Friday, July 29, 2016

TLAP: Changing the Atmosphere

I am reading and reflecting on the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. The "pirate" philosophy is built on these things: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask/Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm.

Transformation and Enthusiasm

These two parts of the philosophy seem to go close together, as I read it. In Transformation, we look at expectations of students and work to change any negative feelings or ideas to more positive ones. Enthusiasm is changing ourselves to be more engaged and excited about the classroom. Both of these seem, to me, to link together and play off each other.

Dave Burgess challenges us to create classroom experiences that will stand out in students' minds. He says to be remarkable, getting talked about (in a good way). He urges us to create a classroom that students want to be in. Lessons should be a "show" that students want to pay to attend. We should help students know and understand why they need to learn what we're teaching; we need to make connections and help kids see value in learning our content.

Burgess writes: "Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude."

Related to creating that uncommon experience is the enthusiasm that we bring into the classroom. What can dampen our enthusiasm? Unmotivated students, physical or mental tiredness, lack of resources - all kinds of forces can make us less motivated and less enthusiastic about teaching. But Burgess stresses that all students deserve the best we can give for every lesson. He says we should avoid letting things we cannot control dampen our enthusiasm. 

I liked the tips that Dave Burgess gave to do when enthusiasm just isn't there:
  • "Act as if" - Act in an enthusiastic way. If we act as if we did feel enthusiastic, our mental and physical selves begin to adjust and we do begin to feel enthusiastic.
  • Rituals - Follow some rituals or routines (for yourself and/or your class) as you begin. As we repeat these things, we give signals to our minds. These anchors help us change into our enthusiastic selves. Playing the same music, using the same greeting, or beginning with a familiar activity all can create the proper frame of mind.
  • Change your focus - Focus on the positives and not the negatives. The majority of students are eager and ready to learn; focus on thinking about them instead of the few "troublemakers." We can focus on what makes us feel empowered rather than what drains us.
"Your attitude," writes Burgess, "carries with it your single most important tool to influence your classroom." We can change the atmosphere of the learning environment by the way we think, the way we act/react, and the way we build expectations.

I've seen this happen in my classrooms (of all ages). When I communicate the idea "This is something great and exciting and I can't wait to tell you about it", the kids are more engaged. One final quote: "If you apply nothing else from this book, but you consistently ramp up your enthusiasm level in the classroom, you will be far ahead of the game and a dramatically better teacher."

How do you create an engaging, enthusiastic environment for students?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rushing Things

The other day I stopped into a local store to get some resources for an activity I'm planning. I saw a few craft items and kits for making Christmas ornaments or crafts. "Okay," I thought. "I guess you need to get started early on that kind of stuff."

Then I stumbled into an aisle that was row and row of Christmas ornaments. "It's July," I wrote later on Facebook."I don't need to see or think about this yet."

But, of course, I pondered on seeing all this Christmas stuff in July. It's seems that we're always rushing to the next thing. Maybe it's a product of our society or the need to be "productive" and "ready." But it seems that we are looking forward, pushing and preparing for what's next. And we miss out on what's now. I know we need to prepare and that things don't just happen without planning. But we can get so focused on what's coming that we miss the joys of warm (okay, hot) days and the smell of mown grass and the taste of cool iced tea. We don't need to rush on to Christmas in July.

And I thought about teaching young kids. Rushing things seems to be what we're all about in education. Kids need to read NOW. Kids need to master things NOW. We want them to be prepared for college and for life so we need to get things done when they're 5. We could discuss the wisdom of pushing young kids to read; I've read several things that say most kids aren't ready to master reading until at least age 7. We could discuss the more developmental needs that preschoolers have; Rae Pica has a great book on that. We could review the need for exploration and play and development of "soft skills"; many (including this blog) hit on those points regularly. All of those issues are very important and valid reasons for not rushing ahead.

But sometimes lost in all those important discussions is this: When we rush ahead, we miss the now. We miss the joy of being 4 or 5 years old. We miss silly jokes and sticky hands. We miss the deep questions that come when a young mind is beginning to pull strands of understanding into a more coherent whole. We miss the awe and wonder of looking at a trail of ants or the fun of punching holes in a piece of paper with a hole punch.

We miss experiencing life through the eyes of a young child. As an adult I've lost the ability to see things as new. A hole punch is just a tool. A stapler connects paper. Writing things down is a way for me to remember what my leaking brain may forget.

But when I experience a hole punch or a stapler or writing with a kindergartner, I see the miracles that these things really are. I experience joy.

And that's what we lose when we rush things. The joy of now.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Connecting with Kids

from Teach Like a Pirate

Paying attention is listening when they talk. It's remembering the pet's name or their favorite show. It's seeing them enjoy stapling over and over and providing more time and materials for doing it. It's looking at kids as individuals and respecting those differences.

Friday, July 22, 2016

TLAP: Right Environment and Right Questions

I am reading and reflecting on the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. The "pirate" philosophy is built on these things: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask/Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm.

Teachers can create a supportive environment that encourages students to be successful and connected to content. Dave Burgess mentions a few ways to build strong rapport with students, to know them--learn as much as possible about them, connect what you are teaching to what they are interested in, look for ways to connect current events to students' learning, encourage students to make connections themselves, spend informal time with students (in hallways, at extra-curricular events). Use humor to build a relaxed classroom atmosphere.

Here are some quotes about rapport:

  • "Ultimately we don't want to develop techniques to win behavior management battles, we want to develop techniques that allow us to avoid the battles altogether."
  • "If you're paying attention to what excites them, you can connect with them almost instantly."
  • Being available to kids says a lot to them about whether or not you are interested in them beyond your particular class."
  • "By working to create a safe and supporting environment where students feel valued, I earn their trust."
In reading this section, I noted that Burgess obviously teaches older students that I do. But as I look at the quotes above and think about other things he said, I can see how these ideas can apply to the early childhood classroom, too.

I want to build strong relationships with my kids. I want to understand what they enjoy and what makes them tick. I can connect whatever we're doing in the classroom to my students' interests. I can learn as much as possible about students and their lives, and remember that as I interact with them. I want a learning environment that avoids behavior battles, too, and helps kids feel valued and safe. Rapport is important no matter what age the student.

Ask and Analyze
In this section, Burgess focused on the creative process. As we are developing lesson plans and thinking about how to create an engaging, creative learning environment, we need to ask the right questions. Creativity is more than just a flash of inspiration; it's asking the right questions and allowing our brains to think about it. Asking the right questions help our brains tune in and focus on what we want to do. And we ask these questions as we are planning and developing lessons - not after, trying to force in those creative things. 

A question that I kept asking when I taught first grade was "How can we add movement to this?" This helped me see different ways to engage kids actively. My brain was always looking for different inspirations for movement - on blogs, in curriculum guides, in talking with other teachers. But I think I need to be more intentional about this. List some key questions and keep those in mind as I develop lesson plans.

I also appreciated Burgess's discussion on failure. He says, "If you haven't failed in the classroom lately, you aren't pushing the envelope far enough." This failure is really feedback - what worked, didn't work, needs adapting, etc. His analogy of a missile was enlightening to me. A missile continues to adjust its trajectory based on feedback related to the target; a missile is likely to spend more time off target than on target but it hits the target because of the continual adjustments based on feedback. Teaching is like that, too. Look at the feedback from students (by behavior or assessment) and tweak what you're doing. Pay attention to the class while teaching and make those adjustments as needed.

Burgess says: "[Any] endeavor that doesn't hold the possibility of failure can't accomplish anything meaningful." I'm embracing failure more and more. That's how I learn. And how they learn.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Art Outdoors

In our Art Camp this summer, we talked about artists and we explored all kinds of art. In our schedule we wanted to include some outdoor time. After all, who doesn't enjoy a little playground time? But we wanted to have some art experiences outdoors, too. Since each day had an art "theme," we tried to keep with those ideas. Here's what we did.

Painting Day
On this day, we had two types of experiences.

1. Flyswatter Painting - Dip flyswatters in paint and hit the paper.
I've always wanted to do this but really didn't have the right situation. Until now. Kids enjoyed this.
My takeaway: Set up several stations so more kids can do it at a time.

2. Spray Painting - Pour liquid watercolor in spray bottles and spray away.
Kids enjoyed this, too. I've done this once before indoors. Never again. Or now without lots of surrounding structure. Outdoors, this was perfect.
My takeaway: Fill up the bottles with paint and bring more for backup.

Overall, we just wanted more.

Drawing Day

An old stand-by was the feature for us - drawing with chalk. We drew on the floor of the picnic pavilion outside the playground. We also had spray bottles of water and paintbrushes with buckets of water to make our drawings "disappear."

My takeaway: Chose a "canvas" that will be exposed to the rain or that no one will care has lots of chalk lines. Our art left some residue behind. (And I was out painting with water for a while after camp was over.)

Collage/Sculpture Day

We made a collage/sculpture on the fencing around the playground with plastic cups. It really looked like an art installation after we were finished. I liked the "come and go" nature of this activity. Kids would place one or two cups and then leave; later they would come back and add another one. Other kids would play on the playground for a while and then try the art. And others stayed with the art for a longer while.

My takeaway: Try the materials first! (I tell people this all the time and then I didn't do it.) The cups we had were a little too large for the fence. Kids had to work to get them to stay in. It was a great motor activity but a little frustrating for some of them.

Removing the "evidence"

Art belongs outside as well as inside. What art experiences have taken you into the great outdoors?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Dramatic Play Builds Literacy

"Why Play Pretend When We're Building Readers?"

"When children play pretend, they are making this same cerebral leap. A block can be a phone. A rag can be a baby. A rock can be a key fob.

And marks on a page can be a story."

Dramatic play builds foundations for understanding print - for reading and writing.

Let's pretend!

Check out my related post Not Literacy?.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Lazy Teacher

I tell people that I'm a lazy teacher - I never create more work for myself than necessary.

I think what I should really say is that I want to help children become more competent and self-sufficient. But, being a lazy teacher is certainly attention-getting.

Here are some ways that I've tried to help kids do things for themselves.

When I put out staplers or punches or other tools, we expect the children to do the things themselves. I will help them know what to do or how to use the item, but they do the work. (Okay, sometimes I press, too, to help the staple go through.)

punching holes (Brick by Brick)

If they want a picture of a horse or airplane or whatever, I do not draw it. They do. We place paper and other resources close at hand. If kids need something, they can get it for themselves. I do help move paintings from the easel (although they often want to do that for themselves, too). But the expectation is that the child will do the work. After all, how will they learn if they do not do it?

photo labels on drawers (Brick by Brick)

We expect kids to put away materials themselves. Now, maybe things stay out during the entire learning time. But when it's time to clean up and put things away, the kids are on the job. Since I've had my group of kindergartners in my church class for almost a whole year, I don't need to give them any guidance at this point. (Well, not much guidance.) They begin to pick up all materials. They carry the heavy block bin (two or three kids together) and put it in the cabinet. They pick up EVERYTHING and ask where it needs to go (if it's something we don't use every week).

We have labeled our drawers in the dramatic play center with pictures. Kids can see where things go, without being told or without having to try and figure it out.

small trash cans (Brick by Brick)

During the session, we want children to be responsible. We provide our small trash cans whenever we have stickers or other activities that generate trash. Anything that needs to be discarded goes in the small bins and then is later dumped into our large trash can. I don't need to think about what is trash; they take care of it.

cleaning the table (Brick by Brick)

If paint is dripped on the floor, I give them a wet paper towel or sponge. They clean it up. If we have a messy table after our activities, someone will help me wash the table down. Really. All it takes is for me to ask and they do it.

We do lots of other things and have lots of other expectations for kids to do the work themselves. And they want to do it - more times than not.

structure photographed by child (Brick by Brick)
His photo, not retouched at all

The other day one of my friends kept building and building. When he was done, he called me to see his structure. He wanted a picture of it. I gave him my phone (on the camera app) and said, "Here. Take a picture of your building. Press this button when you want to take the picture. He was a little reluctant. But he did it.

Of course, others wanted to take pictures, too. We passed the phone around and several kids took pictures.

One took this picture.

Mr. Scott, lazy teacher (Brick by Brick)

Me. Being a lazy teacher.

Or me. Helping them become more competent.

What do you do to help kids be self-sufficient?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Painting with Combs and Small Brushes

We recently had an Art Camp for 5s and 6s at my church. Cindy and I enjoyed an intense three days of creativity. (Here are some things I learned.)

One of our painting activities was using combs and small (recycled) brushes and paint. Set up was easy. Put out the tools. Put out the paper. Put out the pans. Add paint. Go. (Oh, and a pencil for names.)

The set up - just add paint

Our goal in this activity - and all the activities - was for kids to explore, experience, and experiment. The kids accommodated us on this. They painted with gusto and focus.

Paint on the table? It'll wash.

The combs we used were purchased in a set at a big box store. The various sizes and handles provided different experiences with the paint. The brushes used were from hair dye kits. The angle of the handle provided some different ways to use the paint.


For more exploration, you could add other paintbrushes of different sizes, pastry brushes, or hair brushes. Or cut "combs" from cardboard (zigzag, wavy, and other shapes in the end of a square of cardboard).

Our Art Camp was focused on process - on using materials in creative ways and on trying out different ideas. Our goal wasn't to necessarily produce "something."

In fact, we talked about artists and the different kinds of paintings (drawings, sculptures, etc.) they create. Sometimes artists make pictures of people (portraits). Sometimes artists make pictures of things (still lifes). Sometimes artists make pictures of places or nature (landscapes). Sometimes artists make designs (abstract). We experimented with these different types of pictures.

But not in this activity. This one was all about exploring the tools and making designs. We looked at the tracks in the paint. We made large and small blocks of color. We became calmer as we stroked paint across the page.

So often we adults get caught up in "what are you making" and forget "what are you experiencing." All learning (especially in early childhood) must be about the experience and the building of knowledge about the world, about others, and about selves.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Kids Love to Create

Provide the materials. Provide the time. Do not provide the ideas. Kids will create.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Summer Reading: Teach Like a Pirate

I have been hearing about the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. For a while. (I'm often behind the trends!) I decided to make this book my next read and reflect book. It's short and (so far) a quick read, so I'll finish it this summer.

The title of this book conjures all kinds of images. And, after all, dressing like a pirate would be great for early childhood, right? But that's not what this book is about. Dave Burgess writes: "Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into uncharted territories with no guarantee of success." That sounds like teaching young kids to me! And like the kind of teacher I'd like to be.

Burgess continues that pirates reject the status quo, embrace creativity and independence, take risks, travel with a like-minded crew, and don't worry about what people think of them. The "pirate" philosophy is built on these things: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask/Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm.

Most teachers are passionate about their students. And passionate about helping students learn and grow. But no teacher is passionate about everything he teaches and everything he does as a teacher. Burgess says that pirate teachers work to consistently bring passion into everything, even when they are doing or teaching what they find uninteresting. Teachers must look at three categories and identify their passions within those categories.

  • Content Passion - What subject matter do you enjoy teaching? Look for specifics not just broad areas. For example, I really like teaching math - especially number sense. I enjoy helping kids break down numbers and look for different ways to create a number. I like building number problems about our day or our classroom. Now, in my church kindergarten class, I will often say things like, "We have 3 boys and 4 girls. How many kids do we have in all? How many chairs will we need? If I'm going to sit, too, how many chairs will we need in all?"
  • Professional Passion - What about teaching/education drives you? What are you passionate about as a teacher (not specific to subject matter)? This passion often connects to why you became a teacher. I love to see kids make connections. I love to see the light bulbs go on. I love to help kids discover things for themselves. I love when kids are excited about what we're doing.
  • Personal Passion - What are you passionate about that is not related to your profession? Find as many ways as possible to connect your personal passions to your work. I love to make things, especially things that are recycled or repurposed. I like finding creative ways to solve a problem. I like art. And I can see times when bringing in these ideas have really made me (and the kids) connect to content.
Dave Burgess says: "Teaching is a job filled with frustrations, trials, and tests of your patience. Use your passion to soar over obstacles instead of crashing into them and burning out." I can see how not doing this caused me some difficult times in my last second grade class. And when I shifted to focus on my passions caused many difficulties to minimize.

Immersion is the ability to give yourself fully to the moment. Teachers who are immersed in the lesson or the classroom are fully engaged with what's happening. Students can feel when teachers are immersed/present...and when they are not. "A lack of immersion in the present sends a clear, although unspoken, message that this moment is somehow less important and not significant enough to be worth undivided attention."

Burgess uses a great analogy. He says that teachers can be lifeguards or swimmers. Lifeguards are focused on the pool and what's happening in it. But they are also separate and distant from it; they are on the sidelines. Swimmers are in the pool, participating in the action. They are a part of what is happening, fully engaged. 

If a teacher is immersed and fully present, he is excited about what's happening. He draws students into the action. "An instructor who is fully immersed in the moment has a special type of intensity that resonates with great power in the classroom, regardless of the activity." Immersed teachers have a plan for lessons but are not afraid to deviate from the plan if something happens in the classroom. Teachable moments come that won't wait and won't come again. If we are in the moment, we can follow those opportunities and help kids make lasting connections.

In my second grade class we were raising butterflies. One day a student noticed that a butterfly was emerging from a cocoon. A few already had, but it had happened overnight when we were not there. A cry went up about the butterfly. My math lesson was over. We watched what was happening. We talked about it. We found a video online so we could see the process again. I suggested we write about it and they did. The lesson changed because we could be fully in the that I could have never scripted. (And we continued subtraction with regrouping the next day.)

I have enjoyed reading about the first two characteristics and look forward to the rest of the book. While it focused on students that are older than I typically teach, I can see some definite applications and parallels to my younger kids. 

I'm already ready to teach like a pirate. Arrgh!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Power of Nothing

Too often I depend on my "expertise" to evaluate what I do in the classroom. I was reminded recently that I need to rely on the expertise of my kids to decide what works.

We were focusing on a Bible story about repairing the temple. One of the suggested activities was to place paint containers and brushes with the blocks. The kids could pretend to paint their structures. Since our kids love to use blocks, I'm always looking for ways to provide supplemental resources or different ideas. When I read about this particular activity, I (at least mentally) rolled my eyes. I didn't think the kids would be remotely interested in pretending to paint (since we really paint often in the classroom). But, I figured I would put out the containers and brushes and the kids could ignore them like they ignore other things. It wouldn't hurt anything.

One girl arrived a little early. She began to pretend to paint blocks and asked me to guess each individual color. We played this game for a while. She "painted" several blocks as she built.

She moved on to other things and so did I.

A boy began to build. He's one of our regular builders. After constructing a tall building, he asked about the brushes. We told him he could pretend to paint his building. "I'm making it all red," he said as he brushed all over his structure.

Okay, I admit it. This activity was a fun idea for kids. They did build around the brushes and not use them all the time. But they did have fun with them, too.

I'm reminded of two things.

1. I must stay open to all ideas. I shouldn't think that what I "know" is always right. Yes, my instincts, knowledge, and judgment are good guidelines. But I shouldn't remain closed to an idea that is a little different from my own.

2. I don't need a lot of stuff to teach. Oh, I have lots of things. My D.S.D.D. keeps me stocked up with all kinds of things. But sometimes the most powerful teaching tool is nothing. Nothing triggers the imagination and can increase creativity. We don't need lots of toys or objects to learn. Nothing can do quite nicely.

I'll be looking for ways to use nothing more often in my classroom.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Loved As He (or She) Is

Do we appreciate each child for who he or she is right now? Do we plan for them as they are and not as they will be (or as we wish they would be)? Know your kids. Embrace who they are now.

Friday, July 1, 2016

What I Learned at Art Camp

Golf ball painting
What's Art Camp? It's a three-day (2 hours per day) event for 5 and 6 year olds (20 of them!). We had it at our church. Mrs. Cindy and I were in charge of it. This was the first time we've done it and we learned a lot.

We focused on types of art each day: Day 1 was Painting; Day 2 was Drawing and Stamping; Day 3 was Collage and Sculpture. Each day we had 10 art activities plus 1 activity outside. In our large group times, we talked about a Bible story and we talked about artists and what they do.

Drawing with chalk and spraying water
It was a busy and tiring time. And, from the feedback we heard, the kids had fun!

I'll blog about some of our activities later, but today I want to list a few things that I learned (or saw again) during Art Camp.

Drawing with pastels at the easel
1. Kids love to create. Given the opportunity, kids will make things - without being told or cajoled to do it.

2. Kids have their own ideas. Of course we had a "plan" for each activity, but often kids took the activity in their own directions. Either they created in ways we didn't expect or explored ideas in their art that were surprising or pulled items from several activities to create their own experience.

String painting
3. Kids love community. We had lots of fun talking about what we were doing or thinking about different kinds of art. They loved doing things together and interacting with one another. They used each other's ideas to expand their own thinking.

4. We had to be hands-on and hands-off at the same time. We had to give a little direction but let the kids so their own way. We had to be ready to provide materials and direct kids to get things themselves.

Fly swatter painting
5. Kids are open to new experiences and have no preconceived ideas. If I said we were going to paint with toothbrushes or draw around eyeballs or use hot glue guns, they were ready to go.

6. Process is king. Kids did enjoy having a end product to show their parents. But the real action was in the doing, not in the showing of the result. We punched holes and used staplers. We explored stamps and sticky notes. We looked in the mirror to paint self-portraits. We rolled golf balls with paint around a canvas. That was when the learning happened - when they were doing (and thinking!).

Slinky painting and foil transfer designs
7. My teacher voice is still alive and well. I heard myself giving parameters in a careful voice. I played movement games and told stories. I asked questions and listened to responses. Even though I don't use those classroom skills daily any more, it's nice to know they are still there.

Doing art is fun...and exhausting! I was more tired at the end of these three days than I was after five days of VBS. And I'll be ready for it again in about 362 days.

Drawing with charcoal pencils - complete the animal