The Flow of the Project

I’ve been doing some form of project work with my classes for the last two or three years. It hasn’t been quite as structured as I’m learning to do project work because I didn’t have as much knowledge about it, but it has been there, based on what I learned through the reading that I did do. As I work in a center that is more focused on providing opportunities for project work as an educational philosophy, I grow to appreciate the flow of the project and of the day. There are times when the teacher has to facilitate a discussion, or plan an activity, or devise an addition to a center to enhance play. And then there are times when the teacher needs to just stand back and watch it all unfold.

I have long been a proponent of observation as a key – THE key – to high-quality teaching. There is no way to know what the class is interested in without observation. There is no way to know what the children are learning from discussions without observing them as they play to see what aspects of the discussion they are carrying with them and using. There is no way to know what direction to take the project without watching observing to see what the children are wondering or what misconceptions they show through their play. There is no way to truly understand the hearts of the children in the classroom without observing them.

Observation is so important, and taking the time to observe actions, words, and interactions is the key to being able to figure out what truly needs to be taught. Academic knowledge is wonderful and it has its place in my classroom, but I like to think of myself as a teacher of life. In order to teach about life, I have to clue myself in to the lives of the children in my care. I can’t do that by standing in front of them spouting out facts and then viewing their play time as a time for me to get some of my busy work done. I am just as involved in their play as they are, but I am noticing, noting, planning, questioning, and documenting. I am finding ways to help their learning come alive. Taking time to be still and let the children show me their lives is an essential part of the flow of the project.

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Let Them Be

I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to some of the teachers that I worked with at my old school. We had a great time talking and catching up, since it has been about a month and a half since I have seen any of them. They are all doing well, and I was glad to hear about how their lives have been since I left.

One of the things that we talked about was different types of teachers. “There’s the paper pusher,” said one girl. “And there’s the nurturer. And the by-the-book teacher.”

I really didn’t want to sound like I was fishing, but I wanted to know. “Which one do you think I am? I am definitely not the by-the-book teacher. And I’m not the paper pusher. And I’ve never really felt all that nurturing.”

“Oh, you are definitely the nurturer,” they assured me. “You let the kids be kids. You let them explore and play and enjoy childhood. And you let them experience independence, even if you have to get on the case of other teachers to do it!” One of the girls told a story about how she had attempted to help a child carry a bowl of milk to the sink, saying that he was getting it all over the floor. “Then he will clean it up!” I had snapped at her. That was toward the end of my tenure there, and I was really stressed out at the time. But one of the things that I have always tried to teach children is that messes aren’t a bad thing. We clean them up and we move on. But if that boy hadn’t had the experience carrying his own bowl of milk, he wouldn’t have had that practice balancing objects or developing his hand-eye coordination. A few drops of milk spilled is worth the development of those precious skills.

I had just had a talk with a co-teacher at my new school about children and letting them be. She was worried about how the children in the class were going to be when they got to kindergarten, because they were acting crazy at the time. “You can’t worry about how these children are going to be when they are in kindergarten,” I told her. “They are three years old. Right now we have to let them be three years old. If we worry about how they are going to be in kindergarten, and worry about getting them ready for that, then we are taking away their chance to experience being three.”

I believe in letting children be. I believe that their time is now, and we have to let them be what they are right now. Does that mean that we should not teach them, with an eye toward the future? No, it doesn’t. We can teach them, but not to the detriment of where they are now.

This brings new light to the yoga wisdom ‘be present’. To me it says that we need to be aware of where we are right now. But as a teacher, it also says that we need to be aware of where the children are right now, and we need to remember that, no matter what they have coming in a month, six months, a year, or two years from now, we need to meet them at this present time and enjoy where they are right now, in this moment. We need to bring our present selves to enjoy their present selves.

It also brings to mind the call of emergent curriculum advocates to capitalize on the current interests of the child. Children are interested in exploring different aspects of life, and their interests can take your teaching in unexpected directions. I have always loved the spontaneity of emergent curriculum because I never know what we are going to be learning about. Learning winds down unanticipated roads, and I confess to learning many new things simply by doing research into the areas of interest that the children in my class exhibited. This is ‘being present’ at its finest: paying attention and observing the children to the point that their interests are plain to you, and then planning lessons based on what you have observed.

In both cases of being present, we are being respectful of who the child is and letting them be that person. I believe that teachers should have respect for the unique individuals that come into our classrooms, and should not try to force that uniqueness to conform to our ideas of what is ‘good’ or ‘right’. I am not saying that we should let children get away with hurting others or acting out-of-control. There are respectful ways to teach children how to respect others around them. What I am talking about is not forcing children to constantly do what we want them to do, but let them do and learn the things that they want. They will learn more that way, and they will grow to love learning. We need to let them explore, let them grow, and let them be who they are. And most of all, we need to be present with them through all of that.

Talking About Emergent Curriculum and Creativity

I recently began putting together the concrete pieces of what a creative classroom looks like. One piece is the curriculum and teaching style. I picked up a book that I have had for awhile: Emergent Curriculum in Early Childhood Settings: From Theory to Practice by Susan Stacey. On page five, Stacey outlines her assumptions about emergent curriculum:

  • While framed by the teacher, it is child initiated, allowing for collaborations between children and teachers, and giving everyone a voice.
  • It is responsive to the child, thereby allowing teachers to build on existing interests.
  • In its practice, the teacher takes on the role of facilitator, taking what she sees and hears, and bringing to children the opportunity to discover more, dig deeper, and construct further knowledge.
  • It is flexible in that curriculum planning, rather than being done well in advance, is constantly developing. Curriculum is dynamic, neither stagnant nor repetitive.
  • It enables children’s learning and teachers’ thinking to be made visible through varied forms of documentation.
  • It builds upon the theories of the recognized theorists in our field: the work of Dewey, Piaget, and Vygotsky supports the philosophy of emergent curriculum. Practices embedded in emergent curriculum make visible the work of these theorists – no longer is it contained only in early childhood texts.

Some of these points have been discussed before on this blog, but  most have not. But the framework of assumptions gives a picture of a classroom that exhibits many of the qualities of creativity that have been discussed on this blog.

curriculum creativity