Doing things “differently”

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Morning meeting prize draw: 3 students initiated this project

I often wonder why people think that I am doing something “different” in my classroom.  Parents as well as teachers often question why I am teaching this way, why the classroom is set up like it is, why I am not doing it the way others are.

Believe it or not, I did not become inspired to transform my teaching practice because I had  some magical realization that I should. I also did not radically invent a new way of doing things that no one has heard of before.  I had REASONS.

Reason #1: I reflected on many of my teaching practices and realized they weren’t producing results. 

Because I was in the same school for 7 years, I was able to observe children I had taught in Kindergarten as they grew up, through to Grade 6. Many of the things I thought I had “taught” them, I sadly realized they hadn’t “learned”. I asked myself why and I realized it was because I had been telling them a lot of things, expecting them to know it, but I hadn’t really given them the opportunity to construct their own understanding of it.

One example that really stands out is the teaching of sight words.  I used to play a game in the morning meeting where I would ask children to identify sight words they recognized on a word wall. I even sent home sight word poetry with sight word activities. Many children could recall  the sight words, some could not. I came up with “fun” games to learn them in centers. I played these sight word games with children who didn’t know all the letters, didn’t know any letters, or knew all the letters. What I failed to recognize at the time was that I was expecting children to be able to read because they could recognize sight words.  I know now that teaching sight words in isolation is developmentally inappropriate practice (DIP).  I also remember looking at the list of 20 Grade 1 sight words on the department-provided assessment and thinking “Why are there only 20 words here? Sure some of the kids in this class know 120 sight words! They are going to be reading above grade-level because they’ve learned so many earlier than expected.”

And I could not have been more wrong.

So, I began to read a LOT of professional literature about how young children learn to read. I began to view reading as a much more complex process and I came to understand that  young children learning to read has more to do with actually “wanting” to learn to read and seeing themselves as readers reading for a purpose. You know that saying: Can’t see the forest for the trees? Well, that was what teaching skills in isolation was like. All trees. So many trees in fact, that it was a wonder any child saw the forest at all.

And reading was just the beginning. Over the past years I’ve reflected on nearly every part of my practice and if children weren’t learning from it, I tried something else. I stopped waiting for the next group of  children to be better. I stopped wishing parents would change. I started researching and reflecting and now I know better. And when you know better, you DO better.

Side note: If you are an educator reading this blog, have a look at NLESD Assistant Director of Education Donna Miller Fry’s  blog  that  talks about shifting practices and check out the KQED article on Mindshift about unlearning.

Reason #2:  Because I’m using the Department of NL Completely Kindergarten  curriculum guide.  Not just the parts I’ve had time to read.  Not just the parts I like. All of it.

These are highlights from a few sections:

“Children who are engaged in a child-centred classroom develop problem-solving abilities which aid them in becoming competent and independent learners. The kindergarten classroom encourages children to think, to use their imagination and creative powers and to experience the joy of learning.”

“Some of the best learning experiences grow out of trips in and around the school such as visiting another class, singing or poetry sharing, finding the signs on the rooms throughout the school, watching the snow plow clean the street, observing a bird eating from a bird feeder, examining playground equipment, observing falling leaves, walking across the street to a wharf, a general store or a supermarket and picking flowers to give to a sick friend.”

“Play and active involvement are fundamental to a kindergarten program. Through the process of play, children learn to represent their real and imagined worlds using listening, speaking, reading, writing, role playing, painting, drawing, building, measuring, estimating and exploring. The kindergarten teacher uses play as an essential learning experience which supports, sustains, facilitates, extends, enhances and enriches the child’s learning. Play promotes the development of the whole child.”

“Young children learn by doing and actively engaging with materials, equipment, and people in their learning environment…The physical design of a developmentally appropriate classroom allows for experiences in areas for reading, writing, listening, dramatic play, art, numeracy, blocks, science, technology and an area for large group meetings…The kindergarten teacher circulates to observe and document children’s
learning as they are involved in learning activities.”

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From the appendix of the curriculum guide

Reason #3: Because I believe children deserve our best.

I believe children deserve great teachers. Not just a teacher that cares. A teacher that is trying every day, in every moment, to be the very best teacher they can be. A teacher who does not get “stuck in a rut” or makes excuses for poor results: “They don’t work hard enough. They don’t get any help at home.”

If you’re a teacher reading this blog, I challenge you to reflect on your practice. It may not be easy, but I can promise you it will be worth it. For you and your students.

If you’re a parent, please know that I am working hard every day, reflecting on my practices, and always striving for better results.  I’m giving it my all.

Every.  Single.  Day.

Cathy:)

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Cathy Baker View All →

Dedicated teacher for the past 15 years. Lifelong learner. Newbie blogger. Follow me on Twitter @Baker1973Cathy

2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I think it’s awesome you’ve taken the time to research and do what is it best for your students. It takes a lot of effort to search outside the box and to wrestle with the pressure and expectations of status quo. I beg to differ on the key to teaching kids to read being them “wanting” to. When they experience success at it, they are naturally drawn into it. The linguistic approach to reading outlined in Dr. Diane McGuinness’s book, Why Our Children Can’t Read and What We Can Do About It, might be one you’d find very helpful. It exposes the damaging effects of having kids use inventive spelling and memorize sight words when spelling and reading of our language is not structured to be learned or applied that way. As someone who is striving to do right by her students, which I applaud you for, you will find success in the strategies in that book.

  2. Oh gosh I love this post! I love that you reflected. I love that you’re thinking about kids first. And I love that you’re okay with doing things differently because you know why you’re doing so … and it is because of the kids. What can be better than that?! So thank you for being different because I have no doubt that your kids really do benefit. The great thing is that why we might feel alone with these thoughts and beliefs in our own schools, social media allows us to connect with others that are also “doing things differently.” It’s hard to be alone. Know though that there are others out there like you, and for many of the same reasons, they are also choosing to be different. It’s a wonderful feeling!

    Aviva

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