About me

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A twist on a standard topic - All about me!

At the beginning of every school year, across the country and quite probably the world, Teachers are preparing their first unit of study - All about me! The purpose of course; to get to know the new class. My experience has been, until recently, that the same unit was pulled out (dusted off) and presented in day by day stages. This unit typically would also be used to assess the children's ability to read, write and draw within the first few days of school.

Last month I started work at a Reggio inspired school in Bangkok. I would like to offer the perspective the school has taken and the twist on this project. 

Firstly there is a great focus on relationships and relationship building. This focus has guided protocol and policy making, for example there is no formal assessment within the first 3 weeks of school. The understanding being that children need time to settle in school after a long summer break and to feel comfortable in their new surroundings and with their new teacher. 

Secondly, that this project All about me is not to be used primarily for assessment purposes. Yes, as a teacher you may observe things but there is not the expectation of having the children sit down on day 1 and recount their summer holiday in writing. The primary purpose of this project is to get to know the children, to really get to know them.

As a group of teachers we spent some time thinking about how we were going to launch this first project. We discussed possible questions and reflected upon the fact that while most children would have travelled outside of Bangkok for their summer, some would have stayed at home. We didn't want to exclude these children or make them feel like their experience was lesser because they hadn't gone away. This value of inclusiveness influenced the types of questions we decided to ask the children.  We felt that asking "what have you been doing in your time away from school?" was more appropriate than "Where did you go in your holiday?" We also thought that there may be some confusion about terminology for example a word 'holiday' for Americans means Thanksgiving or Christmas, whereas for Europeans is means a break. Working at an international school means we need to consider these things. 

We also decided that it would be important as teachers to share our own experiences with the children, and through this modelling we could focus on various aspects such as an emotional reflection about an experience. 

In the second week of school we asked the children to bring in photos of their experiences. I shared two photos showing my big move to Bangkok and the children had the opportunity to share theirs. I asked each child to share with the rest of the class their experiences. This is where things went a bit awry. While some of the children were happy and confident to share their experiences in front of a group, many of them clammed up when it was their turn and I ended up having to ask alot of questions to encourage the more reserved children to share. This did not encourage an open dialogue with the rest of the group, and didn't spark much further discussion. 

At the end of the second week I shared my disappointment about how our sharing had gone with the other teachers. I realised that a whole class forum was not the way to encourage discussion at this early stage of the year. Moving forward I decided that we needed to revisit these holiday experiences in smaller groups to encourage relationship building and more in depth dialogue and interaction. 

I appreciated the emphasis on using this provocation as a springboard into our project work and the time the children were encouraged to take to truly explore this concept of 'identity'. 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

What is a project - time


A project has not limits of boundaries in terms of how it might develop. Be open to a project continuing on from the term before. I have let go of the mentality that it's a new term therefore we need a new project. Some projects are very meaty!

A project will have an ebb and flow to it, some days or weeks the children will be really excited or engaged, and other times they will be less so.

There may be some projects that all of the children are engaging in at one time. There also maybe multiple projects running at the same time. When I first began my Reggio inspired journey and reflecting upon my own practice it was inconceivable to me to run more than one project at a time, so all of the children were involved in one project. However, after a few years of reflection and changes made to my practice I feel confident and comfortable in running multiple projects.

Some projects may spark 'mini' projects that are connected to the main project.

The project work is fully integrated into the classroom programme which means I don't have allocated 'project time' in my day (traditionally most classrooms would have inquiry learning after lunch). In my classroom children may be engaged in the project throughout the day, and then see me for targeted teaching in reading, writing and maths.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Thought encouraging questions to ask children

How do you know?

How could we check?

Could you give me more details?

How could we explain this?

How is this the same or different?

What is a different idea?

What is an example of that?

What ideas/thoughts do you have?

What is a new idea?

What if...?

What are some different possibilities?

What questions could we ask?

What did we learn?

What could we do differently?

What could we change?

Monday, 24 June 2013

The art of questioning

What is a question?

"Everything. It is a way of evoking stimulating response or stultifying inquiry. It is in essence the very core of teaching." John Dewy

What are we asking questions for?

What type of questions are we asking?

Most teachers would agree that we ask questions of children for the following reasons;
  •  to further children's understanding
  • to stimulate thinking
  • to help children co-construct meaning
  • to promote children's collaboration with their peers
Hand in hand with the art of questioning, is the art of listening."Unless we listen with real and visible interest to children, children will no longer let themselves be seen or heard." Loris Malaguzzi

Art resources - what are we using and why

Critiquing the resources we give children and why we give them to them


One day while my children were using the paint, it dawned on me they were becoming increasingly frustrated wth this medium because they wanted to show intricate details in their work but the paint was not allowing for this. Paint can be clumsy and sloppy until children have the understanding behind the process of painting i.e. painting in layers, allowing each layer to dry before adding the next part. It is important to teach them how to hold a paint brush correctly, and to expose them to varying sizes of brushes so they are able to paint finer detail. We talk about the reasons for choosing certain brushes for example a big brush is good for painting the background because it covers a larger area more quickly than a fine brush.


In my class the children have a selection of ink pens that they can use when outlining their artwork. We had a series of mini lessons where we discussed the pens and the types of lines they could produce depending on the tip of the pen and then what we might think of when choosing each type of pen. For example a 'whispering' pen is a fine tipped pen and is great for delicate detail such as eye lashes, whereas a 'shouting' pen is great for big outlines like hair.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Listening - what does this mean?

"We have always maintained that children have their own questions and theories, and that they negotiate the theories with others. Our duties as teachers is to listen to the children, just as we ask them to listen to one another. Listening means giving value to others, being open to them and what they have to say. Listening legitimizes the other person's point of view, thereby enriching both the listener and the speaker. What teachers are asked to do is create contexts where such listening can take place."
                                                              Carla Rinaldi cited in Edwards, Gandini and Forman (1998)

How do we authentically listen to children?

Listening is not just about listening with your ears, it is about listening with all of your senses. Through listening with all of your senses you will be able to discover provocations for projects and direction in existing projects. Listening with all your senses is not easy. There are many things that stand in the way of authentically listening to children, for example, your values, pre-conceived ideas, assumptions, biases, 'rules' etc etc Listening is not about producing answers for children, rather it formulates more questions. These things challenge us when we try to listen to children.

I recently listened to a presentation by a fellow educator who felt challenged by what the children were 'telling' her. A group of boys in her group loved the cartoon character, Ben 10, they would bring in small figurines and re-inact the cartoon in the classroom. At first she tried to resist this interest and stop the play through 'rules'. Then she realised that the children valued this play and that she wasn't really listening to them. Based on this realisation she changed her tact and embraced this play, encouraging the boys to draw pictures, create sets and props using clay and cardboard, and re-inact the story lines. This developed into a project for the children.

I see my role as an educator to listen, recognise, support, challenge, extend children's thinking and theories by creating an environment where this is valued.