Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

Ask Miss Night: How to ensure “student led” program for all 23 students?

on 25 August, 2012

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;

Miss Night

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25 Responses to “Ask Miss Night: How to ensure “student led” program for all 23 students?”

  1. Just wanted to leave a quick note:
    I think most of you are so lucky. I’d wish we had assistants in the classroom in Holland.
    The last class of 4 year olds i taught had 32 kids in an 8×8 meter classroom. 5 day’s a week from 8.45 am to 3 o clock pm.
    And due to budget-cuts classes are getting bigger and sometimes a hear about kindergarten classes of 36 – 38.

    But one the other hand, i didn’t have to have a clipboard with notes. I would work with a small group while all the others were playing in centers (house corner, building-block corner etc.)
    Children would know what to do, they had a whiteboard to put their picture on, so i (and the children) would know were every child was playing. They could work/play independently from me.
    ‘older’ children would help the new or younger kids with finding their things and putting things away


    I would be concentrating on the children i was working with. And i would write an evaluation in keywords, that i would write in their notebooks later on.
    From the children in the station i would take pictures, showing their work and progress.
    I printed them out, during the day. Asked them to comment on their work and write it alongside the picture when i put it in their notebooks.
    At the end of the year the children would take them home. This way the build a portfolio about all they had learned in my class.

  2. Miss Night says:

    I just want to say to all of you who read and comment: you rock! Having you weigh in added so much more to this conversation than I could possibly do alone. In a profession where we can be so isolated from other adults, I love discovering ways for teachers to support one another. Gold stars and glitter crowns all round! (Adult beverages also available for those who prefer that sort of recognition…)

    • Jasmine Brown says:

      I’ll take the glitter crown thank-you very much. I’ll be glad to provide the adult beverages to all who weighed in on my issues. A big thank-you to all.

    • Esther says:

      I teach full day Kindergarten in Ontario and I have a fantastic ECE as a partner. I have some floor to ceiling closets in my room and on the inside of the closet door I taped paper from a roll from top to bottom. I wrote each child’s name at intervals, keep a pencil on the shelf and direct all adults(not volunters-just empoloyees) in the room to jot notes in that one place. I can just see report card time – I will have the whole floor covered with long sheets of paper. It works for us because it does not move or get buried under blocks.

    • Esther says:

      And to add insult to injury in Ontario we get to watch the full day Kindergarten ad. Set in a spacious room with aproximately $7500 of hollow blocks! A little annoying after I spent countless hours scouring goodwill and value village to equip my empty room!

  3. Jenni says:

    Just wanted to let you know, that in Ontario, all publically funded kindergarten classes that are all day EVERY day have an ECE worker and a teacher. Since JB is teaching every other day Kindergarten, she would be the only teacher. It is a lot of kids to handle on your own!! But, by the end of this school year, all Kindergarten classes will be in the all day, everyday model, so this means a teacher and an ECE with the number of children increasing to 28 (at least!).

    JB – I’ve heard of other kindergarten teachers who use white labels to record notes of each student during the day, then transferring it over into a binder with a section for each student. It’s an alternate route if you don’t have the tech in your class. It’s like using sticky notes, but labels won’t fall off or loose their stickiness. 🙂

    • Miss Night says:

      Thanks, Jenni, for the clarification. (Although, is it just me, or does the policy itself make NO sense?) Really, if you have 23 JK students, even just for AN HOUR, there should be another adult to help!

    • Jen says:

      Poor dear, that student-teacher ratio is way off! When I was in early childhood, I had clipboards loaded with blank white 2″ by 4″ labels on clipboards with a pen. I had clipboards strewn throughout the room. I would interact with a child, and could reach for a clipboard and jot down an anecdotal record easily. The labels were later sorted and fit on 8 1/2″ by 11″ paper in 2 columns. If I had a few students I needed more notes on (some get noticed more often than others) I would put a list of “target” kids on my clipboard and be sure to try to catch them during the day. If I had a planned activity, before class I would preload a label to make it easier. For example, “We are exploring soap bubbles and different sized and shaped wands. Johnny is…” and then I can write later what I actually see him doing.

      In my current assignment with slightly older kids, I make a checklist with a column of kids’ names and then columns of skills I might see in a reading activity such as “points out front cover” or “return sweep” and I can check off what I see kids doing right after an activity as I have the checklist near my reading chair.

      Good luck!

      • Miss Night says:

        I love the idea of stashing (even hanging!) clipboards all around the classroom so you don’t have to carry one around with you. I also love the labels, so it is easy to sort by student later. My readers are brilliant!

  4. Mardelle says:

    Balancing recording with personal interactions is a real challenge. I am correct in assuming that you actually have 46 students to organize observations for? Sometimes Focus on 5 works for me. I chose 5 that typically choose the same place to play in the beginning. Listening to the play allows for rich assessment. And invest in one cheap digital camera. Take pictures of play everyday and over time you can see trends that you may have not noticed. If at all possible, run the pictures for the kids as a slide show. They love to see themselves, and it gives you time to watch it and them, as well as working as a mini brain break. Cudos to you. I have recently moved from half day kindergarten to a full day program. Half of the children and twice the time has been a gift to me. We can always hope that hat gift is given to young learners everywhere.

    • Jasmine Brown says:

      Yes, Mardelle, I have 46 students to observe. I do like the idea of focussing on 5 as that seems manageable. I may choose the 3 or 4 who don’t speak English or perhaps the 5 special needs students (autistic/ severe language delays/ADHD) as they will need much more support. (They are not eligible for extra support until Grade One). I will have to see how many behaviour challenges I have to know more thoroughly what might be possible. I’ve been advised by the local daycare workers that two of my students have pretty serious behavioural concerns. Yup….. lots of challenges !

    • Miss Night says:

      I’m with Mardelle – even if you have no other tech in class, I think paying out-of-pocket for a cheap digital camera would pay off in convenience and helpfulness. A picture can help you remember SO MUCH about a particular child on a particular day.

      • Jasmine Brown says:

        Yes, a camera is a good idea regardless of whether I have any other technological equipment to file, access or show the data. I know there’s no budget for support in my Kindergarten for high-needs kids or for English-as-a-second language children. I know that I can’t access more than a couple of hundred dollars out of petty cash for various materials during the year. I know that my Kindergarten is a very low priority for a computer. I guess I’m a bit resentful that there are all these wonderful ideas about child-directed play-based programs that we must jump into, but the program doesn’t really work unless I dig into MY pocket to fund it…… to purchase all the hands-on materials for individualized learning, to scavenge at garage sales for used toys, to beg parents to donate to the classroom, and now to buy a cheap camera in order to document children’s work. Okay….. that’s my whine, I’ll go get the cheese to accompany it.

        • Mardelle says:

          I agree. Teachers subsidizing public education is reaching absurd levels. I tried to spend $0 in my class last year. It was a challenge I lost. Teachers should facilitate a unique learning experience for children’s, not fund it.

  5. Jasmine Brown says:

    Miss Night, Thank-you so much for your thoughts and suggestions. My favourite part is “Cheezus Crisco, brace yourself! ” I am going to try the clipboard suggestion as it will keep me focussed on interacting with every child each day. Perhaps, some day, there will be a budget for JK teachers and students to provide some electronic device for recording information and observations (iPad, iPhone, camera). I’ve been waiting 7 years for a computer for the classroom so I’m not holding my breath ! It’s interesting to contemplate the possibility of the children becoming aware of my note-taking and using that as a tool for furthering their learning. (The possibilities would be endless with an iPad…..sigh). Continuity of learning is a challenge, since 50% of the time, one class will attend on a Friday and not return until the following Wednesday and the other class comes on Thursday and not again until the following Tuesday. (Mondays alternate between the two classes). By the time these 4-year-olds return they’ve forgotten where the bathroom is, never mind what materials are in the room LOL.
    Again, thank-you Miss Night. It’s wonderful to have the support. Jasmine.

    • Miss Night says:

      I’m so glad to have been helpful – I swear half the battle in this crazy field is finding ways to NOT feel alone. Please keep us posted on how your year goes – I am eager to hear all about it!

  6. We have 28 children aged 4-5 and one teaching assistant. I think, as Kimberly says, having distinct areas set up that have flexibility within them is a good start. We have noteboards to hand in each area with sticky labels attached, sufficient to make worthwhile observations on. At the end of the day notes transfer to children’s records. I think the quality of the learning opportunities and the children’s engagement in their learning is the key. If these things are good then observation notes or not learning is happening! So my aim would be to assess effectively and not pressure myself to do assessment perfectly.
    Good luck JB, what a great profession teaching is!

  7. Mme Kathleen says:

    I also have had a class almost as large as JB’s, but in kindergarten so they were between 5 and 6 years old. I found a very important aspect to being ale to circulate, interact, and document the students learning was to minimize whole group transitions throughout the day. This meat no whole group bathroom breaks, washing hands time, all together snack time, etc. I know this might be difficult to do with younger students but it really helped me out in cutting down on wasted time.
    I also find it useful to carry around my Flip camera to video tape students. At the end of the day, I upload their file to my Mac and move it into a folder with their name on it in iPhoto. It’s great to show parents during meeting times to demonstrate positive and negative behaviour in the classroom.

    • Jasmine Brown says:

      Mme Kathleen, I really like the idea of minimizing whole group transitions to cut down on wasted time. However, my class is required to have two Nutrition Breaks per day – outside for 20 min. and eat for 20 min. with the rest of the school. They also go to gym class or library class for 40 minutes, once each day. That makes the day very cut up and creates many transitions throughout the day. We certainly get lots of practice in walking in a line down the hall !

  8. It doesn’t even seem legal for 23 young kids and one teacher, but you are right that’s not a helpful place to go. You are right on. I would also add that the Montessori method of having kids move around doing work that is set up and clear will help you. There are some great blogs out there for ideas. Check out http://rubberbootsandelfshoes.blogspot.com/ and Make a list of great ideas that help children work independently. I mean play when I say work, of course.

    • Jasmine Brown says:

      Hi Kimberley, It isn’t practically helpful for you to express your dismay about 23 very young children for one teacher but it sure is emotionally supportive. THANK-YOU. I have seen Sandi’s blog before and it is impressive. Her blog (and others) has helped me create an ever-growing file of independent learning opportunities (we’re not allowed to call them activities anymore). My biggest challenge now is providing the wide array of materials needed for 23 independent learners. And of course, to be truly child-directed, I must follow each child’s lead as to what each one is interested in and provide those materials. It takes a great deal of time, and as always some sort of budget. I can request perhaps $200 this year if the administration is feeling generous. The rest, I will scrounge throughout the year.

  9. Faige Meller says:

    Loving this already. Does JB’s class have rest time or any down time for her to reflect on what’s going on. How wil she balance her clip board notes with interacting with kids. Like Evernote as way to organize. I used it last year to jot notes for conference writing. In awe that Jb will have 23 kids on her own. Wishing her a great year.

    • Jasmine Brown says:

      Faige – Thank-you so much for your thoughts and questions. Evernote seems to be a wonderful tool and perhaps, one day, there will be budget for a computer in my classroom, an iPad or iPhone or Flip camera or some sort of device for electronically sharing information with parents. I do have some down time during my 40 minute lunch break so that might be a good time to sort out my clipboard notes. Not yet sure how I’ll balance the clipboard with meaningful interactions but we primary teachers are like an octopus with running shoes and multiple hands to run between kids and balance everything at once.

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