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.

Using technology to do new things in new ways

Throughout the year, as part of our unit of inquiry into how we express ourselves, the children have been exploring ways of telling stories. Recently, a group of children have shown particular interest in the PuppetPals app on our iPads. As part of our writing focus on fictional narratives, the children have been conducting group and personal inquiries into how narrative fictions work, looking in particular at setting, characters and plot. In our writing workshops, the children are aware of many of the processes involved in writing. They know that not all work continues to publishing stage and that published work needs to be of high quality. As part of the viewing and presenting strand of our language curriculum the children have been working on voice projection and speaking clearly.

Today, Aiden and Jaiden came to tell me that they had something important to share. It was a story that Aiden had created first using text and drawing.
The original story:

The boys had decided to work collaboratively to adapt Aiden’s original idea and retell the story using PuppetPals. They had spent a whole morning working on the story and were delighted with their work.

  • Aiden: I think it’s the best we ever did. Please can you put it o the blog because we want to show everyone?
  • Jaiden: We tried to do it so many times, like all day, and each time it’s better and better and now it’s ready to share.

It was obvious from the body language of both children that this was a momentous occassion. They were clearly very proud their work. I could see they felt they had created something significant which they wanted to share with a wider audience. I was keen to respect and support the momentum of the occasion. The children didn’t need praise from me -this whole project had come from Aiden and Jaiden. The boys were self-motivated, and their own assessments of their creation were more powerful than any adult praise. I decided the most useful thing I could do was help them share their work. Over the year, we have talked a lot about digital footprints and about the need to think carefully about how we portray ourselves on line. I asked the boys if they thought their work was good enough to publish on YouTube. Aiden and Jaiden looked at each other.

  • Jaiden: Wow! YouTube! We better check.
  • Aiden :YouTube! I think it’s good enough. But I agree with Jaiden. We need to check. YouTube!
The boys went off to find a quiet, private place to review their work. They came back after several minutes, literally jumping up and down with excitement.
  • Aiden: We think it’s good. We listened carefully and it’s definitely good enough for publishing.
  • Jaiden: We have loud voices and not too many characters. And the background matches the story.
  • Aiden: And the story makes sense.
  • Jaiden: It’s really good. It’s our best ever.
  • Jaiden: I especially like how we photographed the characters from the original one.
  • Aiden: Yeah! We did that because we wanted the characters to be the same.

We exported the clip to YouTube. All the children were struck with awe and wonder that they had the power to create great works and share them on YouTube. Yungi suggested tweeting a link of the YouTube clip to @KinderPals so they could wathc the story in Canada.

There has been much talk in recent years about the role of technology in elementary school classrooms; talk about whether technology has a place, and if so, how best to use it to enhance teaching and learning. In this example, the technology complimented and enhanced our writing inquiry into narrative fiction and our overarching unit of inquiry into how we express ourselves. It empowered the children by enabling them to create a story independently and share work their work with a wider audience. The technology was not a substitute for a more traditional style of learning -it enabled the children to do new things in ways that were not previously possible.

Many languages

Kieran’s dad, Fred, came to read to the class. Fred read a book in English and a book in Japanese. This led to a discussion after Fred left about the languages that the children, teachers and parents in our community speak. We talked about the different mother tongue languages spoken in our class, and about children who speak more than one language at home or at school, and about children who already speak fluently in a language other than English and are in the process of learning English. The conversation showed the depth of understanding that many of the children have of the benefits of being able to communicate in more than one language  in an increasingly global world.

  • If you speak English and Japanese then you can talk to people everywhere because everyone can understand you.
  • But not Sweden people.
  • Then you have to learn Sweden.
  • Well Australian is a language like English but it’s not English. It is English… but it’s not. It’s special English for Australian people.
  • That’s why Australians and American people can understand each other.
  • If you want to speak to everyone you have to know every language, so many languages, like twenty. Then you can speak to everybody in the world.
  • Croatia. My grandma speak Croatia and I speak Croatia.
  • I noticed how good Xxx is now at speaking English because now she can speak so many English words and she even knows her own language! I wish I could speak another language.
  • You have speak English play friend.
  • I no like English! I like Japan.
  • I love English!
  • Everybody love to speak their language.
  • I can speak at home with my brother and I speak different at school.
  • If you don’t understand someone you have to try and show what you are thinking.
  • You can do it with your face, to show your feeling and your idea.
  • Everyone feels the same inside but you have different words to tell about it but it’s still the same.

I was humbled by the empathy and respect that the children showed for each other as language learners. I see connections to our unit of inquiry into languages of expression, and make a note to follow up on this discussion in another session, and to use one our our thinking routines (a modified connect, extend, challenge routine) to help make the connections explicit.

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.

Mem Fox: Author of the month

Our Author focus for the month of January is Mem Fox. Mem Fox is a highly acclaimed and world renowned children’s author from Australia. She has won many awards for her books. In class we have neen comparing Mem Fox’s writing style with the writing styles of of other authors we have focused on. Below is our list so far:

  • Mem Fox comes from Australia
  • Lots of her books are about animals
  • She especially likes to write about animals that are come from Australia (indigenous)
  • She doesn’t illustrate her own books -she asks other people to draw the pictures
  • She writes a lot of books about grandparents

We will add to this list as we read more of Mem Fox’s books.

A blast from the past!

As I was trawling through past blog posts to help a colleague, I came across the post below, posted nearly a year and a half ago, when Leander was still in ELC but doing summer school in my class. It brought back great memories. I thought the current KC children might enjoy this and might even feel inspired to make their own movies!

Originally posted 22nd June 2011:

Over the last few days, some children have been coming back time and time again to the kitchen area in Free Inquiry Time. They are keen to have an adult engage in their play scenarios. Today, Leander joined the children in the kitchen and brought a new play scenario with him. I recorded as much as I could of the enfolding story, both in words and photographs. Afterwards I reviewed the photographs with Leander and we talked about the story. Some of the Kindergarten children have shown a deep interest in making movies recently. I suggested to Leander that we make a movie out of his story.

All the children were delighted with the result, and were excited to think that their stories could become movies. Perhaps this will inspire some of the children to explore other movie making possibilities.

What writers do

Over the last two weeks we have been thinking about some of the processes involved in writing. We talked about how many writers tell a story using illustrations. We looked at some picture books together and then the children worked on their own to select an illustration that they liked. We came together and the children shared their chosen illustration with the rest of the group. We brainstormed to come up with a long (and sometimes contradictory) list of what a “good” illustration could look like. There was a wide range of opinions and we didn’t reach a consensus. However the discussion raised everyone’s awareness of the importance and impact of illustrations in a story.

We spent time reading books with no text and looked at how the illustrators told the story. We thought about how to show hard-to-draw things like sounds and smells, movement and temperature and how to add details to illustrations to so that others could read the story. The children had a go at drawing some stories.

We wondered where writers got their ideas and we started a class writer’s notebook for recording good writing ideas. At the moment the children are focusing on writing about things from their own lives -things that really happened to them, or things they are thinking about, because it is often easier to write about things one has experienced first hand. In the second semester we shall look in depth at fictional writing.

All the children are at different developmental stages. Our writing sessions are open-ended so that all children can engage at a level that is developmentally appropriate for them. Some children are working on adding details to their illustrations. Other children are labeling their illustrations using the initial sound of the word. Other children are having a go at writing a simple sentence, listening for the sounds in the words they want to write.

The Mean Pirates and the Brave Princess

The children have been working on a collaborative fiction with KinderPals in Canada. The story was the culmination of our year long collaboration with KinderPals and a final synthesis of the children’s attitudes, understandings and skills in writing, developed over the year. The children’s original writing before revising is not visible. However, the detailed illustrations give an indication of the care and pride the children took in their work.

You can download the published book onto an iPhone or iPad from iTunes by clicking here. Unfortunately, it seems the book is only available on iTunes in Europe, North America and Australia. If your iTunes account is in Japan you won’t be able to download the book. However, you can read it here, on Issuu. The format is exactly the same.

KC collaborative story-telling wiki

Throughout the year, as part of a whole class inquiry into Writing to Entertain, the children have written many different fictional works and have taken several through to the publishing stage. They have had lots of opportunities to work collaboratively with the other children, both in YIS and in other countries through Kinderplay global projects.

Today I introduced the children to a collaborative writing wiki I had set up for last year’s KC class. Each child had their own page where they could write their stories. Other people could add to the stories. The wiki can be accessed from anywhere via the class blog. I explained that the wiki was a way for those children to collaborate with their parents and siblings. We read some of the previous KC children’s stories.

I asked this group of KC children if they would like to have their own pages so they could co-write stories with other people. The children were delighted.

  • That is soooo AWESOME!
  • Me and my dad can do a collaborate together!
  • I can’t wait.
  • This is the best idea we ever did!

I created new pages for each child and the children started their first stories on the wiki. Some children chose to work with a partner and others preferred to work on their own

The children are excited to think that their parents and siblings could share the stories and add their own ideas. Several children are wondering if KinderPals in Canada would like to add to their stories. This is a work in progress. Please take time to visit the wiki and collaborate with us. The children are looking forward to sharing their ideas and reading yours! Click here for a link to the KC Storytellers’ wiki.