Monday, November 7, 2011

Student-Led Learning in Kindergarten Library - Let Inquiry Reign!

We have three full-time kindergarten classes in my school. As part of my job as the teacher-librarian, I see these students quite frequently - three times a week for two groups, and five times a week for the third. On paper, I'm teaching them "computers", "library", "media" and "dance/drama" - but to be more accurate, the kids are directing the program and it would probably be more accurately described as "integrated literacy".

One day many weeks ago, I was reading the picture book "Grumpy Bird" by Jeremy Tankard, when one of the junior kindergarten students piped up and said "You know, we should turn this book into a play." Brilliant idea! We ran with it. We began to plan but ran into a problem - we had 19 students and, even if we performed "Grumpy Bird" and "Boo Hoo Bird", we still had more actors than parts. I can't remember who thought of this solution, but we decided to write a third, Jeremy-Tankard-style book so that all the kids could be actors. We polled the class for emotion ideas for the new book - Happy Bird was the winner and Scaredy Bird was the runner-up. A small group of students and I sat down and began to write our story. We soon learned that it's easier to start with a "not-happy" feeling so that at the end of the book we could have a happy finale. The students came up with the plot details and we mimicked the style of the other books. Our story has been written and we are thinking of illustrating it and sending a copy to the author/illustrator. Today we started to discuss the costumes for our play and some groups have ambitious plans involving wings, feathers, and headgear. I'll have to share the results later. This has turned into a major project.

An activity that involves all three kindie classes is playing Webkinz. I have been using this youth MMO at my school since 2007 but this year I chose to devote it solely to our youngest kids. I supplied the toy porcupine with the special activation code. We brainstormed names for this new pet, voted on the class favourites, and then had a final vote with the selections from each class. We learned about the words "vote" and "tie" and tried out different ways to make our selections (e.g. using stickers on a chart, putting paper clips in a bag). I was so impressed that several of the kindergarten students were able to read the paper clip graph I posted with the results. (I must post a picture here later. ETA - added photo on November 12, 2011.) The winning name for our toy porcupine was Princess. We logged Princess on the account today with one of the other kindergarten classes. The students lead what we do on Webkinz. We had an age-appropriate chat on adoption and the observant ones noted that our happy/health/hunger meters were all below 100 and so we had to do something. We fed our virtual pet some food, which helped our hunger problem but not our health problem, so then we had to brainstorm ways we could make our pet healthy that did not involve eating. We were beginning to run out of time so we went to put our newest pet to bed but we discovered that we have 5 virtual pets and only 4 beds. The kids had a great time thinking of solutions to this dilemma - and lots of jokes were made about sleeping in toilets (ahh, bathroom humour!).

These two examples show how the students can be even better than teachers when it comes to integrating subjects - these lessons involved reading, writing, oral communication, media literacy, data management, number sense & numeration, health education, drama, dance, visual arts, social studies and character education. It can be a bit unnerving to have very little pre-planned for our lessons because you never know what direction the class discussion will go, but the increased engagement is worth the risk!

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