Category Archives: Unit of Inquiry

Finding Story-writing Motivation in KG – Part 1

I’ve just done a lot of front-loaded learning and reading about academic literacies…and spent a lot of time linking it to Kindergarten and what I value with in my students’ writing. I hoped I’d have an epiphany about academic language (aside from my ‘language of gratitude’ idea) but I didn’t…I just thought  about a big fail in my teaching recently.

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Thanks for inspiring us to take more risks and make more mistakes, Ms. Rachel!

Now, inspired by @rjacks27 and her F.A.I.L. acronym share last Friday (‘a first attempt at learning’), I figured I would share this teaching fail…

Recently, my class created ‘Earth Superheroes’ who were going to save the Earth from some sort of problem. Most students got it – a few were too linked on the super hero and bad guy idea and one drew randomness and scribbles…but explained it so well! This part of the activity was a success because students enjoyed it, they put effort into it, they had knowledge and informed ideas, they were inspired by previous learning AND I got to check in with all of the about their creations.

What's success to you?
What’s success to you?

But I pushed it one step further and that’s where the fail lies.
I had my class write stories about their superheroes…something not everyone was ready to do or try…even though we did do it once or twice  before and I thought they were ready to do it.
I was missing the joint construction bit!
I had that on the superhero drawings and inspirations (when they were explaining them to me AND when they were creating them) but the story bit was wayyyyy too advanced for the Rainbow Fish’s confidence and independence in writing.
i quit
We spent one and a half lessons on it and some rushed through and made horrible efforts while others were still drawing pictures before coming up with words or vice versa. It was a disaster. Not enough teacher-power in the room made it difficult for me to get around and check-in with everyone and any rich or valuable conversations about their writing and any sort of experience for them to base it on, was absent. They have tools and what not…but there was not enough scaffolding.

This graphic REALLY made me do some thinking about my lessons and expectations for my students!
This graphic REALLY made me do some thinking about my lessons and expectations for my students!

I took the books off of them and they sit on the corner of my desk awaiting a time…a time like now…when we know MORE writing strategies to help us be more confident and independent. Tomorrow, we’re going to write some descriptions of an imaginary character who will visit our class to talk to us about story writing. I’ll update on how THIS writing lesson goes and how the students’ enthusiasm changes for this story writing activity – the biggest fail of all, was that they hated the last one.

…TO BE CONTINUED…

Celebrating Successes in Communication

Sometimes, it’s easy to let the little wins be clouded by the (‘what-you-think are’) fails so I needed to celebrate two communication successes by two of my students these past two weeks.

Just before the Pchum Ben break, we started our new unit all about ‘Communities’. The unit was provocated (or provoked I guess) with a few rounds of charades where students blindly chose community action figures out of a mystery box and then acted like that person – like charades! One student was acting out ‘businessman’ and after some incorrect guesses, another student (a beginner EAL student) put up his hand for a second time and thought hard about how to explain the role of his father – who is a businessman! The student’s actions in the video below show you how he feels about his communication success! 🙂

On Friday, I had a student who speaks two languages at home and additionally English at school,  wanting to have an item that she couldn’t name. I asked her what the item was in French but she was unable to say after a lot of thought. She was asked to draw the item and this is what she gave to Ms. Nearÿ and I.

Pretty abstract, eh? Becoming somewhat frustrated, she then looked at us and mimed the shape and purpose of the item and we were able to determine it was a serving tray; we had three new ones given to us from Ms. Helen just the day before!

How obvious does this drawing look before and after you know it’s a tray? Persistence paid off in the case of this student as she got the item she wanted. Does this lend itself to a lesson on ensuring we keep pushing for information? And what would have happened if we just disregarded this one child’s want because she couldn’t say a word? What does this say about a child’s ability to communicate verbally? About the importance of noticing the important non-verbal cues when language is absent?

Both of these situations, of course, made me wish I could speak these students’ mother tongue languages, as per my previous post, but they’ve shown examples of communication success without ‘the right words’ 🙂

Who we are

I really enjoy kicking off my school year with learners by investigating “Who we are” as our first unit of inquiry. Regardless of the central idea for the unit (which can have totally different, broadened focuses), it gives me a chance to explore who my students are as learners.

Immediately, and not even intentionally, I pick up on students who are unable to speak English or if they can, it’s in the very beginning stages of acquisition. Once I’ve identified my EAL students, I’ve also tagged them as #brave #risk-takers #survivors
If I’m really honest, I don’t know if I could survive being in the shoes of one of my five year old non-English speaking students. I really don’t think I could. Having never faced language barrier challenges until I was in my 20s, I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to be immersed in such an environment. I can’t tell you enough how much respect and admiration I have for the students that are put in these situations.

My last post listed a couple of activities that I’m doing in my classroom that are centred around language. I posted before reading the course work so did not explicitly refer to my EAL learners and how I accommodate for their specifically. Only about five of my students use English as a mother tongue language at home and I was sure to comment on the importance of fostering a child’s mother tongue language at home during my recent ‘Hopes & Concerns’ meetings. Some students speak more than one mother tongue as well; our international students really are immersed in a world of language along with other cultural challenges.

Here are some things I’ve been trying out along with links to more information:

In Mathematics, we’ve been exploring patterns. The great thing about patterns, is that they’re visual. They don’t require verbal or written communication to assess student understanding and they’re totally hands on. A student is able to look at examples, watch a classmate and interpret this information by creating her/his own patterns. On a side note, I’m pretty ecstatic that every one of the KG Rainbow Fish seems to have a solid grasp on patterns!

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This Kindergarten teacher covers most of the pattern activities we’ve been doing in class but we’ve also been creating paper chain patterns (to work on cooperation skills too) and have been on the hunt for patterns that exist around us!
http://www.kindergartenkindergarten.com/patterns/

During Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop, I’ve been trying my best to be animated in giving instructions and in ensuring I’m reading books that have some great visuals to engage my EAL learners.

For Reader’s Workshop, thus far, we’ve discussed and practised how to treat books, identifying positive reading behaviours and starting to establish routines. All of these things have been communicated with demonstrations and even in having students help me role play situations that help us identify the importance of reading. As most of my students can’t read yet anyway, I don’t deal with the struggle of having a student feel ‘behind’ because everyone else is reading…and it’s great to sometimes see those EAL beginners come flying out of the gate and catch on faster than the native speakers sometimes!

Readers
We’ve had two really successful Writer’s Workshops sessions over the past two weeks and again, have just been working on finding our groove as writers. We discussed how drawing is actually writing – it’s not just words – and how labels and colours can help us better communicate. Our first writing activity had us drawing what we’re enjoying most about Kindergarten (and then scribed by Neary, Thon or me). For our EAL learners, this just involved having them draw a picture with admiration and acknowledgements by us for their efforts.
Our second activity was our first story writing activity that kind of made my heart swell. After having the students help me to write a story, students went away having had a laugh and they were all engaged in creating their own stories. While a lot of the stories may have been a bit silly and about poop or pee, I was just pumped to see them all engaged and ENJOYING writing! EVEN my EAL students who again, joined in to draw pictures that told a story even if only she/he knew exactly what that was.* To top it all off, at the sharing part of the session, ALL of the students were keen to share or at the very least participate by yelling, “action” to help me out!
*To further accommodate my students, I’ve been using Google translate to help clarify instructions for writing tasks.

PHOTOS COMING SOON

I’ve been using Lucy Calkin’s Guides to Reader’s and Writer’s Workshops to help guide my teaching but have also used some of these sites straight off my ‘Bookmarks Bar’ as a resource to help me understand my EAL learners better:
http://www.readingrockets.org/article/childrens-writing-esl/
http://www.cws.illinois.edu/workshop/writers/esl/
https://writersworkshopk6.wikispaces.com/Minilessons?responseToken=2eb6e67f5e24faaa199e9fec348d098c
http://www.teachersfirst.com/lessons/writers/writer-k.cfm