It’s Not You, It’s Me: Breaking Up With Perfection

One Friday, I was painting with my kindergarten students. I had saved my favourite activity for the end of the week – teaching the students to use watercolours.

Watercolours on a Friday. Peaceful. Calming. Sitting with the students and watching them ooh and ahh at the colours as they absorbed into the special watercolour paper I bought for them.

Then. This happened.

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I saw it coming. I knew not every single student was going to ooh and ahh about these delicate, pretty, vibrant paints I had supplied them with. But I knew others would. For some of my students, this activity was about drawing the best picture and then painting it the best they could, while learning how to use watercolours. For them, it was about using their skills to create a finished product they had planned out in their mind, along with the process of learning to use watercolours. For others, it was solely about the process and experiencing something new and exciting.

Did I give positive feedback to all my students while they did this activity? Yes.

Did I question my students while they painted? Yes.

Did I direct them to the model I had created and carefully placed within their line of sight? Yes.

Did I encourage creativity, precision, and pride in their work? Yes.

Did I check for understanding about what they knew about shapes? Yes.

Did I expect the same finished product of perfection for all my students? No.

And I never do.

This is the part people need to know about teachers: we accept students for who they are, the abilities they bring to the table, and we try our best to take a deep breath about it. We have a soft spot for each of them, just the same. We work so hard at making sure each student is successful in their own way. Baby steps leads up to these successes.

I was by no means loving the fact that the little one in my class basically obliterated the precious and beautiful watercolour paper. I was loving the fact that he was thrilled by mixing all the colours together on the paper (much to the horror of the student beside him!) with a smile on his face.

Now when these works of art go up in the hallway, obviously you’re going to start singing that song from Sesame Street. *One of these things is not like the other*. However, it’s OK that the students experienced this art exploration for different reasons.

Was it disappointing, as a teacher, to see a student paint with so many vigorous movements and with so much force that the paintbrush was shedding like a dog all over the page? YES!

I took a breath and reminded myself of where this student was, as a student in my class. The reason why one student is working on a task could be completely different for the student beside them.

It’s not OK to compare one student’s abilities to another.

It’s not OK to say that student is “worse” than another student.

It’s not OK to expect the same fine motor precision in all students.

It’s not OK to tell a teacher they won’t be getting paid as much this month because this student painted “poorly”.

It’s not OK to assess this student’s abilities by giving them a test about shapes. Or even about the watercolours.

It’s not OK to deny this student the chance to use watercolours because it’s time for reading, Daily 5, and worksheets.

I won’t deny the fact that when I saw this happening, it worried me. I want the student to do well. I want him to use the paintbrush properly. I want him to produce something that is a bit realistic looking. I want him to notice the different colours that are available. I want him to create art that his family will hang proudly in their home because they love it so much. However, at this point in this little guy’s life, this watercolour painting is frame worthy.

All students arrive at our classroom doors having experienced different life events.

Teachers care about these life events and try to provide the best education they can for their students.

I think, just maybe, policy makers, curriculum designers, and even those parents, need to sit down next to a group of kindergarten students and teach them how to use watercolours.

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My Squirrel Students: Picking a Spot to Play

My squirrel students are the ones who just cannot choose a place to play. They are the students who can go to 40 different places in the classroom within the first 7 minutes of playing in the classroom. It was exhausting my energy saying “Please choose a spot to play in the classroom or I will choose a spot for you.” The squirrel students were also bothering other students who had already established a chosen play place appropriately.

I thought long and hard about what to do for my worst offender, E. E displays immature behaviour on a regular basis in the classroom and needed lots of help picking a place to play. Here is what I developed for him.

I printed off a four square and slid it into a page protector. I placed it at eye level in the classroom so E could see it. I brought E over and told him that this four square was only for him and that it was to plan where he played in the classroom. We read the numbers together as well as the title. Afterwards, I explained to him that we would set my cell phone timer for five minutes. If he stayed at the first area of play for five minutes, he would be able to move on to the second square. After all four squares were complete, he was free to go where he wanted.
We then took a dry erase marker and drew the areas of play. Excuse my awful drawings – I was making it happen quickly. I chose the first square, E chose the second and third, and I chose the 4th.

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This worked great the first day. He went to where he needed to go without complaints and felt totally empowered about the situation.

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One problem: he couldn’t hear my cell phone timer because of loudness of the classroom. Claaaaaaaasic. I made a joke to my student teacher: “Well what should I do, tape my phone to his sweater?!” And she then smartly suggested a stop watch. The only stop watch I found in the school didn’t count down. Back to the drawing board. I didn’t want to use the online visual timers because we frequently use the smart board for visual directions. It’s tied up most of the time.
I remembered about a timer I use to have that worked great for literacy stations in previous years. I was cheap, loud, and portable. All things we K teachers love. Minus the loud, sometimes.

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I laced it through a lanyard with some wire and had E wear it from play spot to play spot. I taught him how to set it, how it stop it, and how to restart it so he could move from area to area independently.

HE LOVED IT.

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It is now hanging proudly on the board next to his four square, ready to wear for the following day. E was so proud to show his mom how this worked when they came for interviews.

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Independence for the win.

Today, I Cried At School

I was sitting at my computer desk, back turned to my students playing in the room. My eyes started getting a wee bit wet, and my nose and collar bones felt hot.
Then I heard my name 6 times in rapid succession from a tiny voice behind me.

Me: “Yes? What is it? I’m a bit busy right now.”

Student: “Can I go get my snack? …Are you crying?”

WOW. Well I just got your peer to practice saying the /f/ sound for the last 20 minutes without success but YOU realize I’m CRYING.

Me: “I’m just feeling a bit sad now. Wash your hands and go get your snack.”

Student: “OK.”

It was 1:47 PM and I just had to let it all out. There at my desktop, I cried. Speaking of snacks, I thought to myself, I need some cookies right now. TIME TO STRESS EAT.
I had just had two very unsuccessful speech group practice activities. One group was working on expressive language. The next group was working on the /f/ sound. It went awful. Terrible. That’s ACTUALLY what I wrote on the small group work sheet that tracks the dates and times they come to see me. It ACTUALLY says “terrible” on the page.

I cried for the students I couldn’t help say the /f/ sound clearly.
I cried for the student who came to me begging to play the expressive language game, even though her expressive language skills were just fine.
I cried for the same student who asked me if she could leave after two turns because the pace of the game was too slow
I cried for her again when I saw her wandering around the room aimlessly, bored at having nothing challenging enough to do.
I cried for her once more when I just wanted her to choose something to play with that would make her happy. Because she is a kid.
I cried for the student who I had to make a play schedule for because he is too immature to pick a spot in the room to play for more than 1.5 minutes.
I cried later on in the day when I had a social worker visit me asking if a certain student had confided anything in me lately. Any teacher who has ever had a social worker visit them knows what that means.
I cried thinking of how fortunate I am to have a great student teacher and then cried some more thinking of how I am possibly going to continue the rest of the year by myself when she is gone.
I cried at the fact I didn’t pack cookies for a snack today. Because I really needed those friggin cookies.

I pouted a bit to my #kinderchat and #wtdk friends on Twitter. Then I picked myself up, and moved on with the day.

I cried for the weak. I cried for the strong. Today was a day where I worried about every single one of my students and it became too much. I worry about each of them every single day, but today was just one of those days. Tomorrow is a new day.

Then I came home and ate some cookies. And some squares. Because they were right next to the cookies.

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Colour Exploration: Scaffolding For Success

My grade partner and I have been working on completing a new framework for planning inquiry units that integrate technology. Technology integration has always been fairly easy for me, but with the extra responsibility of teaching French immersion, the lead up activities are the most important in order for students to be successful in using technology meaningfully. I will have more posts later on how I used technology and how we planned our unit out, but this post is dedicated to some of those lead up activities.

The “big idea” we came up with for our unit is called “The Colours God Creates”. The first thought that went through my head was that the students need to know their colours in French. We created “The Week of Colours” (“La semaine des couleurs”) for the students that involved wearing a specific colour each day, experiencing some type of sensory activity involved with that colour, and having the sensory table changed to represent that specific colour as well.

Monday: rouge

On Monday, the students used white cardstock, white glue, red Kool-Aid, and various red Dollar Store gems to create a free piece of art. When you sprinkle the Kool-Aid on the white glue, it turns red and smells delicious. This lead to great discussion (as much as they can understand in French while I stand on my head jumping up and down trying to help them understand!) about how white glue contains water and allows the crystals to dissolve, change to a deeper colour, and smell.

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The sensory table had red water with various red items inside. Since the students haven’t really had so many various items in the sensory table ever, and it was clear I just took items from around the classroom, I made sure to ask them not to take anything out or put anything extra in. I really dislike when I take so much time to put together a sensory table and then the students just end up mixing it all up and transporting other items to other areas of the classroom.

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Tuesday: orange

On Tuesday, the students used another piece of white cardstock, real oranges, and red and yellow paint to create another piece of free art. This lead to more great discussion about how we don’t always have to use paintbrushes to paint. The students knew we could use sponges, our fingers, and our whole hand to paint and were delighted at the idea to use real friggin oranges. We talked about the texture if the orange and saw how the same texture appeared in the paint.

The sensory table had orange water with orange bath toys and orange buttons. Sweet tip: hot glue the hole at the bottom of the bath toys so you don’t spend your precious after school time squeezing the living day lights out of them to get the water out. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

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Wednesday: jaune

On Wednesday, the students used another piece of white cardstock, yellow paint, sand, and lemonade, to create another piece of free art. We mixed the items together in the bowl. It smelled great and looked weird. The students loved the sound of the sand scraping against the hard cardstock, and most of them spent time listening to the sound rather than worrying about how their paper looked in the end.

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The sensory table had yellow ice cubes with imitation banana extract. These smelled DISGUSTING by the end of the day after 40 little hands had touched them all. But, it was worth it.

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Thursday: vert

On Thursday, I only have my morning class come, so we used Rachael Ray magazines to cut out 4 green items to paste onto cardstock. Awesome fine motor practice, and watching little ones try to rip a page out of a magazine is pretty cute. We all know that was a whole lesson in itself. We talked lots about how to do a “rough cut” (basically cutting a circle around the item you want) rather than cutting in the outline of the item which would take forever.

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The sensory bin had green water and green stuff, and I don’t have a photo.

Friday: bleu

On Friday, the students enjoyed making letters with blue spaghetti. It was simple and successful. Cooked spaghetti mixed with food colouring in a bowl, transport to school, and let the fun begin. I even used real plates from the staff room so it had the “dining room table” feeling, minus the eating of anything. Some students actually really didn’t like the smell or the feeling of the spaghetti. I’m a girl who lives on noodles and carbs in general, so this was difficult for me to understand. 😉

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The sensory table had blue water beads inside, which also smell disgusting after only a small amount of use, and make them great for a short term thing.

The students wore the specific colour each day, and I snapped a photo of them before they went home. At the end of the week, I took the photos to get printed, and selected the 2×3 photos so I could get two students on one 4×6 print. This automatically cut the cost in half. Together,we painted a rainbow and after it had dried, the students practiced their rough cuts again to paste themselves onto the correct area of the rainbow. My AM class painted half and my PM class painted the other half. This is a beautiful addition to our classroom.

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What did we do with all those free art cardstock creations you ask? We made a little book! I printed out colour labels so everyone had one of each. I made a visual on the smart board so they would be able to “read” which colour was which. Since they didn’t make a piece of art for each colour, the students added two blank cardstock sheets at the end so they could finish them at home if they liked. “Violet” was a trick label, since we didn’t have a purple day. We punched a hole in the corner, bent a paper clip to make a “ring” and they had created their own vocabulary book that meant something to them.

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At the beginning, this “week of colours” reminded me of “letter of the week” which I am not a fan of, but in the end I am pleased with how it went and I feel almost all of my students are able to name their colours in French. The students got to experience lots of sensory activities, had family members involved in their learning (through wearing the colours and finishing their book), and collaboratively completed a beautiful piece of art work for our classroom. It was a great start to our unit.

Snacks on Snacks on Snacks: We Don’t “Do Snack Time”

I have 20 students in my morning class but I don’t have 20 chairs.
We do not have a snack table.
We do not eat snack during “snack time”.
We do not eat snack all together.

All my kindergarten students enter into our classroom thinking that though.

My students DO NOT eat snack all at the same time. Since I teach in a half day program (follow the #wtdk hashtag on Twitter for fun facts and anecdotes of me and teachers in the public school system in Alberta)…let’s be realistic here.

When they arrive the first day at school, I make sure to tell them that when they are feeling hungry they can ask to go get their snack. The only reason they need to ASK to get their snack is so they acquire the language, since we are learning in a French Immersion environment. This way, I don’t need to create another unnecessary transition in the classroom and no play and learning time is interrupted.

It turns out you do not need a chair or a desk for every student in your room. If 12 out of my 20 students all want to eat snack at the same time in the 12 chairs I have in my classroom that happen to be “free” and the 13th student comes along, they WILL find a spot. They will share a chair with a student. They will move the playdough over and eat next to the playdough. They will eat at the light table. Some might even have a picnic on the floor. It’s all good in my classroom. All of my students are also responsible to clean up their spot after. They learn how to use the hand broom with the dust pan. They learn how to ring a cloth out in the sink. They learn to pick up those AWFUL PLASTIC JUICE BOX STRAWS that never seem to make it to the garbage.

Yes, this free for all snack time is an adjustment for parents as well. I will receive emails or notes in the agenda saying their child didn’t eat snack that day at all and could I remind them, or they didn’t finish all their snack they were given and to keep a watchful eye on them. My response is that if a child is hungry, they will ask to eat. They won’t forget. And if they do end up forgetting, you better believe the next day they remember to manage their time and schedule throughout the day a little better than the day before.

“Well that’s all fine for you in KINDERGARTEN,” my coworkers say to me. “But in grade blah we all need a spot to sit.” Agreed, I will say, not having taught another grade before. But I like to think that if I taught another grade, I would give them the freedom to eat whenever the like and wherever they like. I like to think that a classroom of another grade still has a variety of seating options for students: desks, tables and chairs, standing at the counter, or maybe even a bean bag chair.

Snack in my classroom is a choice. It is one of many choices that I give. We are just as happy as a class without having a dedicated snack time or even a dedicated snack table. We are free range and loving it. I do have one hard rule though: no eating on any carpeted surfaces. Cleaning carpets isn’t exactly my wheelhouse. I DON’T do carpets.

Classroom Configuration: Muscles For Days

After I felt my room was presentable enough to take pictures, here I am finally getting around to showing you my classroom set up for this school year. It was nice not to have to move rooms (since I have for the last three years) and it took WAY less time to set up than normally.

Here is what I like:
– neutral tones so the students’ art work will be the focus (woooooooo Reggio inspired!)
– not too many hidden corners so I can keep an eye on what’s going on (I’m about as tall as a kindergarten student, so I had barely any height advantage here people.)
– a clean carpet to start off the year (thanks to my fabulous coworker for bringing her Bissel in and doing it for me!)
– as many non plastic containers as possible (again, fist pump to Reggio inspired.)
– areas that can be easily changed for different purposes (table can be for art one day, flipped on its side for block exploration the next day, and turned back up again for play dough the next day)
– a small teacher dedicated space (if you can’t fit it in one small space, just throw it out. You won’t miss it. I promise.)
– lamps lamps lamps everywhere (fluorescent lights aren’t good for anyone.)
– area rugs to define spaces within the room.

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Letter Tiles: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That

Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That is one of my most favorites memes on the Internet at this present time. But I won’t lie…the following DIY project for your classroom does take time. Like, a few hours. So maybe a more appropriate title would have been “Ain’t Nobody Got Money For That” because that’s where this whole project started.

Pinterest. We all love it. For everything. Everything in life. Except when you find something that is just too expensive. Like letters for literacy stations. I realize there are good deals out there sometimes, but I wanted letters NOW and was feeling a little crafty.

I wanted to make some letter tiles for my students to use to build sight words and names of their classmates. Michael’s was expensive and they didn’t have the right size of tiles I wanted. The Dollar Store was a bust as there were no rocks, gems, wooden pieces or anything that I could use. So I picked up some tile from Home Depot. It cost $5.99 for 36 tiles.

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I flipped it over and scored that mesh on the back. Yenno, the mesh that would normally make the grout stick to it and all.

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For the majority of the tiles, it peeled off fairly easily. I ended up using pliers to start it off so it would ruin my nails. YES I need to repaint them.

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With a foam brush, I applied a little Mod Podge on the front of the tile.

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Then I stuck the letter on. These are just letters I printed out on regular white paper and cut up.

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Then I let them dry.

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For two sets of capital letters and three sets of lowercase letters, this project cost me $25. I already had the Mod Podge and foam brush from other projects, so I just needed to get the tiles. That’s A LOT less expensive than the letter sets I’ve seen online costing up to 100$ for that amount of letters. And I ain’t got money for that.

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