Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Somewhere I Feel Calm, Quiet, & Safe: Visualization, Imagination, & Self-Regulation

Somewhere I Feel Calm, Quiet, & Safe: Visualization, Imagination, & Self-Regulation

This year, a lot of our learning about Self-Regulation and Well-Being has been focused on different energy levels our bodies may feel throughout a school day – calm, energized, or somewhere in between. A blog post about what led us to this point can be found here:

As noted in previous blog entries, our classroom community has taken part in discussions about what areas of our day may be more successful when we feel energized and alert, and what areas of our day may be more successful when we feel calm and quiet. Since that point, we have been building strategies we can use to take us from one energy state to another (i.e. calming our bodies down before a transitional time, getting our brains alert before a small group literacy lesson). One such strategy we typically use after our pre-lunch dance party to calm our bodies down before our walk to the lunch room is to lay on our backs, close our eyes, listen to the rainstick, and imagine a place that makes us feel calm, quiet, and safe. Usually after a few minutes of this visualization and deep breathing, students slowly sit up and share the place they were imagining. Students have responded well to this strategy and educators have noticed their emerging ability to self-regulate their energy states when needed. 

With this in mind, we saw natural connections from this calming visualization strategy to our on-going self-portrait project. Rather than draw themselves, we challenged students to draw the calm, quiet, and safe place they saw in their imagination. Studying landscapes in art helped us to learn how we could be successful in our drawings. Another focus was to look deep into our imagination and add all the details we could see. Many students reflected on their initial try and chose to try again to improve their work. 

From here, each student’s unique landscape was photographed and then projected onto our classroom wall using a digital projector. This allowed students to “step into their world” – by placing themselves in front of the projection, it was as if they had entered the world of their imagination. Each student chose an expression and pose that felt right to them and was photographed by an educator. We feel that the final product creates a tangible and visible representation of student thinking around our “calm, quiet, and safe” visualization. Every student’s unique ideas come through in their work in a striking and very special way, and we hope these visuals will assist students in their emerging learning around self-regulation.

A few examples below...with faces blurred for privacy. More examples can be found on our shared classroom Twitter (@IPSKindergarten) or my professional learning network account (@JoelSeaman).

"I'm laying in the grass and it's raining. I can feel the rain dripping on me"

"I'm in a calm rainforest with so many trees and I'm looking at every one"

"I'm in China with my Mom and Dad"

"I'm in a nice, quiet cave"

"In India with my baby sister"

"At home smelling a flower"

"Under the water with Mommy and some fish"

"In a tree where nobody can get me except Mom and Dad"

"I'm on a beach listening to a coconut dripping water"

"Hey! That's me!"

Connections to the Kindergarten Program:
Belonging and Contributing: communicate their thoughts and feelings through various art forms, demonstrate a sense of identity and positive self-image
Self-Regulation and Well-Being: demonstrate independence, self-regulation, and a willingness to take responsibility in learning and other endeavours, demonstrate an awareness of their own health and well-being
Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours: communicate with others in a variety of ways, for a variety of purposes, and in a variety of contexts
Problem Solving and Innovating: use problem-solving strategies, on their own and with others, when experimenting with the skills, materials, processes, and techniques used in drama, dance, music, and visual arts

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Calm, Energized, or Somewhere in Between: an On-Going Inquiry into Energy States & Self-Regulation in Kindergarten

“Children’s ability to self-regulate – to set limits for themselves and manage their own emotions, attention, and behaviour – allows them to develop the emotional well-being and the habits of mind, such as persistence and curiousity, that are essential for early learning and that set the stage for lifelong learning.”

(Ontario Kindergarten Program, 2016, pg 54)

     Throughout our year together, we’ve explored the concept of self-regulating our emotions, needs, and learning through a variety of large group, small group, and individual learning experiences. Self-Regulation and Well-Being, as one of our Four Frames of Learning in the Ontario Kindergarten Program, is regarded as a key component in our community that allows students to build an emerging emotional vocabulary and learn to make appropriate choices based off their energy states. By providing students with prompts such as “listen to your body”, modelling appropriate strategies and naturally building in both high energy and low energy moments throughout our day, it is our hope that students find success in fulfilling the overall and specific expectations found within the Self-Regulation and Well-Being frame of the 2016 Kindergarten Program.

     In early January, we began having community discussions about the differences between feeling calm and feeling energized. Through these conversations, educators were careful not to label one energy state as “right” and the other as “wrong”, as we firmly believe there are moments throughout the day where calm energy is useful, but also moments when being energized helps! Sometimes “self-regulation” in the classroom can be misunderstood as encouraging students to be quiet, calm, and still at all times – while this has a time and a place, we also know that every child is different and sometimes they need opportunities to expel their high energy in safe and respectful ways (we do a lot of Dance Parties and outdoor experiences). We also wanted to honour the fact that it’s not exactly a clear dichotomy of being either calm or energized, but more often a whole range of energy states in between. With this in mind, we considered the option of creating a visual representation that would help the class check in with themselves and articulate their current energy state. Knowing that the concepts we were exploring through this community inquiry are very abstract, we felt a visual element would help to make this more concrete and provide a developmentally appropriate experience for our emerging self-regulators. Our emerging Learning Goal was to build student autonomy in listening to their body and recognizing their current energy state.

     But first – we felt it was appropriate to start with knowledge building circles about the concepts of being calm and being energized to ensure that all students had to opportunity to learn from each other’s thinking and experience. Below are some examples of student voice around the topic of our energy states:

     Analyzing the data that emerged from these knowledge building discussions was interesting – and lots of our prior learning, experience, and knowledge emerged. Students linked being calm to taking deep breaths, which is a strategy we have used all year. It was interesting to see students linking the concept of feeling energized to specific moments in their lives (i.e. birthdays, Christmas) and to also have a student articulate that being energized is just as important as being calm. Through the next week, educators observed these concepts coming up naturally in student discussion and also connecting to various texts in our room (“Breathe”, “My Many Coloured Days”). Community discussions began to shift towards how our energy states link to certain parts of our day. Students demonstrated understanding that both energy states are important throughout the day – and often these energy states change as we transition through different moments of our day together.

K: “We can think about being calm when you don’t want to be distracted from learning”
R: “Or when the Nursery kids are napping” (next door)
J: “Or at the Quiet Corner”
J: “And to be safe walking in the halls”

R: “I feel energized when we’re playing or going to Gym or having a Dance Party”
J: “At the Block Centre”
K: “And when we go outside”

With sufficient front-loading, we felt it was time to create the visual line that would allow students to think about and represent their inner energy levels. With the help of a group of students we created a “sliding scale” of sorts – with calm on one end, and energized on the end. We created a clothespin with each student’s face and chose the question “How do you feel right now?” to honour that our energy states are in a constant state of flux throughout the transitions of our day.

“I feel a little calm and a little energized” – M

Checking in with themselves and their energy states has now become part of our daily routine. We’ve noticed many students choosing to add their clip to the line at the very start of the day, but also revisiting the line many times to change their representation. Often after Gym class many students move it to energized, and we practice taking deep breaths and visualizing a place that is quiet, calm, and safe to bring our energy levels down. Other strategies that students recall from previous learning this year and have been self-selecting when it’s time to bring our energy down are using the rainstick sound or using our class sparkle jar.

S: “I feel like I’m inside a cloud and water is dripping on me”
M: “I imagined I was on a beach listening to the waves and laying under an umbrella”
A: “I was thinking about being in my Dad’s car and sleeping”
A: “I was in a cave that was very quiet”
What’s next? As the cycle of Inquiry continues and students continue to construct and reform their knowledge on the concepts of differing energy states and when they are more appropriate throughout our day, we as an educator team are considering where this can take us. One idea we are exploring is using the scenes that students have shared through our “quiet, calm, and safe” visualization exercise and connecting it to a project at our Art Studio – where these landscapes will come to life.  We also want to continue the concept of “being energized” and ensuring that it is not seen as a negative, but just a feeling that we all experience throughout the day. Recently students have been more attune to the energy states in the room (J: “It’s loud. I think we need a Dance Party now!”). We have also discussed a redesign of our Quiet Corner using our students’ unique ideas to co-create a more calming space for our class. We have started with the question “What makes YOU feel calm?” with the understanding that we’ve always selected the tools for calming down. We are curious to learn if our ideas align with theirs!

Connections to Ontario Kindergarten Program (2016):

Specific Expectation 1.9: describe personal experiences, using vocabulary and details appropriate to the situation

Specific Expectation 2.4: demonstrate self-control (e.g., be aware of and label their own emotions, accept help to calm down, calm themselves down after being upset) and adapt behaviour to different contexts within the school environment (e.g., follow routines and rules in the classroom, gym, library, playground)

Specific Expectation 24.5: communicate and record results and findings either individually or in groups (e.g., record ideas using pictures, words, labels, or in charts)

Friday, 6 January 2017

In Celebration of Outdoor Learning

Playing, exploring, and the act of simply being outside provides immeasurable opportunities for rich and meaningful early learning experiences. As an educator, outdoor learning is a huge part of what I try to do - and yes, that does mean year round. As my first blog post of the new year, I wanted to share some photos that I believe capture the spark, joy, and endless possibilities of outdoor learning. Photographing and documenting learning is something we embrace in all areas of our program, but I must say that photographing outdoor learning has become something very special for me. There's something about capturing the smallness of our students juxtaposed with the largeness and vastness of the outdoor space they're exploring that I find endlessly inspiring. What stands out to me in the shots I've selected are the moments of joy, the moments of calm, the moments of solitude, the moments of togetherness, and the moments of belonging that arise naturally in nature. I hope these photos of our outdoor learning spark something in you as well.

It wouldn't be right to blog about outdoor learning and not mention the fact that we have a unique location on Toronto Island that allows for many opportunities to spend time in nature. That being said, I know that the reality for many can mean small outdoor spaces and lots of pavement and concrete. Regardless of your own outdoor learning areas (or lack thereof) I encourage all educators to become advocates for outdoor learning. Countless pieces of research point to an outdoor learning component being a vital part of early learning. With that in mind, I believe that it's on all of us to share this with admin, staff, and families - to encourage a possible re-think of outdoor space, or even to explore for travel to inspiring outdoor spaces. While outdoor learning comes naturally on the Island, I have met many educators across our board who transforming traditional school playgrounds into creative and useful outdoor learning spaces. Just like our students need exposure to letters, numbers, social skills, and independence, we also owe it to them to provide chances for intentional outdoor exploration. As we enter a new calendar year, consider pledging to spending more time outside with your students in 2017. They'll thank you!

"Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and the flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education." 
- David Polis 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Observing, Planning, and Documenting Through the Four Frames of Learning

This post references the new Ontario Kindergarten Program (2016). If you teach outside of Ontario, or have not seen the document, you can access it online here: I believe there is immense value to all educators checking out the document, particularly the comprehensive front matter which I believe gives a great amount of insight into our current educational approach.

With a whole new Ontario Kindergarten Program in 2016 comes new opportunities to consider how we might observe, document, track, assess, and plan learning through the new lenses of the Four Frames of Learning. For many, changes may feel scary – but when employing an asset-based lens (as I try to do!), these changes can, and should be, seen as chances to grow and strengthen our practice. Coming into this year with new (and honestly, amazing!) Kindergarten Program hot off the presses, I was very excited to see how our practice would evolve. In a series of conversations with my teaching partner, we agreed that for a while things may feel “unknown” as we delve into the new document – and that was ok. We were adamant that we did not want to slap down a pre-existing method of planning/observing, and especially did not want to do things how we did it with the old Curriculum Document – as that did not honour this exciting opportunity to look closely at our practices and ensure they are aligned with the new document. Going into it somewhat blind felt tricky, but I am thankful to have a partner who is not afraid to just jump in and see where it takes us!

So, where did we begin? At the front of our classroom space, we decided to put up a series of four corkboards, each one devoted to one of the Four Frames. We planned to use this space for keeping track of things that were done or said during play that may reveal an interest or future direction for learning. The idea was that we would both use sticky notes to jot down things that occurred during the day, link it to an expectation from the program document (which we had beside the board) and then stick it on the corkboard for the corresponding Frame. These observations can then be used to inform future plans.

Our observation board in September
As for planning, we decided to use an updated version of our last year’s planning sheet. Last year we designed a planning sheet that had a small section for each Learning Space in our room. This year, we added a small box in each space to indicate which Frame was being focused on in that area. At first, we considered completely re-designing our planning sheet to plan entirely through the Four Frames, but after some consideration we decided to stick with planning for each specific Learning Space, at least for now. By continuing to plan by each Learning Space would hopefully ensure that no Learning Spaces “fell through the cracks”.  What led to that decision was the idea that we could use this year as a sort of research into which Learning Spaces in Kindergarten lend themselves well to the Four Frames (and if there are any that do not). I am a big believer in the approach of “don’t just do things because they’ve always been done that way”. We wanted to be able to look back at our planning sheets at the end of the year to investigate which Spaces make sense to keep in the room based off their links to the Four Frames, and which just seem to be there “because they always have been”. It's important to look critically at how we set up our classrooms as we consider the philosophies attached to the 2016 document. Our current planning sheet was seen as sort of a bridge from the old practice to the new.

Our planning sheet, with spaces for Four Frames added
For displaying our learning, I was really struck by the concept of “noticing and naming” the learning in play, as referenced in the new document. As advocates for play-based learning, my partner and I already did it, but we wanted to encourage other staff members, families, and the students themselves take part in the process of seeing the learning that happens naturally in play! We printed out a variety of photos we snapped of play so far this year, and invited multiple voices to use sticky notes to share what learning they saw present. Looking at documentation with multiple lenses is something we try to do as much as we can, as it brings a lot of new perspectives on play and learning to the surface.

Our Noticing and Naming Learning Board

Invitation to Notice and Name Learning in Play

Along with trying new things and not just sticking to how they used to be done, my partner and I agreed that we wanted to be critical along the way about what new practices were working and what were not. Part of embracing the new document whole-heartedly may mean trial and error, and I think it’s totally alright (and crucial!) for educators to talk about what may not have gone right the first time, and to re-tool approaches when needed. Upon reflection, we felt the planning sheets were working and the notice and naming the learning board was well received. However, it became apparent to us both that our new observing plan (the four cork boards) wasn’t entirely working – yet! We allowed ourselves the freedom and safety to identify that our plan needed some work…learning is a journey after all!

A journey, which has now led us here…

"What's Happening in Room 109?: The Four Frames of Learning"

Proudly presenting...our method to observe, plan and document learning through the lens of the Four Frames!

Based off our experience so far investigating the act of observing, planning, and documenting learning using the Four Frames, we created this display outside our room. I will now share a bit of the thinking that went into it.

By desire, we tend to break things into sections. With that in mind, it was my initial instinct to separate the Frames and sort observations into each one. I think this speaks to our old Program document, which separated curricular outcomes into distinct subjects (Language, The Arts, Science, Math, etc.). However, the more familiar I get with the new document, and the more experience I have putting into action, the more I understand about the overlapping nature of the Four Frames. What I found difficult about the trying to sort observations into the Four Frames was that many expectations fall within two or three of the Frames (and this is a great thing!). I was left standing there with my sticky note wondering which board to put it on, given that what I observed may demonstrate Belonging & Contributing AND Problem Solving & Innovation. Personally, I love that the new outcomes overlap, as it really honours the complexity of learning and how many interactions through play can (and do!) involve multiple Frames. The overlap of the curricular pieces is a strength of this document, and it became apparent that our original plan to separate and sort observations into each Frame needed some re-thinking.

This led to the idea of a four part Venn diagram, which would feature each Frame but honour the great deal of overlap that exists in the learning we were noticing. 

Close up section of display
On the Venn Diagram we wanted to use our original sticky note observations, but thought about ways to include a more diverse sample of play and learning. I thought back to the "doing, saying, and representing" triangle I had seen so much in Professional Development sessions lately, and realized we could do a better job with featuring all three ways learning is demonstrated in play. We printed out photos (we use iPads to document with photos daily) but also wrote down snippets of conversations we've heard this year, and included actual work samples as well. I felt that this approach allowed for more learning to be featured in the Venn Diagram - and we had already collected this data already anyway, this was just a new way to display it. I love this triangle and am continuing to work towards ensuring a more even distribution between these three important factors.

Another piece that we found difficult with our original plan was one that we hear about a lot – TIME! We noticed that often our “Educator Goals” section on our weekly plan was filled with “add more sticky notes to the observation board!”. Needless to say, we were observing, but we didn’t always find the time to write it down and sort it into a Frame. With the planning, documenting, and displaying of learning – along with the actual play and learning piece! - we were doing, there never seemed to enough hours in the day, and our actual "write down observations" piece often fell to the wayside. 

It was a combination of two things that led to my own personal “a-ha moment” in how to help the writing of observation process fit more naturally into our day. One was digging into the front matter of the new Program document, and the other was during a rich conversation on documentation at a Pedagogical Leadership with the Ministry of Education that my partner and I were invited to. I thought about the noticing and naming piece, and wondered why the documentation was happening separate from the observations. When shifting towards a Pedagogical Documentation stance, which

I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, it suddenly clicked that the observing, noticing and naming, and planning pieces all fit together as one. Documentation isn’t just for the end point, it’s to capture what learning is present in play and to analyze and utilize that information to extend future learning. Of course we had no time for all the pieces…we were trying to do them all separately. By creating this large diagram on our display board and treating it as a living, breathing, evolving piece of Pedagogical Documentation, we were able to streamline our time and involve all these important tasks together. This honours the cyclical nature of Pedagogical Documentation and was a natural way to examine how the planning, observation, and documentation processes are intertwined, not separate.

Part of our display
Is this the perfect solution? No, it’s simply what works for us, right now at this time, at our current place on our learning journey. All educators will discover what works for them, but it’s my hope that at least some of this inspires your own thinking about what observing, planning, and documenting may possibly look like in our Kindergarten classrooms using our new Program document. If I could give any suggestions, I would say allow yourself the chance to try things, reflect on what didn’t work, and then try again! Given that it’s a new Program, nobody should have it figured out in a snap. Instead, like we do with our students, it’s through hands-on exploration with the new document that we will deepen our understanding of how our practices can and should adapt. We will continue to add, remove, and update the photos, quotes, observations, and work samples contained in this large graph and utilize that information in noticing, naming, and planning for further learning. It's been an exciting experience to watch how much our own practice has changed as we get to know more about more about the 2016 Kindergarten Program. It's an incredible document that I feel honoured to teach! In the comments below, I would love to hear how you are approaching observing, planning, and documenting in your own practice through the lens of the Four Frames, as well as any "a-ha" moments you have had this year. As I've said many times this year, it's such an exciting time to be teaching Kindergarten in Ontario!