Thursday, October 23, 2014

Setting the Bar - when to push it and when to let it go

Setting appropriate expectations is a surefire way for me to keep joy in the classroom. Set them too low, and I'll be spending a lot of time doing things for the children they could be doing without help, or they'll be finishing activities very quickly and getting bored, hotbeds of misbehaviour and annoyance. Set them too high, and I'll be spending a lot of time doing things for the children that they shouldn't be responsible for doing, and they will become frustrated with work that is unreasonably challenging. Again, misbehaviour and annoyance.

My expectations follow the age and grade of the class, but also take into account each individual student. Did they go to daycare? Where? Do they have siblings or interact regularly with other children outside of school? What language is spoken at home? Are there any known disabilities? 
Steel Scaffolding

I like Vygotsky's scaffolding technique - in a nutshell, learners have a "zone of proximal development". They know some things, and they will be able to know other things in this zone. The teacher provides support (the scaffolding) to help the learners build on what they know. Scaffolding-type support can include motivating, simplifying, directing, comparison, and modeling. I also try to build in repetition, sensory experiences, exploratory learning, and to leave lots of time for creative play. 

Things I Push
  • concepts a step up from what we're working on. For example, this year we officially cover four colours. Most picked that up quickly, and through books and songs already know a lot more! 
  • skills that promote autonomy. They can put on their smocks alone, and some of them can do up the buttons. That's great! Some are starting to try to do up their own shoes, and (thank you, parents) they can all go to the toilet alone. They can all eat, of course, but some are learning to twirl spaghetti on a fork rather than shovel it in...
  • social skills. They are starting to play with each other, as opposed to near each other, and some are developing compassion - coming to me with a student who falls, or including a solitary student. They're also starting to grasp conflict resolution. I encourage it, but don't expect a perfect outcome all the time. I still need to intervene and explain.
Things to Let Go
  • advanced knowledge - really, I don't mind if my class progresses at a higher grade level. There's no need for us to be "getting ahead" by devoting playtime to extra worksheets. They're little kids. They need to play, it's part of the development process. They learn a lot of skills through play, so if I come to the end of a unit early, well, more play time! For example, this year they'll learn how to write numbers 0 to 3. At the moment, we're working on lines, and our goal is to write legible number 1s by Christmas. We're nearly there, and until the holidays roll around, I'll stick to review and extra Christmas fun. Writing out long division is not on the books.
  • finer motor skills. They're not going to be able to trim the fat from their steak or cut a beautiful lacy snowflake out of tissue paper. I help or ditch overly-involved crafts.
  • perfect emotional control. A lot of adults can't even do this, so why expect them to be perfect? When a preschooler is tired, they`re not going to hide it. When they`re upset with another student, they`ll show it! Lame guest story-teller? They'll let me know!
In my class the expectations are clear: everyone can follow the routine, everyone can try before asking for help. We strive to get along, and we aim to have fun learning. If someone, or everyone, is ready to take a next step, I'll support them, and the same if we need to work back and review. And of course we'll play a lot. They've got plenty of time to build up their skyscrapers of knowledge. At the moment we're concentrating on laying good foundations.

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