And awaaayyyy we go!
Thanks to my new friend JB, who submitted my very first Ask Miss Night question, just hours after I first added the page. JB, you will never know what a confidence booster that was. The very least I can do in return is reply to your question first!
Starting very soon, JB will be teaching Junior Kindergarten, in Ontario, Canada. In the province of Ontario, JrK is included as part of the public school system. She has 23 students in her class, most of them are 4 year olds, although there will be a few 3 year olds for the first part of the year: children must turn 4 before December 31st to be eligible for JrK. Her children attend full days, but on alternating days – she will have 2 different groups of 23 children. (I’m assuming it is something like this: Group A comes Monday, Wednesday, and alternating Fridays; Group B does Tuesday, Thursday, alternating Fridays). She will have a classroom aide only if she has a student who needs extensive support, and if that happens, the aide will be for that student only, not the whole group. (This surprises me – I thought the Ontario model included a teacher and an ECE in each class, but maybe I am wrong? Or maybe funding has not turned out as promised?)
The Ontario Kindergarten Program requires that teachers offer a play-based, student-led program, with very little whole group instruction. From what JB has told me (as well as my own research), the role of the teacher is to serve as a guide: enhancing and extending the natural learning that occurs through play. JB has a good grasp of what this means, and seems at ease with the underlying philosophy (YAY JB! The Ontario program really is a model for other provinces, as well as other countries. You go, girl!), but her question is this:
“Do you have some tips, suggestions, strategies to help me move around the room of 23 three and four-year old children throughout the day, quickly and efficiently so that I might respond to, challenge and extend each and every child’s learning ?”
Eeep! Ok, my first thought here is: TWENTY THREE 3 & 4 year olds ALL BY YOURSELF? Cheezus Crisco, brace yourself! However, I realise that is not exactly a helpful response. Also, while we all KNOW the advantages of student-led programming, it is still a little daunting to figure out how to follow the lead of 23 children, without having to do 23 things at the same time, or split yourself in 23 different directions. (We all know the very maximum, even for teachers, is 15 things/directions at once, right?) And JB, I already admire your commitment to connecting with every child, every day. That is a big commitment, but so important. It is so easy for the quiet, compliant, meek little ones to slip under the radar until one day you realize you haven’t had a conversation with one of them ALL WEEK.
So, I think that, if I was in your situation, this is what I would do: I would make a daily checklist that I carried around on a clipboard (or maybe you could bind a bunch together in a little booklet…?). The checklist itself could be super-simple: just a spot for the date, a list of kids names, and room for notes next to each name. If you wanted to get fancy, you could make columns for things like what activities that child was doing, who they were playing with, what skills you saw, what skills need development. But, if it was me, I would just do a “Name” column and a “Notes” column. As I circulated around the room, I would add at least a checkmark, and if needed a quick note about the children as I observed and interacted with them. I would extend the children’s play as I interacted with them, but would also then use those notes to plan the next day’s play activities. I know that carrying a clipboard is a little unwieldy… if you can write really small, you could maybe make the list just a half-page, and then bind a bunch into a notebook half the size? As a bonus – think of all the rich material this would give you at report card/progress report/assessment times – you’d have daily notes on each kiddo! With 23 kids, your notes would have to be in some kind of code or short-hand, but that wouldn’t be hard to develop. This could get fun if the kids catch on to what you are doing – it could evolve to a point where they have input into what is in your notes. Once they are settled and into the routine, it might be really interesting to explicitly tell them that you make notes every day about what they are learning, what they enjoy, what they could learn next, and that if they have things they want you to remember, they can tell you. How cool would it be for them to have an active, explicit voice in the direction of their own learning?? “Please write down that tomorrow I want more time to string beads.” “Please write that I want to learn to zip my coat.” Fun, right? If you went that way, you could also make the “by request” lists public, on a white board. (You could take a picture of the whiteboard before erasing it, so you have it documented.) The more I think about it, the more potential I see to involve the children in this process…
If you have an iPad and/or iPhone/Smartphone, the other tool that could be really great for this (regardless of how/whether you involve the children), is an app called Evernote. I used it for digital portfolios for my kids last year, and am already thinking about how to also use it for ongoing notes this year. I blogged about it in detail here. You could make a notebook for each child, or a notebook for each class group, and then title or tag your notes with kids’ names… With a phone or iPad, you could type a quick note (or even snap a pic!) about each child. The iPad interface makes it pretty easy to see if there are any notebooks you haven’t updated on any given day. Once again, you would also end up with great documentation to answer parent questions and/or help you write reports.
As much as possible, I would try to move through the room naturally, interacting with the children in small groups as they play, rather than being super-systematic about following the checklist. Once there was less than an hour of potential interaction time remaining, I would check to see if there was anyone I was missing, and make a point of checking in with that/those child(ren). Again, if the kids were involved, and knew this was part of your daily routine, they would be happy to let you know if you have not checked in with one of them!
To me, the important thing here is that JB is on board with the philosophy of her program, and has a good understanding of what “student-led” should mean. JB, I hope this is helpful in some small way – please check in and let us know how it all goes! Readers, if you think of something I have missed, please jump in in the comments.
Smiles and Sunshine to all;
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