I found myself saying multiple times today, "Wow I wish we'd realized this earlier in the year!" as my co-teachers and I watched our children positively react to the less structured activities-the more child-led activities where we, as their teachers, simply follow the children's lead in order to teach.
Right when I thought miracles were not possible, I went into my kindergarten class at the end of the day. While they finished cleaning up from free choice they were being sent to the carpet. They'd had a sub all day and by the end of the day the sub and the class aid looked exhausted from trying to hold them together. Yet somehow, as the students gathered on the rug together, one of them grabbed the book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" and held it open while the others read it together.
It was a moment of beauty. I don't think we've actually achieved a productive shared reading lesson this year. Yet when we weren't in charge- no adult to tell them what to do or remind them to not get water, to pay attention, to sit in their spot- they spontaneously created a lesson we weren't able to create as their teachers. They huddled around the book as they read, not pushing or arguing over who sat where (really, are they are kids??). They listened when one had an idea "let's read this page again!" and did it without arguing. One little boy realized they were reading the wrong words and the class patiently waited while he tried to read the correct words- helping him when they could- and then re-read together what he'd read.
It was magic.
Not wanting to break the spell I tapped them one by one on the shoulder so they could pack up. For possibly the first time all year they hurried to the coat closet, took their bookbag, and hurried back to the rug without saying a word. Finally, when I could put it off no more (and they'd read the book 3 times) I stopped them and told them it was time to line up for the buses. I must have apologized when I stopped them because the little girl who was clearly the leader of this said, "it's ok Mrs. Lipstick- we can do it again tomorrow!" Is this the same little girl who had stuck her tongue out at me earlier that day and who controlled other girls in the class with her mean words?
I had goose bumps watching their cooperation, teamwork, respect for one another, and their reading skills. Who knew in a non-teacher directed activity they could bring so much to the table? If only this event had happened in March- we realize we could have been using more child-led activities to drive their instruction- letting them be the leaders- taking away from the constant power struggles we've had with the little ones who have conflicts with authority.
In another of my classes Jenny is working on a class garden. She's let them loose with trowels and gardening tools on a patch of land at our school and is currently just letting them play in the dirt under the name of gardening. It's truly magic. They've learned more during this "play time" than we could have taught them. They are forced to use team work to dig holes and pull out weeds and rocks, in a way that team building activities don't naturally create. They're learning about science and worms and common sense (and how do you teach that?) As we watched one little girl with some significant anger issues attack a patch of land we just thought about how this activity was perfect for her at this moment- she was participating with the group but could separate herself if she needed to work individually. She had the power of choice in many ways, and also had a healthy outlet for her aggression. We chatted about how we wished we'd been doing this earlier in the year.
How come now that instruction is behind us and we're filling our time with loosely structured activities we're now realizing ways we could have been better teachers? Think we've been so focused on routine, structure, and learning objectives we lost sight of the best way to teach those objectives?