Turning my own big ship

In 2015, I attended a 3-day Summer Institute on Full-Day Kindergarten and Play-Based Learning. The event was planned by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Dozens of NL teachers and program specialists learned about transforming full-day kindergarten environments and programs so they would support and nurture children as learners and constructors of their own knowledge.

I remember listening to many of the presenters speak about children in a way that was very different than what I was used to. For many years, I had taught in the traditional sort-and-select model of teaching. Each year, I identified the “top” students, the ones in the “middle”, and the “weak” ones. I differentiated my lesson plans and planned activities.  Once a task was assigned, I provided support to the weaker ones by giving easier “work”, lightly monitored the “middle” ones, and made sure I had extra work for the top “early finishers.”

In addition to this, I gathered all the materials children needed for tasks, I made sure everyone did their own work independently, I monitored homework distribution and collection very efficiently, and I chose some really great books for the children to read. I was working hard to plan great lessons every day and I believed that I was a great teacher.

Until the day I met a student from the previous year’s kindergarten class in the grocery store. He had been one of the “weak” ones.  I had spent literally hundreds of hours with him one-on-one, reteaching concepts, drilling him with sounds and sight words again and again, helping him improve so he could move onto the next grade with his peers and only be “somewhat behind”.  I had helped him learn so much and given him so much of my time. I grinned, sure that he would be happy to see me, his great teacher.

Except he wasn’t. He actually HID behind his mother. Not only did he not want to say hello to me, he actually huddled up to his mother until he was safely out of the grocery store.

Sometimes it only takes something very small to set something much bigger in motion. I wondered for a moment  that day why that child wasn’t happy to see me. Since then, I’ve wondered about why children play in certain areas more than others, why they don’t want to write or even draw, why they say they don’t want to read, why they behave in certain ways over and over again. I’m WONDERING all the time now.

And I know it’s this constant wondering that has helped me shift my practice to be more responsive and child-centred than before. It’s the wondering that has allowed me to become a better observer, a better listener, a better researcher, a better documenter.

Children want their teachers to wonder about them, to wonder at them. They want their teachers to see the process of what they do, not only the product. They want us to see their efforts, their heroics, and their strengths.

They want us to really SEE them. To be completely and totally involved in living and learning experiences WITH them.

I’ve  figured out why that child hid behind his mother that day in the grocery store. Nearly every one of my interactions with him focused on his deficits. I constantly pressured him to work harder on something that had little meaning for him. I forced him to spend time with me that he would have rather spent playing with his friends, building relationships with his peers, pursuing his own interests. Not only that, I convinced his mother to devote his precious evening hours doing more of the same. Everyone “succeeded” to some degree, but neither of us learned what we should have, what we COULD have that year.

These days, children decide what projects interest them and I ask them what they think they’ll need. Then I ask them where or how they think they can get it. I allow children to work independently on projects if they choose, but I encourage children to put their brains together and plan how to make bigger and better things happen. I use the time that was wasted monitoring homework to document children’s learning through photos and videos that I share with parents in digital portfolios. And I tell them to read to their children every day. I conference with children about their reading interests so that they can choose great books for themselves.

It’s taken a few years.  But I know my own big ship is headed in the right direction now.

Onward and upward.



Cathy Baker View All →

Dedicated teacher for the past 18 years. Lifelong learner. Newbie blogger. Follow me on Twitter @Baker1973Cathy

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FDK teacher in central Newfoundland, Canada. Reggio-inspired. STEM enthusiast. Self-reg believer. Passionate about creating spaces and experiences for children that ignite curiosity and creativity.

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