Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Writing Zone

Luke writes about fighting a hot dog. The hot dog retaliated with a mustard bomb.

I have thought at length throughout the years about the nuances involved in generating and supporting a culture of writing in a Kindergarten class. I have tried to put myself in the shoes of a five and six year old as they begin to learn the language of words. So often these children are at the height of their imaginative play and  are perplexed  as to why they need to write  "talk" down. 

Once we begin to cultivate the peer sharing and introduce other audiences the perks of writing become more obvious. The children slowly experience the reactions of others to their illustrations and stories and are drawn into the humor and adventure developed by their peers. 

Peer sharing helps to generate contagion and fosters a community of writers.

We are forging a partnership with the second graders. N. visited our classroom to share some of the stories that she has written. They were descriptive, funny and very appealing. 

The Kindergarten expressed an interest in sharing their writing with second grade. We paired the children and they took turns listening and offering their thoughts to each other.

Evan and Gabriel wrote books and generated  an enthusiasm for the idea. They gathered materials and created a space for the children to duplicate their process and assemble books. Many of the children jumped into the process while others were gently nudged or pulled in by a friend. 

We also considered the many possibilities for writing including non-fiction books and letters. After writing a letter to Christine Webb, a beloved lunch and recess celebrity, they received a letter in return. The reciprocity of writing was becoming evident.
"She wrote back??" "Why did she write back?"

Gabriel is a naturalist. He observes his environment and outdoor spaces and then captures his thinking in elaborate detailed sketches. He visited Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens and then returned home to represent the birds he noted on his trip. Gabriel brought his book to school to share and inspired other books.

Evan merges his imagination with his love for Star War stories. He does not hesitate when writing. 
The words pour out of him as do the characters and plot lines.
We created small books
for the children thinking
that the space might
be less daunting.

The children wrote a how-to book after spending time in the snow.
Cole's book addresses making a snow clump.
Sadie writes about Spring and the
many colors that are present in
the blooming flowers.
Harper writes about a guy picking apples.

The visits from the second grade reminded us that authors often launch a story with a description of where the story takes place. Authors open the door to their story in different ways. Some quickly open the door and immediately reveal their characters while other stories invite you in and then slowly introduce you to the characters. 

We have taken direction from published authors as well. 
We have read books by Angela Johnson, Mem Fox, Peter Spier, Eric Carle and Rosemary Wells. What small moments have they focused on? What details were important to the these small moments and which ones were left out? 

When we read The Leaving by Angela Johnson we  noticed that she described a foggy morning  with the word "soupy". She also did not reveal where the family was moving. This seemed perfect to some and frustrating to others. 

Sadie said, "It is about the leaving not the coming."


Will, a second grader suggested that the Kindergartners might enjoy  writing comic strips. He explained how reading and later writing comics appealed to his sense of humor. The children thought this was a good idea and so we researched a few frames and provided opportunities to use this format for story writing. We have had adventure and comedy stories but a rendition of the biblical story of Passover was also published.

One thing that we have come to realize as Kindergarten teachers is that as ideas and stories ignite in young children's imagination and pour out on paper it is hard to focus on both getting the details on the paper and forming lower case letters. We acknowledge that as children take risks and unleash their stories they may backslide on handwriting. As they ask their peers or a second grader to read their written words the reader will provide feedback  regarding legibility. Handwriting will once again become a priority. 

"So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
Dr. Suess

You can make anything by writing.
C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Neighborhoods of the City

 Caroline's first photograph taken
during the field trip.
Her snack bag perched in the
front seat ready for the field trip.

One of the things that we  have been trying to wrap our head around is the intersubjectivity of the Kindergarten when we reference Richmond. What does Richmond mean for each child in our learning community? What do they see in their mind when we ask questions regarding Richmond?

As we reviewed the project circle transcripts and the student representations of the city we began to realize that each child had their personal reference points and anchors to which they viewed the rest of the city. Elina viewed the city from Rocketts Landing (her home), Reed initially viewed the city from an apartment house near the river, Miles talked often about the yogurt shops in Carytown and Carter considered Richmond Ballet (sister takes ballet) his anchor.

Anna posted a blog last week that has helped us frame some of the work that the Kindergarten has done this year. Anna's blog

But really, until people know a place very, very well, the image we have in our heads is more like a collage than a map, with some very developed areas and some other kind of hazy spots. There may be some accurate routes and connections between places, combined with distortions of distances and errors in relationships between landmarks. Additionally, some of the knowledge may be represented in our heads in a maplike way, but that is combined with all sorts of other sensory information, impressions, bits of memory and even stories.

Anna's research and thinking made sense to me. I remember when I learned to drive in my small hometown. I referenced my mental map ---doing well most of the time but then entering areas that I would refer to as my Bermuda Triangle.  They were the hazy parts of my collage.

Our field trips into the city generated stories and impressions that serve as beacons for the Kindergarten. Old and New City Hall, the Governor's Mansion and  the train station are landmarks that seemed to appeal to the majority of the students.

We also shared the stories and memories of community member's beacons thinking that others might find them interesting and attach meaning as well.

These beacons included Nathan's tower signalling that he has returned to his home in the Museum District and the Mellow Mushroom serving delectable dishes and of course the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

We decided  to venture into the neighborhoods referenced including the Museum District, Carytown and one landmark that was not in the city (the airport).

Mapping out our path in the Museum District

We asked the children to do some reconnaissance during the field trip. What evidence do you see that Richmond welcomes children and accommodates their needs? The children predicted that they would need to have access to bathrooms, a place to eat their snack and places to play. Would they find these places?

We reminded the students to look for the systems needed in an operating city.  When the children designed a kid city (an ideal utopia for children) they 
determined that for a city to be a city it needed to have power, clean water, access to food and support from community helpers.

We also gave the children access to cameras so they might photograph the things that they thought were relevant. We listened to their conversations and took pictures of the sights that sparked conversation.
Gabriel noticed a mail delivery truck.
We had not labeled mail 

as a necessary system
in the city but Gabriel did think
 they were
community helpers.
The children used these signs to cross the street
and stay safe.

We often discussed the sidewalks and who built them. What a stroke of luck that Joe and Binford happened to be fixing the sidewalks during our field trip. 

There were signs galore. The Kindergarten blended 
each sound in the word and then debated the meaning.

G. found ways to have fun as a child in the city.
N. has a great tree swing right outside his house. The children were impressed that he could play and live in the city.

This was a nice sign welcoming people.
We stumbled on a large store with dryers
 and washing machines.
They were not for sale and people were 
using them to wash their clothes.
One of the children said that it was a laundromat
Nathan showed us a small grocery store in
his neighborhood where he buys candy
We realized that kids living in the city could buy food
at this store to cook and eat at home.

Sabine was one of our primary student photographers and documentors.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is an anchor for many of the Kindergartners. It might be described as the gateway to the Museum District.

We had many opportunities for play outside the museum. 

Carytown also had places to play and challenge our bodies. This type of fun is necessary for people in a city.

We found more fun on the street with World of Mirth's silly mirror.
A short session for meditating is a must. The Kindergartners found a spot to be mindful.

The children noticed many signs posted on their walk.

S. asked if she and her classmates could eat their snack at Cartwheels and Coffee. The manager said that there would be a charge of 2,000 dollars. When the children realized that they did not have that amount of money they decided to sit on this ledge to eat.

The Kindergartners noticed a community helper presenting a ticket to a driver who was going to fast. This provided proof that the city neighborhood of Carytown is a good place to visit because it is safe.

Garbage cans to keep the city clean. 
We did discover dog poop.
This is not a good thing when you are hoping to
sit with your friends and eat your snack.
This does not seem like a very friendly sign.

One of other point of inquiry was the distance that spans from downtown to the airport. Our discussion one day became a heated debate and we thought we should investigate. We also traveled from R.'s home in the city to the airport . We wondering about the distance from the city to the airport. R thought it took one minute to arrive at the airport from his house.  
 El: I live in the city and I have to get out of the city. It takes one or two minutes.

Co: I have been to the airport there a thousand times. It took me seventeen minutes to get there from my old house. 

Br: It takes count to 15 to get there from Carytown.

The children realized that the journey from the city to the airport is longer than they expected. It is definitely a landmark that is not in the city.

We continue to unpack the field trip. It is very difficult to reach intersubjectivity but we are beginning to see the children make connections. We continue to ask the children to represent their understanding of the city and  peel back the layers. Peeking out from underneath each layer are  feelings of joy----the children seem to find joy in all parts of the city.