Archive for September, 2010

collective:collaborative

Posted 29 Sep 2010 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized

Recently, teachers have shared with me some projects that I want to use as examples to make a point.

In one school, each child was invited to come up and add their own piece to a large mural of a map.

In another, children added drawings and names to a page that was intended to capture the identity of the small group.

Both of these situations were explained to me as examples of collaboration.

There is a difference between a collective and a collaborative experience. A collective experience involves individuals contributing to the group. Like the parallel play of toddlers–children are together, but doing their own thing.  Negotiating, discussing, compromising, problem solving–these actions are not part of a collective experience.  Collaboration involves all of the afore mentioned actions, and is a very different animal. Collaboration, above all, means listening to others, communicating and respecting and being open to opinions and points of view. So many of the experiences in school we deem collaborative are really collective. Sharing is artificially enforced. Take conversations with children–the teacher asks a question, and children answer her. Rarely do the children ask questions of each other, disagree, or add to their original comment, there is no give-and-take. There isn’t time, of course, since everyone needs to “have a turn.”   In classrooms, each child gets his own piece of paper. Or her own piece of clay. Even snack is doled out in individual baggies. Fewer arguments for teachers, less higher-order thinking for children.

The things we learn from working collaboratively–systems and time management, teamwork, problem-solving and so forth, can only be acquired by sharing knowledge in situations where there is a true intersection of ideas and opinions, as well as a sensitivity to others and an attitude of responsibility.

NY Times Education

Posted 29 Sep 2010 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized

I loved the September 19, 2010 Education Issue of the NY Times magazine.

I keep thinking about one quotation, from Lives: The Knowledege Constrictor, by Ben Greenman (the article has a different title on-line). It is:

“Education, at least as I remember it, isn’t only, or even primarily, about creating children who are proficient with information. It’s about filling them with questions that ripen, via deferral, into genuine interests.”

Just thought I’d pass that one on.

The Green Pumpkin

Posted 17 Sep 2010 — by Jennifer
Category observation, projects, role of teacher


I had a great discussion yesterday at Walker Jones EC. The school and the community have an urban farm, in an empty lot across the street from the school. Preschool children have begun visiting the farm in small groups, and teachers are recording observations and conversations, and collecting graphic representations and video of the first forays into this new environment. A group of children is fascinated by the green pumpkin growing in the patch–most often the pumpkins we see, especially around Halloween, are orange. Teachers planned to have children mix colors of paint to match that of the pumpkin, and paint its portrait. In this format I cannot share the entire discussion, but some really important things emerged.

1. Slowing down. Teachers had been recording and documenting, but not REVIEWING the documents together with colleagues in order to make decisions and organize provocations. These provocations–the bounce back to children, are the most , or should be the most intelligent and sensitive decisions we can make as educators, all the while staying very close to children. The documents we collect also serve as a memory, and so giving time to the process of revisiting and analyzing is possible. If there is a richness and complexity to the situation, children’s enthusiasm will be there in a few days.

2. Reading between the lines. Interpreting children’s words and making meaning from our documentation is difficult, to say the least, and requires a leap of faith and good intention. This is where I think the values of a school and the influence of ‘fields of knowledge’ (to use a phrase from Reggio) play a big role. In the green pumpkin situation, I think we can go beyond the portrait, beyond measuring the pumpkin’s size, or charting its weight-go beyond activities about the pumpkin. For what the children might observe in the changes of the color of the pumpkin is mimicked in the leaves on the trees, and is also a sign of the coming of fall. Seasons, change, even death, might become important to this conversation. But we must not jump to conclusions without going back to #1-the action of revisiting.

3. Our bias. I asked the teachers to look and listen more closely on their trips to the farm. To observe with open minds, and not rule out possibilities just because they don’t fit into a pre-conceived schema of a farm curriculum. Maybe the butterflies are intriguing, maybe the fruits and vegetables, or the beautiful colors of the garden, or the farmer who tends the farm. Or maybe the action of crossing the street or weaving their bodies through the rows of string beans or the sounds of the insects and cars. As educators we need to be able to hear/see things that don’t necessarily fit in the box. This kind of sensitive and open listening is central to the work.

I hope to be able to post more about the continuation of this project…

Is clay hard or soft?

Posted 01 Sep 2010 — by Jennifer
Category image of the child, role of teacher

Teacher: (passing around a piece of clay) Can you describe the clay? How does it feel?

Child: (squeezing it between both hands) It’s hard.

Teacher: Hard? Touch the table (child raps on the table). How does the table feel?

Child: Hard.

Teacher: So the clay is…?

Child: Soft.

What happened here? A well-intentioned teacher corrected a child’s perception of how clay felt. Was the child wrong? Was the teacher right? Is what the teacher said more true than what the child said? Or more accurate? Is clay soft or hard?

One perspective of the role of the teacher is teacher-as-expert, one who imparts information to children.  Another is that of teacher as co-constructor of knowledge, a researcher together with children. The latter case requires a complete paradigm shift for many educators (and parents), a shift that assumes children come into the world competent and resourceful, and are protagonists of their own learning. Among other things, it places emphasis on listening, and it also requires a lot of time.

If the teacher had probed deeper “it feels hard-can you tell me more about that?” and listened, also with her eyes, she might have understood differently the child’s response. Could he have been describing the physical effort of squeezing? Or maybe he was comparing something he knows as soft, like a cotton ball, with the clay–so relative to his experience of soft the clay was hard.

This vignette reminds me how important it is to have complexity in our speech, our actions, our environments. It reminds me that nuance is too often shunned in favor of black and white. And that subjectivity and divergence has a place in education.