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







Exploring Concepts In Our Kindergarten Unit

Over the past few weeks, our Kindergarten students have been exploring the key concepts, form and perspective during our “How We Express Ourselves” unit, “Communicating Through Art.” Related concepts, including emotions, communication, self-expression, line, shape, movement and color, have driven the inquiries within, and often across the disciplines.Screen Shot 2019-01-15 at 15.34.17Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 11.41.50

Using Related Understandings

The #ibpyp has reaffirmed the related concepts as integral to the teaching and learning in a PYP classroom.  I find that an increased focus on the related concepts makes the learning much clearer and more accessible to students.  Taking them further and creating additional, “related understandings,” provides learners with an opportunity to work towards learning goals that are directly linked to Scope and Sequence requirements. While doing so, they are building an understanding of conceptual relationships that support understanding of the key concepts and central idea. Here are some of the related understandings I have been using to drive the learning in our current unit:

  • We can express our ideas and emotions through art.
  • Artists make choices when creating their art, which may make their audience feel or think a certain way.
  • People can have different ideas about a piece of art.
  • Having, sharing and respecting different ideas, helps us to see things in new ways and increase our understanding.
  • We must be listeners as well as speakers in order to have effective communication.
Understanding Concepts

A few weeks ago I introduced the Visible Thinking routine, Looking 10 x 2 to my students. We have since used the routine several times as the students develop their understanding of form and how we can describe what we see. This was described in my post on transdisciplinary learning. As students became more adept at the routine, we started sorting their responses into two groups: attributes that we could point out for everyone to see, and ideas that they had about the art. This brought us to the key concept, perspective, which became a conceptual focus for the ensuing learning.

Above Media: Three students worked together to share what they saw and what they thought of this van Gogh painting. They attempted to sort the recordings by putting the things they saw that they wanted to point out right on the painting and by putting their ideas to the side of the painting.

After a discussion to establish a common definition of perspective, “when people have different ideas about something,” we continued our inquiries with that concept in mind. As we explored and discussed art, stories, and even recess preferences, the concept of perspective kept coming up. Here are some of the ideas that the kindergarten students were overheard expressing last week: #yestheycan

  • It’s ok if we don’t agree.
  • I have a different idea about the painting than my group!
  • Just because I have a different idea, doesn’t mean I don’t like you.
  • I’m glad that you shared your thinking because now I am changing mine.
  • It’s good to be different.
  • I like it when you say you agree or disagree with me. (this was in the context of “it shows you were thinking about what I said and not just your own ideas)
  • We can’t just say it, we should have reasons for our ideas!
Looking Ahead

The last idea mentioned is where we will pick up. During our next morning meeting, we will go back to this student’s idea about needing to have reasons for our ideas. From there, we will plan together to see how we might explore that idea further in the context of our unit, “Communication Through Art.”





Eight Ways To Use the Understanding Map Right Now

The Understanding Map is one of the products of the work being done at the  Visible Thinking and Cultures of Thinking projects at Harvard’s Project Zero. It has been an integral part of the teaching and learning in my classroom since I first learned about it years ago.  Its universal applicability and relevance make me consider it as perhaps the one tool I would choose as a teacher if I could have only one. Regardless of age group, context, style of teaching and learning or discipline, the Understanding Map provides a guide to deeper understanding.

I recently introduced the Understanding Map to a group of educators at a workshop on concept-based teaching and learning, which I facilitated with the amazing and deeply knowledgable @gioia_morasch. Working with these educators reminded me of how lucky I am to have received training from Project Zero and how important it is to share the wealth.

The Understanding Map

This year, I have had the challenge of figuring out the best way of using the Understanding Map to support my Kindergarten students on their learning journey. I find that it is not so very different from how I use it with fourth or fifth graders. Here are some quick tips that work across the grades:

Eight Ways to Use the Understanding Map Right Now
  • Explicitly let students know that the moves on the Understanding Map are steps our brain takes to help it as it works to build understanding. Depending on the group, I may do this right away, or I may wait until they’ve heard me naming their thinking moves for a while. In either case, I remind them often why these moves are important. This continues until they start reminding each other…and they do!
  • Name the types of thinking the students are doing when you witness them doing it. “I notice that you backed up your idea with something you can refer back to in the text. Reasoning with evidence is one of the moves we use to help us make sure our understanding makes sense.”
  • Make connections between the map and what they know they already often do. In many cases, we start with wondering. This is often the easiest move for them to recognize in themselves. Further, by highlighting it as an all-important thinking move on the road to understanding, we encourage them to continue valuing that sense of wonder and curiosity.
  • I occasionally teach a minilesson to help the students understand what we mean exactly by a particular thinking move. It’s important to note that whenever possible, this is pulled from the thinking or actions of a shared context or the thinking of a peer.
  • Perseverance is key! Regardless of age, it can take months of consistently using the language and promoting the importance of a thinking culture in the classroom.
  • Parents are part of the learning community too! Share the Understanding Map with them and encourage them to use it when discussing their students’ learning at home. We use it at Student-Led Conferences as well.
  • Post the Understanding Map prominently in your room. With younger students, consider how you can incorporate visuals. At the start, it will serve as a prompt and a reminder for you. Eventually, you will find yourself referring to it alongside the students. Soon enough, your students will start referring to it independently!