Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Empowering Children to Think Critically and Tell Stories

One of the most powerful strengths a teacher can facilitate within her students is giving children a voice. In Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children, a teacher explains her experiences with a kindergarten classroom. She takes us through the process of setting children up for critical thinking, and exposure to intense literacy, and the opportunities to use their well-develop literacy skills. The chapter encourages teachers to answer children's questions with a challenge, instead of a blatant answer or another reframe of their own questions. These methods are usually, harmless, but they also do not grow children in their critical thinking and literacy skills. Instead, if we answer children's questions by pushing them to figure out the problem, challenge it, and create a change, we are setting the stage for a rich literacy experience and exponential growth. The example provided takes us through a kindergarten class's frustrations of being excluded from a school-wide cafe, which has been reserved for first-eighth grades. When a child asks the teacher why they are not allowed to go, she responded by asking "what can we do to change the situation?" This simple change in diction and attitude towards the capacity and willingness of children to make change happen creates an incomparable change in environment and exposure. The children are not required to work together, debate, reform ideas, and reshape opinions to come to a common end. The suggestions provided by Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children allow teachers to foster a meaningful, rich, and relevant environment, that does not limit able children to surface level topics, but digs deeper and enriches their literacy functions on the way.

Children's storytelling capacities can be imperative to their literacy development, and success as a reader. Teachers have the chance to create an environment that supports children as writers, provides the tools for storytelling, sets the stage for what a story includes and embodies, and celebrates children's final creations. In Castle in the Classroom, Georgia Heard explains how she facilitates writing in her own kindergarten classroom. Instead of simply reading children a story, providing them blank booklets and writing materials, and saying "go," Heard has an elaborate, carefully planned out list of activities and lessons that educate children about what stories can mean, what they can include, how they can be told, what they can say, and how they can say it.

This type of background includes lessons in:
- Stories Have Settings
- Stories Have Characters
- Stories Have a Sense of Time
- Stories Have Problems
- Stories Have Solutions to Problems
- Writing Descriptions of Settings
- Writing Character Descriptions and Dialogue
- Writing Golden Lines
- Exploring Story Planning
- Exploring Story Writing
- Writing Story Titles

Not until a teacher has successfully introduced and integrated these concepts together, does she expect children to be equipped to produce a full story. When a teacher brings children through the process of understanding storytelling through these interactive, fun-filled lesson plans, children get to the last three steps, and they are flourishing with ideas and plans for their own storybook. When the rough plans have been created, using many mediums for illustrations, teachers can formally publish the books for each child. This culmination project leaves students with a beautiful piece of their learning from many weeks of study, work, and determination. Castle in the Classroom provides teachers with explicit instruction to create storytelling mentalities within each of our students, and the manner in which to introduce concepts to empower children in storytelling.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NAEYCAC on Twitter

This past weekend, the National Association for the Education of Young Children held its annual conference in Orlando, Florida. As technology has taken over almost every facet of our lives, it has also breached the NAEYCAC. Although I did not attend, I was able to follow the progress and conference key points through tweets on Twitter. These are some of my favorite tweets, which included the easily followed hashtag #naeycac

Social and emotional confidence is more important than knowing the alphabet.  

- I love this, and thought it was a great and bold point to make. Children are under so many pressures in preschool, and learning the alphabet should second to protecting children. Empowering children with social and emotional confidence is the best education we can provide a child. Through this, children can become strong people, who are equipped to learn new things easily. Although the alphabet is important, it will come. Children who are damaged and self-conscious by kindergarten will most likely carry these traits with them through life.

Babies catalog sounds. The research says the key window to develop  is 8 -10 months of life! ~ Dr. JoAnn Deak 

- Early Childhood Education advocacy!! We often believe that talking to a baby before he can "understandably" respond is only for our benefit. Children are receptive, and take in the experience provided to them most in the formative, early years. Talking to, reading, playing with, interacting with, and writing with our babies are all great ways to start the early foundation of literacy.

Childhood has gotten too neat and tidy. Embrace the dirt and celebrate the mess!  

- I completely agree with this! Our preschools are required to be neat, clean, and spotless, but that doesn't mean that our activities have to be!! One model that I recently observed provided children with clothes to change into at school. This way, children can be messy and fully experience the sensory activities provided in a messy fashion. Teachers can wash these clothes, and throw them in the drier before leaving. The next day, the clothes will be ready to dirty again. We shouldn't fear messy. It is one of the best ways for children to become attached to an experience.

Technology and Preschool?

There seems to be much debate over the necessity, usefulness, and practicality of integrated technologies into a preschool curriculum and setting. Traditionalist usually believe that children should experience literacy, science, geography, math, and other subjects through the physical (non-technological) mediums first, then learn to use the computer and other techy sources. There is a new philosophy emerging that looks at children's home lives, and the amount of learning and interaction that exists through technological services at home. These teachers believe that allowing children the opportunity to use technology devices in preschool settings only deepens the knowledge, understanding, and curriculum integration of an activity. Take for example, linear activities like drawing, reading, writing on paper, are usually concerned with the basic level of understanding. When children write stories on paper, we stress things like progression of the story in the correct beginning, middle, and end format, and if the pictures match the words. Using technologies, or non-linear) tools to teach children, we can create experiences that integrate reading and writing without strict structure or restraints. Technologies allow for a new type of literacy, one different from the traditional "reading and writing." A new form has came into existence: a blend between the two that can be experimented and carried out at the same time. Another great benefit of teaching through technologies at home is the idea of the "third space." Children are exposed to technology at home, they are using it, learning from it, communicating with it, and using it for entertainment. In order to educate a whole child, in the most effective manner, teachers need to bridge the gap between home in school. How can we do this without technology? In many cases we can't. Children are truly digital natives that learn and absorb knowledge through tech tools.

Ideas for technology usages in the preschool classroom: blogs, wikis, podcasts, videos, and other emergent ideas from the children (possibly programs they are already using at home)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pretend Play: So Much More than Acting

Pretend Play can be under appreciated in preschool classrooms. Often, it is used as a choice area that children are welcome to visit along with blocks, art, reading, or other centers. Teachers often incorporate this area with kitchen and it together becomes "housekeeping" or "dress up." I have recently read an article that challenged teachers and parents to think about Pretend Play differently. Pretend Play uses children's imaginations, voices, and ideas to produce a social interaction between children. This time of situation can be used for so much more than modeling home-like functions. Teachers are urged to use Pretend Play as a tool in many portions of the curriculum. A great example can be seen through literacy. If a class is beginning a unit on fairy tales, I would urge the teacher to have the children create a script for the class to remake a common fairy tale (or a variant if they wish!) Then, the children can plan out how to reenact this particular story. Literacy concepts can be used through the script making processes, and children can imitate this in other subjects as well. The reason that Pretend Play is encouraged so heavily is because it provides a depth of experience that cannot be substituted with any other experiences. The act of interacting out loud to display a wealth of new knowledge with peers is unmatched. Children are gaining confidence, utilizing creativity, making deep, personal connections with the curriculum, practicing social skills, and creating unity through their school experience. Subjects should not be exclusive, but inclusive and each should be integrated throughout the entire curriculum. Creating this time of cohesive experience in a preschool setting will allow students to make connections between subjects, and allow them to think creatively and logically when problem solving. I love the idea behind Pretend Play in all areas of the classroom. Bring this experience out of the choice area, and into your daily activities. Let children enjoy the opportunities that Pretend Play provides, and watch as your students become critical, well-rounded thinkers through the curriculum integration.