Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Friday, February 19, 2016
“You sure do have a lot of free time at school!” That may be a parent's reaction to their child’s description of their day. There is a lot of FREEDOM here at Bella Natura—freedom of movement and choices. Time and space management is largely determined by the children. Often, they are able to choose to work on the couch, at a group desk, or at an individual table instead of being told to stay at “their” desk—they don’t even have a desk!
However, within that freedom is embedded a lot of STRUCTURE. I have high expectations in regards to RESPECT. Respect for each other, the classroom and classroom materials, using their time wisely, and making good choices when they are given free time. The second week of school this year, we wrote paragraphs describing what goals the students have for their time here at school this year. I want them to take ownership of their learning and become life-long learners. Giving free time after lunch gives students opportunities to interact with their “3rd teacher”. This is the REGGIO concept of the environment being the 3rd teacher, the parent being the 1st teacher, and me being the 2nd teacher.
I have many important goals for my students, but three of them are: to improve self-control, increase self-regulation, and for students to get in touch with their own gifts, talents, and interests. Those valuable life goals would not be met if the students’ 2nd teacher always told them what to do and how to do it!
Thursday, February 18, 2016
That was the response I received recently from an incredulous store employee when I stated that I do not do report cards or grades for my children. Sometimes I forget that this can be a novel and somewhat controversial topic; having felt not just comfortable, but passionate about this issue for years now, I tend to be taken off-guard by reactions such as this.
Lately, I have been rereading some articles by one of my favorite education experts, Alfie Kohn. The article, From Degrading to De-Grading, written for High School Magazine in 1999 is available on his website. He lists nine well-researched and documented reasons to “just say no to grades”. The article gives detailed descriptions for each reason, and I encourage everyone reading this to go check it out!
1. Grades tend to reduce students' interest in the learning itself.
2. Grades tend to reduce students' preference for challenging tasks.
3. Grades tend to reduce the quality of students' thinking.
4. Grades aren't valid, reliable, or objective.
5. Grades distort the curriculum.
6. Grades waste a lot of time that could be spent on learning.
7. Grades encourage cheating.
8. Grades spoil teachers' relationships with students.
9. Grades spoil students' relationships with each other.
You might be still be asking, “If you don’t do grades, how do you know students have learned anything?!” I will address how Bella Natura handles grades in a moment. First, allow me to volley a question back over the net. “How do you know that a baby has learned to walk?” In the absence of grades, how does a parent determine that a child has mastered walking, talking, and potty training? I am fairly confident that most parents would think it is ridiculous to assign a letter grade to their child’s efforts at learning these skills. You see the fruit of their learning—the child walks and speaks!
Bella Natura does not issue traditional report cards to Kindergarten and Elementary students. Instead, we extend the Reggio concept of documentation into a variety of authentic assessments. We give detailed, specific feedback (orally and spontaneously, as well as written) to our students. We help them to assemble portfolios, projects, and self-assessments that document their own individual learning journey. It’s more about encouraging true learning and mastery over the successful completion of externally-applied learning objectives. Here at Bella Natura, parents will not just see a “snapshot” of what a child knows at a specific point in time, rather they are invited to obtain more of an “all-access, backstage pass” to the process and the fruit of their child’s learning.
What is the role of the teacher at Bella Natura? This year, we have students ranging in age from four to twelve. Can you imagine attempting to drill, inculcate, and lecture to “teach” all of the academic skills encompassing the NINE YEAR age-spread of our classroom?
The role of a teacher in the REGGIO style of education is fundamentally different than the role of a teacher in a traditional educational setting. While I do “teach” concepts, ideas, and skills TO the students, it is not my intention to SHOW or TELL my students all of the “stuff” that they are supposed to learn. Instead, I see myself as a co-learner, a facilitator—a model for the students as they explore. I want them to WANT to learn!
Is this realistic? How will they learn how to read, write, and do arithmetic; not to mention “cover” ALL of the state history and science standards!?! They will not. We cannot. No learner can. Will they become creative and critical thinkers—good communicators and collaborators? Will they develop positive attitudes about life and learning? Yes, I trust that they will. I expect my students to take OWNERSHIP of their learning. They take their work seriously, and they are already beginning to take ownership of their learning goals. This week, I overheard an older student encouraging a younger student to set aside a shelf at home to collect and display things that she is learning and discovering at school. This attitude toward learning cannot be “taught”, but it is contagious!
By the way, students do practice their “skills” through their morning work—targeted practice for spelling, grammar, vocabulary development, conventions of language—the nuts and bolts of reading and writing. Our skill-building time in the morning also allows each student to work on reading, writing, and math on THEIR LEVEL. I monitor their progress, helping them to MASTER these skills...not just COVER them and move on.
No homework!?? That’s right, Bella Natura’s students will not be asked to do homework most days.
Learning doesn’t just happen from 9:00 to 3:30 though.
There are some really important things that you can do at home. READ together, DISCUSS each other’s days, take a WALK and notice God’s beautiful creation, play educational GAMES together, encourage
“LOOK-IT-UP-IT-IS” and being CURIOUS,
notice how much MATH you use while shopping for groceries, pumping gas or paying bills, have your child WRITE down the shopping list, go to the LIBRARY, watch EDUCATIONAL TV programs, listen to MUSIC together while doing chores, let your children PLAY & RUN, type an EMAIL to Grandma, sit outside before bedtime and watch the STARS pop out, get involved in CHURCH, COMMUNITY, SPORTS, and private CLUBS & LESSONS, COOK a meal together reading the recipes and nutrition labels, DRAW, COLOR, PAINT, BUILD...just enjoy your life together as a family!
Not only do these activities and daily routines build family bonds, they contribute to your child’s academic skills and teach them valuable life skills. Finally, after a tiring day at work, it could feel like a sacrifice to include your child in chores and conversations, but there is no better way to disciple the heart of your child!
Bella Natura believes that children actively construct their understanding of the world through play and inquiry. We credit young children with having natural curiosity and intrinsic motivation to learn as they observe, investigate, experiment, dialogue with other children and adults…and play with abandon.
Those qualities do not have to disappear when a child enters “formal” education. Perhaps the motivation and natural love of learning wane as children are compressed into a standardized system of education that is ill-fitted to their development. Dr. David Elkind addresses this in his book, The Power of Play, saying, “Play is not a luxury but rather a crucial dynamic of healthy physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development at all age levels.”