Friday, November 5, 2010

Week 8: What I Learned In Kindergarten

conversation between myself [T] and a class of Kindergarten students

T – Does anyone know how strings are on a guitar? It’s between 1 and 10 strings!
Student 1 – 7?
T – Good guess, but it’s closers, it’s between 1and 7.
Student 2 – 4?
T – Yes, that is between 1 and 7 but that’s not it. It’s between 4 and 7
Student 3 – 5?
T- Very close, not quite it’s between 5 and 7.
Student 4 – 8?
T – Not quite
Student 5 – [interrupting] 8!!!
T – No, it’s between 5 and 7 which is 6.
[blank expression across the entire class of students]

“I can’t imagine teaching students at this age,” is one the first comments teachers say when they observe grade levels they do not normally teach. Last week I spent time visiting three-kindergarten classroom and seriously, I would have NO idea what to do with those kids.

One of my goals as a new teachers in the school is to get out of my bubble and observe other classrooms to get a sense of the school and how what I do fits in within the larger educational community. Mostly I’ve been visiting other teachers who teach the grades that I teach but last week I decided to venture outside of my comfort zone and enter the worlds of four and five year olds.

As teachers, we purposely make students feel discombobulated. Working through confusion and discomfort in a safe and structured way is an important way for students to grow. Even though I strive to help my students feel more comfortable with being uncomfortable, I don’t often put myself in these situations purposely but entering these kindergartners was an exception.

I observed students learning how to draw the letter “D.” There was snack time in which the students struggled to open their snack packs of vegetables and of course needed my help to open. Free playtime was great as students tugged at my pants to show me around the room. The most fascinating part was watching these students have conversations with each other, which made no sense to me at all but seemed work for them.

Then there were the teachers. I have a limited amount of “elementary school affect” that I use with my third graders. It’s when the pitch of my voice gets a little higher, I talk softer and slower, and express a calmness and comfort completely devoid of the sarcastic edge which is characteristic of my voice. These teachers had this affect to spare laced with patience and understanding that was remarkable and awe-inspiring.

At moments in our lives when we are at our most uncomfortable we search for familiarity to makes us feel at ease, and what comforted me in these classrooms was the same educational values that made me feel like I was speaking the same language even though I was visiting an alien world.

What connected these teachers to the way I teach my eighth graders was they way they talked to the students. When you think about talking to young kids sometimes you think about dumming things down but the teachers did the exact opposite. They challenged the kids, consistently asked follow up question and forced the students to talk up to the teachers talking expressing respect, dignity and belief in the students.

It doesn’t what age a student is, you can always challenge them and push them to be better. Of course you don’t present material that is beyond their comprehension but that’s not what I’m talking about and that’s really not the central point of education.

That's what my time in kindergarten reminded me. We’re don’t teach subjects, we teach people. The time we spend with students is about helping them be the best people they can be. That is something that is so in the forefront of the kindergarten classrooms and sometimes get lost in the bustle of older graders.

Kindergarten is a completely different world but it's a beautiful place to visit and even though they can't count, it's incredibly cute and touching how excited they are to try.

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