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.

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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