In our push to try to get play and inquiry back into kindergarten classes, we tend to forget ( or overlook ) the importance of remembering that FIRST and SECOND GRADES ARE ALSO EARLY CHILDHOOD GRADES. I’m pleased to share how, with the support of the school’s principal, Robert Groff and assistant principal, Tu Harris, a second and first grade teacher are both incorporating play and investigation in their classrooms. In this post, I’ll focus on the first grade class.
This past November, Angela Valco, a second grade teacher at P.S. 244 in Flushing Queens, Tu Harris, the assistant principal, and I presented a session at NCTE where we shared how a second grade teacher in an academically high-performing school, was able to incorporate a student-driven study of Robots into her weekly schedule. I am an early childhood consultant working with kindergarten teachers on implementing inquiry-based choice time and whole class inquiry projects based on student interests. Angela was intrigued by the work being done in kindergarten and asked the administration if she could have some time to work with me.
Anyone who teaches in a public (and also, in some instances, private) school knows how difficult it is to avoid following a daily teaching schedule that closely resembles an Amtrak train schedule. Because of the many academic demands that fill up the day, teachers are forced to breathlessly rush students from one “literacy” subject to another. When Angela decided to try something new, it was a big step for her. She wanted to give children time to explore topics that interested them without sacrificing the high adademic expectations of the school and of her grade.
After beginning her study, Angela sent me this email:
“I am constantly stepping out of my comfort zone to make learning more engaging and to give more ownership to the kids. …Choice time and inquiry is a time where I see learning come alive! I watch and observe my kids in a way that makes me understand them more. It’s my favorite time. It’s worth all the extra time and all the uncomfortable risks.”
Angela and I worked on a pre-plan for her study. She thought of seven essential questions to guide the investigation.
Children were now ready to work in groups to record what they already knew about robots. We all know that it’s important to begin with what children already know and to build upon that.
Here is what the children knew about robots at the start of the study.
- It can move by itself
- Some need batteries
- Some are helpful
- Some need to charge up
- Some go to space
- Robots can do anything
- Some are to play with
- Some can draw
- Some can move by itself
After spending some time studying robots, the information began to get more specific.
Angela’s challenge was in working out a schedule where children had a weekly Choice Time (alas there was only time for once a week) and incorporating the study throughout the school day. The structure of the schedule was flexible based on Angela’s observations. When I met with her yesterday, she was considering moving Choice Time to Thursday, when children returned from lunch and recess. and scheduling Independent Reading for the start of the day. Each class has its own personality and Angela understands that she cannot be rigid about her schedule.
LITERACY CENTERS offered opportunities for researching information about robots.
In addition to Literacy Centers, Angela also incorporated new vocabulary into her WORD STUDY lessons.
Angela fit aspects of the study into her morning message. The children responded in their Heart Journals.
Angela amassed books that were appropriate for Independent Reading, Research Centers and Read Aloud.She also included the Inquiry Topic in Shared Reading and in Look, Think and Discuss activities.
This year, Angela asked some children, now first graders, to reflect on their memories or thoughts about choice time in second grade.
NOTHING RESONATES MORE POWERFULLYL THAN HEARING THE WORDS OF CHILDREN!
And here’s a little peek into what I saw in Angela’s room when I visited one day last year when they were still working on their Robot Study.
I would love to hear about about how second-grade teachers are incorporating Choice Time and Inquiry Projects in their classrooms!