our friendship might be affected by this problem, we still need to maintain our professional relationship as we work together everyday.

Students then offered suggestions on how to move forward:

– ”You can say I’m sorry.”  The teacher replied, “But I already said I’m sorry, and she just walked away, so…..…”

– ”Do your homework now and we can help each other and do things by ourselves in the classroom.”

– ”Give her the homework when it’s finished and say I’m sorry again.”

– Some students started singing a cooperation song!

The teacher thanked the students for their ideas, and completed her ‘homework’ while the students worked independently. After an hour or so, I returned to the classroom- with every single student watching me closely- to collect the homework and ask the teacher to, in future, let me know if she doesn’t want to complete a task or if she thinks something isn’t important so we can sort it out.

We left it at that, and then revealed our plan to the students. Some were confused, some laughed, and some claimed they knew it was a trick all along- the teacher has done other controversial provocations in the past so the students might be on to her!

For now, the students’ interest in the unit has been piqued once again, and they have a starting point for a new line of inquiry- how differences in perspective can affect relationships.

EPILOGUE: the students were not aware of the central idea throughout this unit, the teacher instead focused on guiding students through the lines of inquiry.  At the end of the unit, the students were invited to make their own generalisations based on their inquiries and the concepts they explored. Here are some of the students’ generalisations…….

– We can be friends even if we don’t value the same things.

– We can still be friends even if we don’t think the same things are important.

– We need to communicate to solve problems together.

– We need to communicate in relationships.

– We don’t always have to be friends with someone.

Not bad for six year olds! 🙂

Tuning in to author studies

We are about to start author studies here in my Kindergarten class, but first, we took some time to tune in.

The notion of tuning in is often misunderstood. Some teachers regard tuning in as initial explorations of a unit’s content or concepts, which is not altogether incorrect- provoking student interest and identifying personal connections is a necessary component of the start of a unit of inquiry in order to help students begin their journey to deep conceptual understandings. However, teachers must also tune in to their students– What do they already know? What do they think they know? What do they want to know? How is this relevant to their lives? This valuable information will expose misconceptions, reveal student interests, uncover students’ own life experiences, and encourage questions, all of which should, in turn, guide the direction of future inquiries.

Kath Murdoch (the well-known inquiry rock star) suggests the teacher’s primary role during the tuning in phase of inquiry is to “… stimulate, question, record, mediate and, above all, to listen.” (p.12).

With this in mind, I started the process of tuning my students into the concept of authorship via a simple thinking routine, whilst I tuned into them, their prior knowledge, and what may interest them as we learn about various authors and their work.

Part one

First, we defined what an author is. The general consensus was that an author is someone who writes a book.

Next, the students brainstormed what authors do. It was a slow start for the students (“It’s their work….. it’s a job”), but once the first student mentioned that authors write to tell us a message, “….like something they want to tell you…”, then the ball really got rolling!

– To help us learn to read.

– Because they want to tell a story.

– So they can tell us something.

– So we can listen to an author’s story.

– Other people might enjoy their stories.

The students noticed that a lot of them had the same idea, that authors write to tell us something. This is when we made our first generalisation, a ‘big idea’- authors write to tell us things.

It was at this point that one student called out, “Authors write books and poems and posters, too!”. After lots of excited “Yeah!” comments were made, we all agreed that this should be our new definition of ‘author’.

Part two

We started to think about the different things authors write about. It was another slow start, but after I asked the students to think of their favourite books and what they were about, then the ideas flowed!

I especially like the comment that authors write about “….what they are thinking about.” When I asked this student to elaborate, he replied that they write about what they like, which another student connected to the students’ own published books that are displayed around the room. This led the students to the realisation that they are authors! Whoa!

As we had been thinking about authors some more and we had uncovered new information, I revisited our first ‘big idea’- the generalisation that authors write to tell us things- and asked if the students wanted to change it. It was a 50/50 split as to who wanted to change it, and who wanted to keep it the same. A bit of persuasive discussion ensued:

– It’s OK already.

– But we can put the things that authors write about.

– Everything?

– Yes! It tells us more information.

– Yeah!

It was at this point that I jumped in and asked if we could say all the things authors can write about in one or two words. Silence. I suggested the word anything, then another student suggested everything. One student called out, “Authors can write to tell us about anything!”. We had our new ‘big idea’.

Part three

I changed today’s question from ‘How do authors write?’ (waaaay too abstract) to ‘How do authors share what they write?’ (much more focused on what I wanted the students to think about, which were the different ways we can access and read authors’ work).

One student had mentioned recipes yesterday, and I explained at the time that recipes were also a way authors could share what they were thinking about and what they liked, so it was added to today’s section of the poster, too.  When we started today, the word ‘recipe’ seemed to prompt the students’ thoughts immediately. Students got into the flow of this idea straight away, which surprised me as the relatively straightforward questions from the past two days seemed to stump them at first. Sometimes they just need a little nudge!

Once we had thought of different ways authors can share their writing, we made connections between them- can you read a recipe in a newspaper? On an iPad? How about via an audiobook? The students realised that there are many different ways authors can share their writing, and many different ways we can read about things, not just via books.

One student suggested we change the definition of author again to include all the different ways authors can share their writing……..

Which brought us back to our ‘big idea’. Did it need to change again? The students all agreed that they wanted to change it to include today’s new information, so we ended up with……..

We wrapped up by stepping back and marveling at how our understanding had changed over the past few days as a result of thinking about new ideas and making connections between these ideas.

No student questions came up throughout this entire process- are they interested in author studies? I’m not entirely sure, but my next step is to actually ask them! Once the ball gets rolling, I anticipate my students will start to ask lots of why and how questions. In the meantime, we’re going to start with Dr. Seuss as he is a class favourite. They seemed to enjoy the process of creating generalisations, what we are calling ‘big ideas’- I wonder if we can make generalisations about authors and their work?

But for now, we are tuned in and ready to start finding out about authors through author studies!

Murdoch, K. (1998). Classroom Connections: strategies for integrated learning. Eleanor Curtain Publishing: South Yarra, Australia.