Last October, @beckyfisher73 stopped by my room and asked about the class rules posted in my room. This is my 8th year of teaching but my first year teaching kindergarten. Traditionally, teachers hammer home the rules the first week of school. I even did a bit of this when I taught upper elementary. With kindergarten students, I didn’t want to go over rules too much. The first day, we spend about 10 minutes going over very basic rules.
There was already an established set of class rules for all kindergarten students. During the third week of school, I went over the established class rules with the kids. We discussed the rules and they gave me reasons why they thought they were important. The students seemed to agree that they were important.
After @Beckyfisher73′s visit, I began to evaluate why I did have those rules posted. When I taught 3rd and 4th grade, I always had my students create the class rules themselves. It was one of the first collaborative projects of the year. They would develop 5 rules that the class agreed upon. The point of having the students create the class rules was to give them ownership and accountability.
Why did I not do this with my kinder kids? In retrospect, I think I should have. I think next year I will. This is an example of why I love teaching. I fail. Being an educator is challenging but it’s the challenges that enable me to grow.
These internal debates about class rules lead me to consider not having any class rules next year. Does a kindergarten class with no class rules sound crazy? I don’t think so. After evaluating the rules I had posted in October, I took them down. I have not had any rules posted for 3 months. The class basically follows one rule, the Golden rule. If I do have rules posted next year, I am going to create a way for the students to vote to have rules added and deleted via a democratic process.
Why does a classroom need rules? Doesn’t the school have established rules already? Most places of business don’t have rules listed. Customers just know what is right and wrong. Shouldn’t a classroom be the same? Shouldn’t the students, along with the teacher, monitor the classroom? These are all the thoughts running through my mind.
What do you think? Do you have class rules posted in your classroom? Did you make the rules? Did the kids make the rules?
I recently introduced Google Earth to my 4-year-old son. He loved it. Within minutes, he was zooming in and out and asking to see our house. We also visited Disney World (Animal Kingdom), grandma’s house, mommy’s work etc.
A few days later, my son saw a map in a local newspaper. He said to me, “where is our house?”. I said, “That is not a map of our neighborhood.” His response, “change the map and go to it.”
This is how their generation thinks. We have to understand our students. To them, things should be manipulated to work the way they want it to work. He could not understand why someone would have a map that can’t be changed. In his mind, he is thinking the map is useless because it doesn’t apply to his life.
In my classroom, I have kindergarten students who continuously try to make a laptop a touch screen. All the time, I see them using their finger on the laptop screen. I asked a student why he did that and he said, “it is easier to use my finger on the screen than using the pad.”
I am not saying that all maps should be like Google Earth or that we need to only have tablets. I understand the importance and necessity of a traditional map. I also love my laptop. This isn’t about maps or laptops. This about the simple act of listening and observing.
How do I learn? As an educator, and parent/husband, I learn by listening.
In the classroom, I am on a continuous path of learning. How I learn changes day-to-day depending on the brilliance of my students. The students and I learn together.
I look at our learning space as a clock. The students are the gears, and I am the hands. The students make me move. I respond to them. I learn from them and then build based on their needs and wants.
I learn and will continue to learn by listening, observing and experiencing.
I ended last school year excited to start a new journey as a 5th grade teacher. I spent time over the summer combing through the 5th grade curriculum. I was planning ways in which my students could direct their own learning. Since I was moving from 3rd, I was going to have some students for a second time. That prospect was really exciting. After 2 days of preparing my classroom, my administration asked me if I would be willing to move to kindergarten. Enrollment in the school had changed and a teacher needed to move. Even though I was completely stoked about teaching 5th, I agreed.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I was. I had 4 days to prepare my room, and prepare myself for my first kindergarten class. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately for me, the kindergarten team welcomed me with open arms. My room came together.
I will never forget seeing my students for the first time. They came in wide-eyed. I could tell a few were nervous but most were eager. It took maybe 5 minutes for me to know that I made the right decision. I loved it.
Kindergarteners are learners not “students”. Those that attended a preschool are more student-like but overall they are mostly untrained. As a third grade teacher, I spent the first part of the year letting my students know it is okay to sit on the floor and work. Or it is perfectly all right to stand at your desk or sit in the cubbies. I had to almost convince them to be comfortable in their learning space. Even by third grade, they are trained to be a certain way in a classroom. Kindergarteners are different.
We are having a blast. We are learning and growing together. Our learning space is changing as we study and learn new things. The students and I are rearranging the furniture to make letters and shapes. They are teaching each other how to use technology. They help each other decode words or write numbers and letters. They have a voice. I am listening.
Here is a view into our classroom.
Welcome to Kinderland
I strive to create a learning environment where each of my students feel encouraged to drive their own learning. This last year, I gave up the keys to the car so that my students could experience a more authentic education. My main goal each year is to meet the needs of each of my students. Their voice is pivotal to me being able to help them learn the way they need to learn. I listen. I am never satisfied with myself but I am working hard to be a better educator. At the end of this last year, I gave my students a Google Form to complete. The basis of the form was to see how much they enjoyed having the keys to the car. Here is the results. (For the scaled questions 1 was the least while 5 was the most.) The link above takes you to the results. Here are a few highlights.
All of my students made at least 2 lessons for the class this year. 100% of the students stated that they enjoyed presenting in front of the class. This is a telling statistic that speaks loudly to students wanting to share! 63% of my students enjoyed their independent research project because they were able to pick their own topic. 83% of the students enjoyed working together to build a lesson for the class while 17% did not. This is important. I try to let students collaborate when they want and also work alone when they want. It is key for them to have that choice.
I am going to look over this again at the start of next year. It gives me hope but also helps me see how to make a more universally designed classroom.
My class and I recently made a presentation that really showcases the many different things we have done this year. This link will take you to the Google presentation.
It has been a fun year. I have learned a great deal from this group of students. Their desire to direct their own learning has helped me continue to create an educational shift in the my classroom. As we start our state tests this week, it was great to look back on the year and see all they did beyond the standards.
My memory of my elementary years is spotted at best. I seemed to have blocked out most of my k-5 experience. Having been clear on my lack of memory, I don’t remember ever creating something that was used by my classmates or even shown to the entire class. Rightly so, most teachers I know now have plenty of share time in their classrooms. I am no different. I love it when my students bring something in to share. I wanted to take that student eagerness and use it as a tool in the classroom. About 3 weeks ago, I was doing a word study lesson when 2 students came up to me and said they wanted to do a specific worksheet that they did the year before. I thought about it for a second then told them to make it for the class. That split second decision has rocked my classroom. I am not a worksheet teacher. I use worksheets in the classroom at times but I tend to shy away using them too often. But, worksheets created by students is a whole different ballgame. Not only did those students create that worksheet, I now have a folder filled with worksheets created by almost everyone in my class. That is right. My students are making their own worksheets and are smiling from ear to ear when their classmates complete them. Here are a few (click on the pics to get a better view):
As of today, I have 47 student created worksheets. In addition to the 47 worksheets, I have a simple machine review packet developed by 3 students. They are not perfect. They have spelling mistakes. Some have had to re-evaluate the purpose of the activity. But this is real. This is authentic. They are applying the knowledge they have learned by reconstructing it to help their fellow classmates. The students are directing all of this on their own. I did not make a rubric. I did not assign them to do this. They want to do it. They have slowly built a rubric of their own. They are holding each other accountable for the work that is being created. They are grading the sheets on their own. They are helping one another complete the assignments. They are directing their own learning. They are completing these on their own at home, during recess, lunchtime, enrichment time, and class time.
I am always trying to make classroom activities more engaging and authentic. The problem was it should not be me solely trying to do that. I continue to learn that it is a joint effort between the teacher and the students. And more importantly it is a collaborative effort by the students with the teacher there to facilitate the magic.