Push Stop and Reflect

In my last post, I described our plans for a more flexible learning day through the use of Choose, Act, Reflect time (C.A.R. time) to give learners more voice, choice and ownership over their learning. We wanted to engage learners in co-constructing our learning experiences and choice over how they structured their learning, so they could develop an understanding of who they are as a learner. We wanted the learning to be a motivating factor for writing, to give writing an authentic purpose within our learning environment. We were moving from a fairly structured learning environment to more time for free flow and choice. Since then, our KG hub has been a whirlwind of activity. We have reflected and adjusted, but not really had a moment to push stop.

“We need to push stop and reflect,” is a favorite saying of my colleague Zoe Roles (@RolesZoe ) as she reminds us of the need to reflect to move forward. So, this post is my reflection on changes we implemented in our Kindergarten learning hub.

So I baked cookies with my daughter to get me into a reflection mindset.

During the first week, I tried to take the time to step back and observe. We noticed engagement in the first learning experience that learners chose, but very little documentation unless it was adult directed. we also noticed that after a while, learners lost focus and would revert to their comfort zone (the want to do experiences), rather than explore new learning experiences.

Based on these reflections, we decided to model learning experiences, model using writing as a documentation tool and introduced one session of interactive writing per week in small groups. One of the benefits of teaching and learning in a hub is that we can have several groups with an adult mentor.

I also began to focus our planning of guided reading to meet the needs of each small group. To support us, I took the Teaching Every Reader course led by Anna Geiger, M.Ed. and Becky Spence, M.Ed. Through the course and discussions with colleagues, I discovered Jan Richardson‘s “The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.”

Each guided reading session is planned to review and teach new sight words, develop fluency, phonemic awareness, decoding skills, comprehension skills, vocabulary and provide opportunities for writing. I strongly feel like investing the time to plan and establish the routines for guided reading has been a driving force in helping our learners develop the skills they need as readers and writers. The small group sizes mean that I can personalize learning and give feedback in the moment and we are seeing progress. Learners are beginning to see the importance of decoding strategies and learning sight words.

Having said this, the time it takes to run these guided reading sessions during C.A.R. time means that we have had less time to observe and interact with learners engaged in other learning experiences. Personally, I felt like we made the change so we could have more time to interact with our learners, and found that we had less.

In response to this observation we decided that it was time support our learners with making choices to support their learning. We created advisory groups so learners could meet in smaller groups. We shared the learning options and learners could stick icons to a planning graphic organizer. At the end of C.A.R time we met back in our groups to reflect.

Our C.A.R. Time planning organizer

We asked our learners how they felt about C.A.R. time and discovered that they liked having the planning discussions, but it was challenging to keep track of their plan. Over the next few days we continued our conversations and discovered that our learners missed writing together as a class and would like to so for some days in the week. They also suggested that they could plan their day without trackers if we took more time to model each learning experience. We also discussed simplifying the ‘must do’ experiences to number and word/letters learning. Finally, we decided to wait to begin ‘want to do’ experiences until most learners had opportunities to engage in the ‘must do’ experiences.

Not everything we have tried has worked for us, but each experience has been a learning opportunity. Through listening to our learners and own intuition, we feel like we have balanced our schedule to support our learners develop the skills they need to push their learning forward. Through engaging in a #riskandreflect process we are defining how we learn together in our kindergarten learning hub.

Unlearning, relearning, and growing

Over my teaching career, there have been many things I have changed over time. I have moved from an environment of direct teaching to an environment where inquiry and learner agency is expected. Some practices have fallen away, some are revisited and others are evolved over time.

One such practice is the Must dO,Should do, Could dO,Want to, or MOSCOW method.  A few years ago, a friend suggested I try Must, Should and Could do centers as a way to manage learning centers. I tried and failed. I felt that learners were not accountable for learning, I had not mastered the art of documentation ( a skill I am still working on…) and it was just not working for me. Moving from teaching in older grades in an environment that relied on direct teaching to a play based PYP inquiry model was quite a challenge for me. Upon reflection, I can say that I had been pushed way out of my comfort zone; I was not in control. As Sascha Heckmann (@sascha_heckmann) recently pointed out to me, I had not made the shift to understand that learning happens within the learner. I can provide an environment to promote learning and thinking, but I cannot control the learning.

Recently, I was inspired by Taryn BondClegg (@makingoodhumans) and another member of my PLN, David Gostelow (@davidgostelow1) to try again. In his post titled From Learners to Leaders,  David shared how he was using this method in his early years class. 

“Students learn best and work harder when they are excited by what they are working on. And when they design their own work, they understand why they are doing what they are doing and engage much more deeply with their learning.”

David Gostelow

I shared the idea with my colleagues and we had several decisions to make. We decided to keep our language teaching as stand alone. Though our program is quite structured, we have seen the amazing progress our learners are making. Furthermore, we know that our learners love writing because any day we have deviated from our structure, we have had complaints about not writing! So, we decided to start with changing our Explore time to  Choose, Act, Reflect, or C.A.R. time. 

We began by running 3 workshops in rotations to tune into learners’ understanding of the concept of form. These included exploring the form of a story, the form of circles and the form of a computer as they identified computer parts.

Exploring the form of the story ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,’ by Michael Rosen.
Exploring the form of circles. What is it like? What is it not like?

Then we asked our learners what they would like to learn, and to consider whether each experience would be a must do, should do, could do or want to do center. If we could not accommodate an idea in the following week, we added it to the parking lot, to revisit in the future. We also considered if some learning experiences were better as workshops.

Our CAR time choice board.

Workshop about drawing a Wild Thing inspired by a learner’s question- ‘How do they put pictures in books?’
A workshop to develop and share our understanding of the early number sense relationship: part, part, whole.

Using this information, I matched learning experiences to our learning outcomes. I decided to use a template that had been shared by Taryn in her post titled Getting Parents Onboard, to map both learning and our conceptual understanding.  Following Taryn’s example, I shared this with families via Seesaw because I have learnt that by keeping parents informed, they stay involved in our learning community.

As we are trying to promote a free flow environment with lots of choices, we wanted to ensure learners took accountability for the centers they had decided to be must do centers. To support this, we have a printout with every learner’s name to highlight as they complete their learning. 

Now that we had the choose and act elements of CAR time, the next step was to add the reflection. This again was inspired by a tweet sharing an idea from Sonia Wright (@MsSoniaWright31.)

The original idea post asked learners to share:

  • What did you do?
  • What did you learn?

Making this change to our day has given us the opportunity to be more present with our learners. We are learning more about our learners through observation and our interactions. As a result, we are now ready to take a risk that we were not ready for before. We are moving from a structured language program to giving learners more choice and ownership over their learning.

Our day will start and finish by coming together for our morning meeting and our closing circle, when we will interact with stories and songs. Math talks and phonics will be done in smaller groups at the same time allowing us to differentiate as needed. Guided reading will continue with small groups, but our timings will be more flexible. Writing will be promoted through our continuous provision, inquiry and as a tool to document learning. We can also engage in modeled, shared and interactive writing during our morning meeting, phonics, guided reading and through play. We will also continue to offer workshops when we feel they are appropriate. As we plan for the following week with learners, we will select games and learning experiences that develop literacy and numeracy skills. Another change we are planning is to have our reflection time in smaller groups utilizing all the staff in our learning hub. This will reduce group sizes, allow us to check in with learners to and support them with their accountability. It will also enable us to honor learners who would prefer to reflect in Portuguese.

I strongly feel that this model will give us more flexibility, and allow learners to make authentic connections as learning will not be broken down by subject area. It will also give us the time to observe and interact, without feeling like we have to stop to move onto the next thing in our timetable.

time tableTeaching and learning in a collaborative hub continues to be a journey with many bumps along the way. Each of those bumps is a learning experience and an opportunity to #risk&reflect, and grow. I am grateful for both my #PLN and colleagues for their support, ideas and for continuing to challenge me as I unlearn, relearn and grow.