Parent-Led Lesson Surfaces Conceptual Transfer

Last week I was having one of those days where I was doubting a lot of what I believe that Kindergarten students can do. In hindsight, I realize that there were probably three things creating that doubt. It probably started with my own state, which was exhausted. Then, I was impatient. We were in week four of our #ibpyp unit of inquiry and I wanted to see more evidence of conceptual transfer. Finally, when I voiced my doubts, the response from some people was that I was probably aiming too high. I was ready to go hide in the book corner and surround myself Mo Willems’ pigeon when our guest artist, a parent of one of our students, arrived for her big lesson.

Conceptual Understanding Is Transferable

If you’ve read my recent posts, you know that our students are inquiring into how artists use their art to express emotions and ideas. You’ll also know that our key concepts are form and perspective. In hindsight, the unit has been going pretty well. Students have been exploring and discussing different forms within and outside of the discipline of art.  They have been talking about the emotions and moods that they feel are represented in a piece of art. They have been acknowledging and appreciating each other’s differing perspectives. I realize now that I was looking for an opportunity for them to transfer all of this to a new and novel situation. The opportunity was still to come.

Bring In the Parent-Led Lesson

Our guest artist/Mom had been planning to share her expertise with us for a few weeks. She is a passionate artist who specializes in calligraphy. We were excited that our students would have the opportunity to be exposed to another art form, as well as to interact with an artist from our learning community. Our guest mom was understandably a bit nervous to share with a group of five-year-olds but felt confident that she had an idea that would keep our Kindergarteners engaged. From the perspective of a concept-based, PYP teacher, she had so much more than that.

The Perfect Provocations

Our guest artist set up the room with Kindergarten-friendly calligraphy tools. She had clearly put a lot of thought into providing authentic tools which were still developmentally appropriate for five-year-olds. There was a watercolor station with special “calligraphy” paint markers and there were stations set up with sets of color pencils, taped together to make multicolor calligraphy pens that had a wide grip. All stations had large sheets of plain paper, waiting for our students to transform them.

When the students entered the room, they saw their “atelier” set up and ready for them. They also saw that there would be a meeting on the carpet first. Our guest was waiting next to our screen, where she had a short slideshow to share with them.

The slideshow was powerful. The students were shown some images of calligraphy being used in environmental print around the neighborhood. They saw restaurant boards and signs on stores. Our guest asked our students to share their thoughts about the different signs. Students noticed that some of them looked happy or sad. They connected these feelings to the colors of the signs at first. One student pointed out that if you use red (see the photo below), it will make people angry. Our guest artist acknowledged this and then invited them to look deeper. “Have a look at the actual letters and how they seem to feel. Do they play a role?”

My teacher heart was bubbling over. Our guest was inviting our students to do precisely the type of slow and purposeful looking that we had been practicing for weeks. Sure enough, the students began focusing their attention on the form of the letters, the fonts if you will. A conversation ensued about how letters can feel happy or sad, silly or serious.

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Our guest artist built on this by asking students which colors and styles they thought might express different emotions when creating art with letters. She demonstrated their ideas as they shared-silly would be yellow and swirly, for example.

Once a few examples were shared, the students were invited to visit the stations where they could express emotions by creating art with letters. One last thing before they went off as my teaching partner, with her lightening-quick instincts interjected. She asked the students to help us all remember which letters we had been learning and led them through a lightning-quick review, where they wrote some of those letters in the air or on the carpet.

Opportunity For Transfer

After our guest mom had packed up and gone in search of coffee, I realized how much our students had transferred. By sharing the environmental print with the students, our guest had given them the opportunity to transfer what they understood about the role of color, line, shape, and movementRelated Concepts in fine art, to the role they play in advertising and other forms of print. Students were able to deepen their understanding of form and how the choices an artist makes creates what their art expresses. They also had yet another opportunity to explore their different perspectives on how they viewed a piece of art.

How lucky our students are to be a part of such a caring and sharing learning community. How lucky I was to have this opportunity to witness a fantastic example of how authentic parent involvement can enhance the learning in our classrooms. Even more, I am grateful for the reminder that even our youngest learners are capable of so much and how important it is that we continue to aim high for them. #yestheycan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kindergarteners Lead the Unit Of Inquiry

Our second unit of inquiry in Kindergarten is “You’ve Got Messages.” We investigate it under the PYP theme, “How We Express Ourselves.” The central idea is “There are different systems to communicate and connect with other people.” The key concepts are form, function, and causation and the related concepts are communication, interactions and messages.

This unit is a well-oiled machine and has run in our Kindergarten for as long as I’ve been at the school (at least 13 years). As a part of the unit, Kindergarteners open a postal service in the lower school, which is always a much-anticipated event by the workers (our Kindergarteners), as well as the users (everyone else in the lower school). I was super excited to be on the “working” end of the service this year. I was also super excited to see how much I could get the students to drive their learning and how I could best facilitate conceptual understanding. Because, of course, #yestheycan

Invitations and Provocations

The Kindergarten team spent a lot of time making a plan and setting the stage for play and exploration related to our unit in our common area.  Complete credit goes to my amazing colleagues, as I was not even there the day they set it up. They put out displays and artifacts as invitations to the new unit. This included a message-writing center and the transition of the role-play area into a post office.

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I planned to use my student’s first experiences in the common area as an opportunity to hand control of the unit over to them right from the start. Experience has taught me that this would be much more successful if I did two things:

  • have clear questions articulated in my mind to guide exploration and discussion.
  • capture as many of the students’ actions and conversations as possible while they were playing.
Capturing the Moments

I have learned that capturing the actions and interactions of students, both with their learning environment and each other, is crucial to giving them genuine ownership. Over the course of an hour’s play, Kindergarteners are not always able to realize, let alone hold onto their noticings and wonderings. By recording as much of what I hear and see them doing, I can provide them with a record of their thinking from throughout that session. Students love it when we “catch” them purposefully playing and they love it even more when we quote them. This certainly supports their developing self-efficacy, which, of course, supports the learner agency we strive for.

In addition to building self-efficacy and agency, capturing the students’ actions and conversations ensures that I am building on what they are valuing as interesting and important to learn.

In this instance, I used padlet to record as much as I could of what I saw and heard as my students interacted with our unit invitations.

Made with Padlet

Teacher Questions

As the first experience playing in the common area was to provide the invitations to the unit, the questions had to be considered carefully. I planned a number of questions to help me be as prepared as possible to follow the students’ thinking, as well as to guide them to focus in on the unit itself. In practice, only two of my questions were necessary as the students had much to share. They noticed the connections to messages and eagerly contributed their ideas and wonderings related to the different types of messages and how they work.

The conversation was guided using the following:

  • What did you notice in as you explored the common area?
  • We are going to spend all the way until the winter break on a unit connected to what you explored. What do you think might be interesting or important to investigate, connected to what you explored in the common area?
The Kindergarteners Take Over
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As we processed our initial explorations in the common area, prior knowledge and experiences were surfaced, learning goals were established, and ideas were shared for ways to reach them. All of this coming from the students.

There were so many responses generated that we decided to sort them into groups and plan from there:

If you were to zoom in on the individual and groups of post-its, you’d see that there were many wonderings about how a post office system works (top, left). You’d also see quite a few wonderings about how to create and send messages, including an expressed desire to learn how to write the names of the people that the students wanted to communicate with (far-right). The third group of wonderings consisted of questions related to how people send and receive messages digitally, many of which were born from seeing their parents and older siblings on devices each day.

Ready To Learn

Once the students generated their initial wonderings and sorted them into groups, we let the kids know that they would have to help us plan for the learning. We asked for burning “Need to Knows” and for suggestions for how we could begin to investigate some of the wonderings on our board. Suggestions ranged from delivering messages in the school to learning how to write a greeting in writer’s workshop and quite a few things in between. Those are another blog post for another day but rest assured, every week we check in together, to see which wonderings have been addressed, which still need to be and of course, to see if any new ones have cropped up.