Growing writers in Kindergarten

In our writing sessions, the children choose what they will write about. Our session starts with a ten minute mini-lesson, where we focus on one small aspect of writing. We have a quick practice all together or in pairs and then the children go off to experiment using our focus lesson in their writing. Before they start writing, they think about whether they will:

  • continue working on something they have started before or start a new piece
  • write a fiction piece or a non fiction piece
  • take their writing through to publishing stage or leave it in draft form
  • share their published work as a book, poster, Puppet Pals animation, kamishi bai or other form

This week the we added another choice to the list – blogging. The children love their kidblogs! They have been amazed and delighted by the number of comments they have received and are highly motivated to write comments on each others blogs. We have added two other class kidblogs to our blog roll – our good friends from Canada, @KinderPals (who introduced us to kidblogs in the first place) and a new class, Ms Lirenman’s Grade 1 class.

The KC children have noticed that KinderPals and Ms Lirenman’s class have photographs on their kidblogs. They are keen to add photographs to their blogs. I have explained that I don’t know how to do that (yet!) but have promised to ask the teachers, Michelle and Karen, how they manage their students’ photographs and get them onto the blog. A learning journey for all!

The children are realizing that some of the comments are hard to read and are discovering for themselves the importance of conventional spelling. In our reflection circle after one blogging session, the children came up with a list of strategies to help them with their spelling:

  • You can ask your friend who is very good at writing.
  • I looked in my reading book because that word was there and I read it.
  • I sounded out with the alphabet chart
  • Well you can just keep writing and not worry about the red lines till you finish, like we do in our other writing.
  • I copied sleepover from the paper where we wrote it before.
  • Me too, I copy from there. (points to time line)
  • We did our together and we helped each other by sounding out but we didn’t know if there was silent letters

As the children work on their writing, I observe them experimenting, re-reading their work, thinking out loud,  seeking and offering help, discussing their ideas with peers and encouraging and supporting each other.   Everyone is actively engaged and focused and working at a level that is right for them. I am reminded of the importance of giving learners a choice and enabling them to make decisions about their learning.

Kindergarten twitter experts

Grade 2C are interested in finding out more about twitter. The Kindergarten children have been using twitter all year so Elif asked if some children from KC would like to go to Grade 2C to teach the second graders how to use twitter. “We are like twitter experts!” Yungi exclaimed.

Angus, Scarlett, Kieran and Aidan offered to share their experiences with Grade 2C. Before they went, we had a whole class discussion about what information they should pass on the children in Grade 2.  I wrote the children’s ideas down on the whiteboard. As the list grew, Jaiden pointed out that some ideas where about why the children in KC liked tweeting, and some ideas were the important things about twitter. We went through the ideas on the list one by one and sorted them into two categories:

Why you should tweet:

  • You can write about your learning so your mom and dad can see.
  • Everyone, even your grandma in another country, can see. Everyone in the whole earth can see.
  • You can meet other kids who might be doing the same stuff as you and then you can help each other.
  • If you have a question you can tweet it and someone might know about it.
  • You can take a photo of your work and then tell about it with fotobabble then you can tweet it to the blog so you can look at your photo at home and then it doesn’t matter if you forget you ideas because you can look at the fotobabble.
  • It’s like emailing or telephoning. You can talk to people but you have to talk by writing.
  • If you want someone like KinderPals to read your blog you can tweet them the link
  • You can talk to a lot of people that you don’t know then they can be your friends
  • When your friends are far away or if they leave your school you can tweet them
  • You can tweet your other family that is far away

Important things to remember when you are tweeting:

  • You have to be polite and nice and kind when you tweet because you wouldn’t like it if someone was mean about you.
  • You should re-read all your writing to check it’s okay before you send it.
  • If there’s a red line,  that means you did a mistake and you have to fix it
  • If you do too many letters then the number goes red and you have to stop.  Sometimes if it’s too long you have to make it shorter or it won’t send.
  • The important thing is that everybody in the universe can see what you write and it never goes away for ever and ever so you have to re-read you message and check it before you send it.
  • If you just have an egg people might not think you are serious
  • You should just have your first name, or your initials when you are a kid. And you have to ask your mum and dad. But only if you are a kid.  Not if your are an adult.

Google Glass part 1

We got a request for help on our twitter stream. A technology coordinator from a school in the USA (@mpowers3 on twitter) had been given a Google Glass to try out with her students. She wondered how she could use it to support teaching and learning in her school. It occurred to her that perhaps students in her school and in other schools would have some good ideas. She was particularly interested in gathering ideas from younger students. She set up a blog where she could gather and share information and tweeted out a request for help.

I explained the project to the children and showed the children the Google Glass website. I asked the children if they were interested in helping @mpowers3 with her research and they said they were.

I asked the children how they thought the Glass could help children learn. The children were slow to respond and when they did, their answers were not obviously related to the question. It occurred to me that the question I had asked required the children to think abstractly about something that they had never experienced. As I pondered on what I could do to make the question more accessible to the children, Yungi suggested that everyone build their own Glass. There was unanimous support for this idea. Without further ado, the children went to work. Jaiden asked if I could put the photo of the Glass up on the screen so that children could refer back to it as they designed their Glasses.

For the next forty five minutes the children worked busily, creating, constructing, testing, adapting, changing, collaborating, and problem solving. Most of the children made more than one model, selecting different materials and getting new ideas from their peers. Several children finished their Glass and walked around the classroom giving verbal instructions to the Glass to take imaginary photographs of things. I overheard groups of children discussing what their Glass would be useful for. When it was time to tidy up, the children asked if they could continue to work on their Glasses tomorrow.

Making Glasses

As I reflect on the process so far, I am thankful for Yungi’s suggestion. I was struggling to find a way to make the experience meaningful for the children, and Yungi’s idea was the perfect solution. The children are highly engaged and are motivated to continue working on their designs. We have scheduled large chunks of time over the next days for the children to continue with their exploration. Once the children have had the opportunity to experiment with different designs and materials and have tried wearing their Glasses around the classroom, I predict they will find it easier to think about practical applications for Google Glass. I am intrigued to see how this inquiry unfolds.

Kanji expert

Recently the children have been learning about Japanese writing so that they can make a bilingual book for their twitter buddies, KinderPals, in Canada. The children have had opportunities to conduct personal and group inquiries into the three different Japanese writing systems. This spontaneous, twitter-prompted inquiry has helped the children make connections to our new unit of inquiry into the many different languages people use to express ideas and feelings.

We found out that Hana’s grandmother is a Kanji expert. Today she came to school school and showed the children how she paints kanji.  First she painted some kanji for the children to guess and then the children had a go at painting their own kanji.

The languages of self expression

Loris Malaguzzi, an Italian early childhood specialist from Reggio Emilia wrote a poem about the many languages of childhood, called The Hundred Languages of Children. This poem has influenced early childhood practitioners all over the world and has encouraged teachers of young children to listen carefully to children’s many languages. Click on the video clip below to listen to the poem.

The Hundred Languages of Children by Loris Malaguzzi:

We are currently working on a unit of inquiry into How We Express Ourselves. The central idea is that people use many different languages to communicate. Through mother tongue reading and through our current exploration for @KinderPals into different writing systems in English and Japanese, the children are becoming increasingly aware of the different spoken and written languages people use. We have also looked at the language of mathematics and have used numbers and mathematical symbols to tell simple stories. In music the children have been exploring the language of music including different forms of notation.

Over the last few weeks we have been using YouTube to look at some non-verbal languages of self expression. Here are a few of the children’s favourite clips:

Recently many of the children have shown an interest in puppetry. We looked at these YouTube clips of shadow puppets.

We set up a shadow puppet area in the classroom using a projector and a screen. The children have been engaged in individual and group inquiries into which materials and designs work best for shadow puppets.

What languages do you use to express your ideas and feelings?

A bilingual book for KinderPals

KinderPals tweeted us to ask what Konichiwa means in English. After much tweeting back and forth, the KC children offered to make a book for KinderPals. KinderPals liked the idea. The KC children tweeted KinderPals to ask them what words they would like to have in the book and KinderPals replied.

As the children talked about the words KinderPals wanted to know, they began to realize they didn’t actually know the words in Japanese. After some discussion Shoei and Ken were identified as Japanese experts and Yungi was “little expert”; but even our experts didn’t know how to write the words in Japanese. The children realized they would have to do some research and so our “Japanese writing inquiry” began.

The children began a collection of Japanese writing. They were surprised to find a lot of Japanese text in our classroom and around our school. There was a discussion about why this would be since our school in an English school. Jaiden pointed out that we were an international school. Aiden reminded everyone that there was some Korean writing on Cloud Bread, the Korean book that Yungi’s family had given to the class. Aiden went and got the book and we looked at it.

The children noticed that the Korean writing looked different to Japanese writing. Angus thought that we should find out more about Korean writing because, “it’s a little bit same and a little bit different and maybe it can help us to learn Japanese writing.” Several other children thought this was a good idea. Yungi offered to bring some Korean books from home.

Meanwhile, the teachers provided time and materials and the children began their own individual investigations:

Some children copied Japanese writing from bilingual books in the classroom.

Others looked through Japanese newspapers and junk mail and copied and cut out words they liked.

Some children had a go at doing some Japanese writing themselves. A few children made up their own Kanji.

Other children chose to explore Japanese writing though painting.

Yet others had a go at forming the symbols on the iPads.

We teachers have talked about how to support and extend the children’s inquiry. We wondered how to introduce the three different writing systems of Katakana, Hiragana and Kanji. We observed that some children are noticing and commenting on the features of the Japanese text they are finding. Scarlett noticed that some writing goes sideways and some writing goes up and down. Albe observed that some writing is “kind of bumpy” and Sofia found some writing with straight lines and some with curly lines. Jaiden thought some writing looked like pictures. Based on this, we teachers plan to suggest to the children that they sort their writing samples. We are not sure what criteria or categories the children will come up with, but their explanations will tell us a lot about what the children know already and will help us plan how to proceed.

Our measuring inquiry continues

Today we measured Nathan. We wondered what to measure him with. Aidan suggested cubes, Angus suggested books, Azi Hedeleen and Leander thought wooden pegs would be good. Leona volunteered to do the measuring. She chose red pencils.  Nathan lay down and Leona laid the pencils out in a line. Jaiden pointed out that the pencils didn’t start at the bottom of Nathan’s feet. Leona corrected this and carefully placed the pencils in a line to the top of Nathan’s head. However Scarlett noticed the pencils were not touching, “so there is gaps that didn’t get measured“. Leona made sure the pencils we all touching. Once everyone was satisfied, we all counted the pencils. 14. “That means Nathan is 14.” said Aiden.  “Yeah” agreed Jaiden. “Not 14 like his old, but 14 high.

Shoei wanted to have a turn.  There were only two red pencils left, so he decided to measure Nathan using orange pencils. Nathan was 8 orange pencils long. Now we had a problem- was Nathan 14 or 8?

Lovisa decided to solve the problem by measuring Nathan one last time. She got the yellow pencils and carefully laid them out. Oh oh! Nathan was 11 yellow pencils!

Jaiden noticed that the pencils were different lengths; red pencils were the shortest, the yellow pencils were the next longest and the orange pencils were the longest of all. (We had an interesting conversation about why that might be. A few children figured out that the red pencils must get used more and therefore concluded that red must be most people’s favorite color – a lovely authentic survey and data collection and graphing opportunity that I let go (for now) as I wanted to focus on the measuring.)

I asked the children what answer we should tweet to KinderPals. Some children thought we should tweet all answers. Others thought we should choose the biggest answer. One person thought we should tweet the yellow answer as yellow was her favorite color.  After much discussion, the children reached a consensus that we should tweet all three answers and explain that one was short, one was a little bit long and one was the longest. Scarlett suggested that we needed to mention “one what? They need to know what the thing is, like a pencil“. She was out-voted. I decided not to interfere at this stage, but to wait and see how the inquiry unfolds; finding out for oneself is a much more powerful learning experience than being told.

The KC children are delighted with their work. I am wondering what KinderPals will make of this information.  I look forward to seeing how KinderPals respond and where this inquiry will go next.

Twitter sparks a measuring inquiry

When we got back after the winter break, we found a twitter message from KinderPals, our Twitter buddies in Abbotsford, Canada, thanking us for the Japanese New Year cards we had sent.  We responded by sharing some exciting New Year news: Willow and Nathan had joined our class. KinderPals tweeted back. It turns out that they have a Nathan in their class as well!


KC were curious to know what KinderPal’s Nathan looked like so KinderPals promised to send us a picture. A few days later we recieved this picture of Nathan in KinderPals class, via twitter.

We tweeted KinderPals a picture of our Nathan.

We have been recording the children’s growth on our door. This sparked a conversation about how tall the KinderPal’s Nathan was. Several of the children thought that the two Nathans would be the same height because they were both called Nathan. Other children disagreed; they did not think that the two children would be the same height just because they had the same name. The KC children tweeted KinderPals to ask them how tall their Nathan was.

Michelle, the KinderPals teacher, and I emailed each other to see how we could extend this authentic inquiry into measurement. We have decided to suggest to the children that they measure their respective Nathans so that they can share this information with the other class. We have planned that we will not give the children much guidance initially; we are interested to see what tools and strategies the children come up with as this will tell us what they already know about measurement. I am intrigued to see how this inquiry unfolds!

Meet KC

KC class is involved in a global on-line #flatclassroom project called Building Bridges K-2, in which children learn about each other’s cultures and daily lives. The children wanted to introduce themselves to their partner schools. We talked about the best way to do this.

  • We could Skype.
  • What if they are not in a zone, like @KinderPals
  • I think we could make a video to tell them about us
  • But it will be too long if everyone speaks and then they’ll think we are really boring.

At this point I directed the children to VoiceThread, a tool that they have used before.

  • I think that will be really good because then the other kids in the other classes can leave comments
  • And our moms can leave comments
  • And we can leave a comment for them!

We talked about how we could build on the skills and understanding the children developed while making their last VoiceThread. The children suggested talking clearly and leaving detailed comments on other people’s pictures. Over the next week, the children will work on adding their comments to their friend’s pictures.

Scaffolding a global learning community

Over this first half term, we have had a strong focus on building a learning community. We started with our class community and gradually expanding to include KP next door. We have been engaging with parents through the class blog and a range of parent sharing sessions. We have made connections with the wider school community through upper elementary and high school buddies.

Most recently our learning community has stretched to include a Kindergarten class in Canada and a Grade 1 class in Indonesia. These global connections will help the children to discover that they can learn from other people in other places, and that other people have different points of view and different ways of doing things. By using the world wide web and cloud based communication tools, these children will see that their classroom need not be confined by physical walls.

The three classes know each other by their twitter handles; @yiskc, @KinderPals in Canada and @Grade1class in Indonesia. They communicate through twitter and class blogs. We have skyped with @Grade1class to find out what shapes people in Indonesia see on the moon. The KC children wanted to skype with KinderPals but we discovered that KinderPals are in a different time zone.

The teachers communicate using twitter, skype, emails and Google docs. We have agreed a general direction, but have decided against making firm plans in favour of following the children’s interests and initiatives. We are intrigued to see where the children lead us on this global learning journey. The children have been sharing songs with each other in response to a student initiated project that began at home. More recently the children have been engaged in an inquiry into seasons and weather in different parts of the world.

As well as sparking inquiries, these interactions with children of a similar age in different parts of the world provide an authentic purpose and audience for communication and are laying the foundations for the personal learning networks that will be a key part of this digital generation’s lives.